The Old Man of Calke – still hanging on after 1,200 years

At my age birthdays are a mixed blessing. On the one hand they’re a cause for celebration (Yes, I’ve made it through another 12 months!). But they’re also a time for reflection on how your body has fared over the last year, which bits of it have started hurting, begun to misfire or even stopped working altogether. Spare a thought, then, for the Old Man of Calke, who’s still hanging on after 1,200 years.

The Old Man of Calke

The Old Man is one of many magnificent trees to be found in parkland at the Calke Abbey estate in the south of Derbyshire. Calke Park extends to around 600 acres (240 hectares), and is managed for the nation by the National Trust. Around one third is designated as a National Nature Reserve and Site of Special Scientific Interest.

After the Covid restrictions earlier in the year, our visit to Calke Park in October 2020 provided a welcome opportunity to get close to nature again, strolling past picturesque ponds and along shaded woodland paths. There’s lots to see during a walk around the park, but without doubt the ancient and veteran trees are the stars of the show.

Ancient and veteran trees are common at Calke Park

Calke is home to over 650 veteran trees, of which 350 are regarded as ancient trees. What’s the difference? I hear you asking. The Woodland Trust explains that “an ancient tree is one that has passed beyond maturity and is old, or aged, in comparison with other trees of the same species…A veteran tree is a survivor that has developed some of the features found on an ancient tree, not necessarily as a consequence of time, but of its life or environment. Ancient veterans are ancient trees, not all veterans are old enough to be ancient.” Clear as mud? Baffled? Absolutely!

The technical definitions may be more confusing than enlightening, but at an estimated age of around 1,200 years the Old Man of Calke must surely qualify as an ancient veteran. To put it into context, the Old Man was a sapling when the Vikings were rampaging across the country, and already had some 250 years under his belt when King Harold took one in the eye during the Norman invasion of England in 1066.

Mere Pond at Calke Park

The Old Man is an English Oak, and although not very tall, it boasts a girth of over 10 metres. The trunk is gnarled, split and holed in places, giving the tree a somewhat battered and time-worn appearance. Despite this it is a massively imposing presence in the Calke parkland and seems to wear its great age lightly.

Thanks to the National Trust’s careful management, the Old Man of Calke will hopefully survive long enough to give several more generations of visitors to the Park the thrill of getting up close and personal with a tree that was in its prime when William the Conqueror first set foot on these shores.

The Old Man of Calke

15 comments

  1. blhphotoblog · 24 Days Ago

    Amazing tree! Always difficult to get your mind around how something can survive to such a great age.

    Liked by 1 person

  2. Yeah, Another Blogger · 24 Days Ago

    If humans didnโ€™t cut trees down, I suppose that incredible numbers of ancient trees would still be around.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Platypus Man · 24 Days Ago

      Yes, our vision of what “natural” woodlands look like is shaped by mankind’s tree-felling activities – very few trees are allowed to live long enough to die a natural death.

      Liked by 1 person

  3. Laurie Graves · 24 Days Ago

    Oh. My. God. Those trees are amazing. Ancient ones. Yes. A magical post. Thanks for for sharing. As I’m sure you’ve guessed, I have a thing for trees, especially for old oaks, which have made their way into my stories.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Platypus Man · 24 Days Ago

      It makes me shiver, to think of the lives that have been lived (and lost?) beneath the branches of that tree. I can see how trees like it must have inspired Tolkien to come up with his Ents, beings that have stayed with me since I first read Lord of the Rings decades ago.

      Liked by 1 person

  4. tanjabrittonwriter · 23 Days Ago

    Happy birthday, Old Man of Calke. You and your fellow veterans are truly venerable. ๐ŸŒณ

    Liked by 1 person

  5. kaymckenziecooke · 22 Days Ago

    Such a time warrior-tree can only be imagined here in our ‘young’ country of Aotearoa / New Zealand. Dinosaur bones though do demonstrate how ancient our land and what existed here long before any human habitation.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Platypus Man · 22 Days Ago

      NZ does have some magnificent trees though. We saw some fabulous kahikatea on the west coast of South Island; maybe not as old as the Old Man (just a few hundred years!) but so tall and majestic. They too are very special trees.

      Liked by 2 people

  6. nationalparkswitht · 21 Days Ago

    Happy birthday!

    Liked by 2 people

    • Platypus Man · 21 Days Ago

      Thank you! I shall resist the temptation to rename my blog “Now I’m 65!” ๐Ÿ™‚๐Ÿฅ‚๐Ÿ™‚

      Liked by 2 people

  7. ladylapoet · 20 Days Ago

    awesome story and happiest birthday

    Liked by 2 people

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