Modern Druidry

The Pontfadog and Crogen Oaks

February 23, 2010

I had heard via the BBC news web site that there was an ancient oak tree that had been split by the sharp cold spell we have had recently in the UK. being a “tree friendly” sort of bloke I was a bit distressed by this, and so decided that I should go and visit it – if only to stroke it and say “Bad luck, old chap!“. From the article it would seem as though some local tree preservation types had made predictions of its impending demise, and this made the visit seem more necessary than mere curiosity.

Before the weekend of the 13th/14th Feb I did some dowsing to see what was awaiting me.

  1. Was the split oak irreparably damaged? – YES.
  2. Would it die from this damage – YES.
  3. Was it going to die in the next few days? – NO.
  4. Would it take a few weeks to die – LONGER.
  5. Was the energy associated with the tree still present? – YES.
  6. Would that energy die off with the tree? – SOONER.
  7. Am I able to capture some or all of that energy? – YES, using the Ash Staff.
  8. Would the spirit of the tree be around for long? – ONLY DAYS.

Of course I am re-interpeting the results for you. Each of the questions had to be posed such that only a YES 0r NO response could result from it, but the outcome I have re-expressed to demonstrate my line of thinking. Only days left before the energy associated with the tree began to dissipate or leave, eh? Better get there soon!

Off I jolly-well trotted in my ‘new’ old car (the trusty old Peugeot is now in the hands of a trusted friend). I was heading for Pontfadog, a village on the outskirts of Chirk town. Chirk is a lovely historic town that I’ve visited before on my motorcycle. It’s the kind of place that keeps history alive, and the place seems to have a special quality about it. It has a lovely castle with large grounds on its edge, and despite having a factory nearby it feels quaint and timeless.

As I drove to Pontfadog I kept getting diverted off the main road. Ooops, I missed the turn-off (despite having SatNav guiding me!). Oh dear, this road is being diverted because of roadworks! Oh, a police car is blocking that road! Another closed road diversion a few miles later. And so it went on and on until I ended up on a tiny back road into Pontfadog village, a road which had those sinuous qualities that one associates with ancient roads that used to be trackways, possibly following male earth energy paths. At various points along this diversion I would encounter a bird of prey sat on a gate-post, or low in a tree, watching me as I passed. This is now becoming a common sign that I am on a special journey, and so I acknowledged each occurrence. It doesn’t do to get your rational brain involved in trying to work this out – just ride with it and take it for what you apprehend it to be!

TIC and Swan Inn - Pontfadog

The Pontfadog Oak

The village of Pontfadog has a relatively new car park next to the bridge over the river than runs alongside the main road. You can’t miss it if you go there. A short walk away is the hub of village activity (well, on a Sunday in Rugby season anyway) – the Swan Inn. What an absolute delight that place is! The landlord was incredibly helpful, and knew his ales from his elbow too. Refreshment had to be quaffed before continuing. Good job I did too because the route up from the back of the inn to the Pontfadog Oak is steep! Ten minutes later I was walking along a path leading to a farm on the Pontfadog hillside that was reputed to contain the oak. Indeed it did, and the farmhouse owners were only too pleased to direct anyone to it.

The most ancient oak in Wales

According to the accompanying plaque at the base of this ancient oak tree:-

“Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth II has designated The Pontfadog Oak one of the Great British Trees.”

That’s nice of her. So did one of her predecessors, apparently:

In Pontfadog lives the oldest oak tree in Britain which was spared when King Henry II had his men cut down the Ceiriog Woods in 1165. Fortunately the woods recovered, as they have done since being permanently covered in dust from the quarrying of the 19th century.” (source:

I noticed that although the tree was hollow inside, it wasn’t split, so I went back to the people in the farmhouse garden to ask about it. Was this the tree that had split and had been reported about? Oh, no, came the response – that was another ancient tree in the valley. Surely I passed it along the road coming into the village? Well, I might have done, but I suspect my little “detour” had made me miss it. How peculiar! Was I “meant” to visit this tree first? Why?

I had the urge to leave my ash staff alongside the tree. I pretended I was doing this as a measure for my photographs, but actually I wanted to allow the staff to absorb any energies from this mighty tree. I walked its girth, photographed it, and generally stood admiring it until some parents arrived with a troupe of children. Looking like the Von Trappe’s I decided that I should head off to the ‘correct’ tree that I had come to see in the first place!

The Pontfadog Oak - my staff shows size

The Crogen Oak

I had no trouble locating the split tree I had intended to visit. It was just behind a wall on the ‘main’ road into the village, about 200 yards before the Trout Fishery and Shop place. Indeed it stood in marshy boggy ground next to a brackish stream and I began to see how the water could have been responsible for making the tree split.

