During Lockdown 1.0, I spent as much time as I could outdoors. Like many, I found it gave me an opportunity to appreciate nature on my doorstep even more than usual. Combined with a beautiful spring and the dramatic reduction in pollution, it seemed especially piquant. My lockdown urban nature explorations turned into a project which came to fruition in October with the publication of my new book, London Tree Walks: Arboreal Ambles Through the Green Metropolis.
The book consists of twelve walks in many corners of London from Acton to Walthamstow, and during the next couple of weeks I’ll be posting two blogs featuring a tree on the route of each walk. I hope these will offer a taste of the book.
Here, then, are the first six:
1. Queen’s Wood Hornbeam
A charismatic hornbeam can be found near the start of this seven mile circular walk from Highgate Tube station exploring North London’s Ancient Woodland.
Hornbeam is a common species in all London’s precious pockets of ancient woodland. It was a tree favoured for its hard wood, a valuable commodity in days past when Londoners relied on wood, charcoal and coal shipped from Newcastle to heat their homes and power their businesses. This is a particularly characterful example, one that appears to have been spared the regime of coppicing and instead seems to have fulfilled a role as boundary tree, tucked away in the dense undergrowth of Queen’s Wood. From Queen’s Wood, this walk takes you through no less than three other tracts of ancient woodland.
2. Wood Street Horse Chestnut
The Wood Street Horse Chestnut is a local landmark on this circular walk from Walthamstow Central: Surprising Trees Between River and Forest.
The iconic Wood Street Horse Chestnut in Walthamstow is a fine example of the much-loved conker tree. It’s difficult to say how old this one is, but the clapboard building, now a health food shop but once a butchers, is around 200 years old. Like all London horse chestnut trees, this one suffers from leaf miner attack resulting in the leaves appearing brown and shrivelled from the late summer. It’s a problem caused by the caterpillar of a micro moth eating the leaves from the inside. While it doesn’t seem to stop trees rebounding each spring, it must surely be gradually weakening them. Enjoy this tree while you can.
3. Mentmore Terrace Bee-bee Tree
It’s almost impossible to select a single tree that sums up London’s Urban Arboretum, another circular walk, this time from Hackney Central, but the bee-bee tree is one of the most unusual.
Typical of Hackney’s exciting and diverse tree canopy is this example of a rare east Asian bee-bee tree near London Fields, seen here laden with berries in late summer. This walk offers a taste of the borough’s ambitious and surprising modern tree planting, but also traces the legacy of Loddiges nursery, a botanical institution located in Hackney during the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries.
4. Wapping’s ‘Baobab’ Plane
On the route of Docklands Old and New between Wapping and Canary Wharf, I discovered a rare ‘Baobab’ London plane.
There must be less than a hundred ‘Baobab’ planes in London, so it’s always a thrill to come across one I hadn’t heard of before, like this one in Wapping’s St John’s Churchyard. Called ‘Baobabs’ because they have peculiarly swollen trunks, it’s thought these are an unusual, and now forgotten, Victorian cultivar. From picturesque Wapping, this walk leads east hugging the river before exploring heroic modern tree planting nestled between the skyscrapers of Canary Wharf.
5. Tree of Heaven on Enid Street
On the trail of Ada Salter and the Beautification of Bermondsey, between Borough and Rotherhithe a splendid mature Tree of Heaven is encountered.
Trees of Heaven are synonymous with Bermondsey. They were the tree favoured by tree planting pioneer and local heroine Ada Salter from the 1920s. Salter set about transforming the former borough of Bermondsey (now a corner of Southwark) partly through planting thousands of trees there. Many of those early twentieth century trees can still be seen, and this fine specimen on Enid Street was resplendent with deep red seeds when I walked the route in August this year.
6. The Honor Oak
The surprisingly bosky, not to mention, hilly route from Honor Oak Park to New Cross Gate, A Local Community Gets Involved, takes in great views and great trees.
Both can be experienced at the top of One Tree Hill where the Oak of Honor grows a few metres from one of the finest views over London. The current Oak of Honor was planted in 1905 to replace a much older oak that reputedly had the ‘honor’ of shading Queen Elizabeth I who passed this way en route to Lewisham… The walk also leads through the flatter ground of Crofton Park and Brockley where trees planted by the inspirational grassroots charity, Street Trees for Living can be found.
There are of course many, many more trees to see on each of these routes, and they are detailed in the book. As well as hundreds of photos and dozens of features, the book contains detailed OS maps to aid your passage.
If these half dozen arboreal stars have whetted your appetite, look out for the next six trees which I’ll be posting in a week or so. And if you would like to get hold of the book in the meantime, it’s available from all the usual places including Bookshop.org and NHBS, and I have signed copies available too.
And if you’re wondering about the Canary palm… it’s outside Hackney Town Hall and can be seen on the London’s Urban Arboretum walk.