A Magical Place

In Leicestershire, near to the town of Earl Shilton, is a very special tree. It is in fact two trees that have bonded to-gether. Nothing unusual in that you might think, but these trees are two different species. One is an oak (Quercus robur) and the other is an ash (Fraxinus excelsior).

This particular tree, or should I say trees, is located by a public footpath so consequently it is visited by a lot of people from in and around Earl Shilton and the adjoining villages which the footpath links with.

It is difficult to say just how old the tree is, but I would estimate at least 175 years, possibly a bit older. Obviously the two seeds, or young trees, were planted at the same time to have grown together so well. I say "planted" because a local legend says that they were planted by two young lovers.


The Lovers Story.

(The following article, told by Mr Ted Orton, and written by reporter Mitch Irving, appeared in The Hinckley Times on 12 July 2001)

Just to the south of Peckleton there stands, in the middle of a field, an oddity of nature - a tree that is both oak and ash. Many of the walks undertaken by ramblers pass by it and may be unaware of how the oak and ash came to grow in this particular spot.

The story begins some time during the latter half of the 18th century when the landscape around Peckleton, Kirkby Mallory, and Earl Shilton was greatly different to today. The fields were much smaller and the land was tilled by people of all ages - generations of the same families working the same fields year on year.

There was a lot of rivalry between the families and the groups of workers would generally keep apart. However, as might be expected, where the boundaries met it was occasionally impossible for the workers not to meet and pass the time of day with people from outside their own close knit community.


Smiles.

Thus it was that one day, during the last days of harvest, a young lady from Peckleton caught the eye of a young man from Earl Shilton on the far side of the valley.

From this very first moment, a spark was kindled in their hearts, and at every opportunity they would glance up from their labours and smile at each other. As the days became shorter and the harvest drew to a close, the young man decided that he must arrange a meeting with the girl before they would have to return to their respective villages, perhaps never to see each other again.


Whispers.

As luck would have it, just as he was despairing of getting close enough to speak to here, he was asked by his father to fetch water from the stream, and to do this he would have to pass close by the girl. As he was passing, he whispered to her "I love you, meet me tonight at this spot if you love me". With this he moved away, wondering if she would turn up.

He had no need to worry for the girl had indeed fallen in love with him, and although he had only ever smiled at her, she knew in her heart there could never be another man for her.

Throughout the autumn and at every opportunity in the winter they would meet at the same spot and spend an hour or two enjoying the changing of the seasons and each others company, their love growing stronger by the day. Unfortunately, although they wished only to be together forever, their parents had other ideas and one day the girls' father announced that he had promised her hand in marriage to a young man from another village.

This almost broke her heart but, as an obedient daughter, she knew she would have to agree to the match. Therefore on a day in early Spring, as she sat with her love at the spot where they had courted since the first shy glances across the golden sheaves of corn, she sobbed out the fact that they must part forever. There was no chance of eloping as they had no money and although broken hearted, the young man accepted that his beloved would never truly be his and this must be their last meeting.

Suddenly he had an idea. Although no one must know of their secret tryst, there could still be a memorial to their love.


Together in spirit.

They would each collect the seed of a tree and plant them side by side, he an acorn and she a winged seed of an ash, so that at least in spirit they could always be together. Over the years the two trees grew, past the first flush of spring and throughout the glory of summer.

As the seasons passed they didn't grow straight and true, they grew closer together, the oak wrapping itself around the ash to protect it in a fond embrace that echoed the love of these two young people.

While the trees stand the proof of enduring love is there to see for all who care to pass that way.

Perhaps if you stand very still and quiet, you may hear the sound of gentle voices and laughter, or is it the murmuring of the stream close by? Local people have reported that the have seen the ghosts of the young couple embracing by the tree; I don't believe it myself, but I suppose it could be true.

That is the legend of the oak and the ash. If it isn't true, then I think it should be.

               - Ted Orton.

tree seperator

Alternate Story

Another version of the origin of the Oak-and-Ash that was related to me by an old lady from Peckleton who tells a similar story. She claims to be a descendent of the couple involved, and told me that the following story has been passed down through her family.

A young man from Earl Shilton did in fact meet a girl from Peckleton whilst working in the fields, and their respective families were at loggerheads over the ownership of a strip of land between the two farms. Obviously the families were not keen on the pair meeting up. After a long and difficult time of secret meetings, their families finally agreed to them marrying, and apparently this healed the rift between his and her parents.

After the marriage the couple went to their secret meeting place on the green lane between the two villages and planted two trees side by side to celebrate their union.

This story is not as glamourous as the legend of the Oak-n'-the Ash and for that reason is probably more true, but being a sentimental romantic, I prefer to believe the original story. After all the old lady who told me the second story could well have got her facts wrong.

Oak and Ash Tree True or not?

Getting back to the original story, could there be an element of truth in it? If you believe in magic, and the spirits of the woods, the flowers, and nature then yes, it could well be true. They say that there is always an element of truth in myths and legends, otherwise they would not endue over the years.

Let's look at the facts. It is well known that if two plants of the same species grow very close together the stronger one will take over the space and kill the weaker one. That is the law of nature, survival of the fittest and I think that the same law applies to two different plants, again it's the survival of the fittest.

Why is this tree the only one in the field? Why has it never been trampled on by cattle, or been eaten by other animals when it was just two young saplings?

(To keep referring to the tree as two separate ones is silly, because they are now one, so I will refer to it as singular from now on.)

I think it survived its early years because the young man, after having said farewell forever to his love, visited the tree on a regular basis for the rest of his life to tend and care for it and to make sure that no harm came to it. If he inherited the land, or bought it later in life then this could well be the case. To me this is the only possible reason why it flourished and survives to this day. If that bit of land in those days was a small wood or coppice and was cleared for farmland, why was that tree left? I think it was because it was very special to someone.

So you see, I believe the legend to be true, otherwise the tree would have disappeared long ago.

Ancient Connections.

I regard the area around the tree as a Special Place for me, and I visit it on a frequent basis to make sure that the area is always clean and tidy. It is not only visiting a special place that is important, but also the getting there. To walk along an ancient path to a Special Place is to walk a way that generations have walked before, possibly with some spiritual purpose in mind. I have been told by various people that walking the land is one way of reconnecting with your inner self, and to go and sit beneath this Special tree in this Special place to meditate and be quiet does wonders for the soul.

               - Keith Smith.

tree seperator

The Oak 'n Ash Tree.

By Christine Coole


There's a place now in the Midlands, in the south of Leicestershire,
Near the boundary of Earl Shilton, where two footpaths cross near.
A mighty tree is growing, tho' it's not what it seems,
For it is two great giants, grown together in the green.


Chorus:
Seasons come and seasons go, from tiny seeds great giants grow,
Seasons come and seasons go, there's magic in the seeds we sow.


Many, many years ago two seeds fell side by side,
One from oak and one from ash, each from its own tribe
And each set down into the ground its own strong feeding root.
While from the earth to sun and sky, each sent its own green shoot.


Chorus.

As years went by they grew and grew, their twigs began to touch.
Their leaves fluttered together when the winds blew from the south.
The oak began to wrap its branches round the ash so straight,
The oaks bole crept around its mate and so they were locked tight.


Chorus.

And so they stand now, joined as one, like lovers do entwine,
Basking in the sun and rain, two hearts measuring time
And where one sways, the other goes, an endless rhythmic dance,
The oak-ash tree of Leicestershire, mother earth's pure gift of chance.


Chorus. (twice)

© Christine Coole. 2008.

The above song is reproduced here by kind permission of Christine Coole.