Contemplation beneath the canopy: Whipsnade Tree Cathedral

Parks and public gardens contribute an enormous amount to the character of Britain today – which is why no trip to Bedford is complete without seeing the Whipsnade Tree Cathedral. This 9.5 acre garden is one of the most fascinating, unique, poignant and tranquil locations that you could find not just in Bedfordshire, but in the whole country.

Many important figures throughout history have made nature their places of worship – the famous Scottish naturalist John Muir famously referred to groves of giant redwood trees as his cathedral. However in the tiny village of Whipsnade one man went even further, crafting a holy place out of natural materials.

In 1932 Edmond K. Blyth set out to create a garden full of trees and bushes laid out to the approximate plans of a cathedral. The process took Blyth many years, and he faced difficult setbacks but the resultant Tree Cathedral is one of the most interesting attractions in Bedfordshire – an area that’s packed full of great sights and activities.

If you’re travelling to the region for a holiday, and are staying in a budget hotel, then you’ll find the short trip to the Tree Cathedral is well worth making. To enrich your experience we’ve put together this short guide to the site.

The history of the Tree Cathedral

The roots of the Whipsnade Tree Cathedral lay in a moving tale of war, friendship, tragedy and hope.

In 1916 the young Blyth enrolled as a cadet into Sandhurst Military Academy, preparing to take a commission in the army and to fight in the First World War. While undergoing his training, he fell in with three fellow cadets called Arthur Bailey, John Bennett and Francis Holland. The four became very close friends during their training but tragedy struck in the field when, like so many other young men, Blyth’s three closest friends were killed during the conflict.

Years after the end of the war in 1930, Blyth was returning from a visit to the cathedral in Liverpool which was still under construction. He was deeply affected by the trip, but even more so when he and his wife stopped to watch the sun set behind a group of trees. It was then that he decided the thing that’d make a fitting tribute to the memory of his fallen friends – the Tree Cathedral.

Construction began a couple of years after but was halted again as the Second World War raged through Europe. At the end of the war work continued and in 1953 the first ever religious ceremony took place in the gardens. These days the site’s under the stewardship of the National Trust and religious ceremonies continue to be held here.

Your guide to the cathedral

The cathedral covers a sizeable area and the best way to enjoy it is to walk around the site at a leisurely, contemplative pace. You don’t have to be religious to enjoy the tranquillity of the wooded towers, chapels naves and walkways; nor do you have to be a botanist to enjoy seeing the wide range of native trees and shrubs that make up the garden. The overall impression of the place is stirring for every visitor.

From impressively solid Oaks to the thick foliage and ethereal bark of Silver Birches, every area of the cathedral offers something slightly different. When the weather is favourable, there is nowhere like it. As you slowly stroll under the swaying boughs on a good day you’ll be treated to a serene experience of immense natural beauty.

When the sun catches the leaves of the trees, it gently dapples the turf beneath the branches, casting a patchwork of light that shimmers in the breeze. The deeply poignant sight is every bit as impressive as a stained-glass window display in a traditional cathedral.

What’s your favourite place to relax and contemplate nature?

About Author: RJ Bayley is a writer who’s worked for himself as well as companies across the world like Premier Inn. As a travel writer he loves to use the web to help people unearth hidden cultural gems and communicate with the travel community about their shared passion.


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