Why does the site of an oak tree evoke a sense of strength? An oak tree can live to over a thousand years old so we can depend on it being there when we return from our travels. We can see it standing tall, serving as a beacon – a huge green welcome over a loving home or memorable spot.
As a nation, the oak means a great deal to us, but did you realise the oak tree is also a strong symbol of rebellion. Amongst the ten finalists for England’s inaugural Tree of the Year competition is Kett’s Oak in Norfolk.
Kett’s Rebellion was a revolt during the reign of Edward VI, largely in response to the enclosure of land. It began with a group of rebels destroying fences that had been put up by wealthy landowners. One of their targets was yeoman farmer Robert Kett who, instead of resisting the rebels, agreed to their demands and offered to lead them. Kett and his forces were joined by recruits from Norwich and the surrounding countryside. The meeting point for this 16,000 strong rebellion was an oak tree on the road from Hethersett to Norwich.
Kett’s rebellion ended when the rebels were defeated by an army under the leadership of the Earl of Warwick at the Battle of Dussindale. Kett was held in the Tower of London where he was tried for treason and hanged from the walls of Norwich Castle. Kett’s Oak enjoys a more peaceful life now, still standing strong beside the B1172.
Another mighty oak to have made the finals, weighing in at 23 tonnes, is Major Oak in Nottinghamshire where Robin Hood and his Merry Men are reported to have sought sanctuary from the sheriff and his forces. Major Oak is reputed to be 800 years old (although if this is the case, Nottinghamshire’s 13th Century outlaw may have had a job hiding in a tree that was at best a sapling at the time – perhaps they made highwaymen shorter back then).
The shortlist actually hosts a total of seven oak trees. Perhaps the oldest is Allerton Oak in Calderstones Park, Liverpool. Allerton Oak is approximately 1000 years old and for many was perhaps the last glance of home before they sailed from the Port of Liverpool to a new life overseas. According to tradition, Liverpool’s maritime history helped shape Allerton Oak when in 1864 the Lottie Sleigh, a sailing ship moored three miles away on the River Mersey laden with 11 tonnes of gunpowder caught fire and exploded. The blast sent a shockwave that ripped through the grand oak, its branches today supported by props.
Thought to be around 500 years old, the Whiteleaved Oak of Herefordshire sits at the southern end of the Malvern Hills and boasts its own visitors book. Although it is still used in druid ceremonies, the very existence of this legendary Pagan oak, as well as its supposed location, is the subject of much debate. There is without a doubt, an ancient gnarled old oak tree situated in farmland on the slopes of Ragged Stone Hill, between the hamlets of Hollybush and White Leaved Oak.
Whiteleaved Oak has a diameter of around 2 meters, and bizarrely grows atop a large rock. Many believe that the oak marks the centre point of laylines that can be plotted across the west of the country including other Druid locations such as Stonehenge. Whatever the trees’ authenticity, it is clearly considered an important spiritual place to many.
The Ickwell Oak of Bedfordshire is believed to be 350 years old and has spent half of its life located within the boundary of Ickwell’s 175 year old cricket club. The villagers are so fond of their oak tree that when it lost a branch during a fierce storm in 1995, craftsmen were tasked with converting the fallen branches into benches for each of the greens within the parish.
Big in both name and stature, the Big Bellied Oak, an old Pollard in Savernake Forest boasts a gut busting circumference of almost 11 meters. The portly oak tree is thought to date back to Saxon times and has already been recognised as one of fifty Great British Trees by the Tree Council.
The last oak on the shortlist is perhaps the only one to have its own website, a Facebook page and stars in its own children’s book. Old Knobbley has been rooted in Mistley, Essex for at least 800 years. Old Knobbley has proved such a hit with children over the centuries that shiny worn steps have gradually been eroded into his spine.
Jill Butler, ancient tree specialist at the Woodland Trust, said: “We are one of the richest countries in Northern Europe for these characterful, important and ancient trees, so it’s about raising awareness that these are there in the landscape and we don’t overlook them.”
With seven of our favourite species represented in the top ten, Oak Floors Online are confident that as ever the beauty of oak will win through and take the spoils as the nation’s favourite tree.