A Tale of a Hundred Horses
Once upon a time, a long time ago, there stood an ancient chestnut tree, the largest and oldest of its kind in the whole wide world. The 2-4,000 year old tree lived on the eastern slope of a volcano, and not just any volcano. This majestic tree grew just five miles from the crater of one of the world’s most active volcanoes, Mount Etna in Sicily.
One day, as the tree was going about its business, turning light and air into sugar, a major thunderstorm raged across the Sicilian sky and 100 knights who’d been riding with a Queen of Aragon nearby took shelter under the chestnut’s expansive boughs. From that moment on, the already impressive tree rose to knew heights into the realms of legend and was named The Hundred Horse Chestnut (or Castagnu di Centu Cavaddi in Sicilian).
But the story doesn’t end there. In 1780 the tree was measured at 190 feet wide and, later entered the Guinness Book of World Records as having the ‘Greatest Tree Girth Ever’. However, the tree soon separated into four parts, meaning it could no longer hold the record, but when one of the trunks died, villagers realised the space left could fit a carriage through, so a road was built through the tree and used for hundreds of years.
Now, although the road is closed and the tree protectively fenced, the gates are opened to the public for a few hours each day so that visitors can witness the wonder of the Hundred Horse Chestnut.
The theme of this story is about courage, resilience, protection and mutual care – the tree protected the knights hundreds of years ago and today villagers protect the tree, allowing visitors to witness its beauty on occasion.
Tree pilgrimages are well known – with hundreds of visitors flocking to see the Bodhi Gaya to visit the descendant of Buddha's fig tree. While over a million tourists visit The Major Oak of Sherwood Forest to capture some of the legend of Robin Hood's magic. Visitors will even trek four hours each way to make the pilgrimage to Jomon Sugi, Japan's largest conifer which lives on the tallest mountain on Yakushima Island.
Tree pilgrimages are a wonderful way to pay homage to trees and connect with their and our shared history. I met one such Pilgrim, Gillian Butler, who spent a year visiting and honouring trees that grow along and around the 'Spine of Albion', an alignment or 'ley' that runs through the UK from the South Coast of England to beyond the Scottish Highlands, as she raises money for Ancient and Sacred Trees charity.
Yet some trees attract pilgrimages from a different species altogether >>> read about the Butterfly Trees.