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The Mysterious Tree Huts Of Epping Forest

June 24, 2020
by the gentle author

Who can resist the lure of the forest at Midsummer? Since Epping Forest is a mere cycle ride from Spitalfields, I paid a visit this week to seek refuge among the leafy shades. In the depths of the forest, I came upon these makeshift tree huts which fascinated me with the variety and ingenuity of their design.

Who can be responsible? Is it children making dens or land artists exploring sculptural notions? Clearly never weatherproof, they are not human habitations. I wondered if the sprites and hobgoblins had been at work constructing arbors for the spirits of the forest. But then I remembered I had seen something similar once before, Eeyore’s hut at the edge of the Hundred Acre Wood.

Some are elaborate constructions that are worthy of architecture and others merely collections of twigs which tease the eye, questioning whether they are random or deliberate. They conjure an air of ritualistic mystery and, the more I encountered, the more intrigued I became. So much effort and skill expended suggest deliberate purpose or intent, yet they remain an enigma.


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37 Responses leave one →
  1. June 24, 2020

    Lovely, aren’t they. I suspect elves. ๐Ÿ˜‰

  2. Jane Manley permalink
    June 24, 2020

    Living as I do, a mere stones throw from Epping Forest – there is a footpath at the top of our road that leads directly into the forest itself – we see these all of the time. My eldest sister, I have to say, could be partly to blame. She is a retired headmistress from a local girls school and she was always taking her pupils up to the forest to teach them all manner of things, which usually involved making structures such as the ones that you saw.

  3. June 24, 2020

    The woodland elves have been at work on Hampstead Heath too: the huts appear and disappear in a most mysterious manner! A fascinating set of photographs/ how lovely to spend some time in the forest.

  4. Brian permalink
    June 24, 2020

    Group activities organised by Epping Forest Conservators for children offer as one of their many activities the idea of making these structures. The idea is that small groups gather the loose materials and adapt them to make the dwellings.

  5. June 24, 2020

    You can actually have a den building/bushcraft birthday party, where you can learn to survive in a house of sticks and eat toasted marshmallows off twigs for the rest of your life. Itโ€™s often a tempting idea !

  6. Peter permalink
    June 24, 2020

    Bit โ€˜Blair Witchโ€™ isnโ€™t it?

  7. BPL permalink
    June 24, 2020

    Weโ€™ve worked on a few of these over the years! In our case, walking through Epping Forest with a five year old provides the perfect excuse to communally help with the upkeep of these dens. Whenever we come across one that is part collapsed, we might spend twenty minutes or so rebuilding. Fun for all. I like to think the architectural flourishes might be my own. ๐Ÿ™‚

  8. David permalink
    June 24, 2020

    All over the country you can find similar in woods but it is a bit of a mystery!

  9. Jill Wilson permalink
    June 24, 2020

    Yes – they are lovely! and Epping Forest looks epic…

    We have had some similar structures appear in our local woods as well and again no-one knows who built them. They must be fantastic for children to discover and play in (I loved making camps when I was a child!)

    Our woods also have more formal structures like Peter Rabbit’s post office, Hedgehog Hall, and Badger’s Fort which the children love to visit, and some even odder things like a bicycle which looks like it has gone through a beech tree 20 feet in the air.

    But again no-one knows who is responsible…spooooky!

  10. June 24, 2020

    Hate to spill the beans but wonder if the Field Centre team is still there at High Beech? They organise all sort of fun forestrery things to do for families. My kids had a couple of birthday parties organised by them which included hut building and pond dipping. Epping Forest is worth it’s weight in gold for adventure, solitude and bliss. Strawberry Hill Pond is an oasis. Close to a very different ‘pleasure’ site for dogging!

  11. Claire D permalink
    June 24, 2020

    Fascinating.

    In Daniel Defoe’s A Journal of the Plague Year he describes London folk running away from the ‘distemper’, as he called it, to Epping Forest and camping out there. Perhaps these are ghostly, empathising reminders from that time for us.

  12. Ron Wilkinson permalink
    June 24, 2020

    People is So. Cal. make similar structures on the beach out of driftwood.
    The shady forest versions have a bit of mysterious charm.

  13. Alice permalink
    June 24, 2020

    Ah ha, we have the same on Tooting Common. Itโ€™s what emerges when children are locked out of school for three months! They become wood sprites ๐Ÿ˜‰

  14. Helen permalink
    June 24, 2020

    Summer Solstice was last weekend, so I am guessing druids and witches built these.

  15. June 24, 2020

    There are some very similar structures in Coldfall Wood in East Finchley.

  16. June 24, 2020

    I live in Pembrokeshire and they (structures/elves) are here too. However ‘shrines’ involving plastic toys and decorations are usually frowned upon.

  17. Leana Pooley permalink
    June 24, 2020

    I’m sorry if I offend any elves reading this but isn’t this just a practical way of storing firewood/beansticks? They’re fallen branches propped up away from the damp earth where they would rot. Perhaps they’re gathered up in time for Guy Fawkes Day.

