The Oak Tree

In this particular post, we are going to talk about the Oak tree, or more specifically the English Oak tree, and how we can use it. The Oak is one of those classic English trees, its a recognisable name, and most people will have things in their house that are made from Oak. How can it be used though? Well in this post we will go over some interesting uses, and what makes it special.

How to spot it

Before we can use it, we have to be able to identify it. There are some distinctive points about the Oak tree, to help you distinguish it from other trees. The Oak is a large tree, about 20m-40m tall when fully grown. It is also deciduous, so it loses it’s leaves in the autumn. When the Oak gets older it forms a broad crown on top, so no spike. It grows big sturdy branches underneath, so overall it forms a nice rounded tree, which is quite distinctive. The canopy it forms is actually really good at letting light through, so you generally find lots of plants growing underneath them; these can include primroses and bluebells, and other woodland floor plants. Young oaks have quite smooth and silvery bark, but as they get older, they get huge cracks and crevices throughout, this is a great way to differentiate from other trees.

The leaves are also pretty recognisable, they tend to be about 10cm long, with 4 or 5 big deep rounded lobes along the edges, these are smooth. Be aware though, that the amount of lobes can change between different forms of oak, in fact this is one big way of differentiating between them. The leaves generally don’t have much in the way of a stem, and grow in bunches, close together. They really grow around mid may. The Oak also flowers, the long yellow hanging catkins distribute pollen into the air. In the winter, the tree can be identified by bunches of rounded buds, with each bud having 3 or more scales.

Technically the Oak has fruits, although we know them as acorns. They are generally 2-2.5cm long, on fairly long stalks, and have a little cup that they sit in (called a cupule). While they grow  they are a green colour, but as they ripen they become a more autumnal brown. At this point they loosen from the cupule and fall to the floor. Anyone who has walked around an oak tree knows there can be many of them. These acorns are a rich food source, so they don’t hang around long. Many wild creatures come along to feast on them, like squirrels, jays and mice. For them to germinate, they need to root quickly, before they dry out.

The Oak is generally found in the northern hemisphere, in cool regions as well as tropical climates. In England they are found in southern and central woods.

Why are They Useful?

In terms of wildlife, the Oak tree is rich in biodiversity, and arguably support more life forms than any other tree native to Britain. In the autumn the falling acorns are often eaten by badgers and deer. These acorns are technically edible, but read up on ways to prepare them first, they contain tannins, which should really be removed before eating. 10,000 years ago, humans used acorns to make flour. Also during autumn, beetles and fungi take advantage of the fallen leaves. The leaves are soft, and break down easily, forming a rich environment underneath the tree. Birds are often found nesting in the Holes that the Oak’s bark provides, bats also use some of these holes, mainly due to the rich supply of insects.

The Oak tree has forever been known as a hard and durable timber, even it’s latin name Quercus Robur means strength. So it has been used for centuries as a building material, up until the 19th century, it was the primary ship building material. Unfortunately, it takes up to 150 years before an oak is ready to be used in construction. For those who want to tan leather, the bark of the Oak contains Tannin, and has been used for this purpose since roman times. This Tannic acid is also found in it’s leaves, and is poisonous to horses, and humans, damaging the kidneys.

If you wanted to plant your own acorn, it needs to be as soon as it falls to stop it drying out, if its right, a sapling should arrive the following spring.

Best Uses for an Oak Tree

For the keen bushcrafter, here is the main uses for oak trees.

  • Harvesting acorns, although these need to be processed before edible, its a great free source of food.
  • Plenty of insects to eat living in the tree, they also attract squirrels, birds, badgers and deer. So depending on how brave you are, there could be some good meals to be found.
  • Strong wood, things like digging sticks, tools, or anything that needs strength or impact resistance.
  • The inner bark of a dead branch is a good tinder.
  • The leaves do not rot very fast, and are often the last left on the forest, so could be used for shade, huts, or maybe even flooring.
  • The wood is good to burn for a fire. It burns wells, and produces a heat good enough for cooking.
  • The tannin found all over the tree is good for stopping bleeding, it does it by making the capillaries contract.

