I was walking near Malham and close to Janet’s Foss waterfall along Gordale Beck I spotted a couple of old logs covered in coins. I’d spotted coin covered logs at other places in the Dales such as at Bolton Abbey and on the Ingleton Waterfalls Trail so decided to find out a bit more about their origins.
The origins are believed to date back to pagan times when people believed mystical spirits lived in trees and by making offerings to the trees people would benefit from wisdom, healing and insight. It is a similar tradition to that of throwing coins into running water, fountains or wishing wells.
But the first recorded instance of a money tree where a fallen branch had coins hammered in seems to date to the 1700’s in Scotland near Argyll. Queen Victoria even mentioned there being one near Gairloch in the Highlands in one of her diary entries.
The belief associated with money trees seems to come from the folklore that you could rid yourself of an illness by hammering a coin into a tree. But conversely if someone took a coin out from one of the trees that they would fall ill. This then evolved with people believing that they would be granted a wish if they drove a coin past the bark into the tree’s wood.
These “wishing trees” as they have become known are added to by passers-by who often knock an extra stone into the fallen trunk with a stone in the hope that it will bring them good fortune.
Whilst some of the older money trees contain old currency and some pre decimal coinage most of the money trees I have spotted tend to have more recent coins. It does appear that their random positioning along water sources has now become something of tourist folklorism with wishing trees popping up now more regularly particularly in country parks and estates.
The way that in some sites the coins are hammered in so regularly, they definitely have not been hammered in individually with a nearby rock. The fact also that many of the coins are two pence pieces neatly arranged also creates suspicion that a number of coins were inserted in at one time by a hammer to create a manufactured copy of a once traditional artefact.
I don’t have a problem with this manufactured tradition and at Bolton Abbey the Wishing Trees now feature on an i-spy trail for children which is a great way to get kids to enjoy the great outdoors.
Interestingly, one of the oldest pubs in the Yorkshire Dales – The Hill Inn in Chapel le Dale dating to the 1600’s has a number of old beams with splits which also has had many coins forced in for luck over the years.