"To see a world in a grain of sand,
And a heaven in a wild flower,
Hold infinity in the palm of your hand
And eternity in an hour."

From "Auguries of Innocence"

by William Blake

Friday, 7 November 2014

Ancient Oaks, Robin Hood and the Green Man

D has been on holiday this week so on Wednesday we decided to visit Sherwood Forest in Nottinghamshire. D has been keen to visit for ages and I remember it as a rather special place from my childhood - we've suggested going several weekends recently but neither B or E seemed very keen.

The Domesday Book in 1068 recorded Sherwood Forest covering most of Nottinghamshire above the River Trent. In its prime it covered 100,000 acres and in Medieval times it was a Royal Hunting Forest. The Forest has been a Site of Special Scientific Interest (SSSI) since the 1960's and a National Nature Reserve since 2002 due to the oak and birch woodland and heathland being so old and undisturbed making this a rare habitat.

The Forest contains some of the oldest oaks in Europe - around 900 of them are over 500 years old. It is a rich and complex ecosystem and a haven for wildlife including 1500 species of beetle and 200 different species of spider.

Today the woodland covers around 450 acres and is managed by Nottinghamshire County council. A management plan has been adopted to protect the biodiversity of the site and the main objectives are:

1. To encourage the restoration and improvement of pasture woodland in some areas of the wood.

2. To protect and, if necessary, enhance habitats in the forest to maintain or increase its wildlife interest.

3. To protect the veteran oaks and the supply of dead wood "niches" to maintain the nationally important dead wood insect populations.

4. To ensure healthy long-term populations of oaks and birches

5. To maintain heathland and acid grassland.

Management of the Forest has reinstated livestock grazing over large areas of the country park with the eventual aim of increasing the heathland and grassland area and restoring the medieval woodland pasture system.

Sherwood Forest is, of course, the legendary home of Robin Hood - the well-known outlaw who with his band of Merrie Men battled against the evil Sheriff of Nottingham and robbed the rich to pay the poor.

There are quite a few statues located near the Visitor Centre - as if you needed reminding of the Robin Hood connection!

Initially, we followed one of the main trails that leads to the Major Oak

The tree in the photo below is one of the "banded brothers". Natural England has funded a 10 year Management Programme to help reduce the loss of ancient oak trees. There are 3 levels of work in progress to achieve this aim.

1. Haloing - the removal of encroaching young trees or pruning of mature trees that are nearby to give the ancient trees the space and light they need to thrive.

2. Crown reduction helps to stabilize the tree's canopy and reduces the possibility of the tree dying.

3. The final and last resort if the tree is in danger of failing is to either prop up the tree (as has happened with the Major Oak) or as you can see below bands are installed to prevent the collapse of the tree and consequent loss of habitat.

There were many information boards as you walked along the path either on wildlife to be found or explaining management plans.

The Laughing Tree - Protector of the Forest and Bringer of Laughter and Joy to the Green Wood - sculpture by a local artist.

And finally we arrived at the Major Oak - this is an English or Pedunculate Oak (Quercus Robur) which is between 800 and 1200 years old! It has an estimate weight of 23 tons and a girth of 10 metres.
The large canopy spreading to 10 metres suggests that it was a tree that grew with little or no competition from nearby oaks and the branches could therefore spread without hindrance.

The first recorded name for the tree was the Cock pen tree - cockerels were kept here in pens in the mid 18th century for the barbaric sport of cock fighting - a truly horrible thought :( The tree first became well known around 200 years ago when in 1790 a Major Hayman Rooke, a local historian published a book on Remarkable Trees in Nottinghamshire, and the oak was named after him. It has also been known as the Queen's Oak probably due to its large size and its position as Lady of the Forest.

The hollow interior of the oak is caused by fungi - mainly Poor Man's Beefsteak (Fistulina hepatica). Today the oak still produces a crop of acorns each year.

In some ways it is such a shame that the tree has been fenced off - I can remember going inside the hollow trunk when I was little but fencing had to be installed in 1975. The hundreds of thousands of visitors each year was leading to compaction of the soil which prevented rainwater with essential minerals etc., reaching the trees roots.

Legend suggests that this is the oak tree where Robin Hood and his men met before setting off on their exploits but in Robin's day the tree would have been quite young so its likely the tree of legend was an ancient tree elsewhere in the forest which is long gone.

After spending some time with the Major Oak we left the main trail and headed off on a much narrower and quieter pathway and other visitors soon disappeared from sight allowing us to really appreciate the beauty and mystery of this ancient woodland. I really wouldn't have been at all surprised to see a figure in Lincoln Green in the distance or the spirit of the Green Man - as you may have guessed from previous posts I do tend to have a rather vivid imagination :)

We didn't see as many fungi species as I hoped - just Turkeytail and is this Candlesnuff Fungus? in the photo below.

