What's over 800 years old, with a waistline of 30 feet, and weighs in at 20-odd tons? Yes, you guessed. One of the oldest and most famous trees in England, the Major Oak is listed as England's most famous tree, and it's among the world's most well-known. It is surrounded by legend (there are stories of Robin Hood and his folk hiding in it) and mystery surrounding its growth habit, its girth being unusual even for a tree of this age.
It was known for years as the Cockpen Tree (harking back to an age when the hollow truck was supposed to house cockerels to be used in cock fighting. The modern name harks back to 1790, when one Major Hayman Rooke included it in a book about the ancient trees of Sherwood, and "Major's Oak" soon became shortened to the name we know today.
These days it's surrounded by fencing, propped up by scaffolding and admired by the teeming crowds of tourists who flock past the Sherwood Forest Visitor's Centre every year for a glimpse of this giant among trees.
It's certainly a sight to behold. Christine and I visited the tree one evening in February, 2005, and the legends of mystery and romance are easier to believe in the gloaming. In the half-light one can easily imagine the outlaws gathering around the great trunk to tell their tales, share a meal and share their spoils. Elves and fairies are not too far away, either - it's that sort of a magical, ancient place.
The future of the Major Oak
Concern about the health of the Major Oak led the Nottinghamshire County Council and the University of Nottingham to work with a local company to produce clones of the tree. These were originally intended for sale, in addition to being distributed around the world as arboreal ambassadors of Nottingham. Others have attempted to profit from the tree's fame - there are occasional news stories telling of people who have been caught trying to sell acorns from the tree, and others who have tried to take cuttings to root.
One of the official clones might already be planted in Arizona, others have been sent to the State's Renaissance Festival in 1999, and another was planned to be planted outside the United Nations Headquarters in New York.
A Council spokesman said: "We eventually hope to send one of these trees to as many cities in the world as possible. We see them as our "Ambassadors" abroad and hope they will keep the name of Robin Hood alive for many generations to come" http://www.robinhood.ltd.uk/robinhood/newsflash.html
The tree is still a major tourist attraction, one which is becoming harder to maintain. Recent storms (2002) have raised concerns about the future of the tree and local conservation and tourist bodies are looking at ways of providing a protective shield for this landmark tree.
Updated February 2009