A mere sapling when King Charles I was on the throne, the Knightwood Oak is over 500 years old and is the largest oak tree in the New Forest. Famous for many years, it has long been a popular tourist attraction, and the area around it was recently re-landscaped to make it more accessible to the public.
Read on to find out how to get to it, it's history and what else there is to do in the area.
Situated near the small town of Lyndhurst in Hampshire, the Knightwood Oak is in one of the loveliest spots of the New Forest. It can be found at the southern end of the Bolderwood Ornamental Drive which leads from the A35 to the Bolderwood Deer Sanctuary, another lovely place to visit where you can watch wild deer being fed in the forest.
The New Forest is the perfect place for the Slow Traveller, and this living monument within its leafy boundaries is no exception. Free to visit and far from any typical forms of tourist attraction, with no commercial sites or noisy venues nearby, this is the place to go for peace and nature, with limited evidence of human interference. Birdsong and the scuttling of wildlife in the undergrowth is the loudest it gets here.
Surrounded by dense woodland with a springy mossy carpet on one side, and open greenery on the other, the Knightwood Oak stands out in its surroundings, with its thick girth and towering open branches.
The tree is encircled by a cleft oak fence to protect it from visitors who had been compacting the ground around it with their footfall. It has recently had new gravel paths laid in the vicinity and a picnic area with wooden benches provided.
The tree has long had many visitors - apparently even by royalty, reaching its zenith during the Victorian era, when tourists would visit from far and wide to see what they dubbed 'The Queen of the Forest'. It has quite a girth, recorded at 5.3 metres in 1863, 5.8m in 1906 and is currently nearly 8 metres.
The Knightwood Oak is a perfect example of pollarding - the traditional way of harvesting wood without killing the tree, and it could be this that has led to its impressive longevity.
Pollarding is when the crown of the tree is taken off at just above human head height, forcing the tree to grow a multitude of narrow stems.
These sticks can then be harvested after 15-20 years, usually for charcoal production, and the cycle would continue.
The tree was last pollarded about 300 years ago, when the Royal Navy needed straighter, thicker wood for ship building, and pollarding was no longer the priority.
Ancient pollarded oaks provide a welcome home to a variety of wildlife. You may well see birds of prey, woodpeckers, beetles and a variety of fungi, as well as the usual forest inhabitants.
The area around the Knightwood Oak is perhaps even more appealing than the tree itself. Just off to one side is a densely packed grove of thin, straight trees. The forest floor is thick with leaves and moss, giving you a bounce as you walk across it. Shallow gullies radiate across the ground, traversed by log bridges, and small wooden camps appear, created by unseen hands.
Slightly further afield is the Portuguese Fireplace, which is just a short walk through the forest, or the Canadian War Memorial, which is at the other end of the Bolderwood Ornamental Drive. The Bolderwood Deer Sanctuary is on this Drive and is a good place to take kids. Not far away is the New Forest Wildlife Park, fantastic for kids and adults alike, with plenty to see and do.
VISITING THE KNIGHTWOOD OAK
How to get to the Knightwood Oak
Postcode: SO43 7GR
Public Transport: The Oak is not easily accessible by public transport, with the nearest bus stop at Minstead, an hour's walk away. Try Moovit to work out your best routes on public transport around the New Forest.
Parking: Parking is free in the car park which is a short walk away. You can find it at w3w: shoelaces.freshen.farmed
When is the Knightwood Oak open?
The forest is accessible every day, all year round
How much does it cost to visit the Knightwood Oak?
The site is free to visit and there are no charges for parking either.
Are there any facilities at the Kightwood Oak?
There are no facilities here other than a car park, the site is not staffed and there are no loos or refreshments. The nearest place to find facilities is at the Bolderwood Deer Sanctuary.
Which is the nearest town to the Knightwood Oak?
Lyndhurst is the nearest town. See our New Forest Guide (coming soon) for details on how to get to the Forest, locally owned accommodation, restaurants and shops, further places to visit and things to do.