Thursday, 20 January 2022

Oak trees planted for Victoria’s diamond jubilee still going strong

Oak trees planted for Victoria’s diamond jubilee still going strong

IF you take a stroll up Fair Mile from Henley and peel off to the right just after Northfield End, there is a public right of way that heads towards and eventually passes Henley Park.

Gaining the high ground here, it is more than likely that you’ll be presented with some great views, weather permitting.

Today my friend Dave Kenny and I have left the car near the Golden Ball pub in Lower Assendon to make our way up the steep hill.

Here, there is a plantation of 60 oak trees which, when seen from the air, is in the shape of a cross. A track runs through the middle of it, part of the way marked Oxfordshire Way.

Why was this created as it seems an odd thing to do? Was it because of an affiliation with fascism (an Iron Cross), a joke for our returning pilots during the Second World War or even out of respect for a German airman that crashed in this spot? Could it be a Victoria or a Maltese cross? We will attempt to find out.

The pathway up the hill is steep and muddy but ultimately worth the climb.

On the way we encounter an ancient oak, at least 500 years old. It is very big and sports heavy boughs. Dave measures the girth at 6.6m. What a glorious specimen. We have attained the high ground and can see the trees that hold our interest a short distance away.

As we approach, a large group of red kites swarm above us. The birds seem to be everywhere.

A handsome buzzard soars high above and flocks of greenfinch and goldfinch flash past.

The panorama up here is normally superb with Lambridge Wood and Bix to the west, Remenham, Aston and Marlow to the east.

Today, though, we find ourselves in the kind of mist that would be appropriate for an Arthur Conan Doyle tale. And then we enter this tree grove.

Most of the trees look healthy and content but there have been some casualties. Perhaps some replanting should be considered.

Now to business. Dave, who records “veteran” trees for the Woodland Trust, measures their girth to make a calculation. It is quite apparent that they were all planted at the same time. So when?

We can work this out simply. Take the girth measurement of them and then extrapolate the normal yearly growth of the species. In the case of oaks it is approximately 1.88cm per year. The trees are about 130 years old, give or take 10 or more either way, so they were most probably planted to mark Queen Victoria’s diamond jubilee in 1897.

Henley Park lies to the north and was created by the landed gentry way back in the 13th century as a deer park for hunting.

There are plenty of roe deer about today, sometimes bold and sometimes fearful. I like their presence but if I could take one aside I’d ask him or her to refrain from scoffing the orchids!

We leave the enigmatic oaks and head back towards Henley.

Mist engulfs us as we descend but clears as we get further down and the world becomes more visible.

On our left a line of hornbeams (Carpinus betulus) with their silvery bark forms a natural handrail.

To our right a profusion of box (Buxus sempervirens) of grand proportions is quite a surprise. Often planted as cover for soon-to-be-shot pheasants, these evergreen and normally small trees appear to be of native stock, especially on this sharp incline.

Heading home, I consider all that I have seen. There is always a surprise, sometimes an answer, but most of all lots to wonder at.

Vincent Ruane

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