The Major Oak of Sherwood Forest

The Major Oak, Sherwood Forest. I paid a short visit on Sunday.

Although not the largest of our ancient oaks, the Major Oak is probably the most famous tree in Britain. Its fame stems from its association with the myriad legends of Robin Hood and his Merry Men. As the romantics would have it, the outlaw from Loxley variously hid from the Sheriff of Nottingham’s men inside the Major Oak’s hollow trunk or he kept his larder of venison within the tree along with his takings from the rich.

The Major Oak – an English or pedunculate oak (Quercus robur) - is thought to be around eight hundred years old, but no one can be sure. Recent measurements hold the girth at ten metres (thirty-three feet), with the tree’s branches spreading over twenty-eight metres (ninety-two feet). It is a monstrously impressive tree when seen in the flesh, much larger than the massive Capon Tree that I visited just before Christmas. (And like the Capon Tree, the Major Oak was designated as one of ‘fifty Great British trees’ in celebration of the Queen’s Golden Jubilee in 2002.)

The tree’s current name is a slight alteration from “the Major’s Oak”, as it was known after being described by Major Hayman Rooke in his book on Sherwood oaks published in 1790. Before that it was known as the Cockpen Tree.

Over the last century there has been much management of the tree with a view to keeping it healthy and whole. In 1908 metal chains were installed in the crown to brace the tree. In the late 1970s large wooden poles were put in place to support the large, spreading branches; these have been replaced with thin, metal poles within the last decade. The Major Oak was fenced off from the public in 1975 to prevent the hundreds of thousands of annual visitors from compacting the soil and damaging the root system.

If a comprehensive gallery of Major Oak photographs and illustrations stretching back over a century is your thing, you could do worse than check out this page at eyemead.com.

A half-dead dotard.

There are a lot of ancient oaks around the Major, although most of them are dead or half-dead: extreme dotards. I need to go back in the summer and pay a proper visit, hopefully on a day that isn’t as overcast as Sunday was. All I could manage photo-wise was drab and colourless.


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