53 posts tagged with

Quercus - the oaks

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Autumn at the Royal Botanic Garden Edinburgh

Autumn is once again a receding memory, growing dimmer everyday as we continue the inexorable slide into the darkest depths of winter… But try hard enough and it’s still possible to cast our minds back to a time when the trees still had leaves; when warm shades of gold, orange and red coloured the landscape; when the mercury didn’t sit so low in the thermometer.

I moved up to Edinburgh from Sheffield at the end of September. (I lived here for the best part of four years previously, while I studied ecological science at the University of Edinburgh.) My flat is no more than a ten minute walk from the outstanding botanic gardens, which are one of my favourite things about living here. I paid the gardens three visits with my camera in one week soon after I moved in. How about some autumnal photographs then?


28th September 2013

This towering deodar (Cedrus deodara) grows close to the East Gate. It is a beautiful and imposing tree, one of the finest in the gardens.

Looking up into the hefty crown of the deodar - how many branches? How many growth points? What tonnage of timber?

A neighbouring big, old sweet chestnut (Castanea sativa) seems sadly to be in serious decline. The tree was rather sparsely foliated at the time of this visit, but at that point in the autumn natural leaf loss would have been premature. It’s a shame because it’s another fine tree. A major branch has a few old wounds on it, one of which sported a nice bit of fungus. It’ll be interesting to see how the tree looks in spring.

I came across these Pholiota squarrosa mushrooms growing at the base of a big European beech (Fagus sylvatica). They were also growing around the base of a nearby heartnut, a variant of the Japanese walnut (Juglans ailantifolia var. cordiformis). P. squarrosa is a parasitic white-rot fungus that attacks a wide range of host trees.

This mushroom was growing under a pine tree… …along with its wee pal.

This dawn redwood (Metasequoia glyptostroboides) in the Chinese Hillside part of the gardens was positively radiant. The needles - here so vibrantly illuminated - are now long gone, this being a deciduous species.


29th September 2013

This oak really stood out from the crowd!

A nice cider gum (Eucalyptus gunnii) growing in front of the 1960s glasshouses. At least this tree will keep its leaves all winter long.


3rd October 2013

Autumnal maple leaves.

On this visit I was quite keen to get some photos of the mushroom population. There weren’t so many of a big enough size to stand out as I strolled along, but if I just stopped for a moment to study the mulch that surrounds the base of every tree, there were far more mushrooms to be seen than most people would have realised. Perhaps these are waxcaps of some sort?

The distinctive spiny cupules of sweet chestnut. Apparently the nuts can’t attain their full size in the British climate, so the roasting chestnuts that appear in the shops for winter are imported from the continent. I had a bag of roast chestnuts at Edinburgh’s European Christmas Market last week – they were enormous and very tasty!

I’m fairly sure this is a hare’s foot inkcap (Coprinus lagopus). This mushroom is quite interesting; according to Wikipedia, “As the mushroom matures, the shape of the cap becomes more conical or convex, and finally flattens out, with edges curved upward. The veil is initially whitish, then turns to a silvery grey or grey-brown; it eventually splits up, becoming hairy (fibrillose). ... In maturity the gill edges dissolve (deliquesce) into a black liquid. These mushrooms are evanescent, lasting only last a few hours before death…”


Posted in Gone for a walk





The Oak at the Gate of the Dead

The Oak at the Gate of the Dead (a.k.a. the Crogen Oak).

Once I’d seen all there was to see of the uprooted Pontfadog Oak, I got back in the car and headed for home. But only a couple of miles down the road I pulled over to visit two more giant oaks: the Oak at the Gate of the Dead and the Duelling Oak. Both of these veterans grow within a stone’s throw of one another (and right close to the Wales-England border), beside the road linking Pontfadog with Chirk.

The massive girth of the Oak at the Gate of the Dead.

The Oak at the Gate of the Dead (Derwen Adwy’r Meirwon in Welsh) is famous, at least locally, for growing at the Pass of the Graves (Adwy’r Beddau). This is thought to be the place where in 1165, during the Battle of Crogen, the forces of Henry II of England were ambushed by the Welsh under Owain Gwynedd. The battle is described in Thomas Pennant’s A Tour in Wales, published in 1778:

Offa’s ditch [Offa’s Dyke]… decends to the Ceiriog, and thence to Glyn, where there is a large breach, supposed to be the place of interment of the English who fell in the battle of Crogen, hereafter to be mentioned…

In this deep valley [of Ceiriog], which winds along the foot of the vast Berwyn mountains, was a bloody conflict between part of the forces of Henry II, and the Welsh, in 1165. Henry had determined once more to attempt the subjection of Wales, and to revenge the ravages carried through the borders by its gallant prince Owen Gwynedd; for that end, he assembled a vast army at Oswestry. Owen, on the contrary, collected all his chieftains, with their dependents, at Corwen. The king, hearing that his antagonist was so near, resolved to bring the matter to a speedy decision. He marched towards him; and in this valley, finding himself intangled in impenetrable woods, and recollecting his ill-fortune among the forests of Eula, directed his vanguard to make the passage clear, by cutting down the trees, in order to secure himself from ambuscade. The pikemen, and flower of his army, were posted to cover the workmen. The spirit of the common soldiers of the Welsh army grew indignant at this attempt; and, without the knowledge of their officers, fell with unspeakable fury on these troops. The contest was violent; numbers of brave men perished; in the end, the Welsh retired to Corwen. Henry gained the summit of the Berwyn; but was so distressed by dreadful rains, and by the activity and prudence of Owen, who cut him off from all supplies, that he was obliged to return ingloriously, with great loss of men and equipage.

This conflict is sometimes called the battle of Corwen; but with more propriety that of Crogen: for it happened beneath Castelh Crogen, the present Chirk castle; and the place is still called Adey’r Beddau, or the pass of the graves of the men who were slain here.

Pennant makes no mention of a large oak. Can we therefore infer, perhaps, that 250 years ago the Oak at the Gate of the Dead wasn’t significantly large or famous? ‘According to legend’, before the Battle of Crogen Owain Gwynedd rallied his troops beneath none other than the Pontfadog Oak… Would that have been at all a significant tree 850 years ago? Almost certainly not, I think it’s safe to say.

