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!!