Tree-huggers, it would seem, are not so daft after all. Many of us who once scoffed are belatedly discovering that the forest-inspired myths and fairy tales that thrilled and scared us as children had something to teach us all along.

Not only do trees offer the potential of salvation from the ravages of climate change, but they are also a font of mindfulness and well-being, resources that surround all of us, and that we need now – more than ever – during these times of anxiety and isolation.

The old stories warn us that we underestimate the power of trees at our peril. Forests are the home of powerful magic, but also of wicked witches, goblins and the tricksters of the shadow world. Slow to anger they may be, but woe betide anyone who stands in the way of Tolkien’s Ents once their wrath is unleashed.

From Shakespeare to J K Rowling, via the Brothers Grimm and Tolkien, woods and forests are places where the rules are changed, where we are often tested, but which also provide solutions to the questions we need answering. They are places of mystery where light, shade, colour and shape are blurred. Nothing is as it seems. At the same time, they allow us to connect with something that feels transcendent and to emerge better able to deal with the challenges of everyday life.

As someone who was brought up surrounded by trees in a remote Cornish valley, I have always seen them as living entities. As a child I dreamed of one day learning to speak to them in Ogham, the Celtic language of trees and, even today, a friendly ancient oak near where I live in Sussex is a source of peace and security. In many of my favourite memories, trees play a central role. For a while, my wife Sarah and I even worked in one. We were managing Greystoke Mahale Lodge on the shores of Lake Tanganyika in the remote west of Tanzania. Our manager’s “office” was hidden away in the forests of the Mahale mountains, home to the largest group of wild chimpanzees in the world – the reason for the camp’s existence.

Ethereal California redwoods

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It was, basically, a tree-house with the obligatory lopsided floors and views over the tented kitchen area and staff quarters. This was where all the hard work went on behind the scenes, servicing the needs of our guests and organising the complicated logistics of supplying such a remote location. But it was also a place of calm and magic. During the wet season, when the chimpanzees came down to feed from the trees beside the lake, we didn’t even have to trek into the mountains to find them. Once, when a family group came into camp, one of the baby chimps even tried climbing the wooden steps to join us in the office. Now that’s what I call a transcendent experience.

Our wisest and most respected celebrities also recognise the benefits of trees. Dame Dench, who has planted several different species in her garden in remembrance of departed friends, believes they are far more complex than we realise, communicating between themselves through a vast underground network of root systems. In the documentary, My Passion for Trees, she uses a special microphone to listen to the sound of sap moving upwards inside her oaks.

Small wonder, then, that woods and forests are becoming increasingly valued as places of retreat and restoration, to observe rare wildlife, and to benefit from the healing qualities of the Japanese practice of shinrin-yoku or “forest bathing”. The claimed health benefits of walking and meditating among trees are supported by many scientific studies. It has been shown to reduce levels of the stress hormone cortisol, while improving mood, lowering anxiety and boosting the immune system.

Blood pressure is also reduced more than it would be by walking in an urban environment, while an increase in levels of the hormone adiponectin protects against heart attack and even diabetes. One study suggests that creative problem solving is improved by 50 per cent after three days immersed in nature with all access to modern technology removed.

Small wonder, then, that so many of us are now choosing holidays with trees in the starring role. With all the uncertainty that surrounds us, planning a post-coronavirus holiday featuring trees is one way of soothing our fears, at least. 

Bison patrol Bialowieza Forest, Poland

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In our collection of forest holidays both in the UK and around the world, you will find everything from a tree-house in the Forest of Dean – the perfect location for a romantic getaway – to glamping among California’s giant redwoods, taking a spa holiday among the towering oaks of the Château de Raray in Picardy and tracking wolves in Poland. May the force be with you!

Richard Madden

30 WAYS TO TUNE INTO TREES

Travel is severely constrained during the coronavirus outbreak. Check relevant websites. Here are some ideas for when the restrictions have been lifted.

