The Tree on the Banks: A memory for National Tree Week

In celebration of National Tree Week, the newest member of the GiB Team, Nic Perrins, shares her childhood memories of one particularly significant tree:

If you grew up in the days before screens, there’s a good chance your resounding childhood memories revolve mainly around being outside. ‘Playing out’ on your bike, football, hopscotch, cops and robbers, and collecting frogspawn in an old wellington boot.

For me, as a quiet 7 year old in the late 70s, my outdoor memories are made of trees. I grew up on a very typical residential estate; in a cul-de-sac, which backed onto an area of unused land known locally as ‘the banks’. If Mum needed me for anything, she could always find me ‘over the banks’.

The banks were home to so many mysteries: the massive electricity pylon which we were constantly being warned off, the strange rock formations only just visible in the overgrown grass; to me a magical ‘crystal maze’ with untold mystical powers, in reality the remains of an old coal mine (but that was far too boring). My favourite of all the banks’ treasures though, was the huge old gnarled tree, just around the corner from my house, located up on a large mound of earth overlooking my neighbour’s back garden.

Being an avid fan of Enid Blyton’s Enchanted Forest, and Folk of the Faraway Tree, it didn’t take much to set my imagination alight every time I ventured over the banks. The tree probably wasn’t as big as I remember it, but in my mind the trunk was enormous, and the branches sprouted thick course foliage, forming the perfect hut for us to crawl into. It became the regular meeting place for all the local kids; and regardless of when you headed over there, you were guaranteed to find someone already tucked away, playing inside the tree.

It truly was ‘ours’. We kept our toys there – and just left them each night, taking it for granted that the tree would keep them safe and dry; sure enough they would always still be there when we returned the next day. We had a stock of blankets and old clothes to sit on and cuddle up in, and boxes full of Dinky toys, Matchbox cars, wax crayons and colouring books.

Generations of wear and tear to the trunk had created natural holes and crevices perfect for displaying our most prized trinkets. And the biggest hole, where it met the ground, was perfect for our makeshift stove, complete with cutlery and a teapot.

As the years went on, I developed a huge fascination with trees. When I was 10 we moved to a new house, which boasted 2 lakes within just minutes of the front door. I would spend hours wandering around with my reference books and notepad, writing down all the different species of trees, insects, birds and wild flowers I could spot.

Sadly, I was too young to have noted the species of the tree on the banks – I really wish I had done that now. For sentimentality’s sake, I want it to be an oak; but the truth is, I don’t know. What I do I know is, despite using it as a play hut, I always had massive respect for it – and I remember that collectively, all the kids were very protective of it. We felt safe there; it taught us about the importance of having our own space, respecting nature, sharing it, and looking after it so that others could enjoy it.

Sadly, the tree no longer exists – and that weighs genuinely heavy on me. I’ve attached a photo of what took its place – an unsurprising scenario that rings true across so much of the country now. I just feel lucky to have grown up at a time when it was still normal for kids to get down and dirty with nature. It taught me to respect my environment and that if we look after it, it will look after us. Just like the tree on the banks, looked after me.