Why children love climbing trees and the best ones to climb in London
High and mighty, trees make brilliant natural climbing frames for your child and the best places for some urban tree climbing in London
If you’re out for a walk in the woods with your child, sooner or later there’s a good chance that they'll attempt to scramble up into the branches of a tree. There’s just something irresistible about finding the right little notches to place their feet, pulling themselve up from branch to branch and leaving the ground far below. Then there’s the victorious cry from her lofty vantage point, “Mummy, Daddy, look at me!”
Any child who’s ever attempted tree climbing will know that it is both an exciting and risky business: there’s that heart-in-the-mouth moment of testing a branch to see if it will take your weight, the exhilaration of reaching dizzy new heights... and that dreaded feeling of having climbed so high you can’t get down again.
To avoid any child-stuck-up-tree predicaments, it’s a good idea to examine the tree beforehand and limit your child’s ascent to a point you know she can safely get down from, or you can easily reach her. “Thick, sturdy branches are best for tree climbing,” says Shaun Nixon, Learning Projects Manager at the Woodland Trust. “If a branch is thinner, lighter in colour and doesn’t have any leaves on it, it’s probably dead and should be avoided.”
In time, your child will grow in confidence and be ready to handle greater heights and trickier trees. And, as well as developing her ability to judge risks, tree climbing will nurture her respect for nature.
The 8 best trees in for kids to climb in London by Jack Cooke author of 'The Tree Climbers Climb'
1. The Corkscrew (London plane), in Battersea Park
How to find it: In a quiet corner of Battersea Park lurks my favourite of all the city’s plane trees, rooted on the bank of the boating lake. A huge bole rises from the mud before splitting into two curling arms that fuse together in a central arch with thick limbs spiralling in every direction. The jewel in the canopy is a high branch that curls over itself, forming a complete loop like a cowboy’s bull whip.
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2. The Spire or High Tower (Monterey pine), in Victoria Park, Highbury
How to find it: Dominating the roundabout near Highbury corner and facing Holloway Road is the Monterey pine with its the twisted trunks that majestically bends outward. Look for two pines between the Old English Garden and Victoria Park Pond.
3. The Vanguard Beech (Copper beech), in Lucas Gardens, Camberwell
How to find it: A copper beech of biblical proportions, as wide as it is tall, confronts all those who dare enter Lucas Gardens. A wooden suspension bridge twists between the two main arms of the tree, off-shoots sprouting from its centre like steel cables.
4. The Granny Pine (Scots pine), in Paddington Old Cemetery
How to find it: Near the cemetery chapel the first tree to emerge is a Scots pine, living up to its reputation as a landmark tree once planted to guide drovers home. Closer up, a second pine squats on the east side of the path, a low dome spreading over the ground. This is the bent back of a “granny pine”, a survivor from the cemetery’s inception in 1855.
5. The Hidden Cave (Caucasian elm), in Hyde Park
How to find it: Head to the Rose Garden near the park’s south-east corner and look for a large tree with vertical branches that look like hair standing up on end. This unusual tree house clambers inwards instead of up, tunnel your way to the middle of the tree. There you’ll find a bed of leaves and a wooden cave of your own.
6. The Kraken or Octopus Tree (Horse Chestnut), in Clissold Park, Stoke Newington
How to find it: Enter the park through Robinson Crusoe Gate and take the first path on your right. Beyond the goat sanctuary one tree drifts like an octopus above the sea floor, its lower branches extending great tentacles and shading the ground with seven-fingered leaf clusters. The horse chestnut is surrounded by other majestic contemporaries. Don’t miss its squat neighbour to the east, a tree with a crown like the spread wings of an eagle or the centre-parting of a bad wig.
7. The Sky Bridge (English Oak), in Hampstead Heath
How to find it: Walk up to Parliament Hill Viewpoint then follow the track north down a slope. The tree is in the first grove you come to. Its trunk is bent double, creating two arches.
8. The Flying Carpet (Cedar), in Greenwich Park
How to find it: Follow The Avenue path on the parks east side and look out for the cedar on your left. The squat cedar is umbrella-shaped, its canopy trailing on the ground and forming a ring around the base.
READ MORE >> The Tree Climbers Climb by Jack Cooke
Top Tips for climbing trees from the National Trust
- Keep three parts of your limbs (two legs and an arm, or two arms and a leg) on the tree at all times!
- Don't forget to check that it's dry before you climb as wet trees are really slippery.
- Good trees for climbing have broad trunks - ones that are thinner than your legs will probably be too little for proper climbing and won't be as much fun!
- Check out the view when you've climbed a little way and imagine you're a bird sitting on the branch - you're seeing what they see!
- Some parks don’t permit tree-climbing so be prepared to be moved on by keepers.
- Remember you climb trees at your own risk!