Illustrator Chantal Marie Bourgonje and author Barbara TownsendIt's 36ft wide, over 1,000 years old, and – they say – if you dance around it naked the devil will appear*
Now the Big Belly Oak, one of the UK's most famous trees, has inspired a children's book.
Written by first-time author Barbara Townsend, with pictures by children's illustrator Chantal Marie Bourgonje – both of whom live in Burbage – The Savernake Big Belly Oak is about the woodland creatures who seek sanctuary in the tree's cavernous pot belly, and the tales the tree tells them.
Barbara, who launched her book at the Burbage Christmas Tree Fair on Saturday, where the initial response from customers was “overwhelming” said: “It all started as I drove through the Savernake Forest on a snowy winter’s day 2011.
“The Big Belly Oak was there in my rear view mirror, snow covering his branches his gaping mouth dark against the snow, it appeared to be looking right at me. My mind just went into overdrive.
“My granddaughter had told me some time ago that something lived inside of the tree and thoughts had gone through my head then but just dismissed them. That snowy day, I could not stop thinking about the tree and I just knew I had to write my thoughts down.”
Barbara gave her manuscript to a family member, the head teacher of a school in London, who read the story to a class of six and seven year olds. “They were asked what they like and didn’t like about the book,” said Barbara. “Their responses astonished me. Even their dislikes, for me, were positive, as it had evoked an emotion in them.”
An illustration of the Big Belly Oak from the bookSince then, the book has received plaudits from the Forestry Commission, which manages the Savernake Forest. Communications manager Heather Lilley wrote: “The Savernake Big Belly Oak is a wonderful collection of tiny stories for tiny people, inspired by one of the most mighty ancient and veteran oaks in the country.
“It gives a glimpse of Savernake Forest through the seasons and the last story leaves us excited to find out more about the “Other Big Oak Trees in the Forest.
“I guarantee that, once you have read the book to your children, the next time you drive past Big Belly Oak your head will be full of fantastic tales and you’ll be itching to take a walk in Savernake to discover other mighty old trees!”
The Savernake Big Belly Oak, which has been produced in a limited edition run of 500, costs £6.99 from White Horse Bookshop in Marlborough or online at http://bigbellyoak.weebly.com
*Marlborough News Online disclaimer: To summon the devil you're supposed to strip off and dance around the tree 12 times in an anti-clockwise direction. But try it, and it's far more likely that you'll summon a policeman, or be squashed by an HGV: the Big Belly Oak is right on the edge of the busy A346.
Mother Christmas Terri DuddyThirty seven Wiltshire exhibitors selling everything from liqueurs, fudge and cakes to jewellery, candles and toys made out of socks gathered in Marlborough Town Hall for the first Festive Season Christmas Market yesterday (Thursday).
With local and organic produce, live music and a visit by Mother Christmas, the aim of the market – said Marlborough-based Parisian organiser Saleha Pinhorn – was “to give visitors the chance to shop for Christmas gifts in a relaxed atmosphere.”
Catherine Colyer of Rudolpfs On The Move
Louise Skeates of RubyDoo Gifts
If you pay too much attention to newspaper headlines you’ll be led to believe that Britain’s ash trees are about to follow English elm trees into extinction. The truth may not be so extreme but the disease that’s spread from mainland Europe is sure to change the look of many of our woodland areas.
Chalara dieback – caused by the Chalara fraxinea fungus – attacks ash trees causing leaf loss, crown dieback and usually kills the tree. It has already led to drastic loss of ash trees in mainland Europe and has now been found in the United Kingdom.
Outbreaks are being divided into those among imported plants at nursery sites and recently planted saplings, and outbreaks in the wider environment where the fungus seems to have crossed from main land Europe. Most of the latter cases are in East Anglia and Kent caused directly by spores blown across the sea.
Until November 27, government experts had found 257 cases in the United Kingdom– 135 of those in the wider environment, mainly in established woodland. The closest recently planted case to our area is between Bristol and Chippenham.
