This humble alder tree stands on the edge of Trout Beck, overlooked by the summits of Froswick and Ill Bell to the east, and the craggy sides of Woundale to the west. It is on its own, the last in a string of alders that stretches along Trout Beck for miles. It places a pause in a valley where there is always movement of water, with wind as a common companion. It holds the end of the path and the curve of the river, welcomes long tailed tits, provides a navigation point for kestrels and soaks its toes in the river.

Alders love the wet. The ground in this section of the valley is typically saturated: mossy, grassy, moist. In a nearly symbiotic relationship with the land around them, alders help to fix nitrogen into the soil. You could call them a ‘pioneer’ species, helping to make conditions more favourable for other trees to follow.

Alder wood is dense and hard and because of its ability to resist rot when in water is often used for jetties; it was famously used as pilings for the foundations of Venice in the 1500s.

Alder tree on Trout Beck

Our First Meeting

Walking through an alder wood (a ‘carr’) is unexpectedly delightful. I have never noticed myself doing this before – in fact, I am not sure if I ever have. Alder after alder after alder, spread on the rocky fellside above the sound of the beck tumbling over boulders. On this late autumn day, the trunks are dark and gnarled, their shapes suggesting a stilled dance. The bracken is burnished brown and the mist is so close that it has stolen all distance and we walk without the bigger picture. All is brought to here and to now, to the smallest drop of water caught by a frond of grass and to each breath.

Clappers Bridge, Trout Beck

We come to a clapper bridge, great slabs of stone laid in place more than a hundred years ago, edge to edge on stone stacks, polished by the mist and wet like all the land around. Against a fallen alder log, now rotted, a colony of fungi, an entire world.

I follow the river now. It’s not much more than 10 feet wide, with alders lining both banks. Black-barked, soft, bowed. One has rested a branch on the grassy bank and eased itself up again so that there is a perfect arch from trunk to earth, with mist beneath. The river is perpetual motion but the day feels still, stilled by the mist, stilled by my standing still, listening, feeling, the wet breath of a valley. Unseen above us, the fell tops are in bright sun.

The mystery of the Trout Beck Alder:
How does a tree hide fifty long tailed tits?

Looking through the leaves on an alder

Find out more about the alder

We will be blogging about our walks to the alder, and sharing facts and lore about alder trees in posts throughout the coming year. Keep checking here for links.

First, up, a blog about walking to the alder in thick fog, shared by the Woodland Trust as part of the Charter for Trees, Woods and People.

And a blog reflecting on our public walk to the alder this August.