Th split Crogen Oak

The Crogen Oak – “The Oak at the Gate of the Dead” (or more likely ‘The Oak at The Pass of the Graves’) is so-called because of its association with the Battle of Crogen. One of the trees that witnessed that battle and was spared from being felled was this oak tree, which became the guardian of the dead slain in its presence (is my re-telling of the myth). It has certainly witnessed many things, being estimated to be around 1500 years old.

The tree was certainly attracting a great deal of interest. Whilst I was there two couples with dogs, the parents with the troupe of kids, and various other families with awe-inspired wild-eyes kids were crawling all over the oak, quite literally. I tried to connect to the tree but it was far to noisy and the tree was too old for me to do so successfully in those circumstances. Instead I contented myself with the feeling that I could place the ash staff in its heart. The dowsing rods confirmed this for me. If I left it there then something magickal would happen (if I intended it). Which I did!

Empowering the ash staff

I thought I should probably put some crystals around the tree to focus the energy. Or light some incense too, perhaps? I asked the rods about the crystals. NO. Oh! What about incense? Hmmm. A quite inconclusive answer. I decided to try anyway and got some prepared for lighting, but then couldn’t find my new windproof lighter that I had just recently filled with gas. What? How?…never mind. Abandon ship! I asked the dowsing rods if I needed them anyway – NO. Why hadn’t I just asked that to start with?

I circled the tree three times clockwise to charge up the staff, for some reason tuoching the tree all the way around as I passed under its split bough and low-hanging branches. As I walked around, thinking about the staff taking on the energies of the tree, I noticed some lovely white snowdrops pushing their way through the tangle of dry grass stalks that matted the surrounding land. How delightful – signs of Spring appearing – I felt much better already.

A hint that Spring is not far away

Finally, I reclaimed my staff and walked up the nearby hillside to see what was round about. I passed more old oak trees and realised that this area was rife with ancient shrubbery and arboriality. I asked the rods one final question – had the ash staff absorbed anything from the tree? YES. Good.

I drove home and later got the rods out again to find out more about what the staff had taken on board. After a good number of questions had been batted away I came across the answer: the staff now had a name! It had been given a name by the energy of that old dying oak tree! How wonderful. I set about finding the name, and soon had it. Things are already getting more interesting this year.


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  1. Hi Gwas, After I took BBC Countryfile to the Pontfadog oak last August I promised that I would ‘Do something’ about the state of this magical, iconic Oak tree. Since then I have returned quite a few times. More recently I have taken Mike Ellison and Glyn his partner who are top ‘tree professors’ Moray Simpson, Wrexham Tree officer and yesterday Edward Parker and Shaun Burkey. From these visits SOMETHING will be done very soon I can assure you. The tree is in danger of collapse and Shaun has been on to Wrexham Council and lots of other Ancient Tree people. We WILL get funding for this tree even if we have to mount publicity campaigns.

  2. Hi Gwas, ‘The Oak at the Gate of the Dead’ I have done a lot of work over the last five years to get this ancient tree and many others to be recognised for what they are. Fantastic, historical towers of biodiversity, which as you know have their own aura and personality. this name has stood us in good stead for playing the media game if you like. I would be very grateful if you could refer to it by this name as there is now some confusion occuring with people calling it the ‘Crogen oak’. This is understandable with the great work Mark & Derryn have done on the battle research but I will try to correct all occurances that I come across for clarity’s sake. If you are coming up this area again I would love to come out with you. Also Shaun Burkey who is the Tree warden co-ordinator for Shropshire and who is a ‘Ley hunter’ would most prob as well. He has been dowsing the two trees yesterday and has some great findings. Cheers, rob

    1. Hi Rob,

      I can barely keep up with the amount of info you are adding to this story! I really appreciate all your efforts, both on and off the blog.
      I do plan to come back around in the Spring this year to see what has become of the “Oak at the Gate of the Dead” and will let you know my plans so that we can try to arrange to get together. The Swan Inn does some cracking ales and has a lovely atmosphere too, so that would seem like the obvious meeting place.

      As for trying to get everyone to refer to the oak as “The Oak at the Gate of the Dead”…it’s way too much of a mouthful even if it is a more correct term. “Crogen Oak” not only geographically positions the oak, but is also a damned site catchier. I don’t know about constantly typing “The Oak At the Gate….” when writing about it. It seems too much. I think it’s enough to point out that it has a “proper” name, but that its nickname is something I will probably continue to use as shorthand. Maybe your videos will persuade me otherwise, but my natural laziness is likely to keep it as I’ve written it. Sorry.