Symptoms of the disease include browned leaf tips, bark lesions and the dying away of topmost growth. In spring mature trees can develop dense clumps of foliage below dead growth.
For details go to the Forestry Commission’s website – and especially the pages with photos of diseased ash trees. And there’s a map of the outbreaks that have been confirmed.
So what path might the disease take in our area? Savernake Forest has some established ash trees, but many have been cut down by the Forestry Commission in recent years as they fetch good money for firewood and furniture, and also for export to Ireland where they are used to make hurley sticks.
Over the past twenty years ash trees have been planted widely on Marlborough’s downlands. They are clear of the disease at the moment but ultimately land owners expect to lose those trees. More generally the spread of ash trees is difficult to quantify.
WILTON BRAIL Wilton Bail wood, just north of Wilton windmill, is heavily planted with ash. About seventy per cent of the mature trees in this wood are ash. Newer plantings have used other tree species, so ash now makes up about half of all the trees in the wood. If those ash trees were all lost it would not only have a clear visible effect, but would also have a major impact on the wood’s wildlife.
The spread of the disease will almost certainly re-start next May – the season for active spores from the fungus lasts from about May to early September. But on the continent some ash trees have proved resistant to the disease with up to ten per cent surviving. So it may not result in the kind of total wipe-out that was caused by Dutch elm disease.
The broadleaf, deciduous ash tree is the third commonest tree in British woods. And while it is sometimes the dominant tree in a wood, the effect of its loss on the landscape as a whole may be very patchy.
Writing about Chalara fraxinea last week, Ashley Brady, the Woodland Trust’s head of conservation, emphasised the complexities of the threat: “The impacts on ash will be much more complex than the media headlines suggest, this goes well beyond the simple percentages of what will be lost or estimates of how many million trees are at risk. Some landscapes and habitats will be much harder hit than others, and we need to start thinking about how we respond to that now.”
Sadly our trees have many other diseases and pests to survive : lots more scary headlines coming our way. Oak trees, horse chestnuts, Scots pine and the London plane tree are among the species under threat or which are so far surviving threats.
How will this view of Wilton Brail look in years to come?
Mayor Edwina Fogg presenting Major Simon Puxley with rum dePraise for the “complex and sophisticated role” played by the 4Military Intelligence Battalion in Afghanistan came from Marlborough’s Mayor, Edwina Fogg, at the town council’s civic dinner on Friday.
It was the fourth occasion in honour of the soldiers in the official adopted vital military unit, many of whom have just returned from their crucial role in Afghanistan.
Welcoming them, the Mayor recalled: “Most of you will be aware that, in 2008, Colonel Ben Kyte contacted us to see if we would be interested in forming a link with 4MIB.”
“We were thrilled and honoured to have been thus chosen and the relationship was affirmed when, in 2011, Freedom of Entry into Marlborough was bestowed on the Battalion.”
“Wiltshire has, of course, always had a very close connection with the military. At Bulford Camp yesterday, a full force gale sweeping over the parade ground made an anecdote from the First World War come alive for me.”
“In 1914-15 some 32,000 Canadians, many of them Newfies, trained on Salisbury Plain. There was much disruption by floods and gales so that tents were continually being blown down.”
“The Canadians left for France in February 1915 and many of them reported back that conditions in the trenches were not nearly as bad as they had experienced in Wiltshire.”
“Imagine me then, my tricorn hat refusing to stay put, my hair in total disarray, making me the least tidy person at the parade, presenting, with Colonel Nick Baker, company medals. The weather though, failed to dampen spirits or spoil an occasion which saw the soldiers receive their just recognition of a tour in Afghanistan, in which 4MI played such a significant part.”
“Major Simon Puxley, an honoured guest this evening, introduced me to the soldiers and outlined each individual’s task in recent operations. This gave me a huge insight into the complex and sophisticated role played by the Battalion and why intelligence units are so crucial to contemporary military strategy.
