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My favourite place among the trees

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Ruined marvel: Caerlaverock, Dumfries & Galloway

My work as a Scottish woodland heritage specialist affords me the privilege of investigating many remarkable old woods. One of my favourites is Castle Wood, at 13th-century Caerlaverock Castle, the triangular moated ruin south of Dumfries. Few visitors know the secrets of the old wood beside it, which recent research has only just uncovered. It is rich with hidden archaeology and characterful ancient trees, all in the most atmospheric setting – on the Solway coast. The wood is a nature reserve and seems more feral every time I visit, but it has a long history of management. Exploring here will reveal medieval bank systems enclosing the castles built 800 years ago, while an even larger enclosure was added around 400 years ago, and there are banks studded with old coppiced oaks and the occasional pollard. Off the tracks the wood is wet and wild, so bring wellies for serious exploration.
Dr Coralie Mills, founder of the dendrochronicle.co.uk consultancy

Wooded heights: Eglwysegs, Llangollen





Rob McBride, tree hunter and contributor to For The Love Of Trees book


These lofty limestone escarpments high above Llangollen are sublime. The combination of scree and escarpments with views – including to 13th-century Castell Dinas Brân – offers me an escape from daily life. They are part of the Clwydian Range and Dee valley AONB, and as such have unique flora and fauna. I have witnessed hares dancing, bright orange common frogs hopping and even the speeding peregrine falcons that inhabit the cliffs diving for prey. I have had the opportunity to meet exceptional trees, too. Several of the great trees of the Offa’s Dyke Path – which runs below – grow here. The Llangollen whitebeam, an endangered species, grows almost exclusively here, alongside another arboreal treasure – majestic, wind-battered, ancient yews.
Rob McBride, tree hunter and founder of Treespect CIC

Ancient oaks: Studley Royal, North Yorkshire





Judy Dowling, contributor to For The Love of Trees



Photograph: Anna Deacon

For incredible walking among ancient oaks, limes and sweet chestnuts, this is truly the place to be. Fountains Abbey is signposted from Ripon, off the A1, and from its car park it is a 15-minute walk to Studley Royal water garden. A local politician called John Aislabie inherited the Studley Royal estate in the early 1700s and, inspired by French landscape artists, made a pleasure garden and deer park with riverside paths, vistas and follies. It is largely unchanged, and became a Unesco world heritage site in 1986. In 1767, Aislabie bought the ruins of neighbouring Fountains Abbey and created the Surprise View – a lovely vista of the ruins with the River Skell in the foreground. I love this place: you feel alone with the beauty of the trees.
Judy Dowling, lead voluntary verifier, Ancient Tree Inventory, Woodland Trust

Pollarded beech trees: Coombe Hill, Chilterns

The short walk from Wendover to Coombe Hill can be done along the chalk escarpment or on the muddy holloway route. The effort is met with glory, as the Chilterns are home to England’s largest beechwoods. A favourite spot on this hill, Low Scrubs, is full of pollards: trees previously cut to two or three metres to allow timber use and new growth. These are mostly veteran beeches, alongside equally old hazel, hornbeam and cherry trees; try to spot them. Hundreds of years ago, local people gathered firewood here, under commons rights, until the 1805 Enclosure Act gave the whole place to a nearby village “for the poor of the parish” to collect wood. It is now owned by the National Trust and open to all. Do visit in spring, if you can, to skip among the bluebells.
Laura Alcock-Ferguson, campaigner and CEO of the Ancient Tree Forum

Old growth and new: Kinrara woods and the Duke of Gordon monument, Highlands





'Wooden Tom' and Cairngorm, For the Love of Trees



Tom Banks at his outdoor workshop in the Cairngorms. Photograph: Anna Deacon

This place is a snapshot of the Scottish Highlands with glimpses through the trees of lochs, small towns and harsh mountains. The walk is three miles of tree heaven, climbing gently up a small hill to the Duke of Gordon monument. An old track winds through a blend of old-growth silver birch, juniper and old gnarly Scots pines. The ground is carpeted with blaeberries in summer and mushrooms in autumn. Along the way the forest opens up, with views across the River Spey on to steep-sided glens blobbed with green trees. This always makes me smile, knowing that these green blobs are part of the innovative Cairngorms Connect project to merge all the small woods into one forest, creating a huge wildlife haven. As I approach the top at the far end of an undulating track, the huge stone pillar of the Duke of Gordon monument appears. The views from here are of the spectacular Northern Corries and Cairngorm Mountain.
Tom Banks, wood carver

