RICHARD WILLIAMSON Nature Trails...Splendid giant of the forest makes a home sweet home

Is this the largest tree in Sussex? This King Kong chestnut clutching its chatelaine is a chimera almost of ancient and monstrous legend that might have been dreamt up by Grimm. Is the damsel awaiting flights of fancy within its embrace? She looks hopeful.

If you do go on this week’s walk above, perhaps your wife might have the same experience.

This ogre of the forest is to be found with six or seven others on the Local Nature Reserve managed by the Sussex Wildlife Trust near Burton Mill Pond.

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I did not have a tape measure in my pocket and had to estimate the girth at 35 feet.

This would be much smaller in girth than the famous Queen Elizabeth oak on Cowdray at Benbow Lake near Midhurst. But that monster is hollow and its 57-feet girth could hold several horses inside.

It was hollow 400 years ago when Her Majesty hid inside and shot a deer with a crossbow.

The sweet chestnut in my picture taken last week is far heavier and more imposing than the QE oak.

It is much more impressive, like all the other half dozen nearby, with a high and splendid crown that is still growing.

Not that it has not suffered from overweight. Whole limbs have crashed to the ground, perhaps during that terrible hurricane in 1987. They make a pleasant dry seat now where one can sit and have a sandwich during this walk.

By the time you go I expect the jackdaws, which nest in hollows all over this tree, will have flown their youngsters away.

In some ways this tree has that majestic presence of a Norman cathedral. Stone masons of the past obviously copied their idea of fan vaulting from standing under monarchical trees and recreating the spreading, protective branches that reached upwards into heaven. And rather like cathedrals with their nooks and crannies, all kinds of birds and animals find shelter there.

Bats live in the hollows of this tree. One of the rarest birds in Sussex breeds there – the lesser spotted woodpecker – now a red-listed species of high conservation concern with only about 40 possible breeding pairs left.

This great tree is not the largest sweet chestnut in Britain.

That honour seems to belong to the Tortworth chestnut in Gloucestershire whose girth possibly containing several stems in one is over 200 feet.

We have the Romans to thank for this tree and all other sweet chestnuts.

It is now accepted as an honorary native tree, and grows large and with vast harvests of nuts on both Cowdray and on Goodwood estates.

It would be a useful project for some tree-hugger out there to measure all the chestnuts in the county.

It would keep a person busy and who knows, might give some lucky enough to enjoy a flight of fancy too.