www.barrowvoice.co.uk - First Publised 1975
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Oak before ash and we're in for a splash.
Ash before oak and we're in for a soak.

It’s an old wives' tale that’s rarely true! In these days of climate change it’s the oak that’s nearly always fi rst to be out. Oak trees have a special place in our hearts as they are often chosen as England’s favourite tree in the yearly survey by the Woodland Trust. They can live to a great age: the Bowthorpe Oak near Bourne in Lincolnshire is said to be over 1,000 years old and another, vying for this title, lives in the grounds of Blenheim Palace. A little nearer to home is the Major Oak in Sherwood Forest, where legend has it Robin Hood and his Merry Men hid from their enemies.

We are lucky in many ways to have Bradgate Park nearby. The oaks there are said to be over 500 years old and there’s a legend that when Lady Jane Grey, whose family owned the park, was executed in 1554 – after only nine days as Queen of England – all the oaks were beheaded too (pollarded) as a mark of respect. It probably accounts for the odd shapes of some of the trees.

Quercus robur, the English oak, is a well-known tree to most of us. Its wavy- edged leaves and its fruit, the acorn, ripening to brown as it ages while sitting in its little cup, is so distinctive. The oak tree supports more wildlife than any other of our native trees; hundreds of species of insects fi nd a home there and birds such as jays, woodpeckers and pigeons feast on the acorns as do small rodents, squirrels and larger mammals such as deer. Squirrels are known to hoard acorns in various places as winter food. Occasionally a hoarded acorn won’t be eaten and will germinate and grow into a young tree. Young oaks don’t produce acorns for many years and can take up to 100 years to mature, but then they can live for hundreds of years after that. It’s quite amazing what a venerable old tree will have seen in its lifetime.

Oak is a hardwood with great strength and is also resistant to insect and fungal attack. In history, Viking longships were made from oak wood and it was also used for 17th and 18th century British Royal Navy Men O’War. Even today it is used to make extremely strong, long-lasting furniture as well as timber-framed buildings. Wines, spirits and beers are stored and aged in oak casks imparting subtle fl avours to the drink. Oak chips are used too in smoking food such as cheese and salmon. It’s such a useful tree in so many ways.

Coming back closer to home I was fascinated to fi nd that the tree on the Jerusalem Island in the village is an oak tree and that this island was gifted to the Parish Council to mark the coronation of our Queen Elizabeth in 1953 – 65 years ago this year. This spring don't forget to look to see if we're in for a splash or a soak! (*Oak blossoms look like green catkins, ash blossoms form tiny purple clusters at the end of the branches - see pics below.) My thanks must go to the Barrow Gardening Club for pointing out the Jerusalem Island oak and for mentioning a lovely oak tree at the top of Breachfi eld Avenue near the footpath there. I must also mention the BOS Heritage Group, whose website is a mine of information, including many old photographs, not only of Jerusalem Island but of the village in general, showing how it has changed. I would recommend it to anyone, especially newcomers, with an interest in our village.

Maggie J