Magical pines: Eildon Woods, Scottish Borders

The woods are a patch of “wild” in the heart of the Borders. Skirting the foot of heather-clad Eildon hills, they are home to red squirrels, rare birds and majestic trees. I remember as a young boy peeping out at them from my bedroom window: in the distance, they looked dark and unknowable. A walk one winter and a close encounter with deer transformed them into a special place. Later, I took my mum walking there in sunshine, rain and snow; those trips were a big part of her life with Alzheimer’s. For me, every walk in the Eildon Woods is a still-fresh adventure. In January, I pause under snow-covered pines and watch goldcrests and crossbills. In March, I look for the first delicate primroses, and May is the best month for reading quietly among the rowans and tangles of heady blooming gorse. August finds me lounging in my favourite larch grove, scoffing bilberries bursting with distilled summer. A word of caution: these woods are also home to the Fairy Queen, or so Borders legend says!
Tim Chamberlain, director Wild Tree Adventures

Seaside forest: Newhailes Estate, East Lothian





Anna Neubert-Wood



Anna Neubert-Wood. Photograph: Anna Deacon

Adventure starts on my doorstep. To break up my days of working from home, I like heading to my nearest woodland at Newhailes, owned by the National Trust. I am lucky to have it just across the road from me – it’s a wonderful historic parkland with views across the sea, as well as beautiful and mature woodland. It’s popular with dog walkers, so I enjoy slipping away from the main paths into the overgrown woods, into the trees. I like to sit by the gurgling burn and just breathe. It’s particularly beautiful when it rains, to be sheltered by the highgreen canopy. On other days, I like being part of the symphony of birdsong, wind rustling in the leaves and the trees talking to one another. I feel protected, cradled and happy there.
Anna Neubert-Wood, founder, WanderWomen

Hearts of oak: Birnam to Dunkeld, Perthshire





Emma Roe, For the Love of Trees



Emma Roe. Photograph: Anna Deacon

This path is special to me: it goes past the ancient Birnam Oak, a tough-looking, broad and gnarled ancient tree that has stood for six centuries. The “Young Pretender” (a 300-year-old sycamore) stands beside it, equally impressive in stature. Meandering further along the path, next to the rushing river, brings you to a small wooden bridge, perfect for Pooh sticks. If you turn right before going over the bridge, you enter a magical-feeling little wood where you can spot old trees and stumps worn down by the teeth of beavers, tiny mushrooms growing from the mossy bark, and delicate meadowsweet flowers with their heady scent. This could be the land of fairies if you believe in such things. If you stand very still, you might spot a red squirrel peeping down inquisitively through the old man’s beard lichen (Usnea barbata). After a good strong wind, the lichen can be collected from the ground (the most sustainable way to harvest it) for medicine (it has antibacterial and antifungal properties).
Emma Roe, herbalist

Fairytale woods: Amberley, Gloucestershire





Tor Wesbter, tour guide and contributor to For The Love of Trees



Tor Webster. Photograph: Matilda Temperley

My favourite place among trees isn’t famous or even well-known, but it is special to me and has always played a huge part of my life. It is the woods where I lived when I was a child. We lived in a fairytale-like house in the woods in Amberley, near Stroud in Gloucestershire. I would spend hours climbing the trees. I would naturally be drawn to different trees at different times. I had trees I felt comforted by, trees that would inspire me, trees I could play with. When I revisit that woodland today, it still has the same magic, but it is far less visited and looked after these days. We need to get out in the woods, play there and enjoy them; they will respond by holding you and celebrating you. I am a tour guide and I believe my relationship with that woodland has helped me share the glory of our sacred landscape with others.
Tor Webster, tour guide, Glastonbury

March of the giants: Benmore, Argyll & Bute





David Knott, For the Love of Trees



David Knott. Photograph: Anna Deacon

My favourite place among trees is the magnificent redwood avenue at Benmore Botanic Garden, Argyll. It is one of the most spectacular garden entrances in the world, with a double row of 49 trees surviving of the 50 planted at Benmore in 1863, shortly after this tree was introduced to the UK. The avenue stretches over 500 metres, with many of the trees now well over 50 metres tall. Walking down this living cathedral, with its soaring branches almost touching in the high canopy, is both humbling and inspirational. Humbling when you realise just how small we humans are among trees that are mere youngsters compared with the massive trees in California that can grow to more than 80 metres and live over 3,000 years. However, at Benmore climate change has brought subtle changes in rainfall patterns – wetter winters and drier springs – so now remedial intervention by the horticultural team is needed to save this avenue and inspire future generations.
David Knott, curator, Royal Botanic Garden, Edinburgh

For The Love of Trees by Vicky Allan and Anna Deacon is published by Black and White Publishing (£20)



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