The King of Hall Hill Wood

We went to an ancient woodland this evening.


Driving past Nuney Green, there’s a stretch of forest called Gutteridge Wood.

It feels primeval here.


Among the straight beeches and fickle holly, there stood oak giants.

And here the old boys stand as they have stood for centuries.


As we trod the beech litter below, a deer darted through the green ahead of us. It’s an open wood, free of briars, thickets and thorns.

Gnarled crowns above shade much of the forest floor below.


But deer were not the only creatures living here.

In one place, we heard a sound and looked over to see a tarp neatly set up near a great trunk. Someone had been here. For how long we didn’t know.

As we continued down the muddy path, our guide matter of factly informed us that we were walking past a saw-pit.

A saw-pit.

A long-abandoned pit where Englishmen had once pit-sawn Gutteridge Wood oaks and beeches into boards, planks, and house timbers. Who knows how long since it had last been used.


The author taking a spin in the pit, holding the bottom of an imaginary saw. To be in an actual saw-pit seemed at once familiar and sacred.

The pit itself was roughly 14′ long and 6′ wide. It showed no signs of timber being used to shore up its sides but seemed to be a simply dug affair with tapered sides. Likely, it was significantly deeper before years of neglect had filled it in. It was close to the path which would facilitate transport of trees to and fro the pit.

Would you like to see the best tree in the wood? our guide asked.

My mind was already blown by the saw-pit.

Why not?

We turned down Deadman’s Lane, past boundary ditches and into Hall Hill Wood. (All the woods here are named).

After a brief walk we passed yet another saw-pit towards the biggest oak of all–


The King of Hall Hill Wood.


Quietly majestic, this giant had seen hundreds of winters–as well as sawyers–come and go. And still it stood.

There was at least 45 feet of clear oak until the crown. Likely more. Big enough, certainly, to hew the great spanning beams we had seen recently in The Tower of London–the longest such spans of a single oak in England:


But this oak is spared the feller’s axe and the tiller’s saw.


Let it watch our comings and goings for another 400 years at the least.







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11 thoughts on “The King of Hall Hill Wood

  1. sally says:

    It has been a while since I’ve seen you in a saw pit!

  2. great stuff as always–when’s the lecture–

  3. Martin Meiss says:

    Very pretty, but it does not look primeval to me. Such an open canopy lets in enough light to support a lot of undergrowth, but the understory was nearly bare. This suggests high disturbance. Someone has been thinning the stand to keep the canopy open, and has probably been clearing underbrush, or maybe the lack of predators has allowed overpopulation of the deer, who keep the understory open.

    • Rick says:

      That’s very likely an accurate assessment, Martin…but there were SAW-PITS!! 🙂

      • Martin Meiss says:

        You’ve got me wondering. How do you know they were saw pits? And why do you assume there was never any timber shoring to them that has since rotted away? Did you see mounds of the soil they would have excavated in making the pits? (I couldn’t tell from the picture with the heroic figure with its fists raised in Rocky-like triumph), which leads to my next question.

        Is the soil very rocky? If so, wouldn’t it have been easier to build a trestle than dig? And it’s a lot easier to move a trestle than a pit.

        Maybe those holes were cellars under cabins.

      • Rick says:

        Not a chance, Martin. The English rarely sawed on trestles. Pits pits and more pits. The woods there are known to have been harvested and the dimensions of the hollows are perfect for a saw-pit Temporary pits like the ones we saw are lousy in many parts of England–not all of them are shored up though it would be nice to dig the pit, to look for evidence. A quick scattering of leaf mould and earth revealed nothing. There’s a mound of soil to Rocky’s right hand side–which seems to have served as a little bunker on the high side of a gentle slope. The soil is very friable.
        All signs point to saw pit.

  4. Martin Meiss says:

    Yeah, I know all that stuff. I just wanted to see if you did.

    Hey, you might enjoy my collection of short stories “Tales from the Amazing Bag”:


  5. Tico Vogt says:

    Check out “The Wild Trees” by Richard Preston.

  6. John Wolf says:

    Oh, sure! You’re out there drinking English beer and stumbling into Anglo – Saxon saw pits while the rest of us are here propping up pole barns (live it up and don’t spare us the details man)!

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