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The natural beauty and durability of oak has been appreciated across history. Oak has been used to fashion everything from Viking ships to the Debating Camber of the House of Commons. The species is the national tree of many countries and considered sacred in some religions. Today oak is mainly used to produce flooring, living, dining and bedroom furniture and barrels. There are millions of oak trees across the world, growing naturally or cultivated for their timber but there are some which are of particular cultural or historical significance.
The Major Oak
This enormous specimen stands near Edwinstowe, a village in Sherwood Forest of Robin Hood Fame. In 2002 it was listed as one of the fifty great trees of Britain and has a place in English folklore as a place where Robin Hood and his Merry Men took shelter. The tree is approximately 800 years old, has a girth of some 10 metres and has an odd shape which could be the result of several trees having fused together as young saplings. The branches are so large that they are supported by specially constructed scaffolding. The tree is such an object of fascination that a plantation of over 200 trees grown from the acorns of the Major Oak has been established in order to conduct research.
The Royal Oak
This tree is celebrated as the place King Charles II hid for a day to evade the Roundheads following the Battle of Worcester in 1651. The oak which stands today is not the original tree as this was destroyed in the 17th and 18th centuries by tourists who cut sections from the oak to take as souvenirs. The current oak is thought to be a descendent of the original and is therefore generally known as Son of Royal Oak. In 2000 the tree suffered severe storm damage and has now been found to have large cracks. The tree is now protected by a fence but If you would like to visit the oak, it stands in the grounds of Boscobel House, Shropshire. Interestingly Royal Oak is the third most common Pub name in Britain.
The Boyington Oak
R.S. Boyington was a printer in Mobile, Alabama in the 1830’s. He was found guilty of the murder of an acquaintance who owed him money having been the last person seen with the victim before he was stabbed. He claimed he was innocent of the crime and before his execution declared that an oak tree would spring up from his grave to proof his case. He was buried in the Church Street Graveyard on the edge of the city and an oak tree did indeed eventually grow from the grave and is still standing to this day.
The Bartek Oak
The Bartek Oak is the most celebrated tree in Poland. It had been estimated to be about 1200 years old but recent research has shown that it is actually more like 700 years old and has a girth of 13.5 metres. King Casimir III is known to have held court beneath the tree in the 14th Century and King Jan III Sobieski is recorded as having rested here on his return from the Battle of Vienna in 1683. At this time he is said to have hidden a Sabre inside the tree to mark the victory. The magnificent oak is now in decline and has lost several branches but can still be visited at Bartków village.
The Venerable Oak
The oak tree is the national symbol of many countries and the subject of numerous myths and legends. Its great beauty and longevity are much celebrated and several individual specimens are the subject of great veneration and have a unique place in history. No tree will live forever but whilst they are still standing we can visit them and get a taste of the stories that made them famous.