According to its page on the Woodland Trust’s Ancient Tree Hunt site, the Oak at the Gate of the Dead is a pedunculate or English oak (Quercus robur) that has a girth of 9.6 m (31 ft 6 in) at a height of 1.5 m – which equates to a dbh of 3.1 m (10 ft 2 in). By comparison, the Pontfadog Oak was listed by the Tree Register as having a dbh in 1999 of 409 cm (13 ft 5 in): a whole metre thicker! That isn’t to claim that the Oak at the Gate of the Dead is a small tree though – far from it.

Unfortunately the Oak at the Gate of the Dead split in half in January 2010. This YouTube video, by Rob McBride, tree hunter, records a visit he made to the tree just days before its collapse. In this Flickr collection, he has a photo showing the tree pre-collapse in October 2009 and another from December 2006 in which the large split in the trunk is obvious – a clear signal of impending collapse. It goes without saying that I wish I could have seen the tree in person while it was still intact.

Small Ganoderma bracket growing on the Oak at the Gate of the Dead.

Ganoderma is a wood-decay fungus causing a white rot in the roots and the stem bases of trees. Affected wood is turned soft, spongy and fibrous. It commonly leads to windthrow as afflicted trees are no longer effectively anchored into the ground. Another of Rob McBride’s photographs shows what look to be Fistulina hepatica (beefsteak fungus) brackets on the Oak at the Gate of the Dead. This fungus will also decay the base of the stem, but it causes a brown rot where the affected wood is turned brittle.

Another small Ganoderma bracket on the Oak at the Gate of the Dead.

An article at treehugger.com on the Oak at the Gate of the Dead - riddled with inaccuracies, such as that the Oak died in 2010 and that it is thought to date back to the reign of King Egbert in 802 “when Wales beat back Henry the Second” (the Battle of Crogen was in 1165) - repeats an incorrect theory put forward in this BBC News article from 2010 as to why the tree split in half. Said local historian Mark Williams:

“It seems to be a victim of the very cold weather. The tree is on marshy ground in a basin with a stream running down nearby. With the stream overflowing because of melting snow, the water must have settled around the trunk and it looks as if this has caused it to split.”

Actually the cold probably had nothing to do with the split, and I really doubt that the wee stream nearby played any part whatsoever. In all probability the Oak split in two simply because it was a very big, very old tree with a much decayed, hollow stem that was pulled apart by its long and extremely heavy limbs acting as levers, each limb pulling downwards and outwards in different directions. The tree had plainly reached a point where the trunk was no longer structurally sound enough to hold together under these forces; a strong wind could have finished it off sooner, or a heavy covering of snow, or some other loading factor. What could have prevented the split? By supporting the larger limbs with props, the forces pulling apart the stem could have been greatly reduced and the Oak at the Gate of the Dead could potentially have been kept in one piece for many years to come.

I actually met Mark Williams while I was at the Oak, where he was showing a Brummie family around, telling them of the big tree and the Battle of Crogen. He approached me because he’d just seen me at the Pontfadog Oak, where he’d been one of the farmyard group. He was a nice bloke; we talked about the two trees, and he was surprised that I knew about them - especially surprised that I knew the Duelling Oak, whose fame is not on a par with the others. Hey, a good treeblogger does his research before setting off on one of these trips!

Mark mentioned that he’d been on TV before – either to do with the battle or the trees, or both (my memory fails me) – and that he would hopefully be on again soon to get out the message that more needs to be done to protect and preserve our ancient trees.


* * * * *

The Duelling Oak

The Duelling Oak or Duelling Tree.

The Duelling Oak stands perhaps fifty metres away from the Oak at the Gate of the Dead. It is so-called because duels was supposedly fought here, although I’ve been unable to discover any more information than that. According to the Ancient Tree Hunt, its girth at 1.5 m height was 7.3 m (23 ft 11 in) in 2012, giving a dbh of 2.3 m (7 ft 7 in). This makes the Duelling Oak almost a metre narrower than the Oak at the Gate of the Dead, but it is still an impressive veteran tree.

The mossy trunk branches off into several large limbs just above head height, so it is probably an old pollard.

The Duelling Oak, despite its age (and probably having been pollarded many years since), is still a tall tree. It is also supporting a great weight of ivy…


Posted in Notable trees





The fall of the Pontfadog Oak: Britain has lost one of its greatest trees

Thursday last week I heard from my father that a great oak had blown down overnight near Wrexham. From the internet I learned it was the Pontfadog Oak that had fallen – Britain’s second-biggest-girthed sessile oak (Quercus petraea). After doing a bit of research and discovering two other named oaks nearby (a story for another day), I decided to pay my respects and get some photographs of the fallen champion. So on Saturday morning I jumped in the car and drove the 100 miles to Wales – hey, if Yorkshire’s greatest lapsed treeblogger can’t do that, then who can?

Arriving in the tiny village of Pontfadog in Wrexham County Borough about midday, I called in to the post office, bought a Tango, and nonchalantly asked the man behind the counter where exactly could one find ‘the old oak’? He was hesitant. I assured him I would seek permission from the landowner before approaching the tree. Still doubtful, he nevertheless spilled the beans: “up the hill by the pub, left at the chapel, then right along the private drive”. After passing the chapel without realising it, I wandered up and down various lanes until my eagley eyes picked out the prostrate behemoth from a distance.

Once I homed in on Cilcochwyn Farm it became apparent I wasn’t the only one who had made the pilgrimage. A small group were gathered in the farmyard with cups of tea discussing the fate of the unfortunate Pontfadog Oak, which lay sprawled before them, its extremities pressing on the farmhouse. A few other people were standing around the oak, some with their cameras out. I addressed a bloke in the farmyard group.
“Is this your farm?”
“It is.”
“Can I take some photographs of the tree please?”
“Of course you can!” The man in the post office needn’t have been so reticent; there was almost a party atmosphere here!

