The Petrified Oak Forest of Mundon
On the Dengie peninsula of Essex sits Mundon, one of many small Essex villages, which would be easy to drive through without note, if it wasn’t home to the Petrified Oak Forest of Mundon.
Essex is a diverse county with urban areas of red buses and high-rises, whose boundaries blur with London; coastal seaside towns that offer a modern tourist experience equivalent to the Victorian dream; and small rural villages, where the roads snake around farmland and occasionally become a little too narrow.
Mundon, near Maldon, is the latter Essex experience. The drive in to Mundon takes the winding country roads with fields and trees on either side, and the only signal that you are passing through a village is the speed reduction to 30 MPH.
We parked up and began walking up the road to look for St Peter’s Footpath where the Petrified Oak Forest of Mundon can be found. Among the row of houses is the White Horse Pub, sitting opposite a disused Post Office, and thankfully we called in here to ask for directions.
Although walkable from the White Horse pub, it is some distance. We drove around to the disused St Mary’s Church where there is room to park the car and walk through.
St Mary’s Church Mundon
It is well worth spending some time at the disused St Mary’s Church before passing through.
It is believed that a Church could have been on this spot since the Anglo-Saxon times.
Recently restored by Friends of Friendless Churches, when we arrived in May 2016 it stood in silence with no-one around, although the doors were unlocked and friendly notices invite visitors.
The inside of the church has been lovingly restored with some decoration of times gone by still on the walls and enclosed wooden pews with functioning doors.
There is plenty of information about the Church and the surrounding area, and it has a peaceful, reflective atmosphere.
The cemetery has many aged gravestones, some of which can be identified by a survey – details laminated inside the Church.
Once finished in the Church grounds, it’s a short walk across a field and then around a pond to see the Petrified Oak Forest.
The path around the water is difficult to spot but walk to the right and you should see the narrow path over.
At first sight the dark and twisted branches of the once magnificent oak trees, which formed part of a forest used to build ships for the Royal fleet, appear haunting.
The field is very quiet although the grazing sheep bring life to a place that would otherwise appear as if time itself had ended.
The oaks are tall, still, and stand against a backdrop of greenery that tricks the mind into believing something more sinister may have caused the demise of these trees.
Stories of Witches being common in these sort of villages and particularly in Essex with its connections to The Witch Hunter General (Matthew Hopkins), there are stories of foul-play.
However many believe that a change in the water table is responsible. A theory that is almost more haunting when you consider these giants reaching for the sky as the water they rely on slowly drains away beneath them, until finally they no longer change with the seasons, but remain frozen in time to witness the sheep and the tourists that carry on below.