A long time in the planning, the Tree Trail was first mapped out in the Autumn of 2014 before the leaves fell. But it was the involvement of the 6th Form Events Management students at Plumstead Manor that brought the site-specific illustrated talk to life with elements of performance. Twenty trees were graced with the presence of an attendant ‘tree spirit’ who drew attention to particular features of the tree, or deposited a clue to its identity – so the rough bark of the Black Locust tree and the characteristic leaves of the Whitebeam tree were caressed tenderly, while there was a bucket and spade by the Beech tree, and a citrus lime by the Lime tree, for example, before the spirits fled at the approach of the over thirty-strong crowd.
To put participants in the mood before the Trail started, Erik led an actors’ workshop which would prepare them for the walking and later, singing, they would have to do. It wasn’t what people expected, but then nobody knew quite what to expect as they were led around a topographically interesting route albeit in a relatively familiar area for local people. Apart from being told which features to look for when identifying the tree at different seasons, there were interesting facts to be gleaned as the tour progressed. There were also references to the myths and legends associated with some of the trees, with witches featuring recurrently. Kevin, the walk leader, was assisted by his psychic sidekick John who was identified as ‘having the gift’ after a dramatic manifestation of ectoplasm near the Rowan tree, the first tree on the walk.
At the penultimate tree, where an apparently discarded ash tray gave a clue to the tree’s identity, everyone recited the Firewood Poem after hearing about the Ash Tree’s sometimes confused sexuality. As the final tree had a German connection (Its wood is placed inside the house to protect against witches), Alison, as the only other person who could speak German, was invited to steal across with Kevin to the tree and take a few red leaves while the tree spirits were engrossed in their ritual under the boughs. Away from the tree spirits, the characteristic milky sap showed the tree to be a red variety of the Norway Maple. It was then that everyone moved across and enjoyed each other’s company while partaking of the refreshments laid on under the newly decorated tree which now sported the Norwegian flag as well as pom-poms.