Sacred Tree: OS Grid Reference – SJ 1577 7889
Highlighted on the earliest Ordnance Survey map of the region in 1878 and described much earlier by Thomas Pennant (1796)—almost as legendary as the fairies themselves in some parts—this ancient tree was obviously a place of great repute in the mythic history of the people in previous centuries. Animistic relationships with the landscape were still deeply embedded in the daily lives of our peasant communities all across the country when Pennant wrote about this place. In his antiquarian history of the area he described the great mansion of Downing Hall and in its grounds the ruins of Molandina Abbey. “Above this,” he wrote,
“is a spreading oak of great antiquity, size, and extent of branches: it has got the name of the Fairy Oak. In this very century a poor cottager, who lived near the spot, had a child who grew uncommonly peevish; the parents attributed this to the fairy, and imagined that it was a changeling. They took the child, put it in a cradle, and left it all night beneath the tree, in hopes that the tylwydd têg, or fairy family, or the fairy folk, would restore their own before morning. When morning came they found the child perfectly quiet, so went away with it, quite confirmed in their belief.”
Nearby, and in the same grounds of the mansion, Pennant told there to be an even older and greater oak tree that “has in it furrows so deep, and of aspect so uncommonly venerable, as to render its shade as worthy of the solemn rites of the Druids.”
- Pennant, Thomas, The History of the Parishes of Whiteford and Holywell, B. & J. White: London 1796.
© Paul Bennett, The Northern Antiquarian