Hambury Tout Trig Point

So my sister decided to do the Dorset Doddle this year, a crazy 32 mile walk between Weymouth and Swanage. Being one of those challenge walks that is “not a competition” she carried basically nothing. We were there to meet her at checkpoints, and give her food an fill up her water bottle.

One of the scheduled checkpoints was Lulworth cove. A lovely little cove, just east of Durdle Door. We have been here many times, so we had already seen all the shops a million times. Having a quick look at the map. we saw there was a trig point just up the hill. Now this hill doesn’t look very formidable from the bottom, but it’s like all the hills in the area, deceptively steep.

The name of this hill is Hambury Tout, and not much is known about it. It’s seems to be pretty empty of history, except there is a burial mound of some description on the peak. Also known as a round barrow, various remains, including a skeleton were discovered during an excavation in 1790. This means that the trig point is not actually at the very top of the hill, it’s on the northern side of the mound. You can’t actually see the sea from it!

The hill is said to be made of chalk, making the pathway bright white, and extremely obvious. Also, considering the weather, there were an awful lot of people traipsing up and down the hill. Although, there were none at the trig point, which was only 50m or so off the path. The peak of the hill sits at 441 feet above sea level (134m) so it was a good trip for anyone who want a small challenge. The views at the top were also worth the effort.

Here are a few pictures from our trip up to the trig point!

the trig point
The trig point, from the south, with Lulworth camp in the background
trig from the west
The trig point from the west, with West Lulworth in the background
bindon hill to the west
Bindon hill to the west of the hill
Lulworth Cove
As we walked down the hill, a great view of Lulworth Cove

Finding Black Hill Trig Point

Our latest family summer holiday took us to the wonderful world of Herefordshire. After a trip through lots of tiny roads, meeting lots of tractors going the other way, we arrived in a cute little village called Craswall. After settling in, and looking round, the one part of the landscape that was very noticeable was the giant hill next to us.

black hill as we climb
The view from the side of Black Hill

Well obviously we had to climb it! Plus, once I looked at the map and found out there was a trig point at the top, we had a goal. As you can see from the image, there is a ridge going up to the top. We started at the side of the ridge. Our plan was to walk along the base to a car park, where there was a clear route up the hill.

view from the car park
The view from the car park

They call this hill the ‘cat’s back’ because it apparently looks like a cat ready to pounce when you look at it from afar. I could’t see the resemblance. Does that mean we climbed its bum? This was a bit of a hill for us though, we aren’t in practice, so we took a few rests along the way (admiring the view obviously). The view from the top was definitely worth it though. The fact it was a clear day meant we could see all the way to satellite station just outside Hereford. It was one of those views you could take hundreds of pictures of. Here are a few of mine, as we travelled along the ridge to the very top.

The view from the top towards hereford
The view from the top, you can almost see Hereford in the distance
from the top, the black mountains
The view from the top, of the black mountain ridge
when we looked backwards
The view we got when we looked backwards from the top

A bit about the landscape of the area. As you can kind of see from the images, we are right on the edge of the brecon beacons, to the east of the Black Mountains. This particular part is a ridge with very steep sides, and lots of rocky parts along the path. I believe this is known as a rocky knife edge. Whereas on the north side of the hill (other side of the trig point) its much more boggy, with gentle slopes. Much like the landscape of Dartmoor. in the images below you can see the difference between the ridge and the slopes.

the ridge
my aunt attempting photographic poses on the ridge
the final ascent
the final ascent, as the slopes get less steep

After a long old trip, we got to the top. and found the trig point. As they usually are, in the middle of a puddle. It hadn’t even been raining! Although it had been extremely windy (20mph by some readings). We stayed there for a little while, but the wind turned out to be too much, so we got our pictures and got out of there. Lucky that the may didn’t blow away in the wind!

the trig point
finally, the trig point we were looking for

After that we made our way swiftly down the hill, and back to the house for a pint and a bit of Olympics on the TV.