A whole book of walks around London looking at trees has sprouted from an idea stuck in the back of another book by the same author.
Paul Wood, a writer with a bad case of nominative determinism released a book about London’s street trees, and at the back was a small section of guided walks, which in feedback turned out to be a rather popular idea. So much so that he started guided tours to promote the book, and now, an entire book of guided tree tours to amble around the city with.
It’s quite a surprise to learn that our tree-lined streets are — by London’s standards — a fairly recent invention. It was, of course, the Victorians who are responsible for most of them, importing ideas from France and engaged in a lot of rebuilding who fell in love with the novel idea of tree-lined streets to promenade along and gave us our legacy of a verdant city. It’s almost impossible now to believe that a modern housing development could go up without adding some trees, and attempts to chop old trees down are fervently objected to.
As London is also famously a city of villages, there are hundreds of parks, from small modern pocket parks to huge expanses of ancient woodland slicing through chunks of the city.
And it’s these that give the guided walks their joy – for while any tour has a theme, trees as a theme are so varied that unlike say, an art-deco tour where you ignore anything not deco, trees of all sorts and types are considered worthy of note.
The book is laid out as a spiral around London, starting at Highgate, and running around London via Docklands, Bermondsey, Acton and heading into the centre of London, with a walk for each patch of interest.
Each route is supported by a series of maps, and a handful of photos to help orient yourself, and a casual chatty tone of a walking guide in the text, with trees to look out for along the path, and some of the more significant non-tree things you might see.
Dotted throughout are explainer pages for some of the arboreal terms used, although more photos of the trees or their significant identifying markers might have helped a bit.
Whether it’s 19-century London Planes, Persian Silk Trees in Brockley, or the Dawn Redwood forest at Canary Wharf, it’s not a walk only looking at trees, but also why they are of interest in each location, and some times, a celebrity link or two.
It’s an interesting way of adding a layer of information to a journey — my own walks around Docklands and central London now come with an added level of interest about what I may have once walked past without really knowing what that tree was, or why it’s there.
The author, Paul Wood was also one of the brains behind the online London tree map.