Yesterday I joined a walk on Wimbledon Common led by Peter Fiennes, author of an absorbing and beautiful book on trees. Oak, Ash and Thorn sets out the case for Britain’s woodland and I liked the idea of discussing this subject within the woodland itself. We gathered, rather aptly, under an oak, its crown providing a natural awning for the speaker and his audience. Peter told us how the book came into being, a response to the proposed selling of the country’s forests by the government in 2010, and how it led him to spend a year exploring the woodland of Britain.
This late Spring walk followed a rambling route through the oak and chestnut woods of the Common, with Peter pausing to enlighten us on the subject of woodlands and the myths, folk tales and opinion surrounding them. Winding down a footpath, we stopped at the base of a holly tree reaching far above our heads. The trailing fronds of the holly had a sense of mysticism and even awe, and we learnt that a holly leaf in a man’s pocket would bring him luck in love. We paused at an ancient yew and admired a resplendent chestnut, before passing through a small clearing where oak and birch saplings were growing. Free from the grazing of sheep and deer this was rewilding in action, Peter told us. After more than six years walking on the Common, I discovered a pair of lime trees to be growing deep in its depths; bright green, roundish leaves seeming all the brighter against the dark trunks and earthy woodland floor. Inspired by the location, and our guide, the conversation very quickly turned to trees, and we galloped through the merits of woodlands, street trees, and London’s parks and commons with passion. This walk was part of the Urban Tree Festival, promoting awareness of trees in London. There are all sorts of reasons why we benefit from trees, but this afternoon I was particularly conscious of the calm I felt on leaving the woodland. As we returned to our meeting place, drops of rain began to fall and grey skies suggested more was to come. I ambled back along a well-trodden path to my car. The sweet scent of elderflower filled my nostrils and the rampant brambles promised a good gathering of fruit this summer.
Passing the great green mound of Box Hill on my route home, I took a spontaneous decision to stop the car and get out. I scrambled up and within minutes had a vista of trees in every direction. Green overlaid on green, with shades and shapes so different and yet so in harmony with each other that I could look at them for hours. There was no rain here, and I paused to sit on bouncy turf for a moment. This was a wonderful spot, out on the hillside with a sea of green, and a fitting end to a tree-filled day. Go now, walk amongst the trees, and leave with a lighter mind.