I love walking. And there are few places better to walk in the world than in England. Where else can you scramble along rocky ridges, ascend beautiful mountains, and descend at the end of the day to a welcoming public house for a pint and a packet of crisps?
And there are few places finer to walk than the Lake District, and few finer walks that climbing Helvellyn by Striding Edge on a warm sunny day. It’s the third highest peak in England and marks the ancient boundary between Cumberland and Westmorland — counties that have long since disappeared but stay alive in the minds of many. Helvellyn is believed to be named in the ancient Cumbric language for the yellow (velyn) moor (hal) that coats its broad top.
Striding Edge is the classic way to attain the summit. It is also famous in my family lore. My great uncle Herbert slid off down the scree slopes to the edge to the distant tarn below while walking with friends. He lived to walk another day. Others have been less lucky. As you can see, I had a perfect spring day to scramble along the edge and reveled in the panoramic views of the Lake District all around. Can’t wait to go back.
It’s funny how a place can feel like home even when you’ve never lived there. For me that place is Frostrow Fell in northern England. My parents live there and their home is situated where the arable land gives way to the rough moorland of the open common. People have lived in the footprint of the house for at least one thousand years — likely since the time when the Vikings came. They weren’t all marauders who dragged their ill-gotten gains back across the sea– some stayed and settled and made a new life. Some of them chose this place. And I can see why.
It’s aptly named Frostrow –there are a few weeks each year in the depths of winter when the sun barely crests the hills behind leaving a deep frost pocket behind. But on a sunny day — winter or summer — there is no place like it. The view across the valley to the Howgill Fells is mesmerizing. I like to imagine that it really hasn’t changed much in generations. Although the landscape has been deeply shaped by people for thousands of years it feels natural. It shows me that with care we can live with the landscape. The people who have made their home here for generations are as much a part of the landscape as the trees and rivers and moorland. Their careful husbandry of the land maintains its natural beauty — now recognized as part of the Yorkshire Dales National Park.
It’s a place that feels open and free. I see that now in the way my children react when they visit their grandparents. They exchange sidewalks for wide open spaces, parks for fields where they play “wild football.”, the water tray for becks they wade and splash in, and the local “little farm” for a landscape dotted with sheep. It’s a place I love.
One of the things I enjoy when I’m in England is playing “spot the redwood tree.” It’s really pretty easy. I once read that if you ascend any church steeple in England and scan the horizon, the tallest tree is likely to be a Sequoia wellingtonia—giant sequoia as we know them in the states.
While I have not been up a church steeple in many years, barely a day goes by when I’m in England that I don’t spot at least one towering giant sequoia. Now these are not the thousand-year-old monarchs you find in California’s great sequoia parks, but many are decent-sized trees that are pushing into their second century. I have a run I like to do from my parents’ house in northern England that passes a beautiful specimen by a Victorian house. I always stop to say hello.
But the most interesting sighting this time was of two decent-sized sequoias in a small copse by Long Meg and her Daughters. Long Meg is an ancient standing stone, and her daughters are ancient stones in a circle. William Wordsworth described them as second only to Stonehenge. They are in open country with views of the Lakeland Fells (high, barren fields) and Pennines mountains in the distance. Even today it feels like a power spot with deep roots.
Do you have a favorite redwood tree? Perhaps one that is outside the natural range of redwoods, maybe even one you have planted. Share your stories and photos with us here, or help us by loading their location into our Redwood Watch program so we can better understand where these remarkable trees grow today. Thank you!
[first published, “Giant Thoughts,” Save the Redwoods League, August 8, 2012]
I have spent the past week in England, not to attend the opening of the Olympics, but rather to attend my 90-year-old granny’s memorial service. As with all such occasions, the sadness of loss is mixed with the happiness of being with family and sharing memories.
I left England about 20 years ago, so really have only seen granny during family events and Christmas gatherings. She did visit me in California on several occasions—and each time we went to the redwoods. To Montgomery Woods, the Grove of Old Trees andButano State Park. These groves of towering giants—unlike any other places on Earth—left a lasting impression. One of her favorite photos was of her amid the redwoods at the Grove of Old Trees in Sonoma County.My oldest son who came with me cannot imagine anyone older than his “GG.” And even to me, she is my only real link to a Britain that went to war, survived bombs and rationing, and emerged into a bleak 1950s while America boomed. I choose to mark her memory and that of her husband Dick who died 21 years ago, by dedicating a tree at Butano Redwoods State Park in their memory through the League’s memorial program. It’s a place we went together. It’s a place that I have helped protect over my 15 years at the League through various land acquisitions. And it’s now a place I can take my sons to talk about their very English relatives. To me, being in the presence of these timeless giants and remembering past happy timesgrounds me and makes me feel alive, part of a larger world, and at peace.I’d love to know how the redwoods have helped you honor the memory of a loved one or cope with a loss. Please feel free to share your thoughts and memories below. Thanks for sharing.[first published on “Giant Thoughts,” Save the Redwoods League, July 7, 2012]