I had only taken a few pictures when an old man asked if I was looking for the other ramblers. “No, I’m here to see the tree,” I replied. “Really?” He seemed pleasantly surprised. “Where have you come from?” “Sheffield,” I said. “Really?” Surprised again (maybe even astounded). “What’s your interest in trees?” he asked. I told him that I’d studied forestry and ecology at university, that I’m an arborist, and that I have a general interest in trees, really old ones in particular. He produced a small notebook and with the aid of a quick sketch explained the theory put to him as to why the tree had fallen over. The tree was splitting in half so an iron band was installed around the trunk to keep the two halves together; but when one half was ready to fall it had no choice but to bring the other half with it. I didn’t think this plausible. More likely, I explained, was that the oak had little left in the way of structural integrity - the inevitable consequence of an exceptionally long life and the work of wood-decay fungi. Yet it still maintained a respectable crown which unfortunately acted as a sail in the wind. Enough wind that night and over it went. Perhaps if the tree had been propped up, like many grand old trees are, then the Pontfadog Oak could have survived last week’s gales and remained standing for many years to come.

A snapped root; the tissue appears to be living albeit with fungal rot present.

Still, I was in for a shock when I saw both the underside of the tree and the soil on which had it stood for centuries. Where were all the roots? For all intents and purposes, there was nothing at all to anchor it to the ground. The biggest roots there, which were really nothing, were completely rotten. There were a couple of small straggly roots that were live wood, but had they really managed to sustain the whole tree? Like I said, the crown was quite respectable, so I was completely baffled by the apparent absence of anything to pull water out of the ground. The only reason the tree remained upright prior to Wednesday night was the sheer bulk of its enormous trunk: simple gravity! When too much wind dragged in its sail (which was still leafless, so not even that effective a sail) the whole tree just rolled over without a fight, exposing a bare patch of undisturbed soil. The Pontfadog Oak really ought to have been artificially supported!

A completely dead and rotten snapped root. This could no longer anchor the tree in the ground.

So what can I tell you about the Pontfadog Oak prior to this catastrophe? Its demise has made the news, where unfortunately certain myths regarding this famed tree have been promulgated as facts. I’ll summarise here under the heading ‘Facts’ a few things that I think are safe to call the truth, followed under the heading ‘Non-facts’ by a few things I believe are doubtful or implausible. ‘Tis a valuable public service I perform…

I spotted this graffiti on a piece of old deadwood: ‘T.L. 1939’

Facts
- In 2007 the director of the Tree Register, David Alderman, measured the girth of the Pontfadog Oak at 1.5 m from the ground as 12.9 m. 1
- In 2006 the tree was around 11 m tall. 1
- In 2012 “a group of experts from the Ancient Tree Forum visited the Pontfadog Oak and put together a list of actions that they believed could help conserve it. Although the total cost was only £5,700, these actions were never taken as no funding source was available.” 2
- The tree is referred to by George Borrow in his book Wild Wales, first published in 1862. 3
- It was perhaps the third ‘fattest’ of our two native oaks, Quercus petraea and Quercus robur. 3 The Tree Register considers the Marton Oak in Cheshire to be the fattest, with a diameter of 446 cm, even though it is in a state of collapse with the trunk made up of three separated sections. The Tree Register’s Handbook records the diameter of the Pontfadog Oak as being 409 cm in 1999 “around collapsing parts”. The only other fatter oak listed is one at Great Witley, Worcestershire, which had a diameter of 411 cm at 1 m height in 2007 “under division of three parts”. 4
- Rob McBride, tree hunter: “…until about 200 years ago [it] was a tree that was pollarded – with branches and leaves regularly cut to feed animals and build fencing.” This guy was a local and I trust he knows his stuff. 5
- The Pontfadog Oak was designated one of fifty Great British Trees in celebration of the Golden Jubilee of Queen Elizabeth II in 2002 “in recognition of its place in the national heritage”. 6

Old deadwood colonised by colourful lichens.

Non-facts
- “The 1,200 year old Pontfadog Oak... is said to have grown near Chirk in Wrexham since 802 [AD]…” 2 It is next to impossible to date a tree of this size and condition with any accuracy. You can’t count the annual rings – the tree is hollow and very rotten, so the oldest wood no longer exists. You can’t make an estimation based on known growth rates of oak – way too many variables, especially on that time scale and with the likely variations in crown size over time. Arriving at one specific year – 802 – is frankly ridiculous and almost certainly wrong.
- “It is known that the Welsh Prince Owain Gwynedd rallied his army under the tree in 1157, before taking on, and defeating the English King Henry II at the battle of Crogen nearby.” 2 How is this ‘known’? Are there contemporary records pinpointing this exact tree? Could this information have been reliably passed down for nearly 900 years? (See the number of lost battle sites in this country.) Would the Pontfadog Oak really have been a large enough tree almost nine centuries ago for a Welsh prince to choose it as his rally point?
- “It was the oldest oak tree in Wales, probably the oldest in Britain and one of the oldest in the world. Although it has been said since it came down the tree was about 1,200 years old I believe it may be even older. I remember there was a millennium project done on it in 2000 and at that time experts suggested it may be even about 1,700 years.” 7 1,700 years old? I really can’t see it.

A burr (or burl) halfway up the trunk.

I wonder what will happen next to this enormous and extraordinarily long-lived tree. I hope at least that the trunk can be preserved in some way; it would be a shame to leave it to rot away in the corner of a field somewhere, or to have it carved up for firewood.

Last week this would have been a bird’s-eye view.

Sources
1 Sessile oak close to Pontfadog in Gyntraian. Monumental Trees.
2 Wales loses its oldest oak tree, the Pontfadog Oak. Woodland Trust.
3 Condolences for Wales’ National Tree. Woodland Matters.
4 Johnson, Owen (2011). Champion Trees of Britain and Ireland (The Tree Register Handbook).
5 Pontfadog Oak: 1,200-year-old tree toppled by winds. BBC.
6 List of Great British Trees. Wikipedia.
7 Expert says 1,200-year-old oak tree near Oswestry cannot be saved. Shropshire Star.

The massive, hollow, burred bole of the fallen Pontfadog Oak.


* * * * *

Next post: A visit to the nearby Oak at the Gate of the Dead & the Duelling Oak.


Posted in Notable trees





Perfect Sunday walk around Dale Dike and Strines Reservoirs (Part 3)

This post continues from Part 1 & Part 2.

The woodland floor is coming back to life (nearly a fortnight ago now). Perhaps these are bluebells?

Another toad has found a good hiding place in amongst the leaf litter.

