One of the world’s largest and oldest oak trees returns to Chirk Castle
- 13 April 2023
Three generations of the Williams family come together to plant a rare sapling at Chirk Castle, a sapling grafted from the Pontfadog Oak which stood during Owain Gwynedd’s defeat of the English and featured in the Guinness Book of Records as the ‘widest tree in Great Britain’.
The ancient Pontfadog Oak, which fell in a storm in 2013, stood at Cilcochwyn Farm, near Chirk, Wrexham, and was cared for by generations of the Morris/Williams family. It was thought to be one of the world’s largest and oldest oak trees.
In 2013, The Crown Estate propagated the original Pontfadog Oak tree and planted a tree in Windsor Great Park. A further five Pontfadog Oaks were then grafted from this tree; three have been gifted to National Trust Cymru, and two are cared for by the National Botanic Garden of Wales.
On Thursday, 13 April, three generations of the Morris/Williams family, along with representatives from Welsh Government, joined National Trust Cymru to plant the rare sapling on the Chirk Castle estate, just two miles from where the oak once stood.
Chris Morris of Morris/Williams family, Cilcochwyn Farm, said;
“The family are delighted that the heritage of the Pontfadog Oak is being continued through this grafted sapling and pleased that one of the saplings is being planted here at Chirk Castle, close enough for us to be able to visit regularly and watch it grow."
The oak was estimated to be between 1,200 and 1,700 years old when it fell, and likely started its life as an acorn between AD 367 and AD 814. It witnessed the end of the Roman rule in Britain and Owain Gwynedd defeating the English at the Battle of Crogen in 1165, just a few hundred meters from the oak.
In 1972 it was featured in the Guinness Book of Records as the ‘widest tree in Great Britain’ with a girth of 40ft and 2inch, and height of 53ft. Later in 1996, Michael Lear, a Botanical Consultant stated in a letter to Jo Williams that he could not find a record of an oak tree in the world that had a greater girth than the Pontfadog.
Jo Williams of Cilcochwyn Farm has curated the history of the oak for over 70 years, including newspaper cuttings and official documentation dating back to 1971, as well as a timeline of events leading back to 1165 . The tree was a big part of the Morris/Williams family. Jo adds;
“For someone else it might be just a tree but it meant more than that for us. We played hide and seek in there, you could put in a table and six chairs and have dinner in it. So many people going back years had carved their initials in it.”
“I’ve known it all my life and have photographs of when I was a little toddler with my mum standing in front of it to pictures of me on my wedding day stood with family and friends.”
Keith Griffith, Lead Ranger at Chirk Castle, National Trust Cymru said;
“It’s a privilege to plant the Pontfadog sapling at Chirk Castle, its DNA is routed in history of the Ceiriog Valley, having served nature, animals and people here for over a millennia.
"It’s an honour to plant the sapling alongside 11 members of the Morris and Williams family, all of whom have a deep connection to the oak and have cared for it like a member of the family.
"We hope the sapling will grow to become an ancient tree of the future, and in 200 years or so, people may be sitting in the shade of the tree at Chirk Castle.”
First Minister of Wales Mark Drakeford, who planted one of the saplings at Erddig in December with His Majesty the King in memoriam to honour Her Late Majesty Queen Elizabeth II said;
“These special saplings have an incredible history as they were grafted from a grand and ancient oak – the Pontfadog Oak.
“It is fitting that this sapling will be planted at Chirk, close to where the original tree stood for more than 1,000 years.
“I hope that it will grow strong and healthy and develop into another mighty and iconic oak, which will stand for centuries to come at Chirk Castle”.
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