A Celebration of the Oak Tree

Scattered across the Vale of Pewsey are woods and copses – some quite small – full of native British trees and providing important habitats for flora and fauna.  In spring, they are home to a riot of colour as the bluebells carpet the woodland floor – particularly at West Woods.  

On the north eastern edge of the Vale, you will find Savernake Forest, a Site of Special Scientific Interest, which is an ancient hunting forest of some 4,500 acres and the only ancient forest in Britain that is still privately owned.

There are 7 ancient oaks in Savernake Forest, all of which can be found in the Marlborough Savernake Tree Trail leaflet.  Sitting right on the edge of the A346 road which runs north – south through the forest, you will find the most famous of these oaks - the Big Belly Oak.  And this beautiful, gnarled oak, with its metal girdle holding it together, is one of the ancient oaks described in The British Oak, a wonderful book, with plenty of superb images, written by specialist tree writer and photographer, Archie Miles.

Published in 2013 (and with a second edition in 2016), the book explores the history and stories of a selection of the most famous and ancient oak trees from across the country. 

Archie explains, “The main thrust of the book was twofold, namely to celebrate all the different biological, historical and cultural elements of the oak, but also to spotlight a selection of the most famous or ancient trees - usually the ones with good stories attached, rather than just big trees.” 

The British oak tree supports 2,300 species, of which 326 depend on oak trees for their survival, so they are very important! 

And also very important to the Vale of Pewsey landscape is the ash tree – sadly currently under threat of eradication from ash dieback. 

Moved by his memories of the loss of elm trees across the country from Dutch Elm disease in the 1970s, Archie has recently published a large format, lavishly illustrated work called, simply, ASH.

Our long-distance route – the Pewsey Vale Circular Way – has a non-waymarked detour into Savernake Forest, where you can visit the Big Belly Oak, and the other ancient trees.  A hunting forest for King Henry VIII (amongst others) what stories these trees could tell from their 1000 years or more on this planet!

Archie’s extensive collection of books, written and published over the last 20 years, and focusing on trees, their place in our culture and history, wildlife, and walking amongst them, can be ordered online.  You can also order direct from Archie by emailing archiemiles@btinternet.com for a copy of The British Oak and ASH, as well as his privately printed work, Treescape.