“There were many proud families on the parade ground. One of them, the mother of a young soldier, approached me afterwards to thank me and to say how the families valued the support from the town.”
“The relationship between Marlborough and 4MI continues to flourish, as witnessed by the huge numbers who came to the Remembrance Day Parade, long may it continue.”
Including the military guests, more than 100 people attended the town hall civic dinner, which raised £700 for the Wiltshire branch of the Royal British Legion.
It was also a presentation occasion, Mike Fogg, brother-in-law of the Mayor, presenting a litre ceramic Nelson ship’s decanter of Pusser’s rum to Major Puxley for the Officer’s mess.
Mayor Edwina presenting Dennis Compton with a bottle of ABV Blue Label Pusser's rum for the Wiltshire branch of the Royal British LegionIt was one of two similar presentations to other members of M4 plus the presentation of a bottle of ABV, Blue Label Pusser’s rum to Dennis Compton for the Wiltshire branch of the Royal British Legion.
Pusser's rum is the former daily issue of the Royal Navy, which was terminated, on theJuly 31, 1970, known to the Navy, as Black Tot day.
On board ship, stores are controlled by the purser, but over the years, generations of Jack Tars, corrupted this to Pusser, hence, Pusser's rum.
To compensate the sailors’ for the loss of their daily tot, the Admiralty set up a new charity, the Royal Navy Sailors Fund, otherwise known, as the Tot Fund, to provide amenities, for serving personnel.
Then, in 1979, the Admiralty approved the re-blending of Pusser's rum, for sale to the public and in appreciation, a substantial donation on world wide sales, accrues to the Sailors’ Fund.
To date the Pusser's Rum annual donations have exceeded £1 million.
“It is hoped that both the Officers’ mess and the Warrant Officers & Sergeants mess, will open their Nelson decanters, on an appropriate occasion and that the decanters will then be replenished, annually, in perpetuity,” Mike Fogg told Marlborough News Online.
“Many brands of dark rum, present a naval or sea faring image, but only Pusser's Rum, can claim to be the original and genuine rum of the Royal Navy.”
Jeffrey Galvin-Wright, Richard Shaw, Philippa Davenport, Kate Hosier, and Janet and Neville Hobson, of the Marlborough Community Orchard committeeIn an English tradition dating back centuries, town councillor Richard Pitts planted a plum tree on Sunday to commemorate the marriage of his nephew Charlie Taylor to Fran.
The couple, who live in York but are frequent visitors to the town, took place in August. The tree will form part of the community orchard on Marlborough Common.
A number of community volunteers turned out on the blustery Sunday morning – the second day of National Tree Week – to plant pear, plum, damson, quince and medlar trees, although in nothing like the numbers for last month's planting of the Jubilee apple trees.
“It's symbolic, isn't it?” said Cllr Pitts as he shovelled the last spadeful of soil around the roots of the Victoria Plum.
“It's an English tradition going back centuries. The tree grows as the marriage grows. And it bears fruit, representing all the children Charlie and Fran will have... maybe.”
Cllr Richard PittsThe councillor then put his spade to good use helping Marlborough Communities Market to plant a Nottingham Medlar.
The medlar is one of the orchard's most uncommon fruits – and not one likely to be found on supermarket shelves today, although the Tudors couldn't get enough of them.
Large white blossoms give way to a rock-hard fruit with russeted skin. Eaten raw they are tart, but once bletted – left to rot until soft and brown – they make excellent jelly with a taste resembling toffee apples, according to celebrity chef Jamie Oliver.
On the other side of the orchard, the committee of the Community Orchard committee were planting a Merryweather Damson. Native to the UK, the fruit is today less far popular than its close relative, the sweeter dessert plum, but makes tasty jam.
“By the end of the year we will have planted 198 trees in two years,” said Marlborough Community Orchard committee chairman and food writer Philippa Davenport. “We are creating a living larder – local food for local people.”
