This is a 2022 update on the story of the Queen’s Oak at Hurley Lock.
In 2014, I was in the UK following the launch of my book on the Thames Path, held at Marlow Library. Everyone was so kind and generous, especially as I was an Aussie with a rather cheeky approach to English history. 😎
Next day I received a message from an ex-neighbour at nearby Harleyford. Jo wanted an extra copy of the book for a friend, so my partner 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.)
At Hurley Lock Island we stopped to check on the Queen’s Oak. This has become a bit of a tradition for us over the years. It was still a sapling when we bought our holiday lodge on the estate back in 1996.
The history of the oak 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.’
By the way, the book is out of print now, so I’m not trying to flog it. 😍
Imagine how many trees Her Majesty planted during her long life. In the following photo she is aged ten, and planting a yew tree.
But I digress. The Hurley oak was looking fantastic. I swear its girth had increased a few belt sizes since our previous visit in 2011. 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.
THE MYSTERY DEEPENS
Oh my hat, we were appalled! My first instinct was to blame vandals. Yes,… 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.
It was definitely claw marks we were looking at. Could the culprit have been a squirrel, or a water rat? Perhaps a buck rabbit…..or, God forbid, a rabid mole? Surely none of these creatures could cause such damage, unless an individual had somehow morphed into a monster of its species. Of course here are stories the world over of 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 railway station! How scary if their range has increased to include Berkshire. It made a warning sign on the nearby field scarcely worth worrying about.
Hang on, could a bull have butted the tree? Hmm, I doubt it.
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;
CASE OF THE QUEEN’S OAK SOLVED? WELL MAYBE….
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!
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. Look at the one pictured below. In this case it was verified badger damage.
UPDATE – I hope to return in years to come to watch the Queen’s oak approach maturity; it would be sad if it hasn’t outlived Her Majesty. Perhaps I could ask someone to check.
On the Berkshire side of the river is a park for permanent holiday caravans. The owners planted another oak to celebrate the Platinum Jubilee.
ROYAL TREE PLANTING AT HOME AND ABROAD
An English oak for Canada, 1951;
Here is the Queen planting a gum tree on Australian soil in 2006.
Over a decade later (in the UK) and in goes yet another tree. I’m not at all surprised that Queen Elizabeth refused help to plant this Mulberry. What a trooper she was.
21 APRIL 1926 – 8 SEPTEMBER 2022
REST IN PEACE YOUR MAJESTY. ALL THOSE TREES YOU PLANTED, INCLUDING THE QUEEN’S OAK AT HURLEY, ARE A WONDERFUL LEGACY. 🌳🌲
SIMPLY NEVER TOO OLD TO PLANT A TREE.