A nice holly (Ilex aquifolium) that actually has a decent ‘tree’ shape – which is fairly unusual for holly.

Reflections on Dale Dike Reservoir. The current dam was completed in 1875, but there was an earlier dam on the site which was completed in 1864. Tragically the original dam collapsed on the night of March 11th 1864 causing the catastrophic Great Sheffield Flood in which 244 people were killed and terrible destruction was wrought all down the Loxley valley and into the centre of Sheffield. The story of the disaster is one I remember well from my childhood.

Briefly: On the night of a storm, a crack was discovered in the earth embankment and the chief engineer, Mr Gunson, was sent for from Sheffield. When Stephenson Fountain, the son of one of the contractors at the dam, was dispatched to fetch Mr Gunson, the crack ran for fifty yards along the embankment. When he arrived at Dale Dyke, Mr Gunson was met by the contactors Mr Fountain and Mr Swinden. The crack was inspected and was wide enough to admit the engineer’s hand; it was in the centre of the embankment. Mr Fountain ordered gunpowder to be brought to blow a hole in the masonry of a weir (this must be the overflow) in order to lower the water level in the not-yet-filled reservoir; the valves were already fully open. The gunpowder was lit, but it failed to go off.

[The following paragraphs are an excerpt from The Dramatic Story of the Sheffield Flood by Peter Machan (1999).]

He [Gunson] and Swinden returned to examine the crack once more, Gunson still unsure about its cause. He wondered if the cracking extended into the puddle clay core, so the two men set about measuring the distance to the top of the wall to establish if the water in the dam was at the same level. Intent on making careful measurements Mr Gunson was stooping over his lantern at one end of the crack. On glancing up again he couldn’t quite believe his eyes. A foaming white sheet of water was flowing over the embankment. It rushed towards him and plunged down into the widening gap. Thinking quickly he shouted to George Swinden. “I’m going to the valve house to see how much water we’re losing.” He made his way, more cautiously now, down the embankment and into the small building. The others were following down the slope but realised they were no longer safe. Swinden shouted a warning to Mr Gunson to come out and, as the engineer emerged he looked up, his whole life of fifty five years seeming to have led up to this moment. As if in slow motion a central segment of the top of the wall, about thirty feet wide, was collapsing and with a great rumble a white torrent taking its place. Gunson stood transfixed. Swinden was fortunately close enough to grab his arm and pull him out of the path of the surging water and, as they fled across the base of the embankment, the ground shuddered and the whole central portion was swept away.

As they ran another loud explosion above them revealed that the gunpowder had ignited, blowing a now pointless hole in the waste weir. The volume of water crashing through the breach in the dam was awesome. It was as if the great basin of high Pennine moorland was tilting, tipping its contents down into that narrow wooded channel. … John Gunson, as he stood now gazing on the widening breach in impotent horror, was only too aware of the menace that now roared down the valley. He felt the blood draining from his face and released a gasp, experiencing a sickening churning in the pit of his stomach. “It’s all up! The embankment is going,” was all that his dry lips could utter. …it was exactly midnight.

Tangled birch roots.

A couple of oaks lean dangerously over the reservoir, mesmerised by their own reflections.

A fine oak growing on the other side of the path…

…and another oak, dipping its branches in the water.

After the walk, a pleasant meal at the Old Horns in Upper Bradfield to nicely top off a perfect Sunday.


Posted in Gone for a walk





Perfect Sunday walk around Dale Dike and Strines Reservoirs (Part 1): ancient oaks & Boot’s Folly

Impressive ash on the way to Dale Dike Dam.

On Sunday I went walking with a couple of buddies in perfect weather through some beautiful countryside. Even though we’re not yet halfway through March it was a very good impression of summer: hot and cloudless and lovely. We set out from Lower Bradfield in the morning and walked along the south-eastern shore of Dale Dike Reservoir, looped around Strines reservoir via Boot’s Folly and the Strines Inn, then followed the north-western shore of Dale Dike back to Lower Bradfield, before climbing the hill to Upper Bradfield where we enjoyed a pint and some pub grub in the afternoon sun. It was a great way to spend a Sunday.

I’m 99% sure that this is Daldinia concentrica, a fungus going by the common names of King Alfred’s cakes, carbon balls, and cramp balls. There were a few of them growing on a dead tree by the dam wall at Dale Dike Reservoir.

This is a seriously ancient oak. It grows between the two reservoirs and when I first spotted it I was amazed – amazed because this is the first veteran oak of this class I have found in my local area. Then I was excited. It looks smaller it really is in this photograph – my photos never seem to do big trees justice – but you can see it is a tree of great antiquity; an old pollard, from the look of it. 400 years old? 500? I look forward to putting it to the tape measure!

A nice little hawthorn.

A pause on the climb up to the folly for a look back over Dale Dike Reservoir.

Boot’s Folly! This 45 foot high tower was built in 1927 by Charles Boot of nearby Sugworth Hall (son of Henry Boot, founder of the eponymous LSE-listed company) to keep his workmen occupied during the Great Depression. There are stairs inside the tower but only at the very top – the story goes that they were mostly removed in the 1970s after a cow got itself stuck up there. The folly is a well-known local landmark that can be seen from much of the surrounding country, to which it adds character. It’s my opinion that it looks most impressive when viewed from up close, with the countryside as a backdrop.

This big ash grows just south of Strines Reservoir. The two branches on the left sure reach a good distance from the stem.

Another ancient oak pollard! This one is more squat and not so tall as the oak already passed, but it’s still a reverential veteran that has witnessed the passing of more than a couple of centuries. It’s part of a line of old trees that follow the stone wall on the left.

Continued in Part 2 & Part 3.


