It’s true. By UN definition, our leafy city holds that status. London has as many trees as people, together filling some 20% of the city’s hatprint with foliage. What with the recent decision to make London a National Park City, now seems like a good time for someone to bring out a guide to those trees. With nominative determinism, Paul Wood is that person.
London is a Forest is an arboreal travelogue. Wood takes us from Barnet to Barbican, from Tower Bridge to Heathrow in search of the capital’s choicest trees. These include remarkable street specimens (the subject of his splendid previous book), and remnants of the ancient forest that once covered the whole London region.
Wood knows his acer from his elder bough, and has a masterful sense of place. He’ll point out an interesting tree, then tell you why it might have been planted in that location. I swear, this guy can fathom which London borough he’s in just by looking at the mix of trees.
It’s persuasive stuff. The author makes you crave his superpower. You’ll want to learn, you’ll want to explore, you’ll want to pick up those Wood vibrations. You’ll even want to spend quality time in Canary Wharf once you hear about its population of Chinese dawn redwoods (a tree only discovered by science in the 1940s).
The book is arranged into six walking trails. Each runs from extreme Outer London (or beyond) into somewhere central. The shortest is 21 km, the longest 44 km. That’s a big ask for most readers. Happily, the trails are written with the armchair browser in mind. The text has minimal wayfinding, leaving space to tell stories. With the inclusion of GPS coordinates, you can easily track down most trees on Google Street View, if you’re not able to visit the location first hand.
It’s a cliche to say that a book will make you see the city in a new light, but this one really does. I’ve never viewed Holloway Road as anything but a monotonous slog. Now, thanks to Wood, I’ve seen the trees, and they are glorious.
London is a Forest by Paul Wood is out now from Quadrille. Buy it from an independent bookshop. Paul also runs the The Street Tree blog, and can be found imparting words of woody wisdom as @TheStreetTree on Twitter.