  18. June 24, 2020

    I saw a humble relative of those recently in Bethune Park, in Barnet.

    Have you read Will Ashon’s ‘Strange Labyrinth’? If not, I highly recommend it. A fascinating story of Epping Forest woven with a personal journey.

  19. June 24, 2020

    Lovely images of these poignant and sculptural creations. I am sure that they were made by children as part of environmental learning, whether in school or scout groups, as I have done exactly the same myself with several groups of primary age children. They learn about being resourceful, creative, designing, testing materials, collaboration, team building, history, geography, the natural environment, beauty, and so much more while acquiring a skill for life.

  20. June 24, 2020

    Greetings from Boston,

    GA, truly a mysterious phenomenon. Intriguing.

  21. Malcolm permalink
    June 24, 2020

    In my far-off childhood, when I was a Scout, we would go to Hainault Forest and build these. Now, most of London’s country parks have events for kids and they do the same. You see them everywhere.
    Or perhaps it’s the Blair Witch…

  22. Donna Reeves permalink
    June 24, 2020

    I live in Hampshire, near several Forestry Commission woods. One of the largest of these is at Alice Holt. It is still wild in places, but they run lots of different entertainments, and courses. One or two are for children, and they teach them how to make a shelter – in case they ever have to live in the woods! The trees aren’t damaged, only fallen branches are used. The completed ones are “thatched” with smaller twigs and leaves. They often leave the structure at a fairly basic level so that other children can build them up again. It is really good fun building these with children (of all ages). I am fairly sure that it is not just the Forestry Commission who teach this woodcraft.

  23. David Antscherl permalink
    June 24, 2020

    The structures conjure up the idea of some strange Midsummer’s Eve ritual in the forest….

  24. Del permalink
    June 24, 2020

    It’s teen-agers. They do it in my woods too. As long as they use deadfall and don’t cut down live trees, I’m fine with it.

  25. Marni permalink
    June 24, 2020

    At a time when blm, antifa, and other domestic terrorists are destroying and vandalizing veterans’ monuments, historic statues, commercial buildings, and neighborhood parks, viewing these beautiful little structures assembled carefully and with love by sprites and faeries, brought tears to my eyes. Thanks, GA.

  26. Linda Granfield permalink
    June 24, 2020

    Dear GA,

    I hope you will consider re-visiting these wondrous dwellings in early winter, when snowfall will dust the wood with white.

    Some of these arrangements look like high fashion gowns, the tree being the dress on the torso and the gathered branches below a wonderful spray of skirt.

    Thank you for the morning magic. And please return!

  27. June 24, 2020

    Obviously Bigfoot!

  28. Charlotte S permalink
    June 24, 2020

    We have a huge one near us in Michigan. Our son lives in Washington state where people build elaborate huts out of driftwood along the coast. Some of the wood has been known to make it all the way from Asia.

  29. Joni Sackett permalink
    June 24, 2020

    Magical! Thank you!

  30. Catherine permalink
    June 24, 2020

    I’ve seen similar huts made of driftwood on the beaches here in California. Such a human instinct, to build–and many animals do likewise.

  31. Valerie permalink
    June 24, 2020

    Wonder if Frank Gehry had similar forest structures in mind, if such were the inspiration for his Fred & Ginger building in Prague!

  32. June 24, 2020

    Amazing Tress! Their roots are up from the ground, but the Trees are still alive!!! ๐Ÿ˜˜๐Ÿ˜Š๐Ÿฅฐ๐Ÿ’๐Ÿ’š๐ŸŒˆ๐Ÿ’

  33. June 25, 2020

    Love the post. Love the images. Love the comments! Thank you all.

  34. David Green permalink
    June 25, 2020

    Shelters from the weather for people out dogging?

  35. June 25, 2020

    I have wondered for years then…………a bril;liant thought
    Wood is being prepared for burning at home.

  36. kerry permalink
    June 26, 2020

    It actually reminded me of traditional coppice practices. When I bacame lost in Mad Bess woods in Ruislip, I met a ranger who pointed out the branches dragged into neat piles , some upright against trees. This is ancient forest management. The wood is used for all sorts of things. My brother told me that the need for charcoal in the industrial revolution despioled all Britains forests. In the compelling film, the honey gatherers, a person needs to seize more of the honey comb than is sustainable, and the patient ecconomy is lost.

  37. Suzy Rowlands permalink
    July 4, 2020

    Ahaaahhhh. Loved this so much. The other week my brother came to prune a beautiful lilac tree in my garden. I hadnโ€™t realised he was going to take it within an inch of its life in order to regenerate it as it had never been pruned. I was aghast. Anyway with all the heavy branches and foliage that had been lopped off I felt a keen desire to make myself a wigwam/reading nook in the garden, like a big kid. Alas, alack, I bottled out for fear of what the neighbours would think. A single woman of a certain age, with no children and who is already known for talking to all the cats of the neighbourhood can only get away with so much. :oD I settled with painting a few of them aand wrapping beautifully coloured thread around them.

    PS I check every day on the old lilac to check for new growth and Iโ€™m beyond relieved to see it is doing well.

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