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Chestnuts In Greenwich

November 8, 2020
by the gentle author

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In the early 1660’s, Charles II commissioned Le Notre, gardener to Louis XIV, to design the layout of the landscape and the impressive avenues of sweet chestnuts remain, many now approaching four hundred years old. These ancient trees confront you, rising up in the sunlight to cast long shadows over the grass and dominating the lonely park with their powerful gnarly presences worthy of paintings by Arthur Rackham.

I have always been in thrall to the fairy tale allure cast by old trees. As a small child, I drew trees continuously once I discovered how easy they were to conjure into life upon paper, following the sinuous lines where I pleased. This delight persists and, even now, I cannot look at these venerable sweet chestnuts in Greenwich without seeing them in motion, as if my photographs captured frozen moments in their swirling dance.

Throughout my childhood, I delighted to climb trees, taking advantage of the facility of my lanky limbs and proximity of large specimens where I could ascend among the leafy boughs and spend an afternoon reading in seclusion, released from the the quotidian world into an arena of magic and possibility. Since the life span of great trees surpasses that of humans, they remind us of the time that passed before we were born and reassure us that the world will continue to exist when we are gone.

Secreted in a dell in the heart of the park, lies the Queen Elizabeth Oak, planted in the twelfth century. Legend has it, Henry VIII danced with Anne Boleyn beneath its branches and later their daughter, Elizabeth I, picnicked in its shade when this was a hunting ground for the royal palace at Greenwich. After flourishing for eight hundred years, the old oak died in the nineteenth century and then fell over a century later, in 1991, but still survives within a protective enclosure of iron railing for visitors to wonder at.

If any readers seek an excuse to venture out for a bracing walk, I recommend a pilgrimage to pay homage to the old trees in Greenwich Park. They are witnesses to centuries of history and offer a necessary corrective to restore a sense of proportion and hope in these strange times.

Queen Elizabeth’s Oak dating from the twelfth century

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16 Responses leave one →
  1. November 8, 2020

    I began counting the faces and shapes…and then I ran out of time! Lovely images. Thank you.

  2. Alex Knisely permalink
    November 8, 2020

    And in the branches, one of the wonderful marauder parakeets that flash green and gold and rose-colour across London’s skies. Did anyone else spot it ?

  3. November 8, 2020

    Well, we are in tune this morning with our meetings with trees! I too am in an Arthur Rackham fairy tale in my silver locket blog post. Beautiful photographs which remind me of my childhood wonder in Richmond Park where time slips away in a similar fashion.

  4. Pamela Traves permalink
    November 8, 2020

    What Amazing Old Trees. They all look so sad.?????

  5. Annie S permalink
    November 8, 2020

    Wonderful photographs!
    The trees are like amazing sculptures.
    Thanks for capturing them for us.

  6. Colin L permalink
    November 8, 2020

    Beautiful trees and brilliant photos; thank you for lifting up my morning GA. Its very misty here today and my local trees are trying to hide from me.

    I wonder what Henry and Anne would think of the parakeet?

  7. Jill Wilson permalink
    November 8, 2020

    What a fabulous selection of gnarly old trees – fantastic shapes like frozen movement.

    One of my favourite things about winter is being able to see and appreciate the amazing structure of trees. At the beginning of the last lock down I started doing daily drawings of trees on the way to the village shop and I was constantly amazed at how random the shapes of the branches are when you look at them closely. I rather lost interest when the leaves started obscuring the view but now the leaves are dropping and we are in another lockdown perhaps I should get sketching again!

  8. November 8, 2020

    I love that you go mostly every year and take photos and share them with us readers of your blog! These trees our our friends and a reminder of what survives after we are gone in the shadow of the Royal Observatory. Your suggestion to go and walk among them is a great service to Londoners – to be inspired and in awe of nature and its resilience in these challenging times is a GOOD THING. Your Spitalfields Life mulberry tree survey serves similar purposes. There are many ways to count the blessings of the gentle author these days especially when London is beyond reach for travel purposes.

  9. November 8, 2020

    Wonderful pictures of magnificent old trees and, in some cases, their inhabitants. I did spot a couple of them coming from far away lands. Thank you, G.A.

  10. November 8, 2020

    Wow, what kind of Magnificent Trees! They remind me to MY OLD FRIEND, THE OAK TREE, which is more than 500 Years, located at the Sensenstein near Kassel in Germany, a Natural Monument. He has survived 500 Years of Human History!

    Love & Peace

  11. Caro permalink
    November 8, 2020

    Wonderful, gnarled shapes! And I love the almost sculptural green parakeet… the old and the new..

  12. Helen Holland permalink
    November 8, 2020

    Wonderful photos! When I lived in South East London, Greenwich Park was my back garden! I remember the Queen Elizabeth oak when it was upright. When it collapsed, there was talk of making a piece of furniture from the wood, but it was too riddled with woodworm, so they left it to nature to decide its fate, and they planted a new oak tree nearby. There are some younger sweet chestnut trees on the other side of the park, and…erm…I used to collect some the chestnuts off the ground, take them home and cook them. They were delicious.

  13. Mary permalink
    November 8, 2020

    These chestnuts are magnificent. Trees are a wonderful constant in our lives and despite centuries of war and disease, are still here.
    I am very lucky to live close to the New Forest and yesterday whilst wandering there found a giant oak that must have been well over 400 years old. The New Forest has at least 1,000 ancient trees recorded and is believed to have the greatest concentration in Western Europe. For a tree to be ancient, an 0ak must be over 400 years old and a beech 300 years old. Despite wandering around for several hours I did not see a soul, only the ponies and birds for company – truly the best things in life are free.

  14. November 9, 2020


  15. November 9, 2020

    I was thinking such aged, gnarly and wonderful trees and so was everyone else. Fab photos.

  16. November 10, 2020

    Great photos of our lovely trees and lovely article thank you!

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