The Books That Made Me

The Heart of The Woods starts and (spoilers) ends just outside Oswestry.

It begins in the woodland my father planted just over a decade ago, just a stone’s throw from Booka. I’ve watched with no small amazement as the thousand native broadleaf trees he and my stepmother planted have grown from thin whips in a bare field to the dense green woodland in which we walked last summer, a transformation I still consider miraculous. Inspired by the close relationship they have with these trees – a deep connection that comes of having cared for them and coppiced them, nurtured them in drought and frost, sung to them and seen them grow – I set out to find out how others across our islands see the woods, and to explore the ways our lives are intertwined with theirs.

It was a walk among the young trees in this valley on the border between Wales and England that sent me spinning out to explore woodlands across the UK and Ireland, to spend time with the people who know them intimately: tree planters and tree fellers, tree worshippers and forest bathers, carpenters and crafters, storytellers and artists.

It was a journey that saw me turning bowls on a pole lathe with bodgers in a field outside Cambridge, sailing a traditional wooden pilot cutter up the coast of Cornwall, trespassing with land rights activists on Dartmoor, exploring hidden glens in the Highlands, and collecting seeds in a patch of Atlantic rainforest on the west coast of Ireland. Along the way, I walked in the woods with the country’s leading ecologists and mycologists, with people who use wood for social good and for their own health, and with the people keeping centuries’ old traditions alive, and what I found were deeply personal, often deeply moving stories of our enduring entanglement with trees.

And when I was done, I returned to a woodland just outside Oswestry, this time an ancient yew grove, a journey from one of the youngest woodlands on our islands to one of the oldest. If I have a hope for the book, it’s that it might help you to reflect on your own relationship with trees and woodlands, and with wood as a material not just of our past but one that will continue to shape our future, and that these pages might help you to get, in some way, a little closer to the heart of the woods.

  • Wyl Menmuir