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The Forest of Dean by H. G. Nicholls

The venerable Jack of the Yat


Gee, speaking of the birds which he has observed on the north-east side of the Forest, states--"The raven is seen more frequently in the neighbourhood than in most parts of England: his croak over head is not at all an uncommon sound. A pair of buzzards will occasionally circle aloft for a considerable time. The snipe is found very early on the Forest, so much so that I have known in the month of July six killed in a day. The jack snipe particularly abounds about 'the Dam Pool.' The bittern has been twice shot near the same spot within the last twenty years. The seagull skims over occasionally from the Severn side. The water-ousel is frequently met with on the Forest brooks. The cross-bill comes sometimes into the neighbourhood. The turtle-dove particularly abounds, so that in early summer our woods are in a charm with their soft purring. The fern owls are very numerous. I once came on a considerable flock of the rare bird, the siskin. The titmouse tribe are abundant; but we never see the rarer species, the bearded or the crested tit. The chats and the wheatear are of course common. The woodpeckers are very common: even the two pied species might be obtained here with very little trouble. We are all over willow wrens in the spring. On the whole, I should say that it is a neighbourhood unfavourable for the observation of birds; and yet, were an observant naturalist to come among us, he would soon astonish us by what he would discover."

style="text-align: justify;">THE TIMBER.

Most strangers visiting the Forest do so in the expectation of seeing groves of stately timber covering the ground in every direction, and are much disappointed when they find the greater part to consist of oaks, barely fifty years old, comprised in enclosures, and the remainder of the surface disfigured by furnaces, collieries, and groups of inferior buildings. The Forest as it existed in the days of the Norman and Plantagenet kings, William I. and John, who resorted to it for the pleasures of the chase, when its dark recesses often concealed noble fugitives, or disposed its population to habits of violence and plunder, or at a still later period, when its stately trees had become objects of apprehension or jealousy to the Spaniards, was widely different from what it is at present. Few of the trees of those days have survived the fellings, spoliations, and storms of succeeding ages. According to Mr. Pepys, "a great fall" in Edward III.'s reign left only those which in his time were called "forbid trees," to be further reduced by the requirements of seventy-two iron forges, which then lit up the district, or the yet more voracious furnaces by which they were succeeded. One storm alone, viz. that of the 18th of February, 1662, prostrated in one night 1,000 oaks, and as many beech, whilst only 200 were, it is said, left standing after the wholesale fellings perpetrated by Sir John Winter. Of these select few, the venerable "Jack of the Yat," near the Coleford and Mitcheldean Road on the top of "The Long Hill," appears to be one.

[Picture: "Jack of the Yat"]

Mr. Machen thinks it the most ancient tree in the Forest, and probably four or five hundred years old. It is of the Quercus robur kind, or old English oak, the stalks of its acorns being long, with rarely more than one acorn on a stalk, and the stalks of its leaves short. A few years back it was struck by lightning, which has left a deep groove on its trunk. In 1830 it measured, at 6 feet from the ground, 17 feet 8.75 inches; and in 1846 upwards of 18 feet 3.5 inches: but it has long since passed its prime. {208} Two other oaks, similar in form, and fully as large in girth, yet exist, but in a decaying state, on Shapridge.

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