Close to home

View trees differently

Hayward Gallery, London

Mariele Neudecker’s And Then the World Changed Colour: Breathing Yellow is a mysterious fragment of a submerged forest, bathed in a dreamy light. The tank installation is part of Among the Trees, an exhibition exploring the role played by trees in our lives and imaginations at the Hayward Gallery (until May 17; southbankcentre.co.uk; please check latest closures). Stay at the new Treehouse London; the rooftop “Nest” has some of the best views in town. Doubles from £199; treehousehotels.com

Watch rewilding

Knepp Wildland, W Sussex

Twenty years ago, Wilding author Isabella Tree and her husband Sir Charles Burrell opted to let nature back into their 3,500-acre dairy and crop farm regenerating the land with the help of longhorn cattle, deer and Tamworth pigs, and creating a haven for wildlife in the process. Take a safari, camp (from £20 per night) or glamp (from £190 for two nights). knepp.co.uk

Treetop strolls at Groombridge Place

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Groombridge Place

Play in a treehouse

Beaverbrook, Surrey

Children staying at this new country-house hotel will be drawn to the giant treehouse – plus den-building with kids’ party organisers Sharky & George. From £1,000 for four, including two nights’ B&B in a Coach House Suite. beaverbrook.co.uk

Treetop strolling

Groombridge Place, Kent

With its enchanted forest, giant tree swings and Jurassic ferns, this moated house offers a 1,150ft-long, 60ft-high treetop walkway – the longest and highest in the UK. £39.50 for four. groombridgeplace.com

Build a love nest

Hudnalls Hideout, gloucs

This new A-frame treehouse in the Forest of Dean takes glamping to new heights. Inside, a staircase curves around an oak tree to a mezzanine bedroom; outside, there’s a copper bathtub. Binoculars are on hand for spying on owls. From £225 per night, adults only. hudnallshideout.co.uk

Low-impact highs

The Living Room Treehouse Experience, Wales

Hidden in Dyfi Valley, just over eight miles from Machynlleth station, these six oak-and-cedar treehouses were designed to impact as little as possible on their ancient woodland setting. As well as showing it’s possible to live “luxuriously without electricity, 30ft up in the tree canopy”, they also generate income for Bryn Meurig Farm, a net contributor to the grid. From £399 for two nights; sleeps four or five. living-room.co

Star gazing

Sky Den, Northumberland

One of a series of weird and wonderful woodland hideouts, Sky Den in Kielder Water and Forest Park is an architectural puzzle incorporating a triangular loft that opens to a Gold Tier Dark Sky Park, and offers activity holidays for people with disabilities. Daytime pursuits include flying through the trees on the new Kielder ZipCoaster. From £165 per night; sleeps four. canopyandstars.co.uk

Padley Gorge

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Forest bathing

Padley Gorge, Derbyshire

Shinrin-yoku emerged in the Eighties, after the Japanese government concluded that two hours of mindful forest exploration could reduce stress and boost the immune system. The National Trust has tips on where to try it, starting in the “mystical fairy glen” of Padley Gorge on Derbyshire’s Longshaw estate. nationaltrust.org.uk

Plant a tree

Countrywide

To meet the Government’s net zero carbon target by 2050, the committee on climate change advises increasing woodland cover from 13 per cent to 17 per cent. The Woodland Trust is working with landowners, local authorities and schools to meet its own target of planting a tree for every British citizen by 2025. To join in, sign up for one of the Trust’s schemes, or buy from the online shop. woodlandtrust.org.uk

Climb a tree

Westonbirt, Cotswolds

Founded by an estate agent who wanted a different perspective on life, the Great Big Tree Climbing Company organises climbs at sites across the UK, including the Westonbirt Arboretum. Participants (minimum age six) are given harnesses and helmets for the one-hour sessions, which are about having fun and building confidence. From £20. bigtreeclimbing.co.uk

Tune in to nature

The Oak Cabin, Devon

The beautiful Oak Cabin combines sustainable materials with green technologies and is available to rent. Set in the Teign Valley, where company founder Rupert McKelvie has planted more than 3,000 trees. From £130 per night. intothevalley.co

Further afield

Spa in the trees

Cabane Spa Origin, France

Atelier Lavit’s octagonal cabin is the most architectural of the 20 treehouses built among the oaks of the 17th-century Château de Raray. A 100ft walkway leads to a treetop hot tub; supper is in a basket, hauled up by pulley. From €300 (£267) per night. cabanesdesgrandschenes.com

Treehotel, Sweden

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Treehotel

Stop and reflect

Treehotel, Harads, Sweden

A philosophical film about friends who build a treehouse in a forest inspired this collection of seven designer treehouses in Swedish Lapland. There’s a near-invisible Mirrorcube (from £370 for two), a Bird’s Nest resembling a giant bundle of twigs (from £450 for four), even a pair of tree saunas – all accessed via assorted ladders and walkways. treehotel.se

