Tuesday, 12 May 2009

The Major Oak

Last weekend we visited my brother and went for a stroll in the woods with his family. As children, we used to play in the woodland of Sherwood Forest and both have a good knowledge of the woods. It is some years since I have visited the Major Oak and I was pleased to find that the old wooden supports for this fine old tree had been replaced with modern structural props.
The major oak is a little over 900 years old and a fine example of an Old English Oak (Quercus robur). There are some who would have it being much older than this as the legend suggests that Robin Hood and his band of outlaws met under this tree. Robin Hood would have been around in 1180 or there about, which would have made this tree a very small and insignificant sapling at that time.

The structure of this tree is unique and the cavity at the centre may have been due to the tree having grown from a number of closely planted coppiced oaks into one massive tree. It was first described in 1790 by Major Hyman Rooke, an antiquarian who was living at Mansfield Woodhouse at the time. The tree was locally known as the Cockpen tree and was known to have been a place where illegal fighting birds were kept in baskets prior to cock fights in the woods. The tree was renamed as the Major's tree and appears on many old maps with that name. On the 20th century maps it became known as the Major Oak and this name is the one we now use.

In the last 20 years, the tree has been fenced to prevent people from compacting the ground around its roots. It is very well managed to maintain its structure, which is a commendable way of preserving this very ancient oak. As a child, I can remember climbing in and on this tree which was then, just another old tree in a fully accessible forest (that is me on the left in January 1957). Now that it is protected there is a visitor centre and facilities for large numbers of tourists in the area. A visit to this old tree is a good day out and a pleasant walk in ancient woodland. There is even a donation scheme fitting to the legend of Robin Hood. You put money into a machine and it informs you that you have been robbed!

Having experienced the delights of the Greenwood, we retired to nearby Edwinstowe for a well earned coffee and a chat with local friends.

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