Trees of Whip­snade

Visi­tors driv­ing to Whip­snade Zoo pass a hid­den gem, an ar­bore­tum planted in the form of a cathe­dral. Au­tumn is a good time to visit this spir­i­tual spot, when the leaves change colour and drift from the trees, says Abi­gail Hamil­ton-Thomp­son

Countryfile Magazine - - Contents -

Bed­ford­shire

Just off a road used by visi­tors to the UK’s big­gest zoo, a sur­prise lies hid­den in wait­ing.

Whip­snade tree cathe­dral is made up of a col­lec­tion of trees and hedges in­ter­sected by av­enues. It was cre­ated by for­mer sol­dier Ed­mund Blyth af­ter the First World War as a legacy to lost com­rades and to in­spire faith and hope.

THE FOUR SEA­SONS

The site, do­nated to the Na­tional Trust in 1960, is four miles south of Dun­sta­ble, off the B4540 (af­ter pass­ing a church on your left, turn right into Bushey Close). Me­mo­rial ser­vices are still held here – and, oc­ca­sion­ally, wed­dings.

There are chapels that rep­re­sent the four sea­sons: the Christ­mas Chapel is rep­re­sented by the Nor­way spruce; the Sum­mer Chapel by white­beam; the Au­tumn Chapel by beech and field maple; and the Easter Chapel by cherry. There is also a Lady Chapel, which con­tains an At­lantic cedar. The cathe­dral has a cross formed by transepts with av­enues of tulip and chest­nut. You can see a plan of it at www. na­tion­al­trust.org.uk.

It is an amaz­ing place, par­tic­u­larly dressed in its au­tum­nal colours and with sun­light stream­ing through the trees. In each chapel there are benches on which to rest, but it is rare to see other visi­tors here – which means this idyl­lic set­ting re­tains its tran­quil am­biance. Along­side the cathe­dral is a fruit or­chard, which was planted by the lo­cal com­mu­nity.

If you ven­ture along Ick­nield Way, next to the cathe­dral, you reach Chute Wood (man­aged by the Na­tional Trust as a wild play area – in­clud­ing drums and scram­ble walls) and Dun­sta­ble Downs. Here the chalk grass­lands are home to orchids, rab­bits and other mam­mals such as munt­jac, bad­gers and foxes. Look up to see red kites soaring above and lis­ten out for sky­larks. Rest for a cuppa at Chilterns Gate­way Cen­tre (01582 500920 ) and don’t forget your kite, as this is a su­perb place to fly them.

Au­tumn sees fallen leaves strewn across the floor of the Easter Chapel – the grandeur and peace of a for­est can of­ten feel like a cathe­dral but at Whip­snade, the wood­land was de­lib­er­ately planted in the form of one

Abi­gail Hamil­tonThomp­son lives in Hert­ford­shire and loves walk­ing and geocaching.

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