See the lights

Arctic Treehouse Hotel, Rovaniemi, Finland

The TreeHouse Suites at this luxury 60-room hotel are actually cabins on stilts; designefFd by Studio Puisto, so that guests could watch the Northern Lights in bed. Husky sledding, ice swimming and visits to Father Christmas are high on the agenda. Doubles from €650. arctictreehousehotel.com

A wild moose chase

Wilderness Cabin, Norway

The remote Wilderness Tower and Island Cabin at Treetop Fiddan houses a woodworking barn where guests can craft a bird box; they can also join the hosts on a (photographic) moose hunt. From €200 for six.
canopyandstars.co.uk

Hide in the forest

Bunea Wilderness Cabin, Fagaras Mountains, Romania

Foundation Conservation Carpathia was founded to protect the Romanian forest from logging, and it is becoming Europe’s answer to Yellowstone. Its six-bed hide overlooking Pecineagu Lake is an opportunity to spot bear, wild boar, fox and deer over a bottle of wine, then hike through scenery checking camera traps as you go. From €200pp. travelcarpathia.com

Track wolves

Bialowieza Forest, Poland

One of the last remnants of primeval forest in Europe, Bialowieza harbours centuries-old oak, elm and lime trees, a multitude of rare birds, and some of the last European bison. Spot these, along with wolves, lynx and elk, on Wild Poland’s eight-day Primeval Forest & Marshes tour. From €1,230pp (flights extra). wildpoland.com

The Black Forest offers up a veritable feast in Autumn

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Hunt and gather

Black Forest, Germany

Autumn is the season for chanterelles and ceps in the Black Forest, with experts guiding enthusiasts on what to pick and what not to on hikes (for details contact [email protected]). Then rustle up a feast in a rental such as the Langenbachhof, a restored farmhouse sleeping up to 15 near the Triberg waterfalls. From €1,754 for two nights. langenbachhof.de

Hang with fruit bats

Chole Mjini, Tanzania

Tiny Chole island was once the capital of the Mafia archipelago, but the crumbling Omani ruins are now choked by tree roots and overlooked by a colony of Comoros flying foxes, roosting in the marula fig trees. This magical eco-lodge of seven treehouses is built in and around the island’s baobabs, tamarinds and flamboyant trees; excursions include swimming with whale sharks. From $480 (£399) for four. cholemjini.com

Trek with gorillas

Bisate Lodge, Rwanda

There are now more than 1,000 mountain gorillas on the cold misty slopes of the Virungas, and the government is expanding Volcanoes National Park by 7,413 acres. Three upmarket lodges have opened here in the past three years, including Wilderness Safaris Bisate Lodge, whose six villas resemble weaver birds’ nests. From $1,575pp. wilderness-safaris.com

Trunk road trip

Avenue of the Baobabs, Madagascar

This striking group of 25 Grandidier’s baobabs – 2,800-year-old, 100ft tall, and evenly spaced along a dirt road – is a popular tourist attraction. But the trees also serve as a warning: they once stood in dense forest that has since been cleared for agriculture. Imagine Africa’s seven-night Wild West tour starts from £3,100pp, including flights. imaginetravel.com

Camp under redwoods

AutoCamp Russian River, Guerneville, California

Taller and thinner than its mountain cousin the giant sequoia, the giant redwood flourishes on the foggy coast of northern California, towering to 370ft and living for 2,000 years. At this retreat in Sonoma you can sleep among them in an Airstream Suite. From $285 for four. autocamp.com

Sleep in a twig hut

Treebones, Big Sur

This family-run eco-resort features an artful swirl of fallen branches known as the Human Nest (from $175 a night), and a two-storey Twig Hut (from $215), both ingeniously crafted by artist Jayson Fann. Neither is rainproof and guests are warned they might find themselves sleeping with raccoons. But the views are out of this world. treebonesresort.com

A squirrel monkey in the trees of Costa Rica

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Zip through the trees

Hacienda Montezuma, Costa Rica

This working cattle ranch protects 1,730 acres of rainforest in an area that is home to rescued pumas and jaguars; in nearby Rio Perdido area, guests can zipline and scale the trees with birds and monkeys. From $3,645 a night; sleeps six. plansouthamerica.com

