On a recent visit to Glastonbury we passed by two one-thousand-year-old oaks, in a lane that runs by the appropriately named Old Oaks campsite. These venerable oaks date from the time of the Norman conquests, a time when wolves and bears were still Britain’s top predators. Even the names Gog and Magog are associated with ancient myths and legends (see eg Wikipedia entry).
Sad to say, although alive when we last saw it, Gog died due to a fire in 2017. How a probably careless act destroyed this ancient being – somehow symbolic of the lack of care many modern people have for nature.
Magog still survives and flourishes, despite the decrepit aspect of parts of its trunk.
Thank God the days are gone when dead trees were removed from the landscape, part of an obsession with tidiness that took little account of the web of life in which we are embedded. The dead tree is an ecosystem containing countless organisms and fungi, all about the miraculous job of reducing solid wood back to the soil it came from.
Our National Trust now usually leaves trees where they fall in the landscape. This one at Tatton Park was probably once a spectacular oak tree, now gracefully yet vulnerably declining back to its origins.
Thus individual life emerges from the collective, lives and flourishes, and eventually dies and returns home.
It rained all day today, never stopping as I walked around Tatton Park. It was still worth carrying the little camera in my pocket for this chance picture of pooled water on the grass, with trees, lake and grey sky in the background.
The scene was actually a bit duller than the picture looks, due to clever camera and adjustment with Paint Shop Pro.
It was salutary recently to visit the National Trust’s Calke Abbey in Derbyshire and come across the Old Man of Calke, an oak tree believed to be over 1000 years old – indeed there are two such oaks in the grounds. This tree was well established by the time of the great Norman conquering of England in 1066 and has ‘seen’ times of nearly a millennium since then, while living its majestic existence in the peace of the Derbyshire countryside.
Now that puts quite a context on the relative sound and fury of the affairs of the English since then. So many kings and queens, wars and revolts, comings to agreement and falling out with European neighbours, so little effect on this majestic being. Until the modern days, when who knows what threats climate change might mean for its continuation.
Just how beautiful can the oak tree be in winter! The head of this oak shows superb fractal patterns, reflected in the parallel picture of the whole tree.
This is one of many oaks in the National Trust’s Attingham Park, near Shrewsbury. Also there in the deer park is the wonderful 650-year-old Repton Oak (below), without the vigour of the younger tree, but nevertheless of remarkable longevity.
Will today’s young oaks grow to such an age in a time of climate change? It would be a great shame if not.