Famous trees of the UK

A selection of the strangest, most significant and best-known trees growing in the UK’s forests, parks and gardens. 

15th June 2015
Sycamore Gap

Trees come in many different varieties, shapes and sizes, but there are some among the many that especially stand out.  Whether it’s because they’ve got an impressive historical connection or because their appearance makes an impression instead, these trees and woodland areas are certainly worth a visit.

England

The Major Oak – Sherwood Forest, Nottinghamshire

The Major Oak
The Major Oak ©Getty

Possibly the most famous tree in the whole of the UK, The Major Oak’s hollow trunk was supposedly used as a hideout by Robin Hood’s merry men. While tree dating has suggested this is not possible, as the tree would have been only a sapling when Robin Hood was around 800 years ago, Sherwood Forest is still a magical place to visit.

The Flower of Kent Tree – Woolsthorpe-by-Colsterworth, Lincolnshire

Issac Newton's apple tree
Sir Issac Newton's discovery of gravity was famously generated when he was hit on the head by an apple ©Getty

Sir Isaac Newton’s discovery of gravity is one of the most significant moments in scientific history, and this is the apple tree that made it all happen. Standing in the grounds of Woolsthrope Manor, the tree is now surrounded by a low willow barrier erected by the National Trust to protect it.

Queen Elizabeth Oak – Hatfield, Hertfordshire

Hatfield House
Queen Elizabeth Oak is situated in the grounds of Hatfield House ©Getty

This is the tree Elizabeth I was reportedly sat under when she heard the news of her sister Mary’s death.  This momentous occasion meant that she was freed from her imprisonment and now Queen of England.  This story has been questioned, but situated in the grounds of Hatfield House where Elizabeth stayed, it’s more than likely she made a number of visits to the tree.

The Trees of Dartmoor – Dartmoor, Devon

Wistwood
Wistman's Wood on Dartmoor ©Getty

Lone hawthorns contorted into shapes by the wind have become iconic images of Dartmoor. Just as striking are its old oak forests, such as Wistman’s Wood, Black-a-tor copse and Piles Copse, where the wild branches of the gnarled trees splay out in all directions. Often found on the sheltered sides of steep valleys, these rocky woodland areas provide the perfect environment for lichen and ferns to thrive.

The Horror Tree - Stowlangtoft, Suffolk

In recent years, the care home for the elderly at Stowlangtoft Hall has attracted many visitors. However, not all are there to see the residents, but instead to see a particular tree which has a terrifying face present in the side of it. With its bulging eyes, wide-open mouth and massive teeth, it looks as though the tree is screaming.

The King of Limbs - Savernake Forest, Wiltshire

This tree's massive, trunk-like branches sprout out to the side, like arms. Wide at the bottom and hollow, it’s possible to go right inside the tree. The forest has been dated back over a thousand years to before the time of William the Conqueror, and legend has it Henry VIII courted Jane Seymour beneath its great oaks. 

The Royal Oak - Shropshire/Staffordshire border

The Royal Oak
The Royal Oak ©Getty

In 1651, after the Battle of Worcester, Charles II hid from parliamentarians in an oak tree in Boscobel Wood. To celebrate the King’s restoration, Royal Oak Day was made into a countrywide celebration. Since then, the famous oak has given its name to over 600 hundred pubs in Britain. The tree standing today is thought to be a 200-300 year old descendent of the original, which was destroyed by tourists in the 17th and 18th centuries.

Sycamore Gap - Northumberland

Sycamore Gap
Sycamore Gap grows on the border between England and Scotland ©Getty

Also known as the ‘Robin Hood’ tree following its appearance in the 1991 film Robin Hood: Prince of Thieves. Sycamore Gap is one of the most photographed trees in the UK. It’s easy to see why as it grows in a dramatic dip alongside Hadrian’s Wall in Northumberland. It was also named England’s ‘Tree of the Year’ in 2016.

Ankerwycke Yew - Runnymede, Berkshire

If only trees could talk, this ancient yew would have plenty to tell us! A remarkable 2,500 years old, Ankerwycke Yew is the National Trust’s oldest tree and, according to popular belief, Henry VIII courted Anne Boleyn beneath its branches.  

