|Sherwood Forest from the air|
Sherwood Forest will forever be associated with the legend of Robin Hood. Every year it attracts over a million visitors. It's Robin Hood Festival attracts over 50,000 visitors from all over the world. It is certainly worth a visit even though today there is just a small area left of this once vast ancient forest. Today it is a National Nature Reserve and covers 1,045 acres around the village of Edwinstowe.
It had been a forest since the end of the Ice Age and during the medieval period the Royal Forest of Sherwood covered a quarter of the land mass of Nottinghamshire. It was set aside for the king's use. The ancient forest nearest to Nottingham was known as Thorneywood, around Mansfield Woodhouse it was known as Wolf Hunt Land and High Forest further north.
|A path through Sherwood|
I have visited Sherwood many times and there are now over 30 pages on this blog about its fascinating history. Once the visitor is among the ancients oaks and leafy glades it is hard not to believe in Robin Hood and his Merrie Men.
|Sunrise in the ancient forest|
Included on this blog are many of my own photographs taken during my visits. Together with Albie, a local historian, I have also studied it's ancient track-ways, legends and of course its association with Robin Hood.
|An ancient glade|
"Sherwood in the twilight, is Robin Hood awake?Grey and ghostly shadows are gliding through the brake,Shadows of the dappled deer, dreaming of the morn,Dreaming of a shadowy man that winds a shadowy horn."Alfred Noyes (1880-1959)
The poem by Alfred Noyes is one of my favorites. But one of the most interesting ancient ‘rhymes’ on Robin Hood is the fragment discovered in Lincoln Cathedral Library in the 1940’s by George E Morris.
The fragment was found among a miscellany of grammatical texts, dating from the thirteenth and fourteen centuries. It appears that a student from the early fifteenth century hastily wrote or scribbled two rhymed couplets from a Robin Hood poem as an exercise in translating English into Latin:
Robyn hod in scherewod stod
Hodud and hathud hosut and schold
Ffour and thuynti arowes he bar in hit hondus.
Robin Hood in Sherwood stood
Hooded and hatted, hosed and shod
Four and twenty arrows
He bore in his hands.Henry II (1133-1189) codified the laws of the forest, making them applicable to clergyman also, with his Asszie of the Forest, which was passed at Woodstock in 1184. It was lenient in the treatment of the first two offences, but the third offence could only be resolved on the body of the misdoer.
Given that Henry II was one of the 'expanders' of the Forest, the story associated with his visit to Sutton is especially ironic. King Henry is said to have lost his way when passing through Sherwood and sought shelter for the night at Sutton Mill. The miller identified as the Miller of Mansfield, provided him with an excellent meal of a succulent venison pasty which was made from venison poached from the king's own forest!
|The Major Oak|
One of the main attractions of the forest is the Major Oak, which legend says was Robin Hood's hideout. It was voted Britain's favourite tree in 2002.
In 1790, Major Rooke published his book about "Remarkable Oaks in the Park at Welbeck", where he describes nine oak trees and in 1799 his ‘Sketch of the Ancient and present State of Sherwood Forest’ was published. It was during his research that he identified the brand mark of King John, eighteen inches beneath the bark of one of the Sherwood oaks during some tree felling in Birklands. About a foot from the centre of the tree the letter ‘I’ with a crown was discovered.
It was his love and enthusiasm for Sherwood that in time his army rank was conferred on the formerly known Cockpen Tree and became known as the “Major’s Oak” or as we know it today, the Major Oak.
During the 1800’s it was also known as the Queen or Queen's Oak, although there is no known connection with any royal figure, the name probably arose to describe its large size and its status as ‘lady of the forest’, because it was such a majestic tree. Gradually down the years it also became called The ‘Cockpen Tree’ because its hollow trunk (caused by fungi) was used for breeding game cocks and storing them prior to a cockfight.
Finally, after the publication of Major Hayman Rooke’s book on ‘The Remarkable Oaks’ and particularly his picture (image number 9) and description of the ‘Queen’s Oak’ the famous tree affectionately became known by locals as ‘The Major’s Oak.’
|The Major Oak|
There is a possibility that the ‘Major Oak’ is more than one tree! This could be due to the consequence of two or even three trees growing close to one another. Another theory put forward, to try and explain its massive size, is that the tree has been ‘pollarded’. This was a system of tree management that enabled the foresters to grow more than one crop of timber from a single tree. This was repeated over decades, causing the trunk to grow large and fat, the tops of which became swollen after several centuries of this cropping. ‘Pollarding’ allowed trees to grow longer than unmanaged trees. Could the ‘The Major Oak’ have been spared from the final forester's axe because of its hollow rotted trunk?
The exact age of this giant tree can only be estimated, and is open to wild speculation. It could be anywhere between 800 – 1000 years old. Its large canopy, the leaves and branches, with a spread of 92 ft seems to indicate that it has grown up with little or no competition from oaks nearby. Its height is 52 feet (19 meters) and the main trunk has a girth of 10 meters (33 feet), it weighs approximately 23 tons. The Major Oak still produces good crops of acorns every three or four years, sometimes over 150,000!
This tree had always been well known by local people, but during Victorian times, the Major Oak became a popular visiting place. Tourists started coming to Edwinstowe by train and then by carriage to see the magnificent tree. Today, it attracts over 900,000 people a year, who come from all over the World to see ‘Robin Hood’s tree’; one of the reasons why it has to be fenced off!
Some of the famous visitors who are known to have visited the legendary giant oak include the botanist David Bellamy, Cilla Black, Bernard Miles, Jack Palance and Maureen Lipman. The list also has a merry bunch of ‘Robin Hoods’, such as Richard Todd, Michael Praed and Jason Connery.
To read more about the fascinating history of Sherwood Forest please click here.