A couple we spoke to later told us that an area of the Forest called Sherwood Pines is superb for fungi - something to remember if and when we return.

Is this one of the Tuft species? Any help with fungi id would be hugely appreciated - I will put them on i-spot when I get chance.

Can you see the "face" in the middle tree?

Just over an hour later we returned to the Major Oak

I haven't put in many photos of all the information boards as I think the print is too small to read even if you enlarge the photos but I couldn't resist this one on Butterflies and Moths. Red Underwing Moths and Purple Hairstreaks are found in the forest during the right season.

We had a look round the Robin Hood Exhibition when we returned to the Visitor Centre.

The legend of Robin Hood dates back 6 centuries. Tradition tells that he was living in the Forest around the 1190's during the reign of King Richard I - "The Lionheart". The first stories of the outlaw and his adventures were spread by ballad singers and storytellers and the earliest written mention of Robin is in a poem dated around 1400. But did he really exist? If so was he just a common thief or a dispossessed nobleman or even the mythical Green Man?

If he was a real person - many candidates have been suggested. These include William Robinhood who was tried for robbery in 1261 and Robert Hode a tenant of the Archbishopric of York who fled jurisdiction in Yorkshire in 1225. His name is mentioned in court records 9 times before 1234 and there is no mention of him ever being caught. Robert's enemy would have been Eustace of Lowdham who was Deputy Sheriff of Nottingham before becoming Sheriff in 1232. What better place to hide than Sherwood Forest which then covered so much of the County.

Early tales of Robin contain references to older pagan religious beliefs which were common in England before the Norman Invasion.

By the 1400's Robin Hood had become such a legend that his character appeared in plays and May celebrations and festivities throughout England. The legends of Robin became intertwined with portrayals of the Green Man - a woodland spirit who has its origins in ancient English Folklore. The Green Man is a Guardian and revealer of the mysteries of nature and acted as a go-between linking people and nature together. Leaves sprouting from the mouth on Green Man carvings represent the communication of nature and all its wonders.

During the 16th century other names for Robin Hood included Robin-I-The-Hood, Robin Goodfellow or Jack-in-the-Green.

A cup of hot chocolate, jackdaws flying to roost chacking overhead and a fleeting glimpse of a nuthatch as we returned to the car made a lovely end to our visit.

D amused himself on the journey home taking a few photos from the car window. In fact some of the photos above were taken by him - I think he was rather fed up that we couldn't take the new bridge camera as the camera card hadn't arrived so I let him borrow my own camera for some of the walk.

A derelict colliery in one of the villages we drove through.


and the moon rising. (sorry a bit blurred the car was doing 80, sorry 70 mph, on the M1 at the time!)

I've been fascinated and intrigued by the Green Man for many years and treated myself to a few items from the shop - jewellery box,booklet, fridge magnet, pin badge and key ring. A bit extravagant but you don't see Green Man items for sale that often!!

I was really impressed with Sherwood Forest in fact the only other forest I've ever visited that comes close to matching it was the Ancient Caledonian Pine Forest in Scotland we visited about 15 years ago. I would certainly visit Sherwood again although I would imagine it gets very busy at weekends!!


Pete Duxon said...

did you say new camera??? what one :D

interesting post

the forests we see to day were a fraction of what they were 1000 years ago aren't they

Margaret Adamson said...

What a wonderfully documented post both the text and shots of the beautiful tree etc. Certainly a place to visit with lots to see. ainly a place to visit with lots to see

Countryside Tales said...

Fascinating stuff and what a beautiful place. I can't believe the age of some of those oaks- astonishing! I love Green Men too and have a few of them dotted about here. One day I will visit the forest, but in the mean time I really enjoyed seeing your photos and reading about it. Have a lovely weekend.

Ragged Robin said...

Pete Duxon - Thanks Pete - Yes, forests must have been an incredible sight 1000 years ago.

I've got fed up of lugging the dslr and 70-300mm lens around especially as most birds are too far away anyway and have been thinking of a bridge camera for ages. D's interested in photography and I've finally persuaded him to ditch the ancient Fuji and we've gone halves on a bridge camera. (My half will be a Cmas/bday present from B!!).

We decided in the end on the Canon SX 50 HS. (The new SX60 would have been even better but too expensive!!). I'll still use the Olympus dslr most of the time but have the bridge camera for when I visit nature reserves.