Hug a giant tree

Cristalino Lodge, Brazil

The Amazon rainforest is inconceivably vast: 2,100,000 sq miles, with some 400 billion trees absorbing five per cent of the world’s carbon emissions. Somewhere in its southern reaches is luxury Cristalino Lodge, set in protected forest that harbours the white-whiskered spider monkey and a Brazil nut tree so gigantic it takes 12 people holding hands to hug it. Cazanove+Loyd’s 12-day trip costs from £5,695pp (including three nights at the lodge; excluding international flights). cazloyd.com

Trip in the Amazon

Around Iquitos, Peru

Shaman-led ayahuasca retreats in the rainforest – such as those at the Temple of the Way of Light – are becoming increasingly popular. The mind-expanding rituals taking place among the trees are not for the timid – sessions involve vomiting or “purging” – but have proved effective in treating addiction, depression and trauma. Do your research first at iceers.org.

Swing with gibbons

Bokeo Province, Laos

The Gibbon Experience is a pioneering conservation project, comprising eight treehouses and 11 miles of zip lines across the Nam Kam National Park. Take a two or three-day guided trek, depending on whether you want to spot gibbons, be alone, swim in a waterfall-fed pool or have fun. But this is no theme park: a 15-strong patrol fights illegal logging and bomb fishing. From €190 per trek. gibbonexperience.org.

Cycle among clouds

Mashpi Lodge, Ecuador

This 24-room lodge, which has won awards for design and sustainability, is set within the Chocó-Andean cloud forest reserve: a 6,178-acre haven to 100 species of butterfly and 12 species of hummingbird. See it from above on the Sky Bike for two, or a Dragon Gondola for four. Doubles from $1,340 a night. mashpilodge.com

Nachi Fall in Kumano Kodo

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Bathe in the forest

Amanemu, Mie, Japan

This luxurious resort on Ago Bay has five hot mineral spring pools: one communal and four in two private pavilions. This April, it is introducing a four-night retreat that includes forest bathing on the Kumano Kodo – five ancient pilgrimage routes that criss-cross cedar and cypress forests to reach sacred shrines in the Kii mountains. From £10,493 for two sharing. amanemu.com

See cherry blossom

Chokai Blue Line, Japan

The Japanese have been chasing sakura for 1,000 years. New viewing spot for 2020 is the Chokai Blue Line, a road between the Sea of Japan and Mount Chokai. On April 17, it will be cleared of snow so tourers can admire the blossoms against the towering white walls of the mountain.

Lisa Johnson

Iconic trees of the world

Oldest: Aspen

The oldest known individual trees are thought to be two bristlecone pines found in California’s White Mountains, which are estimated to be around 5,000 years old. However, the oldest “clonal” trees – genetically identical and connected by a single root system – are the Pando of Utah, below, made up of 40,000 aspen trees. They are believed to be 80,000 years old.

Largest: Giant sequoia

“General Sherman”, another arboreal inhabitant of California, is a giant sequoia with a trunk estimated to be around 52,500 cubic feet in volume, enough to build around 120 houses and taking up roughly half the area of an Olympic-size swimming pool. Thankfully, sequoias are very brittle, and the General has escaped the attention of loggers for around 2,000 years and counting.

Tallest: Giant greenwood

The tallest trees in the world are the giant redwoods of Redwood National Park, along the coast of northern California. The big daddy of them all, discovered in 2006, is nicknamed “Hyperion”, left, and measures just over 380ft. The tallest tree in the tropics (308ft) was discovered in the Danum Valley Conservation Area in Sabah, on the island of Borneo, in 2016.

The Prison Tree near Derby, Western Australia

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Most sacred: Karui

Many would argue that Tane Mahuta, below, a 2,500-year-old kauri tree in New Zealand’s North Island from which the Maoris trace their whakapapa (lineage) to the origins of the Earth, would qualify as the world’s most sacred tree. Others favour a descendant of the Bodhi Tree at Bodh Gaya Stupa in north-east India under which Siddhartha Gautama, otherwise known as the Buddha, attained enlightenment. 

Most bizarre: boab

The Prison Tree near Derby, Western Australia, is a 1,500-year-old, large hollow boab tree with a trunk of nearly 50ft in circumference. Its name is derived from its reputed use in the 1890s as a lock-up for indigenous Australian prisoners on their way to Derby for sentencing. 

selected by Richard Madden

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