Legend has it that the Major Oak in Sherwood Forest was a hiding spot for Robin Hood and his band of Merry Men. The Major Oak has a major reputation to live up to, and I'm pleased to report that it did. That's a good thing, because Sherwood Forest National Nature Reserve's 400,000 visitors per year are coming primarily to see that giant old tree, which is about a 20-minute walk from the Visitor's Center.
While the Major Oak is huge (its trunk is 33 feet wide and its branches spread over 92 feet), that's actually not how it got its name. It was named after Major Hayman Rooke, who wrote a book in 1790 called Remarkable Oaks in the Park of Welbeck in the County of Nottinghamshire. Before that, it was called the Cockpen Tree because its hollow interior was used as a place to store birds before they would be used in a cockfight.
The tree's hollow interior is impressive — recently, a British rugby team was visiting Sherwood Forest and 18 of them squeezed into the tree. (If you visit the tree without VIP status, don't plan on venturing inside because there's a fence surrounding it.)
Indeed it's roomy enough that it might be possible that Robin Hood and some of the Merry Men lived in it, or at least spent time in it. Although then there's the problem that although this tree is between 800—1,200 years old, it only would have been a sapling in the days of Robin Hood in the 12th and 13th centuries. Also, our guide said that the location of this particular tree wouldn't have made it a good hiding place because it was too close to town, and that perhaps it would have been a better meeting place. But Robin Hood's tree would definitely have been just like this one.
The Major Oak won't appear in the upcoming Robin Hood movie, as the film wasn't shot in Sherwood Forest but rather in Windsor Great Park, which has an excellent oak population. Since the Major Oak needs support poles to keep it from breaking (that's what those green slats are), it probably wouldn't have been ideal for filming. But that's OK, it's still a very special tree and Sherwood Forest is great place to visit for nature lovers.
Comped but never compromised: I am on a complimentary press trip with Visit Britain, but I am free to write whatever I like.