The Mysterious Case of the Queen’s Oak at Hurley Lock!

 

HOW IT BEGAN

After the launch of All Along the River I received  a  message from  a friend and ex-neighbour at Harleyford.  Jo wanted an extra copy of the book as a gift for a friend, so Rob and I promised to drop one in.  We decided it would be a nice idea to park the car  in Hurley (Berks)  then  walk  along the  riverside and across the wooden footbridge to  the Harleyford Estate  (Bucks.)   This was always one of my favourite sections of the Thames Path.  To my delight there was a wedding about to take place at Hurley Church . We were too early for the bride, but I did enjoy  watching  all the guests  arrive in their summer finery.

At Hurley Lock Island we stopped to check on the Royal Oak. This has become a bit of a tradition for us over the years. It was still a sapling when we bought our lodge at Harleyford back in 1996. The history of the tree is explained in this extract from  my book;

‘Amid great excitement on October 18 1974, Queen Elizabeth arrived in Hurley by car, then took the footpath from the village to the lock, where she  boarded a steamer for a trip down to Runnymede. The Queen planted an oak tree on Hurley Lock Island to commemorate the journey, or as a plaque states more regally:  ‘…the occasion of her river progress.’   Oaks grow slowly, but forty  years on the tree has reached  a considerable size.’

The oak was looking fantastic. I swear its girth  has increased a few belt sizes since our  last visit in 2011  No  doubt this is due to relentless  rain over the last couple of years.  However, as we approached  we noticed   a raw gash on the near  side of the  trunk. It  was about 20cm square, a couple of  feet from the base.

Queen Elizabeth's Hurley Oak.

Queen Elizabeth’s Hurley Oak. The damage was obvious even from a distance.

THE MYSTERY DEEPENS

Oh my hat, we were  appalled!  This was definitely a case for my  alter-ego, Miss Marple.  My first instinct was to blame vandals. Yes, I know…. a  sad reflection of my jaded opinion of  modern society.  However, on  closer inspection  we realized the  deep gouges  were unlikely to have been caused by human hand.

Is there an escaped grizzly bear at Hurley??

Is there an escaped grizzly bear at Hurley??

It was definitely  claw marks we were looking at.  Could the culprit have been a  squirrel, or a  water rat?   Or perhaps a   buck rabbit,  or  a  rabid mole?  I don’t think so!  None of these creatures could  cause such damage, unless an individual has  somehow morphed into a monster of its species.  Hmmm …no reports of  a grizzly bear on the loose from London Zoo.   But,  there are stories the world over about escaped panthers and pumas.  Admittedly, most of the sightings in the UK have been in Hampshire, including an alleged baring of the fangs incident at Basingstoke station! How scary if their range has increased to include Berkshire.  It makes the warning sign on the nearby field scarcely worth worrying about.

Who cares about a bull when there could be a wild panther abut?

Who cares about a  Hurley bull when there could be a wild panther about?

 

While Rob and I were puzzling over this next day  our friend Errol Fuller turned up. Now Errol is something of  an expert on natural history and he mentioned one animal we hadn’t  thought about….the badger! A little bit of research and we were sure we had our culprit.  Just look at those claws;

The claws of a culprit?

The claws of a culprit?

 

CASE SOLVED? MAYBE….

Of course we don’t have conclusive proof, but I think it might be worth contacting the palace.  It must verge on treason to willfully damage a royal tree.  Beware Mr Badger of Hurley, there could be a price  on your head.  Or you might even  lose your head!

The prime suspect (Wikipedia)

The prime suspect (Wikipedia)

 

 

Jokes aside, I hope the oak has not been seriously harmed, and that  whatever creature  inflicted the damage stays away.  A few more attacks and the tree could be ring-barked.  Just look at the one pictured below. In this case it was verified badger damage. I suppose a Yeoman Guard from the Tower could  come out and keep watch!

 

A badger has caused damage all around the trunk of this tree.

A badger has caused damage all around the trunk of this tree. (Wikipedia)

 

I hope to return  for years to come to watch the Queen’s tree approach maturity; would be so sad if it didn’t outlive Her Majesty.

POSTSCRIPT – After we delivered the book to Jo (and enjoyed her carrot cake and griddle  scones)  we retraced our steps to Hurley.  Just by the lock we came across another mystery. The case of the missing rower.  Investigations continue…..

Where is the missing crew member?

Where is the missing crew member?

 

10 Comments
  1. Badgers are definitely on the increase. I’ve seen more dead ones on the roads this summer than in my entire life! I wonder if they need to scratch – like cats – but have ‘scratching territory’? If so, maybe they’re running out of trees? I think the Queen needs to get busy planting!

    • Yes, apparently they do have scratching trees Ann. We thought at first that some animal might have been looking for grubs but the rest of the trunk looks very smooth and healthy. I agree, Her Majesty should come and plant a spare!

  2. Serious response: Trees will usually survive unless a ring of bark is removed completely around the trunk, so hopefully this one will be OK and looks healthy enough to compete against virus etc.
    My son was awarded a Jubilee Oak last year which is now planted on his land in Sussex. It will be good to compare with our gorgeous Gaia
    (b.Aug 2012) as she too grows.
    Flippant response: There are public toilets on the island at Hurley, so I reckon the rower had just popped out for a comfort stop! Running water does the trick in hospitals, maybe running rivers have the same effect.

    • Pauline

      How lovely for your son re the Jubilee Oak Marcia. Of course he will never be able to sell the property! Ha ha, very amused about the running river and the rower.

  3. I was charmed by this blog. I need to subscribe, and more importantly, buy your books. I am going from here to Amazon.com to find them!

  4. Oh, I’ve never seen or heard of that! Wow 🙂

    Xx

    • Pauline

      Still wondering whether I should report the damage to the Queen!

  5. I recently received a gift of acorns from a friend who shall remain unnamed to protect her from the Tower.

    This plunder was gathered from under the oak planted by our beloved monarch.

    I was searching for the type of oak when I came across your story.

    This tree must be protected.

    J

    • Pauline

      Oh, how interesting John. I hope you will plant the acorns somewhere hidden away… and carefully nurture them! They will be good back-ups in case the worst ever happens to the Queen’s oak.

Leave a Reply

Time limit is exhausted. Please reload CAPTCHA.