Although I lived for many years close to Nottingham in the neighbouring county of Derbyshire I never in all that time visited Sherwood Forest or the Major Oak.
I think it was because driving anywhere north of Derby and Nottingham was such a pain in the backside as it involved driving through one small town after another through a succession of bottlenecks. I always preferred to head north-west towards the Peak District attractions.
I thought it might be easier approaching it from the north but this turned out to be a false hope as this also involved driving through one small town after another through a succession of bottlenecks and the sixty mile journey from Grimsby took nearly two hours.
We were visiting Sherwood Forest upon the request of my grandson who has lately developed an interest in Robin Hood but the journey took so long that as we approached he declared himself bored and that he had changed his mind. I told him firmly that this wasn’t an option and when we eventually arrived we paid the £3 parking fee and followed a forest trail into the greenwood.
Sherwood Forest is now a small country park and National Nature Reserve but at the time of the Doomsday Book (1086) it is estimated to have covered a quarter of the county of Nottinghamshire and extended into Derbyshire to the west and Lincolnshire to the east. Over the years it was cut down for fire wood, building materials, land clearance for farming and to build the ships for the British Navy of Horatio Nelson but it was still big enough today to fill an afternoon of moderate activity.
Like most English boys I have always liked the stories of Robin Hood and his Merry Men, I grew up watching Richard Greene in the TV series ‘The Adventures of Robin Hood’ and at Saturday Morning Pictures watched Errol Flynn in the 1938 movie also called ‘The Adventures of Robin Hood.
We made our way to the Major Oak which according to folklore was Robin Hood’s hideout where he and his merry men met and plotted against the Sheriff of Nottingham. The Hole in the Tree Gang perhaps? It weighs an estimated twenty-three tonnes, has a girth of more than thirty feet, a canopy of ninety feet and is about eight hundred to a thousand years old. In a 2002 survey it was voted “Britain’s favourite tree” and in 2014 it was voted ‘England’s Tree of the Year’ in a public poll by the Woodland Trust.
This is the Major Oak: on account of its great age it now needs an arboreal zimmer-frame and support to keep it standing and according to the information board it gets a health check every day. If this thing dies it will be another Princess Diana moment in the history of our Nation.
Woodland people believe that spirits live in the Forest and as we walked we passed by several other impressive oak trees and if you look closely you might just see some of them.
In 1971 Walt Disney made his own Robin Hood Film just called ‘Robin Hood’, Robin was portrayed as a fox and on the trunk of an ancient oak I found him being carried through the Forest by Darth Vader!. Look hard, it is there, take it from me!
No one knows if there really was a Robin Hood, no compelling evidence has ever been found or presented. The traditional story line is that he was a sort of proto-socialist, a thirteenth century idealist who redistributed wealth in a popular campaign of ‘robbing the rich to feed the poor’. Even today most people seem to like this idea and hold him up as a hero of the people.
If there was no such person as Robin Hood my favourite story then has to be that he was an incarnation of the English folklore character The Green Man, a mythical creature who symbolises optimism, regeneration and rebirth. Mabe this explains the legend of Robin Hood? A time when Saxon rule would reaffirm itself over the Norman oppressors, a time when King Richard would return to oversee the welfare of his own people, a time when their practical Pagan faith and beliefs would not be persecuted by an increasingly influential, and affluent Norman Church.
Three Cheers for Robin Hood! Actually this theory is central to another Robin Hood Film of 1991 starring Patrick Bergin unimaginatively called ‘Robin Hood’ and which (in my opinion) was vastly superior to the Kevin Costner film of the same year called ‘Robin Hood, Prince of Thieves’. Some people may probably disagree.
Anyway, if you ever get to visit Sherwood Forest and the Major Oak, be sure to keep a look out for the spirits of the Forest. These are my three…