Have you ever visited the ancient trees in Sherwood Forest, Nottingham, England?
Even though I was born and lived in England for my first 30 years, I only ever visited Sherwood Forest once. Now, in my 50’s, I have a deeper appreciation for the heritage of England and I’m gaining a deeper understanding of the legends and history. This year when I visited my parents, I took a day trip to Nottingham to show my Mexican partner the forest where legends were made.
Sherwood Forest originally covered over 100,000 acres across most of the middle of England and was a royal hunting forest. The Great North Road ran through the forest and was a very important “road” which went from London to York. It had a reputation for being the home of robbers and was a dangerous road to travel on.
Today the forest is only 1,000 acres, but the home to many ancient oak trees’ over 600 years old. The Major Oak, where Robin Hood was reputed to live inside the hollow of the tree, is now 1150 years old, weighs 23 tons, has a trunk of 10 meters in circumference, and a canopy with a total spread of 28 meters.
It is likely that it survived the ax because it’s hollow interior would not provide enough timber and may explain why it was left uncut for so long. Or perhaps it was because this ancient, magical tree, was guarded by the spirits of the Green Man and Robyn Hode. Whatever the legend, The Major Oak provided a natural habitat of its lifetime, not only for Robin and his Merry Men, but up to 32 species of mammal, 68 species of bird, 34 species of butterfly, 271 species of insects and spiders and 31 types of fungus or lichen (including the “poor man’s beefsteak” the most invasive Funghi which creates the hollow interior.)
Legend has it that Robin was robbing the rich in Sherwood Forest in the 1190s during the reign of King Richard 1 “The Lionheart”. Robin likely escaped arrest, hiding in the forest, as many outlaws did in those days. Many of the pagan beliefs, before the Norman invasion of England, posed a real threat to the Christian church and the Norman rulers, and Robin would have symbolized a brave free spirit to the oppressed poor people. He created his own justice system “robbing the rich, to pay the poor”.
By the 1400s, Robin Hood was such a legend, that his character appeared in plays and May Day celebrations throughout England. The legend was soon combined with the woodland spirit of ancient folklore called “The Green Man”, known as a spiritual “go-between” joining the worlds of human and nature together. His legend has lived on, and now over 500,000 visitors from around the world visit Sherwood Forest, including many of the Hollywood actors who have played “Robin Hood”.
As we strolled through the ancient forest and stood to admire the giant oaks, we could feel the spirits of a thousand years as the branches rustled in the wind. Each ancient tree held its own secrets and each seemed to have a unique personality carved in the twists and turns of the trunk and branches. Beneath the canopy, I felt indescribably young.