The trees, and their sponsors, are: Jeffrey and Alison Galvin Wright (Quince 'Vranja'); Charles Taylor (Plum 'Victoria'); U3A in Kennet (Pear 'Conference'); Marlborough Choral Society (Damson 'Merryweather'); Marlborough Community Orchard (Damson 'Merryweather'); Marlborough Communities Market (Medlar 'Nottingham'); Marlborough History Society (Medlar 'Nottingham'); The Trustees of the Merchant's House (Damson 'Merryweather'); North Wessex Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty (Plum 'Czar'); Visit Wilshire (Pear 'Beth').
Communities Market committee members Ellie Gill, Alexandra Wax, Gerald Payne and Richard Pitts Happy couple Charlie and Fran Taylor, pictured at their wedding in August
Actors Thomas Jones and Nikolai Ribnikov as Ken and SteveThey want to tread the boards, but first comedy theatre troupe Velvet Trumpet must fundraise one step at a time in a bid to finance their next play.
Actors Thomas Jones and Nikolai Ribnikov will be performing in Marlborough on a marathon walk along the A4 from London to Swansea under the personas of an enthusiastic but misguided old man, Ken, and his less eager friend, Steve.
The pair will be undertaking the 200 miles trek – Ken’s Christmas Crusade – in just under a week, in a bid to raise funds for the company's next play, Don’t Disturb the Driver. And they'll be performing, recording and broadcasting comedy sketches along the way.
Don't Disturb the Driver is a comedy set in a Swansea coach station about a young coach driver, Will, who is about to become the UK's youngest driver to reach one million miles of service.
In the play, Will drives the Swansea to London route so Thomas and Nikolai decided to make the same journey.. on foot. Starting in Windsor on December 16, they'll stop in a different town on each consecutive day, including Reading, Marlborough, Chippenham, Bristol, Chepstow, Cardiff and Bridgend, arriving in Swansea on Christmas Eve.
Nikolai told Marlborough News Online the fundraising stunt was necessary in a difficult financial climate.
“The arts are taking a massive financial hit. Those that suffer most are invariably the small independent theatres and companies, ourselves included.
“Does that make us want to stop producing work? No. Does it make us believe any less in what we do? Of course not.
“Money may be in short supply but the creativity of the theatre community certainly isn't,” he said.
To find out more about Velvet Trumpet and Ken’s Christmas Crusade, log on to www.velvettrumpet.co.uk
Work on paper by Breon O'CaseyThe renowned Rabley Drawing Centre, near Marlborough, is throwing open its doors for a sale of artistic Christmas gift ideas until December 18.
The gallery will be open on Tuesdays, Thursdays, Fridays and Saturdays from 10am until 4pm.
Visitors will be able to view the current exhibitions, Night for Day with paintings and prints by Tom Hammick and Significant Ground, glass sculpture by Sally Fawkes.
And there will be unique works of art for sale, with prints and works on paper by Craigie Aitchison, Martyn Brewster, Eileen Cooper RA, Tom Hammick, Sara Lee, Breon O’Casey, Victor Pasmore, Nana Shiomi, Emma Stibbon, and Sandy Sykes, Ceramics by Emily Myers and Joanna Still, and jewellery and silver by Meryl Ainslie and Sheila McDonald.
Prints are available from under £200, and ceramics and silver from £50.
For information and directions, log on to www.rableydrawingcentre.com
Lord DigbyThree hundred and seventy years after the last musket shot was fired, the siege of Marlborough during the Civil War will be commemorated ina wreath laying ceremony.
On December 5 at 10am mayor Edwina Fogg will lay a wreath at the plaque on the wall of the Castle & Ball hotel.
She will be accompanied by the Officers of the Dignity, and beadle John Yates will read an account of the siege.
The outbreak of civil war in 1642 saw the majority of the town on Parliament's side, although the Seymours held the castle for the King.