Margaret Adamson - Thanks so much Margaret :) Yes, its a very interesting area with a lot to see and do :)

Countryside Tales - Thanks so much. Its an amazing place to visit and well worth it if you are anywhere close by. I hadn't been since I was a child but it was much as I remembered if rather more "commercialised"!!! I would imagine its horribly busy at weekends and school holidays but there are so many paths you could easily get away from the crowds!

Pete Duxon said...

rumour has it the 50 is better than the 60....

Bovey Belle said...

What a lovely day out, and a great post about it too. I have never been there, but perhaps when I am staying with Tam in Sheffield next, we could have a day out.

I don't blame you for the Green Man goodies. We have a soft spot for Green Men too.

Ragged Robin said...

Pete Duxon - That's interesting - perhaps that's why the SX50 didn't come down in price as much as I hoped!! Difficult choice to make though as there are so many makes and models of Bridge Cameras.

Bovey Belle - Thanks so much. Well worth a visit especially when you get away from the main paths and you get more "spirit of place" :) Would thoroughly recommend it - so many ancient trees in one place :)

Lots of Green Man goodies in the shop too for you to browse :)

Toffeeapple said...

I thoroughly enjoyed reading this post, thank you so much for taking the time and effort to do it.

I have never been to Sherwood Forest and am unlikely to do so now but I am far better informed now.

Ragged Robin said...

Toffeeapple - Thank you so much - I am so pleased you enjoyed the post and Sherwood Forest.

One of the things I most enjoy about Blogger is seeing places others have visited that I may never see myself.

SeagullSuzie said...

A perfect time to visit the woods and a lovely tour of Sherwood Forest. I have only been once and that was many years ago with my mum, the ancient tree was fenced off then, but I don't remember it being so far back from the tree as your pictures show.

Ragged Robin said...

SeagullSuzie - Many thanks Suzie. Autumn and Spring time in woods are just magical - I can never work out which I prefer :) Interesting about the fence - perhaps they have moved it further back over the years? Have been thinking of Charnwood Forest recently - we used to visit there a lot when I was little. Just wondered if you have been there too?

amanda peters said...

Great post, it had crossed my mind to go here last week while I'm still of, would love to see the Major Oak, going to put it on my bucket list for next year now as I would like to see the Butterflies and Wild flowers...I can see a weekend trip coming on :)
Amanda xx

Ragged Robin said...

Amanda Peters - Thanks so much Amanda - definitely well worth a visit. I would imagine it would be wonderful there - Spring/Summer. I am hoping we will return in the future and persuade my husband and daughter to visit too :)

Ragged Robin said...

Amanda Peters - Also meant to say hope you are recovering well from your operation and your wrist/arm is feeling a lot better.
I also meant to ask if you'd had an email from Plantlife re: changes to Wildflower Count. It looks to me as though you won't in future be able to do the pathway walk and count species? I am not sure if you did the walk or the plot? Also looks as though square allocated may change? I just wondered if you were going to sign up for next year?

amanda peters said...

Thanks RR, might be going back to work next week after been of now six weeks!!( like been off to much) must say hand and arm are ok , but not quite as good as I had expected. Hoping they will leave my other hand till after Christmas now..
As for Plantlife, I found it to hard to get my head round the new notes they sent out this year and was stressing out trying to record every thing on a plot I don't often visit, so took the decision not to submit my findings. If they send me out a pack next year I will have another go I think. I have tried to get the Park as my plot as there is a lot here to record, but you have to go where they choose.
So did you send in your findings ?

Ragged Robin said...

Amanda Peters I do hope your hand and arm continue to improve and that they decide to leave the other hand until after Christmas.

I struggled and worried about this year's survey too - all the extra species and rushes, grasses etc., were a real problem. I'd been fine the year before with just the 200 that in the main I already recognised. Yes, I did send in this year's (although I never got time to do a second visit) results but there were quite a few species still unidentified. I also left it to the very last minute before submitting (by post). I am so behind with my wildlife records this year. I was lucky with my square as it was in Brueton Park (which I am familiar with). I think people have requested a better id guide for next year so hopefully that might help if they do produce one. I think I will give it a go next year and hope for a good plot!!! Then take it from there.

Good Luck with the return to work!

Chris Rohrer said...

What an extremely cool place. 450 acres doesn't seem like much but at least there is some of the original forest left there. I had to type in Sherwood Forest into my program and see what kinds of birds are seen there. It looks like it would be a lot of to explore. Thanks for the pics and tour!

Ragged Robin said...

Chris Rohrer - Many thanks Chris :) You could easily spend a day at Sherwood Forest I think and still have loads left to explore! I checked out birdlife before I went - they used to have a really healthy population of Hawfinches (a bird I would dearly love to see and once missed by seconds at The Forest of Dean :( ) but I think there are very few seen there these days :(