Posted in Gone for a walk + Notable trees





Prince Andrei and the oak

In the spring of 1809 Prince Andrei set off to visit the Ryazan estates which his son, whose trustee he was, had inherited.
Warmed by the spring sunshine he sat in the calèche, looking at the new grass, the young leaves on the birch-trees and the first flecks of white spring clouds floating across the clear blue sky. He was not thinking of anything, but looked about him, carefree and absent-minded.
The crossed the ferry where he had talked with Pierre a year before. They drove through the muddy village, past threshing floors and green fields of winter rye, downhill by a drift of snow still lying near the bridge, uphill along a clay road hollowed into runnels by the rain, past strips of stubble land and a copse touched here and there with green, and into a birch forest extending along both sides of the road. In the forest it was almost hot; there was not a breath of wind. The birches, all studded with sticky green leaves, did not stir, and lilac-coloured flowers and the first blades of green grass lifted and pushed their way between last year’s leaves. Dotted here and there among the birches, small fir-trees were an unpleasant reminder of winter with their coarse evergreen. The horses began to snort as they entered the forest and the sweat glistened on their coats.
The footman, Piotr, made some remark to the coachman; the coachman agreed. But apparently this was not enough for Piotr; he turned round on the box to his master.
‘How mild it is, you Excellency!’ he said with a respectful smile.
‘What?’
‘Mild, your Excellency.’
‘What is he talking about?’ wondered Prince Andrei. ‘Oh, the spring, I suppose,’ he thought, looking about him on either side. ‘And indeed everything is green already… How early! And the birches and the wild cherry and alder too are all beginning to come out. …But I don’t see any sign of the oak yet. Oh yes, there’s one, there’s an oak!’
At the edge of the road stood an oak. Probably ten times the age of the birches that formed the bulk of the forest, it was ten time as thick and twice as tall as they. It was an enormous tree, double a man’s span, with ancient scars where branches had long ago been lopped off and bark stripped away. With huge ungainly limbs sprawling unsymmetrically, with gnarled hands and fingers, it stood, an aged monster, angry and scornful, among the smiling birch-trees. This oak alone refused to yield to the season’s spell, spurning both spring and sunshine.
‘Spring, and love, and happiness!’ this oak seemed to say. ‘Are you not weary of the same stupid, meaningless tale? Always the same old delusion! There is no spring, no sun, no happiness! Look at those strangled, lifeless fir-trees, everlastingly the same; and look at me too, sticking out broken excoriated fingers, from my back and my sides, where they grew. Just as they grew; here I stand, and I have no faith in your hopes and delusions.’
Prince Andrei turned several times to look back at this oak, as they drove through the forest, as though expecting some message from it. There were flowers and grass under the oak, too, but it stood among them scowling, rigid, misshapen and grim as ever.
‘Yes, the oak is right, a thousand times right,’ mused Prince Andrei. ‘Others – the young – may be caught anew by this delusion, but we know what life is – our life is finished!’
A whole sequence of new ideas, pessimistic but bitter-sweet, stirred up in Prince Andrei’s soul in connexion with that oak-tree. During the journey he considered his life as it were afresh, and arrived at his old conclusion, restful in its hopelessness: that it was not for him to begin anything new, but that he must live out his life, content to do no harm, dreading nothing and aspiring after nothing.


* * * * *

It was already the beginning of June when, on his return journey, he drove into the birch-forest where the gnarled old oak had made so strange and memorable an impression on him. In the forest the harness-bells sounded still more muffled than they had done four weeks earlier, for now all was thick, shady and dense, and the young fir-trees dotted about here and there did not jar on the general beauty but, yielding to the mood around, showed delicately green with their feathery young shoots.
The whole day had been hot. Somewhere a storm was gathering, but only a small rain-cloud had sprinkled the dust of the road and the sappy leaves. The left side of the forest lay dark in the shade, the right side gleamed wet and shiny in the sunlight, faintly undulating in the breeze. Everything was in blossom, the nightingales trilled and carolled, now near, now far away.
‘Yes, that old oak with which I saw eye to eye was here in this forest,’ thought Prince Andrei. ‘But whereabouts?’ he wondered again, looking at the left side of the road and, without realizing, without recognizing it, admiring the very oak he sought. The old oak, quite transfigured, spread out a canopy of dark, sappy green, and seemed to swoon and sway in the rays of the evening sun. There was nothing to be seen now of knotted fingers and scars, of old doubts and sorrow. Through the rough, century-old bark, even where there were no twigs, leaves had sprouted, so juicy, so young that it was hard to believe that aged veteran had borne them.
‘Yes, it is the same oak,’ thought Prince Andrei, and all at once he was seized by an irrational, spring-like feeling of joy and renewal. All the best moments of his life of a sudden rose to his memory. Austerlitz, with that lofty sky, the reproachful look on his dead wife’s face, Pierre at the ferry, that girl thrilled by the beauty of the night, and that night itself and the moon and… everything suddenly crowded back into his mind.
‘No, life is not over at thirty-one,’ Prince Andrei decided all at once, finally and irrevocably. ‘It is not enough for me to know what I have in me – everyone else must know it too: Pierre, and that young girl who wanted to fly away into the sky; all of them must learn to know me, in order that my life may not be lived for myself alone while others, like that young girl, live so apart from it, but may be reflected in them all, and they and I may live in harmony together.’


From War and Peace by Leo Tolstoy.


Posted in Quotes





The Birks o’ Aberfeldy

Moness Burn.

I recently spent a fantastic week on my own in Scotland making pilgrimages to big trees and climbing a couple of Munros. At the beginning of my week I walked around the Birks of Aberfeldy on a rather dank and overcast day. The Birks is a small, wooded valley through which flows the Moness Burn. It was originally known as the Den of Moness but the name was changed after Robert Burns visited and wrote the song ’The Birks of Aberfeldy’ in 1787 (‘birks’ is Scots for ‘birches’).

This is a European beech (Fagus sylvatica), although you can’t tell from the moss-covered trunk. Down here in the countryside on the edge of the Peak District, beech trees have beautiful silvery trunks more or less free of moss and lichen. I know our trees would probably have been dripping with lichens before the Industrial Revolution, but I reckon a beechwood is better-looking with its silverware on display.

A statue of Rabbie has been seated by the burn. Someone had attached a Remembrance Day poppy to his lapel.

An oak leaf amongst beech leaves.

I passed a few small waterfalls as I walked up the valley. There was a fair bit of water going over them – it had rained like billyo in the night.

The waterfall on the left drops into the burn just upstream of a wee gorge.

It’s funny how this oak burr is made up of segments that are trying to be hexagonal, as if it has formed like a big, wooden crystal. It kind of looks a bit like a turtle-shell.

Another oak tree – an overgrown coppice.