Because of its radical reputation, its strategic significance on the road West, and its proximity to Oxford, which King Charles had made his base, Marlborough was one of the first towns to be attacked.
On November 24, Lord Digby led four hundred cavalry troops to the town, where he demanded surrender. He was rebuffed, and returned on December 5 with an army of 4,000 men.
His attack was resisted by a small force of professional soldiers and a much larger number of local people, Colonel James Ramsey and John Francklyn, one of the town's two MPs – Sir Francis Seymour was the other.
After a three-day siege the Royalists overran earthworks on the Common and then stormed the town through the alleyways leading to High Street, shouting, “A town, a town for King Charles!”
Even as the Royalist troops entered High Street the townsfolk continued to put up a fight, firing muskets from windows.
Looting and pillaging followed, with 53 houses and seven barns put to the torch. Royalist troops rounded up 120 prisoners - including the MP and the mayor - who were marched to Oxford prison, where the MP John Franklyn later died.
Although the town was lost, Oliver Cromwell never forgot the loyalty of the people of Marlborough.
When much of the town was destroyed by a Great Fire in 1653, Cromwell levied a national subscription – to which every parish in the land contributed – to rebuild the town.
The blue plaque that commemorates the seige of Marlborough was erected in 1995.
The Swift Medics team: Dr Jonathan Glover, Dr Sam Bracken, Dr James Dunn, Ruth Willoughby, Dr Dan Bawden, Dr Alex Cross, Dr Ed Valentine, Dr James Mapstone. Picture by Kevin Hall, Hallmark Photography, CalneWiltshire’s highway heroes Swift Medics raised £3,000 – and launched a lottery with the hope of raising a whole lot more – at a fundraising event on Saturday.
The £3,000 proceeds from an auction and raffle is the equivalent to around a third of the cost of training and equipping a new doctor to the Marlborough-based charity.
The team of volunteer doctors provide potentially life-saving emergency care at the scene of serious road traffic accidents and other life threatening medical emergencies. They receive no funding from local or central government or the NHS.
The fundraising dinner, at Bowood Hotel, attracted 100 guests, who bid for auction lots including a ride in a 193mph Ferrari California, courtesy of Swindon supercar dealership Dick Lovett, a Watlings bracelet, a Pia fresh water pearl necklace, a photo shoot with Hallmark Photographers, drum lessons with musician Tom Wheeler, who has performed on Radio 1s Live Lounge, cases of wine, and paint balling.
Charity trustee Bob Holman also used the event to launch the Swift Medics lottery, part of the UK charity lottery Unity. Participants – who can win up to £25,000 – nominate Swift Medics when they register to play, and 50 percent of the proceeds go directly back to the charity.
For details, log on to www.unitylottery.co.uk/SWIFTMedics To find out more about the work of Swift Medics, log on to www.swiftmedics.net or find them on Facebook at www.facebook.com/SWIFTMedics
Nigel Kerton, who retired todayThe end of an era was marked today (Wednesday) when Nigel Kerton, the Gazette & Herald's Marlborough reporter since articles were bashed out on typewriters, filed his final story.
Nigel - who reckons he's filled 2,000 front pages for the Gazette & Herald, along with 500 each for the Swindon Advertiser and the Western Daily Press - stumbled into journalism aged 17, when he popped into the offices of the Mercury in Weston-super-Mare to scour the jobs pages.
He was asked if he fancied a job on the paper, doing some administrative work and assisting the journalists, and told to go off and write a 500 word article on a subject of his choosing.
“It was easy,” recalls Nigel. “I came from Lyneham, where my mum and dad ran a village shop, and I was new to Weston-super-Mare with its bright lights and a theatre. They liked the story and offered me a five year indentureship.”
Nigel's first day on the Mercury – a Monday in 1964 – started at 8.30am. “At 8.45 I was given a notebook and a pencil and told to go and interview a woman whose husband had died. It was a baptism of fire.”
