Leighton Buzzard Railway was thought to be the only railway in the country to commemorate Oak Apple Day, or Royal Oak Day on Bank Holiday Monday 29 May, with Baldwin 778 carrying a special headboard for the day. It is a traditional English celebration of the restoration of King Charles II to the throne in 1660 following the death of Oliver Cromwell, so it is especially appropriate in King Charles III’s Coronation year to see oak apples (oak galls) alongside the railway at Leighton Buzzard.
The future King Charles II hid from his Roundhead pursuers in the Royal Oak, an English oak tree, in Boscobel Wood after the Battle of Worcester in 1651. Nine years later, the restored Charles II rode triumphantly into London on his birthday, 29 May, to take his place on the throne. From 1660, the Restoration was celebrated as a national holiday, until the Victorians abolished it in 1859.
The oak became the symbol of Royalist sympathisers and, each year on 29 May, known as Oak Apple Day or Royal Oak Day, it became customary for subjects to show support for their king by wearing a sprig of oak leaves or an oak apple.
All galls are formed for the same sort of purpose; the deformity is a deliberate mechanism by the gall causer to use the plant for its own purposes. When an insect is the causer it is to create a safe haven for it’s larvae. In ecological terms, it’s known as a parasitic relationship. The gall causer manipulates the plant tissue for itself, but the plant receives no benefits in exchange. Most galls don’t harm the plant though and will have no effect on the health of the host trees. They are caused by many things, mostly insects, but also bacteria, fungi and viruses.
The ones currently to be seen next to the railway, rather than being Oak Apples are Oak Marbles. Oak marble galls are caused by another gall wasp, Andricus kollari. The wasp was intentionally introduced from the Mediterranean in the 1800s because its galls have a high tannin content, which was useful for tanning leather and dyeing cloth. This gall has little dimples on its surface. Inside, the wasp larvae are protected from bad weather by the woody outer shell and the tannins.
Full details of the railway’s operating days, the timetable, and special events can be found at www.buzzrail.uk.