Tuesday, 30 October 2012

Druids and ancient beeches

Druids and Celtic rites, highwaymen and secrets of World War II featured in the latest hike with my newly-joined walking group ...

Burnham Beeches is 540 acres of ancient woodland on the border of Buckinghamshire and Berkshire that was rescued from developers by the City of London.

These woods used to be vast, covering virtually the whole of the county of Buckinghamshire. Their history stretches the mind quite breathtakingly to way before Roman times. Below are the remains of a fort which has been dated to the late Bronze Age or early Iron Age (somewhere between the 8th and 5th century BC). What you can see  here is the remnants of a moat that surrounded it ...

Unfortunately much of the remains were damaged during World War II when Burnham Beeches was used as an army vehicle depot - a perfect hiding spot under cover of dense woods. Top secret, its existence was whispered about in local villages after schoolboys in search of adventure crept through barriers to spy on the hidden camp.

Its shining moment came when more than 10 000 army vehicles were marshalled and prepared here for the D-Day landings and driven out of these woods in convoy at night, headed for the coast.

The oldest living tree in Burnham Beeches is the 'Druid tree' - not a beech, but an oak - thought to be between 800 to 1000 years old. Its trunk is completely hollow, making it rather fragile - hence the protective fence ...

It was named (and pollarded) by the Victorians because the ancient Druids are said (by Pliny the Elder, who may or may not have got his facts straight on this - see here) to have considered oak trees sacred and danced around them in moonlit ceremonies.

In the Middle Ages the woods were a mad, bad and dangerous place, being inundated with highwaymen. Today, with Pinewood Studios located conveniently close by, they are a favourite location shoot for films, from early James Bond to Harry Potter. They've stood in as Camelot for First Knight, a generic ancient England for Ivanhoe, Irish woodland for The Crying Game, and of course Sherwood Forest for Robin Hood.

Our own merry band included hiking veteran border collie, aka Alpha lead dog, a trusty Beagle as her deputy, and a rather cute, pampered poodle who, if she felt a trifle silly being carried in a handbag for most of the walk, didn't show it ...

 Keep up, people ...

This hike was scheduled for a time of year (two weeks ago) when the woods are normally blazing with autumn colours - but as you can see, they were still overwhelmingly green, as the trees have turned very late this year.

On the trail leading out of the woods (with Princess Poodle still being carried) ...

we came back full circle through adjacent farmland

and ended, as English rambles must by tradition, with victuals at a local pub ... was it going to be the Blackwood Arms or the Jolly Woodman? 


  1. This comment has been removed by the author.

  2. This is exactly the kind of ramble I miss now I live in California - especially the pub...

  3. Karen, I loved being able to go along with your rambling group through these woods. And that ancient oak...well, what a gorgeous tree. How I would love to meet it in person some day...and the same goes for that charming little beagle!

    So, which pub did you choose, or did you perhaps sample the hospitality of both?


  4. 'breathtaking' is the word here!
    Jaw-dropping beauty
    Love how you combine history and landscape.

  5. I had heard about Burnham Beeches in WW2 but long forgotten it.
    Gosh, how Buster and I would have loved the day in the woods!
    Superb photos as ever.
    Things much better here for us --but awful for others still.


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