Skip to content

Old Trees In Greenwich Park

January 3, 2024
by the gentle author

One summer’s day, I went for a walk in Greenwich Park and was uplifted to encounter the awe-inspiring host of ancient trees there. I promised myself I would return in the depths of winter to photograph these magnificent specimens on a clear day when they were bare of leaves. So that was what I did, braving the bitter wind and the plunging temperatures for an afternoon with my camera.

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 winter 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 in the frost, 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

You may also like to read about

The Oldest Tree in the East End

The Oldest Mulberry in Britain

9 Responses leave one →
  1. Jane permalink
    January 3, 2024

    Such noble and beautiful trees. Wonderful photographs, thank you for showing us these great specimens of survival. It is extraordinary how much presence and atmosphere is conveyed even seeing them just on a small screen, so I can imagine even more so when up close with them.

    We must hope they will withstand whatever frightening changes they will face if climate conditions gallop away.

  2. January 3, 2024

    If you wanted to walk where I live today, you would need to wear a stout pair of wellington boots as it has been raining forever! Nevertheless, it is pleasing to see your portraits of ancient trees in winter sun. I spy a ring necked parakeet in the seventh photo, that most exotic of introduced species that seems to thrive among the ancient trees of the great London parks. They always remind me of warmer climes and sunny days. I’m sure they look forward to the summer too.

  3. Mark Byfield permalink
    January 3, 2024

    Well done, a lovely right up and wonderful photos.
    I am am a london Tree Officer and know those trees well.

    Thank you for all your hard work and out on a cold day too!

    All the very best


  4. Mr Peter J Washington permalink
    January 3, 2024

    Fine pictures of venerable trees,

    Trees communicate to each other, they tell each other when any blite is near or attacks from insects.

    Their roots spread twice as far as their branches grow.

    There are millions of us who care deeply for trees and woods, as they gnarl and grow I see that they are reflecting the stupidity of man showing that pain to the earth to we do it in those shapes, knots, twists and curl – and even if sometimes it might seem as thought we are beset by bigger, more devastating problems, just try to imagine a land without trees.

    Kipling was right: Surely we sing no little thing, In Oak ,and Ash, and Thorn.

  5. January 3, 2024

    I fell in love with an ancient tree last year. It’s down a quiet track and I might not have noticed it had I not gone over to look at the wonderful sunlit view of countryside over the gate next to it. Then I looked up. And up. And up at the enormous tree standing there, its trunk too wide for two of us to get our arms around. A huge and magnificent oak. I am so glad it is still there.

  6. January 3, 2024

    It is impressive how many such old trees there are in Greenwich Park. I love trees like this and have a very special one that is MY tree and over 500 years old. I visit it from time to time and talk to it — something King Charles III is supposed to do…

    Love & Peace

  7. Marnie permalink
    January 3, 2024

    ‘A thing of beauty is a joy forever.’

    Honestly, I don’t understand how anyone can look at these ancient, evolving, and individualized creations and continue to deny there is a heavenly Creator.

    From near or far, I never grow tired admiring the forms, burls, outstretched branches, nooks and crannies of these wishing these old sentinels could share some favorite stories accumulated over the centuries.

    Thanks for these photos, and of the mulberry trees and flowers you share with us, GA.

  8. Marcia Howard permalink
    January 4, 2024

    Wonderful wonderful images of some amazing trees, AND I learned a new word in ‘quotidian’ despite having always been quite good at English and a voracious reader too! Well I knew the word, but not necessarily how to drop it into a conversation haha. I adore trees, and climbed them regularly as a child, following my older brother up them. Thank goodness he was there to help me back down! After being away for Christmas and New Year, I spent the entire day yesterday on a train going almost the entire length of the country, trying to return home. A nightmare journey with flooded lines that held us up, but among those floods were some amazing trees standing proud in their recently made lakes. I thankfully got home in one piece!

  9. January 9, 2024

    Takes gnarly to new levels. Amazing trees.

Leave a Reply

Note: Comments may be edited. Your email address will never be published.

Subscribe to this comment feed via RSS