Richard Williamson Nature Trails October 28

When I was two, a mighty beech almost annihilated me when it crashed within inches during a gale as '¨I sat upon the meadow chewing a piece of grass.

Apparently I was still chewing the grass and had hardly noticed when frantic adults appeared.

In 1987 the hurricane toppled beeches all around this house and ten years before that a giant tried to crush my garage with car inside.

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I have had near misses with branches hitting my car across the Hampshire downs as I followed lorries carrying bales of straw loaded too high.

Only last week I had to call in tree surgeons to remove invasive beech branches growing too close to my father’s old writing hut in Devon where he wrote Salar the Salmon and scores of other books.

Yet this giant remains friendly to me, like an elephant in good temper. Beware, though, when it runs out of temper for it can crush the living daylights out of anything in its way.

Wherever you walk in Sussex you see dangerous trees overhanging roads and paths and dead hulks lying north-east after that dark night in October, 23 years ago.

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Even so, imagine a Sussex landscape shaved of its hilltop clumps marking battles, jubilees, coronations, invasions and follies. Imagine being without lover’s promises on those scarred old veterans that keep going the Roman proverb Crescunt illae, crescant amores – as the letters grow so does our love.

Sussex would not exist in song, story, painting, photograph or character without the beech-crowning downland top and slope, valley, byway or rue.

It is our national tree in the south just as the oak is to the midlands and the Scots pine in the Scottish glens.

This is why I have again chosen Eartham forest with yet another route to walk, so you will be encouraged to see the golden tawny flames of autumn that may for a few days roar with colour through those crowns.

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Beech trees are the natural fan vaulting copied by masons in the buildings of cathedrals. Sit on the moss beneath a mighty beech and feel the serenity and strength that comes down to you from those living arms above.

Of all organisms they quell turmoil in the soul, calm the mind and give vision of a greater peace we used to call paradise.

Only death or violence with strength greater than their own will cause the beech to be dangerous.

I must have realised that when I was two. Or was I just too stupid for words, to notice what was going on around me?

Or maybe I was merely following the old advice in emergency:

1 Remain calm.

2 Carry on as normal.

3 When in doubt, refer to 1.