Gentle Giants: How The Great Trees of Dorset & Britain Have Become Towering Testaments of History

Corfe Castle
The breaking news of the felling of a Dorset tree, said to be the tallest magnolia in Britain, has reignited our respect and awe of the towering giants of nature. Discover these ancient, remarkable, rare and regal monuments of time that still stand today.

It is not very often that a tree will make national news, even less often when it is just a tree in someone’s garden and not one found in a historical landmark. Rare though it might be, that is exactly what has happened. A magnolia tree that grew in the garden of a Lilliput suburban home in Poole Dorset, has made national headline news. The magnolia tree is reported to have been the tallest in the UK, proudly standing at 60 ft in height and with wide stretch branches, that would bloom full of beautiful pink magnolia flowers. The magnolia would be so abundantly full of flowers in fact, that it has also been claimed that the large, waxy falling petals would fill “five wheelie bins a year.” When the tree would bloom, it attracted visitors who flocked to admire the bounty of the great, gorgeous tree that crowned out over its domestic location. There was something remarkable about such a spectacular sight dominating a suburban setting instead of a sprawling National Trust estate where we normally see them. The tree was felled after it was discovered to be in a state of decay and therefore at risk of falling and causing dangerous harm. Although necessary, the mourning and loss of this tall beautiful beacon of nature is significant enough to have made headline news not just locally in the Bournemouth Echo but also nationally in: The Daily Mail, The Times, The Telegraph, The Guardian and The Independent. This level of reporting reads like an accidental obituary of a celebrity. Perhaps it has reminded us to celebrate some of the remarkable trees across Britain that literally stand the test of time. 

At Dorset Adventure Park, the two lakes and mud trail sit at the foothills of the ancient Corfe Castle, its own historical monument and ruin. Surrounding visitors at Dorset Adventure Park are the beautiful woodlands of Purbeck. As well as in Dorset, there are trees across Britain that have seen some of the greatest adventures in history and visiting them makes for a great thing to do if you are looking for days out this Spring.

The mourning of Dorset’s special magnolia tree, comes in the wake of the shock that was felt after the famous 200 year old Sycamore Gap tree was felled in an act of vandalism. The iconic tree was “an unmistakable landmark at Hadrian’s Wall” and regarded as “the most photographed tree in Britain. Despite standing for centuries in the centre of the dramatic dip in the Northumberland landscape, the tree became world famous after featuring in the 1991 blockbuster Robin Hood: Prince of Thieves. The tree even won an award as ‘Tree Of The Year’ in 2016. Ancient trees aren’t only landmarks that have witnessed historical moments but living, breathing things that teach us resilience and surprise us with their ability to grow and renew- even when all seems lost. As testament to this the National Trust have said that the, “salvaged seeds and cuttings from the felled Sycamore Gap tree are showing positive signs of being able to grow and provide new descendants”. 

This irrepressible resilience and fortitude is reminiscent of an apple tree, under which Sir Isaac Newton, “was inspired by a falling apple to work out his theory of universal gravity”. The very same tree still stands today in its home at Woolsthorpe Manor, Lincolnshire. There is even evidence and records that show the tree fell over in 1820 and was able to reroot itself. The Ancient Tree Forum suggests that at nearly 400 years old, it may be one of the oldest apple trees in the world. Woolsthorpe Manor is now part of the National Trust and available to visit. This day out makes for a perfect adventure for not just the history enthusiasts in your family but the budding scientists too. 

The Sycamore Gap tree may be lost to us but the Major Oak in Sherwood Forest still stands. A behemoth beast of nature it is, “the biggest oak tree in Britain, thought to be between 800 and 1,000 years old”. The Major Oak is not just world famous for its size and age but because it is believed to have been the hideout for Robin Hood and his band of merry Men. Legend has it that the ancient oak not only provided shelter but was so large that it allowed all of the company to hide together within it. Whether Robin Hood and his band of Merry Men are the stuff of legend or of history, what we do know for certain is that the Major Oak, “weighs an estimated 23 tonnes, has a girth of 10 metres (33ft) and boasts an impressive canopy that reaches a whopping 28 metres (92ft)”.

Major Oak in Sherwood Forest

As well as morning the magnolia, Dorset is home to other famous trees including the Tolpuddle Martyrs’ tree. Country Life magazine recounts the tale of “In 1833, six farm workers from Tolpuddle in Dorset met under a sycamore tree in the village square and agreed on the formation of The Friendly Society of Agricultural Labourers. This meeting may seem simple to us but was its own revolution that condemned the men as criminals and sentenced them to be shipped to Australia. This inspired such outrage that the men were eventually freed and the moment marked, “the beginnings of trade unionism.”

Britain’s Yew trees were once worshipped and feared alike and are now regarded as, “amongst the oldest living things on the planet”. The Ankerwycke Yew in Berkshire is thought to be about 2,500 years old. Its existence is a living monument to history and is even said to have witnessed pivotal moments in British History. It is believed that King John sealed the Magna Carter, Europe’s first written constitution, in 1215 under the Ankerwycke Yew. The ancient tree was also witness to another King who would also go on to change British history forever. The Ankerwycke Yew is reported to be the spot where, “Henry VIII had his first liaisons with Anne Boleyn in the 1530”. 

The significance and symbolism of our trees, nature’s gentle giants, is often forgotten or overlooked until the loss of one reminds us of their might and worth. Their history humbles us and their endurance inspires us. When you are next flying across the inflatable floating obstacle course at Dorset Adventure Park, let yourself leap as tall as the Purbeck trees that surround you. Soar on the trampoline like the wind-blown silver birch seeds that flew, before finding their feet as saplings and growing tall into trees. When you are challenging yourself, your family and your friends as you race across the 50 obstacles of the mud trail, dig deep and root yourself in your strength like the mighty oak. When you fall, which you inevitably will, reroot yourself and rise again like Newton’s apple tree. When you struggle, lean on your teammates, let them support you like the beams that hold the Major Oak on its crutches so it can still stand proud. Take inspiration from the stories of the trees and feel as legendary as Robin Hood, Maid Marian and the band of Merry Men, as together, you conquer Dorset Adventure Park. 

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