I adore Christmas trees. I adore them for two reasons: first, I grew up in the Far East and real Christmas trees were something very very special because they had to stand in such an alien environment. They were imported and extortionate and a few times we went fake. But with a father from the Nordic countries, more often than not my mum went to extraordinary lengths for a perfect spruce.
The second reason is my now-passed Danish grandmother. In Denmark, the Christmas meal happens in the evening on the 24th. Dessert is rice pudding, and an almond is hidden in one of the bowls – whoever finds it wins a special present. But over all that, the tree has real candles on it, and in my grandmother’s day, the children don’t see it until the evening of Christmas eve. There was so much magic tied into this ritual whenever we spent Christmas with her in Canada (yes, I am from quite a few places!).
But now I’m a grown-up, and can pick my own tree. I would never go fake – ever – and totally DELIGHT in the moment each year that our Christmas tree arrives. I am very particular about it. In my ideal world it would be a blue spruce – they look gentle and they are soft to the touch – but so often we’re unable to find them.
We’ve had some rotten luck with Christmas trees the past couple of years. Because I am that person that loves them so much, I always insist that we get one on the first day of December. But two years ago our tree was brown, bald and sad by half-way through Christmas month. I could have cried. The person we bought it from then replaced it – and the same happened to the second tree. It looked dreadful by Christmas Day.
This year, my husband suggested we have one that is as freshly cut as possible – and that we wait until the 6th of December to get it. I am only agreeing to this second point because I want it to be beautiful for Christmas Day.
So this past weekend we headed for Wilderness Wood, where there is a paddock of Christmas trees (four varieties) that you can select at any point during November, and cut down whenever you want any time from the 29th. This year is the first time we’re doing it.
You find your tree, attach a named tag to it and then place a bauble or two on it to mark it as your own. I don’t know whether the bauble part was instigated by the wood or past participants, but it’s a nice touch. When you walk into the paddock a sea of half-dressed trees spreads from the gate, the weald glowing in the distance beyond them. Some people even make laminated signs that protect Christmas drawings and photos of their family.
When we went on Saturday we had to really search – there were plenty on the small side and it felt like there weren’t any decent ones left. But we took our time, and this soon unveiled some goodies. My husband and I bickered over the benefit of shape (him) vs. height (me). Then my older son pointed to a tree growing wedged between two others. It was tagless and, while not as tall as I’d have liked, and not as bushy as my husband would have liked, was neither small nor twiggy around the top (husband’s pet hate).
Still, we continued to look, spotting half a dozen others that were probably a bit nicer than the one my son had chosen. Still, he stood steadfastly beside it, so no one else would tag it.
And then it dawned on us: our children were standing in a field of GROWING trees. They were experiencing, for a change, NOT picking one up at a DIY store or garden centre or having it magically turn up at our door. What a very lucky thing for a child to be able to do, to choose a Christmas tree, to lay claim to it with a bauble, to return to cut it down with his family, and to hoist it atop the car to carry it home.
Turning back to my son, I said: “This is the tree that we have to have, you’re absolutely right. What an excellent choice.” Because Christmas is about the children isn’t it, and who cares what it looks like – he chose it and that should jolly well be good enough for me!
After we tagged our tree we spent some time playing Gruffalo (the smaller son had found a ‘log pile house’). This was the most fun I’ve had with my kids in a couple of weeks, having been buried by work and some life stress. Boy do we love Wilderness Wood! (See bottom of post for brief summary of what to find there).
Drive: 23 minutes
Address: Hadlow Down, E Sussex, TN22 4HJ
Tel no.: 01825 830 509
Open: Wed-Sun, 9am-5.30pm
Cut-your-own tree details
* Tree species are: Norway Spruce, Nordmann Fir, Blue Spruce, Douglas Fir. The Nordmann Fir are the most expensive.
* A deposit of £10 is required to reserve a tree. Pay this as the café in the barn at the entrance to Wilderness Wood, and you’ll be given a tag to attach to your tree. You can do this any time in November.
