Posted by: lensweb | September 18, 2014

Meeting with a Remarkable Tree – The Major Oak

Meeting with a Remarkable Tree – The Major Oak

When I was six I was taken on a school trip to see the Major Oak in Sherwood Forest. The tree looked like it had come from another planet as it was encased in grey metal cladding with the tired old branches resting on sticks. All of us squeezed inside the hollow tree and then we started to climb…

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                  Marion at the Major Oak

The Major Oak is a huge  English or pendunculate oak Quercus robur which has been voted Britain’s ‘favourite tree’.  It’s trunk circumference is 33 feet (10m) and its branches spread to over 92 feet (28m). According to folklore, its hollow trunk was used as a hideout by Robin Hood and his merry men, in the 12th or 13th century.

The earliest recorded name for this veteran oak, in the mid 18th century, was the Cockpen Tree. The hollow interior is said to have been used to pen cockerels ready to be used in cock fighting. Later it was known as the Queen Oak. In 1790, Major Hayman Rooke, included the tree in a book about the ancient oaks of Sherwood. The ‘Major‘s Oak’ later became ‘The Major Oak’.

Because of its national importance, conservation measures to the tree have been carried out since 1908. Metal chains were used to support its weighty branches, and lead sheet attached to protect the trunk and these were still in place on my school visit. In the late seventies, these were replaced by large wooden struts, supporting the heaviest branches which today have been replaced by slender steel poles. Tree surgeons check the oak periodically and carry out remedial work as needed.

I have been to see the veteran oak several times since my first visit, although today there is a fence around the famous tree in order to keep people back and prevent compression of the ground over the tree’s roots. This helps ensure the tree stays healthy, as before this it was feared the tree was prematurely aging. They say an oak tree takes 500 years to reach maturity, spends 500 years at its prime and then takes 500 years dying. It is debatable how old the Major oak is. Some say 800 years old, while others reckon over 1000 years old – the trunk conceals the truth. Some say the Major Oak would have only been an acorn when Robin Hood was active around Sherwood Forest.

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           Alex rises to meet the Major Oak

At the Major Oak Woodland Festival with Nottinghamshire Fungi Group I was encouraged to walk the walk. All along the forest trail wood turners, bee keepers, plants men and potters demonstrated their skills and showed their wares. Shire horses were plowing the trail. We met the Wild Man of the Woods and the ancient tree forum had arranged for members of the public to be elevated to have a personal meeting with the Major Oak and get a bird’s eye view from the cherry picker the woodsmen use for tree management.

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          A Bird’s Eye View of the Major Oak

A heavy black harness was buckled on and straps tightened.  A short steel ladder unfolded and it was a short step up to the platform, the harness was clipped to the gate. The gate was locked shut then the operator calmly started the slow and graceful circuit of the upper canopy with a long suspended pause at the upper height. Two pink beefsteak fungi ‘the orchids of the Western world’ proudly protruded from the main trunk.  Gently returning to earth I was able to peer into the hollow cavity of the tree, careful not to crack the fragile fibre glass moulding around the ‘doorway’. The tall narrow entrance opened out into a large atrium, dry and warm out of the wind. Many red, purple blue and white iridescent eyes of peacock wings shone from the level floor.  I remember how my noisy and excited class mates squeezed inside all those years ago. This is a tree with stories

to tell.

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 Butterfly Wings Inside the Major Oak

Marion Bryce 18 September 2014


  1. What a great opportunity to experience the tree from another angle!


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