And while many young journalists dread the prospect of talking to relatives about the loss of a loved one, Nigel reckons it has become his favourite part of the job, and at the start of his second stint with the Gazette 15 years ago – following a ten-year sojourn at the Western Daily Press in Trowbridge – he insisted on the reinstatement of the obituaries column.
“I love listening to people about their lives, and I think I'm particularly good at empathising with people who have lost loved ones in tragic circumstances, because I've been through it: my mother, who suffered from Alzheimer's, drowned herself in the sea at Torquay in 1980.”
The journalists at the Weston Mercury taught young Nigel the craft: putting people at ease during interviews, and letting them tell their stories in their own words.
“They were gentleman reporters with copper plated shorthand,” recalls Nigel. “Journalists who would record every word at a council meeting, when reporters had the time, and newspapers had the space, to do that.”
But four years later a career move summoned Nigel back to Wiltshire: he was offered a job in the Swindon Advertiser's Marlborough office.
“I loved Marlborough,” says Nigel. “I used to cycle down from Lyneham as a kid. The Adver's editor, Fred Hazel, heard I had a girlfriend back at Lyneham, and offered me the job.
“I was one of two reporters working at this 15th century building in Kingsbury Street [the office closed by Gazette & Herald owners Newsquest in October last year]. I thought the Adver was the paper I was working for, but I also had to write for the Gazette.”
The following spring – March 1969 – Nigel and Joy were married at St Peter's Church in Clyffe Pypard. Their first home was a flat above a shop in The Parade – now occupied by More Than Pine – before moving to Poulton Hill, and then to The Mead, “Kennet's biggest cul de sac” and the Kerton family home for 19 years.
Nigel and Joy have two children – Paul and Claire – and four grandchildren, aged between 12 and 23. And between them they've acted as Nigel's unofficial news-gathering team throughout his career.
When Nigel first came to Marlborough, the journalist Bob Wise advised him to “never join anything.” The reporter promptly threw himself into community activities.
He formed the Gardening Club 35 years ago, and joined the carnival committee 25 years ago. He's been the chairman of the New Road Centre, which works with 30 special needs adults every week, for eight years. And ten years ago, he and Joy revived the Jubilee Centre Christmas lunch, which is now held in the Town Hall and caters for 60 elderly residents from the town.
In the millennium year the Rotary Club awarded Nigel the Centenary Community Award for Vocational Services to the Town – "I don't suppose anyone else will get that honour for another 100 years," laughs Nigel – and in 2007 Pewsey Parish Council gave him an award for Outstanding Services to the Community.
Recently, Nigel – who has attended local government meetings for nearly half a century, and describes himself as apolitical – has considered leaving the press bench for a seat in the council chamber, by standing as an independent candidate for Marlborough East in the next Wiltshire Council elections.
“I've been described as a socialist, but I'm only a socialist so far as every journalist is a socialist, by fighting for people's rights and championing causes,” insists Nigel.
“I had a brief courtship with the Conservative Party,” he says, “and was interested in joining the majority group on the council.
“But in the light of my colleague Chris Humphries' experience, where he was not supported by his colleagues [Cllr Humphries was suspended from the Conservative group following a reprimand for mistreating a member of the council's staff], I decided that I didn't want to be part of that group.”
“I'd like to join the town council too,” he adds, “but not until somebody provides me with a whip and a chair. At the moment I feel the body has no useful future. Good ideas are thrown out and bad ideas kept in because of the views of those on the majority group.
“Personally, I don't think party politics has a place in local councils.”
Nigel leaves the Gazette just a week before his 65th birthday. He intends to spend more time with his family, exploring southern England in his campervan, and continuing his work with community organisations in Marlborough.
“I've enjoyed my career in journalism; there's no better job in the world,” he says. “But I suspect I'll be busier than ever before. So I guess it's 'goodbye for now', rather than 'farewell for ever'.