December 21st – the Winter Solstice. In Essex the sun rises at 8.02am and sets at 15.47. So even in the south of the country there’s only 7.45 hours of light. How to make the most of the precious day light hours and celebrate the Solstice? The answer for us was to go and visit a tree that has lived through many many mid-winters.
In the woods at Furze Hill in Mistley there is an ancient oak tree, called Old Knobbley. It’s thought that he’s about 800 years old. He stands in a clearing, surrounded by much younger oak trees – mere saplings at just several hundred years old.
Old Knobbley is well named. He is twisted and gnarled, his branches spreading out to create a home for wildlife, and a space for generations of children to play in. Some even believe that women running from Matthew Hopkins, the Witchfinder General sheltered in the embrace of his branches.
We stood and looked at him thinking of all the events that have occurred during his life time. The signing of the Magna Carta maybe? The defeat of the Spanish Armada, the Battle of Waterloo, and in modern times the sinking of the Titanic and the two World Wars.
There’s a path trodden around the tree – its clear that many people visit Old Knobbley to pay their respects and to check that he’s OK. As we left, more people walked through the woods to visit him on the shortest day of the year.
The best way to visit Old Knobbley is to drive through Manningtree, along The Walls with its beautiful views of the River Sour. Drive on through Mistley, one time home of Matthew Hopkins, past the Swan in it’s pond and the maltings.
Then on your right just as you leave Mistley is a sign for the Mistley Village Hall. Follow the signs and park in the hall’s car park. Then you can walk across the playing fields, past the split oak and wander through the woods in search of Old Knobbley. Search for the oak who looks as if he has his mouth open in amazement, and then just a few yards further on is Old Knobbley himself, waiting like he has for so long to greet you. He’s not difficult to find, but if you would like fuller directions you can find them here
Or watch this youtube video of the walk from the car park to Old Knobbley. You can find out more about Old Knobbley and other ancient trees here, and he even has his own facebook page
We visited Old Knobbley in winter, but he’ll be there what ever time of the year you go.