Picture portraits of the great Frosses trees

By Joan Shannon The Scots Pine tree avenues known as the Frosses, on the Ballymena to Ballymoney Road (A26), were planted around 1840 by Charles Lanyon, who was County Surveyor, a railway engineer and an architect.

He was building the Antrim to Coleraine Mail Coach Road and the trees were intended to help support the roadway where it went over deep bog.

In 1988 I took some photographs of the Frosses Trees one bright afternoon in October. The lively discussion they provoked at my photography evening class awakened a deeper interest in the trees and their history. The following spring, five of my GCSE Media Studies articles were published in the Ballymoney, Ballymena and Antrim Times.

Twenty years have passed. It seems time to revisit the Frosses Trees.

I returned to the spot on a nice day early this November. I chose the place to be as close as possible to a photograph taken by R.J. Welch about a hundred years ago, now in the Ulster Museum.

He was able to stand in the middle of the road however, to take his photograph. In 1988 I stood a few feet away at the side. The traffic was passing fast even then. This year I dare not step closer than two feet to the carriageway, and, even then, I was hooted twice by nervous drivers.

The level of the traffic now is very disconcerting to anyone on foot. In mid-afternoon, it is almost continuous and does not feel at all safe. The draught created by the big lorries causes you to rock on your feet. I do not envy the school children that have to hop on and off buses.

There were surveyors at work half way along the Big Frosses, but I could not try to speak to them. There is just too much traffic and the existing carriageway is not wide.

That, no doubt, is why at last we have the go ahead for the dualling of this stretch of the A26. I was glad to hear that the trees in the Big Frosses and the Wee Frosses will be retained as lay-bys.

As the photographs show, many of the old trees have been felled since 1988 to ensure that they do not come down of their own accord, perhaps on the cars. There are clear signs that the newer planting, between the existing trees and the bog, has grown considerably, now shading the carriageway. It forms a substantial hedge halfway up the old trees.

Meanwhile, in a major effort in 2001, local schoolchildren were involved in growing and subsequently planting out seedlings to preserve the Scots Pine variety that has proved so successful here.

Three hundred children were involved along with David Bellamy, vice president of Conservation Volunteers, the Roads Service, Ballymoney and Ballymena councils, Belfast City Council parks and amenities department and the Woodland Trust.

So it seems that the Frosses Trees have many admirers and helpers and that their long term future is secure, in one form or another.