It was a warm day when twenty-eight children filed out of their coach to meet us on the shores of Wast Water. Loaded up with packed lunches, tree-identification sheets and pens, and bursting with curiosity, they had a gentle introduction to the Wasdale Oak, picking it out on the steep screes on the opposite shore of the lake. Our day with the children was not a day beside the Wasdale Oak – it was a day beside the lake among many oaks and a selection of other trees, many of them ancient.

making notes in a Wasdale wood

We wandered beside the dark waters of the lake until we entered woodland, passing through a thicket of flowering rhododendrons and emerging beside a vast beech. The children soon discovered that the beech was ten-children-wide, and estimated that it was at least twenty-five-children high. The excitement of collectively hugging this magnificent tree was utterly contagious: everyone wanted to have a go and in the process became involved in the small life of the tree, wondering at the lives of the spiders and other wriggly things running in and out of the grooves of gnarled bark.

‘I wonder how many leaves it has?’

‘It’s higher than birds can fly!’

Their enthusiasm around the tree was matched by the concentration they showed for two minutes of silence. They listened keenly. Grasshopper sounds were described as bicycle wheels, and the thud of oars from rowers in the lake like microphone sound. They were outside, and in deep.

identifying trees in Wasdale

We walked on and lunched in a leafy grove dominated by oak trees. We found oak galls and talked about the wasps and the many species of invertebrates oak trees support. The idea that everything is interconnected fuelled some animated conversations, and the children held strong views about the value of art and poetry to draw attention to important issues. There was more tree hugging, identification of young saplings and older trees: ashes, silver birches, hollies and hazels.

The day was a day of opening the senses, exploring and gathering experiences, focusing in with cameras, making notes. Some poems were penned in the shade of the trees, and were shared to the accompaniment of birdsong. Back in the classroom the next day the children worked together to create a poem before working in groups to paint backdrops reflecting different stages of their journey: the resulting film is a celebration of the Wasdale Oak and all oak trees.

hensingham School video link

“10 out of 10! They loved it.
Freedom is very rare, and the freedom to create
without it having to ‘be like this’  even rarer at the moment!”

Awards for the children

With the enthusiastic support of their teacher, Mel Kirkbride, the children have been learning more about trees and their local environment, and will be doing some planting in school. They have all qualified for the John Muir Discovery Award and are staying involved through their own Muir Missions. They have also added their tree stories to the stories we are gathering to add to the Tree Chartercollection.

The Collective Class Poem:

The Wasdale Oak

Oak Tree, Oak Tree, Queen of Dreams
Dream of greens, unlimited trees.
Dark green leaves, oxygen machines,
Oak Tree, Oak Tree, Queen of Trees

In the lonely mountains an oak tree sits
On dinosaur backs beneath the mist.
Elusive, mahousive, walls waves, lake deep
Oaks growing here on screes so steep

Under the trees – listen to that
Birds talking, chirping, chiff-chaff, chit-chat,
Tick-tick grasshopper, bicycle wheel in leaves
Buzz buzz, swish sway, a whispering breeze.

The lake is dark the water deep
It’s a window onto stones beneath
Banging paddles, splash, splash, lap,
Microphone voices, muffled laugh.

The trees we meet and sit beside
Beech tree, huge, ten people wide
Stands tall, it’s twenty-five-children high
Sunlit leaves as high as birds can fly.

Dappled woodland, rainbow of greens
Holly trees with zig-zag leaves
Light leaves gentle like puppies’ teeth
Dark leaves mean like dragons’ teeth.

Silver Birch, silver trunk, rising tall and thin,
Sycamore baby, five-point leaves like finger prints,
Rowan and Ash looking for the sun
Apples on oak, the insects’ inn.

Rocky Road bark like a rugged path
Strong, bumpy, cold to touch
Spotty and wrinkled, skin of old man
Smells like nature and its habitats

Oak Tree, Oak Tree, Queen of Dreams
Dream of greens, unlimited trees.
Dark green leaves, oxygen machines,
Oak Tree, Oak Tree, Queen of Trees.


“I would just like to say thank you for providing us with such an excellent experience. The children have really enjoyed it and have learnt a lot, in fact we wrote poems about ‘The Queen’s Handbag’ on Friday, and what could be inside. No direct link you might think – well  Brady said she would have an Oak tree- a queen for a queen – good eh?”

working on the video backdrop at school