At 800 years old, Old Knobbley is one of the oldest oak trees in England, named for its twisted and gnarled appearance. Its branches are spread out wide, welcoming many into its embrace: wildlife, adventurous children, and some say witches, too.
Over the centuries, Old Knobbley, which is more than 13 feet tall and almost three times as wide (36 feet), has been struck by lightning, ravaged by fire, housed a hornets’ nest, and according to local folklore, sheltered alleged witches from Britain’s most infamous and ruthless witch hunter.
The tree stands in the town of Mistley, Essex, which in the 17th century was home to Matthew Hopkins, England’s self-appointed “Witchfinder General.” Hopkins was responsible for the execution of some 300 accused witches in just two years, and it’s believed that Old Knobbly was used as a sanctuary for the “witches” that Hopkins hunted. Those accused of being witches could find shelter and hope of safety in the cracks and crevices of the old oak, as well as other surrounding trees.
In more recent history, the land around Old Knobbley was used by the British army as a station during World War II. It was one of the only trees in the area to survive, as most were cut down to build wooden huts for soldiers.
Know Before You Go
You are best to park in the Mistley Village Hall car park, walk all the way across the playing field and look out carefully. There are many beautiful trees in the area but it is easy to recognize Old Knobbly when you see it.