* When you come to cut it down (29th November onwards), the wood can lend you a saw. You carry your tree back to the entrance where it will be net-bagged.
* Trees are priced according to exact size, and this is measured when they are still in the ground. Prices are as per the sign in the picture above. If you want to take your tree with its root ball, there is a surcharge of £10.
* Getting the tree home is up to you.
ABOUT WILDERNESS WOOD
Wilderness Wood is a 62 acres of chestnut coppice, with various other species growing. It recently changed hands and is now owned by the Morrish family, who are creating a ‘school’ of self-reliance there – where children and adults can learn about how to make what they need from the land.
It is now more of a collective, comprising Lucy’s Little Forest School, Rachel’s Wilderness Café and Andy Coates’ Woodland Products. This summer they installed a mud kitchen for smaller children, and there is a play glade with large double swing and zip wire. There’s also a marquee for parties and a BBQ, as well as various teepees dotted about. I gather they do fantastic children’s parties there as my six-year-old went to one a few weeks ago!
We have long been a fan of Wilderness Wood as a place to go and walk (and have a nice lunch!). We haven’t been this past summer but I’ll write a post perhaps next year when we next do.
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8 thoughts on “The Magic of Choosing and Cutting Your Own Christmas Tree at Wilderness Wood, Sussex”
Little Lewes: T
his is the most magical post, I have a tear in my eye. I have already forwarded to my husband and we are going next weekend. Thank you for your constant brilliant inspiration x
You’re so sweet Jody, you always leave the nicest comments! It was a really lovely thing to do, I hope you find a tree that isn’t a pipsqueak! Search around, there will probably still be good ones if you go early on Saturday! xxx
I love this! We have reserved our fourth tree in Wilderness wood this year and we love going as a family to cut it down. It signifies the start of Chrosmas for us! I hope you enjoy your tree as much as we have enjoy every one we’ve had from the wood so far.
Wow Sarah, I feel like I’m in a new exclusive club now! I can’t imagine us doing it any other way already, and we’ve only done the choosing so far! Good to know that yours have done well for four years. Thank you for your comment! Kate x P.S. Any tips on how you get it home? We’d like to go and cut it down together but don’t have a roof rack. We wondered about bungie cording it onto the roof of the car using the rails that we have on it…
It is magical! And we feel so proud of our tree once it’s home and decorated, so much more special than shop bought. All trees have lasted well although we don’t tend to cut ours until mid December. As for getting it home… Well! In the past we’ve taken two cars, one with me and the children in and one with my husband and the tree! The first year I think the tree was the length of the car (an Astra) the next year we said we’d get a smaller one, we didn’t! Same last year too! This year we think (or at least hope!) it’s slightly smaller so the plan is, as we have a people carrier, one child will sit in the 3rd row in tandem with the other child and the tree will go through the boot up to the back of the front passenger seat. It’s all part of the fun 🙂 Good luck!
All the comments above almost bring a tear to my eye. Anne and I lived in Lewes, and set up Wilderness Wood in 1980 to share a special place with folks like you. As recreation planner and professional forester and respectively, Anne and I wanted to show a wood could meet a variety of mutually compatible objectives, and had some degree of success. Your interest was Christmas trees; others came for birthday parties, school visits, to buy logs, or simply relax in a woodland setting. Reference to Trip Adviser will confirm how many enjoyed it.
Anne and I have now retired, having passed the wood on to Dan and Emily, who are imprinting .their own mark; different from ours, but equally valid.
For all those who wonder how the wood came about, the challenges, joys and disappointments, we have written a book “Thirty Years in Wilderness Wood”, available from Troubador Publications, Waterstones, or us direct for £16.95 incl p+p. (Huggetts Furnace Mill, Stonehurst Lane, Mayfield, TN290 6LL, tel 01825 831972, or email@example.com. The book has been well reviewed, but we still need a lot more sales to cover publication costs. We are told it would make a good Christmas present, and who am I to disagree?