      I’ll e-mail your HotMail address with the details of a date for visiting soon. I don’t really know what I’m planning to do there yet, but some dowsing, some chatting and some checking of subtle energy health would seem like the outlines of an agenda. Sounds like I’ll have quite a bit of info to update about these trees by the time we’re through!
      As for funds to keep the tree in a good state, well, I’m happy to contribute time and resources to that campaign, and to publicise it here, of course.
      Thanks again for all the links – I’ll get around to visiting them soon enough.

  3. Hi Gwas, I feel that I should just add some background into these two magnificent trees.

    The Oak at the Gate of the Dead
    About 4 years ago I met Heather (Williams?) who lives at Castle Mill. She told me the story of the battle and the area:’The Gate of the Dead’
    So from then on the tree was named ‘The Oak at the Gate of the Dead’.
    This is the name by which most people know the tree.

    Here is the vid. clip I made of Heather and the tree.

    Click here to view the Oak at the Gate of the Deads details on the website.
    or here to see the vid. of Heather I made with the trees history.

    With regard to the correct details about the tree.
    After Heather and I chatted I realsied this was a very special tree in a very special site. I met Mark Williams who told me of the fantastic research him and deryn have done on the area, and the Battle of Crogen.

    At the plaque opening ceremony there were a lot of people at the bridge and it was a great day for Mark & Deryn. I made a point of speaking with Cllr. Aled Roberts and pointing out to him that it was all well and good having a plaque but that there was a living witness to these historic events just 50 yds away. I took him near to the tree as he went to his car. I think he was impressed but who knows?
    I also took Heather and some ‘knights’ who feature in my pics.

    BBC Countryfile
    After this I have continued to publicise the tree as much as possible. In fact the BBC Countryfile team called me to make a film on ancient trees and I realised the opportunity to get this tree and the Pontfadog Oak recognised nationally to a large audience. I called Mark to ask him if he wanted to come along and tell the Battles story to James Wong which he did and James mentioned it in the piece.

    BBC Countryfile with the tree featured.

    Ageing trees
    Ageing trees is always difficult without concrete eveidence, but based upon experience a good guess can be made. The tree is most probably not 1,200 years old as reported but I guessed that it was already established when the battle was fought. So say 800 years plus which is still an amazing age for a living organism. By the way the Pontfadog Oak is quite a bit older than this tree and is one of the top 50 trees of GB. (If not the world).
    I have to say I am NOT a tree expert. I am just a passionate amateur.

    Ancient Trees on the web.
    Here are more tree vids on youtube.

    I also have a Flickr account to display the ancient trees I find.

  4. Hello Gwas,iam the person who found the Crogen oak in its present state and spread the word. I am the researcher for the battle of Crogen which happened on this site. I thought you might like to know that Mike Ellison one of Britains leading ancient tree experts is coming out to see it on sunday the 7th of march.I am very interested in your walk around the oak.I too have staff! The “staff of Crogen”!I Do guided tours around the battlesite if your interested in returning and finding out more on the site. Bye for now.

    1. Hello Mark,

      Thank you for your comment. I am very interested that you were the one who “spread the word”as it were. Good man! If I had read this comment earlier I could have come along on today (7th) to see the diagnosis process. I would have been very interested in that. Can you tell me what the outcome of Mike Ellison’s visit was, please, and I will add a little extra to the post?

      You have a staff called “The Staff of Crogen”? How did the staff come by that name? When the weather gets warmer I’ll come back and look around the battle site with you. I’d like a guided tour. But will have to wait for the sun to warm the place up a bit, I think!

      1. Hi Gwas,nice to hear from you.I met Mike Ellison at the site along with local ancient “Tree hunter” Rob Mcbride and a BBC film crew! His diagnosis for the 60 per cent still standing was good it was still healthy and can be left alone. The 40 per cent that has broken away he is still not sure about, there are buds on the 9ft diameter bough and could still bloom even if that part has died, the real test will be next year to see if it re buds again after the split.Mike Ellison wants to cut several feet off the fallen side “to stimulate growth”, but the tree officer for wrexham council Moray Simpson, who joined us on the site half way through,he who put the TPO on the tree and who will have the final say on what happens to it says he is in favour of just leaving her alone. So we will wait and see what comes of his full report. My staff helps me navigate the slopes around the site when i take groups around and is also handy to part the thick vegetation there in the summer. You are most welcome anytime to come down and meet, i find what you do totally fascinating. Hear from you soon,Mark.

    1. I used to carry a plain beech staff, unadorned, unfinished, as I found it. Now I have a beautiful white ash staff that I polished with natual beeswax. It is the love of my life. How odd to become so attached to a piece of wood! It hasa name too, which my former staff never had. Already my new staff and I are having adventures, and several times it has saved me from harm.
      However, I still look at the staves you carve and wish I had such skill. One day, Oonagh, one day soon I will carve the sigils into my staff and take this to another level.

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