Land & Nature / Treefolds | An Art Project in The Cumbrian Fells

Every tree begins with a small seed, and so it is with ideas: from the smallest inkling, something lasting can grow.

Having spent two years with seven remarkably ordinary trees as part of The Long View project in the stunning Cumbrian fells, visiting and revisiting the trees alone and with other people (more than 350 people in fact), sleeping close to them, and walking the 120km between them, we were keen to create a legacy. Our minds were full of trees and the Cumbrian landscape of lakes, rivers, farms and fells.

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So we began with ideas. We thought about the importance of trees, and trees as beacons and as markers of the passing of time – memory holders, if you like, for those who visit or walk past the same tree time and time again. From these thoughts, the concept of a ‘treefold’ was born, and the word itself came into being. We wanted to create a monument to trees that also provided a space for people to pause with a tree, and witness its growth over the years. We decided to build three treefolds, each one a circular dry stone wall structure high enough to keep grazing deer, sheep and cows away from a tree, and wide enough to offer a place for people to gather inside, and sit.

Resting in the treefold is an opportunity not just to be with a tree, but also a chance to take the long view, literally, across hills and lakes, and metaphorically, across time and space as your thoughts drift. The treefolds are also a meeting place, a celebration of people and trees, the bringing together of art and tradition.

Each treefold is built with stone found locally with techniques that go back hundreds, if not thousands of years (no cement – just stones, air, and hard work!). The treefolds also carry a poem, one line set into each of the three treefolds. The three treefolds are miles apart, each one in a very different landscape. In the east of Cumbria, treefold:east is on open limestone moor with views of the Pennines, the Howgills and the eastern Lakeland fells; treefold:north sits beside Ullswater with a view over the lake to the fells beyond; and treefold:centre rests high on a hillside in Grizedale Forest, looking across the tops of trees to the tops of the central Lakeland fells. Each treefold has been built to the same design but using local stone, so they look very different. We’ve been really fortunate to have the treefolds built by a local master waller, Andrew Mason, who is arguably one of the best dry stone wallers there is. These treefolds are sturdy, and strong: they will last, he reckons, at least two hundred years.

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During the winter of 2017-2108 a young native tree will be planted within each of the treefolds. We’ll be having a celebration as the local communities gather for the occasion. treefold:east will encircle a tree that replaces the local ‘Dowly’ tree – a tree that has stood as a way marker and a meeting place for centuries. The Dowly Tree was almost certainly a landmark for travellers, and the stump that now stands is probably the last in a succession of trees that have stood here. Built in August, the treefold is 70 yards from the Dowly Tree stump. Knotted into this place are stories, genes, beliefs and traditions, and the treefold seems to stand for these.

Over the decades each tree will become stronger and taller, eventually, perhaps, towering above other trees that are there because of its own seeds: after all, a woodland starts from just one tree. We can imagine ourselves and others returning year after year, with children, with grandchildren, and watching the trees change. And besides giving pleasure, we hope that these treefolds will keep the importance of trees in focus: trees matter for so many reasons, as habitats, as part of a healthy and biodiverse ecosystem, as inspiration and for spiritual fulfilment, for resilience in the face of climate change, and many more things beside.

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The Cumbrian treefolds have been created as part of Common Ground’s Charter Art Residency programme, to mark the 800th anniversary of the Forest Charter, created in 1217, and the launch of the new UK Charter for Trees, Woods and People. If you would like to add your support to the Charter, please visit Tree Charter UK. Their build has also been supported by the National Trust, Friends of the Lake District and the Lake District National Park Authority. If you’d like to drop in for the build of the third treefold beside Ullswater, keep an eye on The Long View website, where dates will be announced.

in this circle of land’s bones

moments gather into wood

seeds, ideas, earth, light,

elements entwine

the slow graft of time

deep rooted, years weathered,

taking the long view

Words by Harriet Fraser. Photography by Rob Fraser.

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9 Comments

  • What a lovely project, I hope the emotions and ideas that inspired this project develop and grow for as long as the trees that are planted and their offspring.

  • What a wonderful project to be involved with. Yet another reason to put on walking boots and see something that feeds the soul.

  • Ferriel Waddington

    Simple, beautiful and above all quiet. Lovely to see and read, thank you.

  • Linda Kay Stevens

    Absolute inspiration, both brow and brawn sweat to create a simplicity that S L O W S one down, to land foot by foot and have read.

  • Very beautiful,moving and living land art.
    Thank you

  • What a lovely, lovely idea.
    There is something which locals call The Roundabout on the Begwyns in Powys. An enclosed copse of trees with a sitting area inside. Not so beautiful or poetic as your treefold but a landmark and a tiny forest on a treeless hill.

  • Looks beautiful.

  • Wonderful combination of landscape art and poetry. Much enjoyed on the page and perhaps one day to visit.

  • Sue Abbiss Stubbs

    The tree folds are truly beautiful