THE HAPPY THINKING TREE
This ancient oak is in the parish of Caistor St Edmund, on the road to Upper Stoke (my sister tells me it is called Wash Lane). In our family this venerable tree was known as the ‘happy thinking tree’. It has not changed much in the last hundred years I am sure; it would have had a den under its roots then and you can see this den in the picture I took a few years ago. I should think it was a fully mature tree in Tudor times and I would not be surprised if it was an acorn at the time of the Peasants’ Revolt.
It was named the happy thinking tree by my two sister when they lived in Caistor. My parents had found an old railway carriage in a field in Caistor during the blitz, which they found relatively safe. Their two little girls would walk to the tree and think happy thoughts in its comforting gnarled roots. They could not have been more than four and six years old at the time.
Unfortunately it did not retain its happy nature for very long; my sister Tig was visiting the thinking tree some time later (but before I was born) when a swarm of angry hornets flew out of the ancient tree. Nobody was stung but little Tiggy was very scared. Needless to say no one has used it for thinking in since then, indeed we have all given it a wide berth!
This tree is near Boudicca Way, the long distance footpath that runs from Diss to Norwich, named after the famous queen of the Iceni tribe of nearly 2000 years ago. This area in particular is redolent of the past, with the centre of the iron Age Iceni tribe having been located in Caistor. This was subsequently taken over by the Romans and turned into the Regional Capital, Venta Icenorum. The pasture that the happy thinking tree looks down on has seen some archaeological investigation about 80 years ago and this turned up many interesting objects.
At the top of the hill at High View the lane meets Chandlers Lane; The road to Upper Stoke turns sharply to the left. On the right there was, until forty years ago, a large recess cut into the hill. Then the pit was filled in by the farmer to increase the size of his field. In size, shape and location (it looked down of the Roman town in the Tas valley below) it seemed to be the remains of a Roman amphitheatre, and I remain convinced that this is what it was. Now no one except me even remembers where it once was, although the Boudiccca Way now runs right past the site.
One windy day when I was walking my dog down Chandlers Lane I found a five pound note blowing in the road. Where it had come from is a mystery because that hillside is remote and far from any human habitation. That was many years before the create of Boudicca Way, so walkers were few and far between as well. In those days a fiver was a substantial sum, worth at least £20 in today’s devalued currency.
All this area was within walking distance of my childhood home, and was regularly explored by me and my sister Tig. I was not, as a child, very interested in the area’s history; I accepted that Caistor contained Roman remains, but for me the hedges and streams had a more immediate hold on my consciousness. The water voles (which then were much more common in the countryside) would peep out at me as I passed. This was on an expedition my sister and I went on from Howard’s Farm (now called by its official title of High Ash Farm) along a beck we christened the Tassle. It joins the river Tas through various ditches at the bottom of the valley and forms the parish boundary between Caistor and Stoke for part of its length. We walked along its bed for virtually its whole length in our rubber boots.
It is only as an adult and an historian that Caistor’s rich past has gripped me.