The saddening decline of the chained oak tree

Chained Oak

The old chained oak tree which lies close to Alton Towers – and is synonymous with local legend – has seen better days.

Its legend inspired the 2000-built Hex ride at the theme park, and many people have sought it out in the subsequent years.

The legend states that a curse was placed on the Earl of Shrewsbury in the 19th century, and that for every branch of the tree that fell, a member of his family would die.

That is the fanciful explanation for why the tree has been enshrouded in chains for almost two centuries.

Liz Bradley owns the Chained Oak bed and breakfast, and also the woodland in which the tree is located.

“The chained oak is over a thousand years old and its growth is stunted as it has grown on the rock,” she says.

Curiosity surrounding the tree, and the increasing numbers of people seeking it out bring some undesired effects, adds Liz.

“The only problem in promoting the tree is that unfortunately people visit with BBQs and beer cans and litter around the tree.”

Liz picks up the litter that is left by some of the people visiting the tree, and she says that plant diseases are also inadvertently brought into the wood on the feet of the tourists.

Parts of the tree have collapsed
Parts of the tree have collapsed

‘Crying out’

Alan Ratcliffe lives nearby and has known the tree all his life. He used to visit it with his father Malcolm.

Although many people fear the tree because of the legend surrounding it, Alan says he doesn’t – seeing its current condition as saddening.

“It has been used and abused over the years – animals and humans have been sacrificed under, and in the name of it,” he says.

“It once stood proud, but now the chains which burden it are taking their toll its branches – once reaching for the sky, are now breaking.

“The tree is crying out, but no one listens.”

Although there is life in the tree yet, Alan says that when it does finally succumb, it will live on thanks to him.

“I have its offspring, grown from a single acorn which fell from the chained oak, living in my garden.

“I feel like I am its minder or keeper and the old oak can take comfort and die knowing that its offspring is able to be free and live in the sunlight along with the other oaks.”

But what of the current – the 22nd – Earl of Shrewsbury, Charles Chetwynd-Talbot, whose ancestors are so closely linked to the legend of the chained oak – does he agree that the tree’s decline is saddening?

“I couldn’t agree more with you. It is sad that this wonderful tree is in such poor condition,” he says.

Despite all concerns, having stood the test of time for a millennia, the feeling is that the old oak tree will somehow still outlive us all.