Eventually I reached the big waterfall, the star attraction of the Birks. This photo doesn’t really do justice to its size and power, but I assure you it was quite impressive in the flesh. There’s a really tall Scots pine growing from the bottom of the braes – you can see part of the trunk running up the left of the photo.

A footbridge over the top of the fall allows for a closer look at the action and the opportunity to walk back down the valley on the other side of the river.

The oaks in their winter coats of lichen really stood out from the bare birks.

A giant old stump exhibited fantastical patterning and had pretty groovy colouration to boot.

Abstract.

If you’re going to encircle a young tree with a metal bench, the tree would probably appreciate if you removed it before… this.


The Birks of Aberfeldy, by Robert Burns

Chorus:
Bonie lassie, will ye go,
Will ye go, will ye go;
Bonie lassie, will ye go
To the birks of Aberfeldy.

Now Simmer blinks on flowery braes,
And o'er the crystal streamlets plays;
Come let us spend the lightsome days,
In the birks of Aberfeldy.

[Chorus]

While o'er their heads the hazels hing,
The little birdies blythely sing,
Or lightly flit on wanton wing,
In the birks of Aberfeldy.

[Chorus]

The braes ascend like lofty wa's,
The foaming stream deep-roaring fa's,
O'erhung wi' fragrant spreading shaws-
The birks of Aberfeldy.

[Chorus]

The hoary cliffs are crown'd wi' flowers,
White o'er the linns the burnie pours,
And rising, weets wi' misty showers
The birks of Aberfeldy.

[Chorus]

Let Fortune's gifts at random flee,
They ne'er shall draw a wish frae me;
Supremely blest wi' love and thee,
In the birks of Aberfeldy.

[Chorus]


Posted in Gone for a walk + Holidays and field trips





Around Broomhead Reservoir

A couple of weekends ago I was down at Broomhead Reservoir, taking advantage of the low water level (though it isn’t as low as the neighbouring More Hall Reservoir) to see if I could find any remains of Broomhead Mill. I couldn’t.

In the foreground is the old course of the Ewden Beck, the river that flows into the reservoir. Normally this section is submerged beneath the waters of Broomhead, but while the reservoir is low the old channel gets to remember what it was like to once have been a river.

This old stump and dry stone wall are also normally submerged in the reservoir. The wall runs along the edge of a tiny valley where Allas Lane Dike, a small stream, once ran down to join Ewden Beck.

At the reservoir’s high water mark, a bit of erosion has exposed the roots of two trees. On the left, a common alder (Alnus glutinosa); on the right, an oak (either pedunculate or sessile).

Looking across the reservoir to the northern shore. The water surface was very calm, but it wasn’t quite still enough to produce a perfect mirror image of the trees over there.

As I stood gazing admiringly across the water, I heard a splash and automatically went for the camera. A fish had surfaced and triggered a series of ever increasing circles.

In a bit of woodland next to the reservoir I spotted a couple of huge brackets on a dead birch stem just as the light was beginning to fail.

They were: Piptoporus betulinus - razor strop or birch polypore.

Something – a woodpecker, I presume – had drilled a hole in the rotten stem, and wee flakes of dead wood had rained down upon both brackets. Nature’s brilliant, eh?


Posted in Gone for a walk





In the Valley of the Beeches

XL European beech (Fagus sylvatica).

Somewhere in the Ewden Valley there is a special piece of woodland full of absolutely enormous beeches. (No, not Spout House Wood. These are bigger…) Beeches with massive-girthed trunks that seem to go up for miles. Beeches with almost ramrod straight stems. Beeches that even though of gargantuan stature are still in the prime of life. No grizzled dotards here; well, maybe a couple. Just beautiful, jaw-droppingly large trees.

I’m pretty confident this one is the biggest of the lot. I’m calling it the King of Ewden. I think that’s suitably grand. It’s a shame my photo really doesn’t do justice to this titan’s size – it’s a hundred times more impressive in the flesh. There is a car-sized wound on the other side of the trunk, seriously! I’m going to have to go back with a tape measure and take some DBHs as proof!

One of the smaller ones?

Another giant. How many are there? I’m not sure. Thirty? Forty?

Imagine climbing that! Imagine the view from the top!

I wish I had more photographs to share, but being under those monster canopies, in the bottom of a valley, late on an autumn afternoon… the light wasn’t great. I’ve got a mind to go back and carry out a more comprehensive study. These are trees worth getting excited about. If only the person / people who planted them could see them now!

Several Piptoporus betulinus (razor strop or birch polypore) fruiting bodies on a dead downy birch (Betula pubescens).

This big oak (probably Quercus robur) looked stunning as it caught the late afternoon sun. I love trees.


Posted in Gone for a walk





A glorious Indian summer: Five familiar friends

A familiar rowan (Sorbus aucuparia) on Whitwell Moor.

The weathermen forecast a startlingly hot few days last week – 25°C for the end of September in Sheffield certainly made me open my eyes – so I took measures to make the most of this unexpected resurgence of summer by taking a couple of days off work. Instead of sweating buckets trapped in a pair of chainsaw trousers, I was out roaming the moors and woods having a whale of a time. Wednesday was incredible but Thursday was truly the epitome of an autumn day; it’s just a shame that the sun sets so much earlier now than it did in the height of summer.

A familiar downy birch (Betula pubescens) of extraordinary girth, also on Whitwell Moor…

…and growing beneath its spreading branches, this little bolete (some kind of Leccinum, I think).

Hallo! It’s the famous Lonely Oak!

Last year I couldn’t find any acorns on the L.O., but there were a few on one side of the crown last week. I confess I collected some. Perhaps there will be a treeblog Set E next year?

One of my acorns. The Lonely Oak is an English or pedunculate oak (Quercus robur), so the acorns are attached to the tree on little stems.

Looking north from the ‘back’ of the L.O. towards Hunshelf Bank. Looking over its shoulders?

A familiar pair of Scots pines (Pinus sylvestris) between the Salter Hills.

Chilled-out cows in the next field.

The eastern Salter Hill, complete with solitary hawthorn (Crataegus monogyna).

Gorse (or furze or whin: Ulex europaeus) - one yellow drop in the ocean.


