I first learned about the Nannau oak while working on “Honest Labour: The Charles Hayward Years.” Flipping through every page of every issue of The Woodworker magazine, I skimmed a lot of text. But a lot of what Hayward wrote slowed me down, like this entry in the Diary, a regular smattering of bits and pieces of news all somewhat related to wood that I loved to read.
Old Welsh Oaks
The unexpected fall, about six weeks ago, of the giant oak tree in Powis Castle Park, Welshpool, recalls other historic oak trees in Wales. There was the Nannau oak, near Welshpool, which fell suddenly after a great storm in 1813. As the “haunted” tree it was long an object of superstitious dread. The legend goes that in a quarrel Owain Glyndwr slew his cousin, the Lord of Nannau, and thrust his body into the hollow trunk of the old oak. Not far from the Nannau oak is another which is connected with Owain Glyndwr, and is called Glyndwr’s Oak or The Shelton Oak. It is now a gnarled old specimen, and the story tells that from its branches Glyndwr watched the fate of his ally, Henry Hotspur, at the battle of Shrewsbury, in 1403. Owain was unable to reach Hotspur, on account of the swollen state of the Severn, the bridges being held by the King. The tree is now so hollow with age that several persons at a time can stand inside its trunk.
–– Charles Hayward
Still we read about the falls of great oaks, such as as BBC’s coverage of the estimated 1,000-year-old Buttington Oak, which fell two miles from Welshpool, Wales, in October 2018.
The Philadelphia Inquirer wrote about an obituary for the Salem Oak in June 2019.
The New York Times covered the 2017 cutting down of the 600-year-old “Old Oak Tree” in the churchyard of a Presbyterian church in Basking Ridge, New Jersey.
How can you write 500 words, 1,000 words, on the death of a tree? Turns out, once you become an old-enough tree, you become the topic of (or, perhaps more often, the setting of) legends. True, untrue, it doesn’t matter. It’s difficult to read about a centuries-old oak that has died without also reading some fantastic tale associated with it. And once I started researching the Nannau oak, I realized there was just so much story to work with, which led me to “The Mabinogion” itself. How to turn this into something? I had no idea. But I couldn’t let it go which I suppose is the way most somethings begin.
— Kara Gebhart Uhl