If you’ve ever been to Alton Towers you’ll likely have been on Hex, the nausea-inducing swing ride in the tower itself. The ride is themed around an old legend concerning the Earl of Shrewsbury. It tells how, returning to his home, Alton Towers, by carriage one autumn evening in the 1840s, he was accosted by an elderly woman who appeared suddenly in the road. She begged for a coin but was cruelly dismissed by the Earl, who ordered her off his land.
In a rage the woman called after him, “For every branch that falls from this old oak tree, a member of your family will die,” cursing him and his entire family. Initially the Earl paid her no heed, but, later that night, when a violent storm tore a branch from the tree his son inexplicably died. A slight variation in the tale has the son riding through the woods the next day when the branch falls on him, which is slightly more plausible as there are records of a riding accident in the area at this time.
Whatever happened, the devastated Earl ordered that the branches should be chained up to prevent any future tragedies.
Hex has you spinning around a subterranean room below the towers where the Earl, driven mad by the curse, has apparently been conducting experiments on a fallen branch in a vain attempt to end his misery. It’s a charming story but what is especially fascinating is the fact that it has it is based on some truth.
Now, I’m not suggesting that anyone was actually cursed, but that tree most definitely exists.
Just down the road from the entrance to the theme park there is a small lay-by. You can park you car there and enter Barbary Gutter, a fair sized woodlands, across the road. Follow the path for 10 minutes or so and you come to The Chained Oak on your right, shackled by thick, rusted chains.
The woods is certainly somewhere the Earl would have passed through in his carriage, and he is the only person who would have had the authority to chain those branches. I’m not one for believing in witches and curses and the like but whatever the truth it’s interesting to see and fairly easy, and free, to access if you’re ever in the area.