Posted in Gone for a walk





Sessile oak – developing acorns

These tiny acorns aren’t yet far along in their development. I’m sure this is a sessile or durmast oak (Quercus petraea) rather than an English or pedunculate oak (Quercus robur) because: a) the leaves are stalked; & b) the acorns are stalkless (sessile).

Photos taken earlier today in Oxley Park, Stocksbridge.

Brown, many-scaled buds sit to the right of three developing acorns. I wonder if the Lonely Oak will have any acorns this year?

Colourful late-season growth was rocketing from the tips of many of this tree’s branches.

This beech (Fagus sylvatica) was loaded with cupules containing their own developing nuts.


Posted in Gone for a walk





Sunset on Wind Hill

A young oak rises from a sea of bilberry.

Monday evening. The sun was setting as I discovered an ancient oak coppice in a field above Wind Hill Wood.

Here a ring of callus wood has grown around the base of a dead branch to try and seal the tree against infection.

How old is this oak? More than a couple of centuries?

On a nearby downy birch, where one half of a bough has been split off, I found an adventitious root growing into rotting wood.

Beyond the wood, the sun set over the moors.


Posted in Gone for a walk





The Major Oak of Sherwood Forest

The Major Oak, Sherwood Forest. I paid a short visit on Sunday.

Although not the largest of our ancient oaks, the Major Oak is probably the most famous tree in Britain. Its fame stems from its association with the myriad legends of Robin Hood and his Merry Men. As the romantics would have it, the outlaw from Loxley variously hid from the Sheriff of Nottingham’s men inside the Major Oak’s hollow trunk or he kept his larder of venison within the tree along with his takings from the rich.

The Major Oak – an English or pedunculate oak (Quercus robur) - is thought to be around eight hundred years old, but no one can be sure. Recent measurements hold the girth at ten metres (thirty-three feet), with the tree’s branches spreading over twenty-eight metres (ninety-two feet). It is a monstrously impressive tree when seen in the flesh, much larger than the massive Capon Tree that I visited just before Christmas. (And like the Capon Tree, the Major Oak was designated as one of ‘fifty Great British trees’ in celebration of the Queen’s Golden Jubilee in 2002.)

The tree’s current name is a slight alteration from “the Major’s Oak”, as it was known after being described by Major Hayman Rooke in his book on Sherwood oaks published in 1790. Before that it was known as the Cockpen Tree.

Over the last century there has been much management of the tree with a view to keeping it healthy and whole. In 1908 metal chains were installed in the crown to brace the tree. In the late 1970s large wooden poles were put in place to support the large, spreading branches; these have been replaced with thin, metal poles within the last decade. The Major Oak was fenced off from the public in 1975 to prevent the hundreds of thousands of annual visitors from compacting the soil and damaging the root system.

If a comprehensive gallery of Major Oak photographs and illustrations stretching back over a century is your thing, you could do worse than check out this page at eyemead.com.

A half-dead dotard.

There are a lot of ancient oaks around the Major, although most of them are dead or half-dead: extreme dotards. I need to go back in the summer and pay a proper visit, hopefully on a day that isn’t as overcast as Sunday was. All I could manage photo-wise was drab and colourless.


* * * * *

I will be hosting next month’s edition of the Festival of the Trees. Please send your submissions to mail [at] treeblog [dot] co [dot] uk before the 30th of January, ensuring that you include Festival of the Trees or FOTT within the header. Thanks!


Posted in Notable trees





The Capon Tree in the snow

I spent a few days in Edinburgh at the weekend catching up with old uni mates. While I was studying, travelling between Edinburgh and Sheffield usually meant a long car journey. After making the trip a few times I found out about the Capon Tree, a veteran sessile oak (Quercus petraea) on the route just outside of Jedburgh in the Borders. On the journey home for Christmas 2005 I made my father and sister - who had driven up from Sheffield to collect me - stop at the tree in the dark! Since then, whenever I’ve taken this route I’ve always kept an eye out for the Capon Tree as I’ve passed. I’ve stopped a few times since – most recently on Monday when I was driving home from Edinburgh in the snow.

I’ve seen various sizes and ages attributed to the Capon Tree, but to avoid confusion I won’t repeat them here. The tree is a relic of the ancient Jed Forest which once covered much of the region. It used to consist of two upright stems but sometime during the twentieth century the tree fell in half; one of the stems remains upright and the other is supported almost horizontally by several sturdy beams keeping it off of the floor. The tree is alive and looking healthy but it’s totally hollow at the base; several people could comfortably fit into the space between the stems. I noticed a few mushrooms and icicles growing on the deadwood in there.

A fairly comprehensive web page on the Capon Tree can be found at John Peters’ photography site, complete with photos of the tree in leaf.

There’s a close-up look at some of the rotten timber inside the hollow:

In 2002, in celebration of the Golden Jubilee of Queen Elizabeth II, the Tree Council designated the Capon Tree as one of fifty Great British trees ‘in recognition of its place in the national heritage’.

The Capon Tree stands in a small field between the A68 and the River Jed, just south of Jedburgh. If you’re ever in the vicinity it’s well worth a visit, particularly if like me you’re a fan of impressively massive and ancient trees. I’ve heard of another giant oak nearby called the King of the Woods, but I’ve yet to seek it out. That’s a pleasure for a future journey!

Happy Christmas!


Posted in Notable trees





Snow, beautiful snow (Part Two)

When the Sun goes down the trees turn black.

The Lonely Oak.

Rabbit tracks.

Bird tracks.

Scots pine.

Oak.

Beech.

Larch.

Whitwell Moor.


* * * * *

Snow, beautiful snow (Part One)


Posted in Gone for a walk





Snow, beautiful snow (Part One)

I met a horse. It was digging for grass with one hoof.

We are in the grip of an exceptionally cold spell – what the media are calling The Big Freeze. Temperatures this low this early in winter are unusual (something to do with a powerful La Niña this year), and man are they low. Even at midday Sheffield is still shivering several degrees below 0°C and some nights we’re plumbing minus double figures. These low temperatures have come with one of the heaviest falls of snow for a fair few years. Again, it’s unusual to see a snowfall this early in the winter (blame La Niña). After a bit of snow on Friday the 26th of November, it put down a substantial amount on the night of Monday the 29th. It snowed on and off throughout the next day, then went absolutely bonkers during the early hours of Wednesday morning (the 1st of December). The snow continued with some fairly heavy showers during the day but it had more or less petered out by Thursday. We got a wee bit more on Friday night but by then it had already started to thaw, or thaw as much as it can in these freezing conditions.

