On the beech
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