For Mental Health Awareness Week our team have been sharing what trees mean to them and how connecting with nature has helped them, especially during the pandemic.
The Hidden Oasis of Watford, By Sam Pearce
In West Hertfordshire is a small slice of heaven. Sitting on the edge of Watford, it’s relative beauty to that of its environs amplifies its magic.
The first lockdown forced me – like many others – to reexamine my local surroundings. For me, this was Cassiobury Park, a new place to me that I’d recently arrived at on my narrowboat on the Grand Union Canal. Finally exempt from the canal obligation to keep moving every two weeks, lockdown gave me the chance to explore a place in detail and call it home. The canal lies along the edge of the town park and next to this was the usual bushy towpath you get alongside any of our canals: a daunting prickly mix of hawthorn and nettles that dissuades even the most curious from wondering what might be behind. And including me – to start with at least.
But the discovery of a tiny path through the thicket piqued my interest as it wound through the thorns and quickly went out of sight up and away from the canal. Not being able to help myself, a few metres in and suddenly I was in old, old woods, looking up at the biggest cherries, hawthorns and chestnut trees I have ever seen. In fact the hawthorns were so tall, I didn’t recognize them at first, their lowest branches being over 10 metres above me. The sweet chestnuts stood thick and deeply twisted, their crowns having rotated over the centuries. Though nowhere more than 100 metres wide, this is a strip of wilderness on the edge of town, where the deer would come in the mornings and the nuthatches call in the evenings. And for 5 weeks it’s was place I would come to at any time of day, to sit still, reconnect, to put things in perspective.
Now no more than a remnant, this is part of the ancient woodland that would have dominated this landscape. Surviving the dual developments of the Grand Union canal and the West Herts Golf Course, this space offers a glimpse at what it the land once looked like. What’s more, it gives anyone curious enough to come here a space in which to contemplate our place in the world. Being surrounded by things so much bigger and older that we are challenges humanity’s grip on the world stage and provides some reassurance against the follies of the day. I love old trees for this reason – the perspective and wisdom they suggest by their grandeur put many of my own anxieties to bed. Even the pandemic felt small next to these ancient beings.