Dorset is full of deep forest, patches of wild wood and thousands of scattered oak trees. Some have trumped development, requiring architectural redesigns and roads to turn corners, while others have brought buildings to rubble with their strong roots. They have stood for centuries, watching the world survive through plague to war and travel change from cart to car.
The valleys below the chalk hills of Dorset were full of wild animals and impassable terrain, so much so it scared the Romans. Hunting became its main use before development slowly encroached. However, many specimens remain, marking this ancient forest, or have been placed on purpose as landscape design of the Lords of the Manor.
Some are hidden, some stand in plain sight but all have their own tales to tell. Some with more than others…
The Solstice, both winter and summer, is the time for the battle between the Holly and Oak Kings. In the winter the Oak King wins and reigns over the rise of the sun. At Midsummer, the Holly King wins and reigns over the decline of the sun.
The oak tree, the King of the forest, has always been at the centre of midsummer celebrations. The Celtic word for oak, duir, translates to doorway, and the oak is seen to be a portal to the mystical realm. The beech tree is the Queen of the forest, decorated with her lighter green leaves as she stands side by side with the reigning oak. To the druids it is a sacred tree and full of ancient wisdom. A wish will come true of you break off a small twig and bury it alongside the tree.
Hazel trees are believed to have magical properties and protect against evil spirits. While cooking, stirring with a hazel branch is thought to keep any thieving fairies at bay.
Holly’s prickly leaves were also thought to ward of any bad energy, the Holly king himself was considered to be a jolly fellow. However, felling a holly is not only considered bad luck but will also release a curse.