Spanish Chestnut Avenue - Croft Castle, Herefordshire

Less a single tree and more of an avenue of beautiful sweet chestnut trees that spread a full kilometre west of Croft Castle in Herefordshire. Legend has it that these nearly 300 veteran trees were grown from nuts that came from the wrecked Spanish Armada.

Old Knobbley - Mistley, Essex

Time for something a little more sinister – Old Knobbley in Mistley, Essex, dates back to the 13th Century and could have been a sanctuary for hunted witches. The Mistley area of Essex was home to ‘Witch-finder General’ Matthew Hopkins in the 17th Century and it’s understood that many accused ‘witches’ would have sought refuge in its boughs.   

The Victorian Plane - Berkeley Square, London

In Berkeley Square in the heart of Mayfair is a Victorian plane valued at a whopping £750,000. The tree, which has a 6ft wide trunk, is worth over three times as much as an average house and is around 70 times more expensive than an average street tree. The size, health, historical significance and local’s enjoyment of the tree, was taken into consideration when assessing its value.

Northern Ireland

The Dark Hedges - Stranocum, Co. Antrim

Dark hedges
This dark avenue has featured in many films ©Getty

Possibly the most imposing and impressive tree avenue in the UK, these rows of beeches were planted by the Stuart family in the 18th Century. There’s something undeniably atmospheric and mystical about them, and many filmmakers have picked up on this including the Game of Thrones production team, who used them as a backdrop in the first series.

The Crom Yews - County Fermanagh

Near the ruins of Crom Castle in Northern Ireland are two old yews with twisting entwined branches. One of the trees is male, characterised by small yellow flowers whilst the other is female, with green flowers, which turn to red berries. It is thought that the trees were planted close together some time in the 17th century, and somehow grew knotted together.

Scotland

Ardmaddy Wishing Tree - Argyll

Coins in tree bark
Thousands of coins are embedded in the bark of the Ardmaddy Wishing Tree ©Getty

Near Ardmaddy Castle in Argyll is a rare example of a wishing tree. The Hawthorn variety was probably chosen because they were believed sacred in Celtic culture and had links with fertility. It is believed that if you made a wish or prayer, then embedded a coin into the bark, it would come true, consequently the trunk and branches are covered with hundreds of copper coins. Alternatively, make a wish then tie a strip of tartan cloth or ribbon around a branch as an offering to the spirits and fairies.

The Birnam Oak – Birnam, Perth & Kinross

Birnam oak
Birnam Oak ©Getty

This ancient oak tree is said to be one of the last trees left of old Birnam Wood, the once great forest famously referred to in Shakespeare’s Macbeth.  With its partially hollow trunk and lower branches resting on crutches, the very appearance of this tree is medieval.

Stronardron Douglas Fir - Argyll and Bute

Since it was planted by Archie Fletcher of Dunans castle in 1849, the Stronardron Douglas Fir has grown to a staggering 209ft making it the tallest tree in Britain. The old yew is taller than 15 double-decker buses piled on top of each other and would tower above Nelson’s column. Experts say that the tree is in good health and should continue to grow by about 12inches a year.

Kingley Vale - West Sussex

Kingley vale
Kingley Vale's yews may be some of the oldest organisms in Britain ©Alamy

Traditionally, the strong, springy timber of the yew was used to make the longbows that defeated the French in the battles of Crécy, Poitiers and Agincourt. But Kingley’s yews suffered even worse at the hands of British and Canadian troops, who used them for target practice when they were rehearsing for the D-Day landings in 1944. 

However, the yews should now be safe, being located in the UK's newest National Park: the South Downs. Above Grigson’s “black-tufted density” of the yew forest, four Bronze Age tumuli, known as the Devil’s Humps, crown the chalky downland of the significantly named Bow Hill (206m). The views from here, towards the sparkling waters of the English Channel and the floating blue outline of the Isle of Wight, are stunning.

Main image: ©Getty

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