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Ancient Sweet Chestnut

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Image credit: Friends of Foots Cray Meadows

This wonderful sweet chestnut, lying on the edge of North Cray Woods and not far from the site of the now demolished Foots Cray Place, is one of the oldest documented trees in the district. Though badly damaged over the course of its life time, it is still growing and is reputed to be some 500 years old.

Today, the ancient tree – possibly planted around the time King Henry VIII was having his various marital issues – is sectioned off from the Meadows by a metal railing to protect it as much as possible from visitors climbing among it’s dilapidated split trunk. But the tree still provides a wonderful focal point for walkers.

Sweet chestnut, or castanea sativa, is a deciduous tree that can grow to 35 metres high and live for up to 700 years. It belongs to the same family as oaks and beeches. The bark is grey-purple and smooth but will develop vertical fissures with age. The twigs are purple-brown with the buds, plum, red-brown and oval in shape.

The fruit – which appears in the autumn and comes wrapped in a spiky, green casing – is edible and can make a tasty winter treat. But be careful to distinguish it from the horse chestnut tree, whose fruit is poisonous. Best not to confuse the two.

Chestnuts are a good source of antioxidants, being full of gallic acid and ellagic acid. These antioxidants increase in concentration when cooked and allegedly can help reduce the risk of cardiovascular issues, such as heart disease or stroke.

Foots Note

Not meaning to belittle the Meadows wonderful ancient oak, a Woodland Trust study revealed there are at least 117 oak trees in England that are around 800 to 1,000 years old.


It’s thought that the Bowthorpe Oak near Manthorpe in Lincolnshire may be one of the oldest and widest oaks in the country, with a girth of more than 13 metres and an estimated age of more than 1,000 years. That tree is so vast that tea parties are said to have been held inside its hollow trunk.

Explore more

This area is just one part of Foots Cray Meadows. Learn more about the other interesting areas that you can discover.

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