What’s all that got to do with trees? Not a lot, but I do like snow. Call it context for a little walk I went on yesterday…

This pleasant little oak was basking in the last of the Sun’s golden rays.

The track by which this oak grows had been ploughed, leaving snow piled up as high as the walls that run alongside it.

Further down the track, a Scots pine also enjoyed the golden sunlight. I enjoyed the Scots pine, particularly these illuminated needles.

Close by grow my favourite pair of Scots pines. Maybe I should think of a name for these two. The Two Brothers? The Two Sisters? The Two ____? The ____ Pair? Maybe not.

I am fascinated by the left-most (western) pine’s dual-layer canopy. Simply incredible! Look at it glow in the light of the setting sun.

Try another angle; the pine is still perfection.

The Sun sets over Broomhead Moors. Shadow slides from the Ewden Valley, soon to swallow the Salter Hills. But this walk ain’t over yet…


* * * * *

Snow, beautiful snow (Part Two)


Posted in Gone for a walk





Three

The power of three. Oak stems in Pot House Wood: an old coppice?


* * * * *

The fifty-fourth edition of the Festival of the Trees is online now at Windywillow. Go read!


* * * * *

I’ve been asked to feature “the growth and development of [a] unique species as a festive gesture… representative of a huge community effort”.

The Knitted Christmas Tree is over 15 feet high, has over 4,000 knitted leaves, nearly 2,000 knitted decorations and the tub, bark, grass, parcels and star are all knitted. It was made to raise funds in support of John Grooms Court in Norwich [which] is run by the charity Livability and provides accommodation for 20 physically disabled young adults.

Find out more on YouTube and Facebook.


Posted in Miscellany





The first snow of winter

I love this pine tree. It’s got a great shape, it’s in a great position, and it’s got a great friend…

It snowed a bit on Friday night. Only a centimetre or two settled but it was enough to bring a real feeling of winter to my walk up to the trig point.

Silhouette: European beech (Fagus sylvatica).

Silhouette: Scots pines (Pinus sylvestris).

Silhouette: downy birch (Betula pubescens) (and a Scots pine).


Silhouette: the Lonely Oak. I arrived with perfect timing to see the sun setting behind my favourite oak tree.

And just over the hill, I arrived in the nick of time to catch my favourite pair of Scots pines basking in the last of the golden sunlight.


Silhouette: Scots pine skeleton (or possibly a larch skeleton).


Posted in Gone for a walk





Hallowe'en (Part One)

After a night in town dressed as a zombie steel-pirate, I required a dose of fresh air to purify my brain. There’s an old barn I found photographs of on Flickr that I’ve been wanting to visit for a couple of weeks now, so that’s where I headed: Swinden Barn. It was a very foggy day.

My eyes were drawn by a young field maple (Acer campestre) standing out from the misty gloom with an impressive display of yellow autumn leaves.

This auld track goes by the name of Badger Lane. It is home to a rather haphazard avenue of oak trees.

Each cobweb drooped under the weight of a thousand tiny jewels.

Part of Badger Lane is lined with some really strange trees that look as though, at some point in the dim and distant past, they were trained to become a hedgerow. But these trees aren’t the species to make a hedgerow: downy birch (Betula pubescens), horse chestnut (Aesculus hippocastanum), sycamore (Acer pseudoplatanus). What is the story here?

This sycamore grows immediately to the right of the one in the previous photo. They might well be the same tree. Viewed as a whole, it is one long tree.

Swinden Barn. It is the only remaining building of Swinden Farm, which was apparently occupied until the 1930s or 1950s and demolished in 1991. The barn is in good condition. It’s hard to see from my photograph, but the end wall on the left shows that a smaller building was once attached to it. The end wall on the right, which cannot be seen at all in my photograph was very interesting in that it is covered with another wall built of uncut stone in the style of a dry stone wall. It didn’t look as though this was once the end wall of another building, so what was it built for? Another wall close by the barn has stone shelves built into it. A very interesting place indeed – how I wish I could see how the place looked when the whole farm was there (working time machine required). From the Peak District National Park Education Website:

Farms in the water catchment area of the reservoirs were seen as a danger to the purity of the water… The water catchment area was ‘sterilised’ by eliminating any cattle from the land around. Sheffield Corporation Waterworks therefore allowed a policy of depopulation of the farmed land around the reservoirs to control pollution of the water catchment area.

In the Swinden area, (whose name Swine Dean meant the wooded area where pigs foraged for acorns) there were five farms which all fell into decay. Swinden Farm was the last to be abandoned and was lived in until the 1930s.

[To put all this into context, the nearby Langsett Reservoir is the one that necessitated the depopulation of these farms. Work on the reservoir started in 1889 and it was completed in 1904. Another of the five depopulated farms is North America Farm, which I have been to loads of times; I don’t know anything of the other three.]


In this part of the woods fallen larch needles had coloured the floor a strange butterscotch hue. This photo doesn’t do it justice.

After descending down a steep slope I was pleasantly surprised to come out on the banks of the Little Don River, only a few hundred metres upstream of… (To be continued).


* * * * *

Hallowe’en (Part Two)
Hallowe’en (Part Three)


Posted in Gone for a walk





Oaken Clough & Ewden Force (Part One)

I went for a wander with my father last week. Here he is, taking a photograph in Oaken Clough. You can tell it’s autumn now. [See this photo in black and white?]

Oaken Clough is a small valley surrounded by moorland. It’s a wonderful and pristine world of beauty.

The stream flowing down the valley is dotted with tiny cascades. [See this photo in black and white?]

This birch was growing out of an exposed rock-face at a brave angle.

Those leaves on the right are proof that Oaken Clough does actually have an oak tree in it! I’ve found two so far...

A fungal selection box. I think the top two belong to the same species, but are at different stages of development. The bottom right mushroom was a big ‘un!

A section of gnarly, lichen-encrusted rowan stem.

This spinning foam cake was freshly baked by the stream.


* * * * *

The fifty-second Festival of the Trees is online at Kind of Curious. Go read!


Posted in Gone for a walk





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