Coun­try Mouse

On the beech

Country Life Every Week - - Town & Country -

OUR lauded Hamp­shire poet Ed­ward Thomas, who lived in Steep, and the great nat­u­ral­ist Gil­bert White, of nearby Sel­borne, were linked by their love of the ma­jes­tic beech hang­ers that soared like ver­dant clouds above their houses. The beech, es­pe­cially the stud­ded, knob­bled shapes of pol­larded spec­i­mens, in­spired Wil­liam Gilpin, an­other of the county’s res­i­dents and the fa­ther of the Pic­turesque move­ment. By the end of his life, the Wind­sor chair, made from the wood, ruled supreme. Paul Nash painted them over and over again, es­pe­cially the lonely clumps that crowned the hills of Berk­shire.

Beech trees look at their spec­tac­u­lar best now. The canopy, high above its smooth, sin­u­ous, fem­i­nine trunk, is blessed with an un­ri­valled, glossy, vivid green­ness that fades through the sum­mer. The tree’s el­e­gance is in sharp con­trast to the mas­cu­line thump of the oak. The beech is a lover of chalky hill­tops, but the oak prefers the thick clay of the vales.

Beech mast, the three-sided nut, makes for a tasty morsel. In win­ter, the leaves turn cop­per and fall, form­ing rustling, rus­set car­pets, but now is the mo­ment for a walk be­neath the soar­ing canopies of Na­ture’s cathe­drals. MH

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