The Wood: The Life & Times of Cockshutt Wood

by John Lewis-Stempel, Transworld, £9.99

You will never look at a tree in the same way again thanks to this marvellously lyrical book. Described by Country Life as “one of the best nature-writers of his generation” John Lewis-Stempel spent four years managing a small wood using traditional methods, such as coppicing the trees and raising cows and pigs there.

It is a very English work, which is part of its gentle charm, and the cynical Scot may scoff at a whole book being carved out of three and half acres of mixed woodland in Herefordshire when our forests, denuded though they may be, stretch over thousands of acres.

However, his diary of a year does include some Scots references. Here’s a note on the evil reputation of the elder:

Bour-tree, bour-tree, crookit rung/ Never straight, and never strong/ Ever bush, and never tree/ Since our Lord was nailed to t’ye.

The publishers say, ‘to read The Wood is to be amongst its trees as the seasons change, following an easy path until, suddenly the view is broken by a screen of leaves, or your foot catches on a root, or a bird startles overhead.’ They are not wrong. It’s an absorbing read.

His writing is steeped in poetry and folklore but he’s never slushy or sentimental.

He doesn’t anthropomorphise the creatures that live, kill and die in the wood. He describes, for instance, the sparrowhawk as “a twisting blade of badness”.

His diary entries vary from being brief notes, to short essays. You may find yourself stopping short in surprise at all the things you didn’t know. It offers sanctuary from so many of our modern concerns.

As spring gets under way, and the trees burst into glorious bud, it’s the perfect

time to read this celebration of our quiet places.