In an uncultivated field north of Earl Shilton, there is a very special tree. It is in fact two trees that have bonded together, making one. 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 peculiar tree, or should I say trees, is located by a public footpath so consequently it is visited frequently by walkers that use the ancient footpath that links the town of Earl Shilton with the small village of Peckleton.
It is difficult to say just how old the tree is, but It is roughly guessed at between 175 to 200 years old, possibly even 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.
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.
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.
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 girl’s 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.
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.”
(Story by Mr. Ted Orton, and written by reporter Mitch Irving, appeared in The Hinckley Times on 12 July 2001)
Another version of the origin of the Oak-and-Ash tree was told by a lady from Peckleton. She claims to be a descendent of the couple involved, and said 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.”
Could the stories be true?
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.)
It must of 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. 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, the legend could to be true, otherwise the tree would have disappeared long ago.
The location of the tree is on Article map page: Which you can visit by clicking here. The map includes parking and the footpath. Just look for the following on the map.
Thank you to EarlShilton.org.uk, you can visit them at: http://earlshilton.org.uk/oa/oak-ash.html