Oak and Ash and Thorn – Review
Oak and Ash and Thorn: The Ancient Woods and New Forests of Britain, by Peter Fiennes, September 2017. Oneworld Publications, ISBN 978-1-78607-166-8, 291 pages. RRP: £16.99 (hardback)
This remarkable book captivated me from the first page. Part memoir, part nature-writing, it is a lyrical and evocative account of English woodlands, past and present. Peter Fiennes set himself the task of visiting as many woods, or former woods, as possible during the course of one year. But this is more than just a travelogue or census of what he found: it is both history lesson and glimpse into the future; love-letter and lament; poetry and statistics; despair at human wilfulness and ignorance of the importance of trees, and profound hope founded on all those people who genuinely love trees and will do much to protect them, despite the needs and greed of developers.
Peter Fiennes has that rare gift amongst non-fiction writers of seeming to have a conversation with the reader. His thoughts meander through numerous subjects, like a woodland walk, bringing us back to where he started, having learned much – this reader did, anyway – about anything even remotely connected with trees. And of course, almost everything is connected with trees in some way – rabbits, Druids, coppicing, house-building, magic, poetry, foods, story-telling, Romans, ships, insects, land ownership, wildflowers, climate change, Robin Hood… Fiennes wears his erudition lightly yet passionately, urging us to look afresh at our woods and do all we can to nurture and protect the ones we have, and to grow new woodlands. We need trees and woods more than we know.
I can’t recommend this book highly enough. It’s a gem, one to treasure.