Between snow storms and sun showers and armed with our new Fraser packs, Athena Mellor, Callum Cunningham, Rebecca Slack and Jim Marsden took a wild wander with our Name Sake Rob Fraser, his wife Harriet and Guilly the dog, to meet the Glencoyne Pine. In the coming weeks we will share their personal journeys from that day wandering, walking and talking with Fraser.
Words and Photography by Athena Mellor | @athenamellor
Trees; they are something that we certainly take for granted - their grandeur and their beauty. I have a great love for these great natural beings and the way they make me feel, often denoting a particular tree with a particular moment in my life - the lemon tree in my garden in Australia when I was 7, the tall redwoods with the most delicious scent that I remember from travelling in America, the ivy that clung to my grandpa's house in Yorkshire, and my most recent memory of the vast blue pine forests framed by snowy peaks when trekking in Nepal. For me, trees signify a place to hide and a place of solstice; they denote wilderness and happiness.
Now I’m sure you’re wondering what’s got me thinking about all this; what has made me think so deeply about what trees mean to me?
I was invited to join Millican for a walk in their beautiful home in the Lake District; a day for good conversation and beautiful views. Alongside myself was Callum, a straight-talking, down-to-earth Yorkshireman who takes a fine photograph, lovely Bex from Millican who acted as 'mum' for the day, photographer, Jim Marsden, who inspired me with his sole use of film as his photography medium, and then Rob and Harriet Fraser, who work as a photographer-writer/husband-wife duo.
Rob and Harriet have recently completed a two-year long project called The Long View; choosing seven trees within the Lake District, they have created art, poetry, photography and more, based on each tree. The idea for today was to walk out to one of those trees and chat about the project. I was curious about the idea of mixing nature with art and being a self-proclaimed tree-lover, I was excited to head out hiking to the mysterious Scots Pine above Ullswater.
If I showed you two photos from the start and end of this day in the Lake District, you probably wouldn't believe me (although it was February in England, so unpredictable and extreme weather can hardly be surprising). We were awoken to heavy rain early in the morning before convening at a remote car park, loading up our backpacks with Fellpack lunches and spare layers, and covering up in our waterproofs ready for a rather damp walk up hill. Despite the soggy weather, the views looking over Ullswater along the trail were spectacular, as the hills were covered in snow and eerily obscured by mist and clouds.
The higher we climbed, the whiter the landscape became until we found ourselves in what can only be described as a snow storm... but the weather didn't matter, in fact, it made the reason we were walking up this particular hill all the more significant, especially for Rob and Harriet who were outwardly thrilled by the conditions. We were headed to see one of the trees in Rob and Harriet's project - a Glencoyne Pine standing proudly on a steep slope watching wistfully over Ullswater and the surrounding hills. If a tree could choose where it was to grow, I'd say that this particular pine took a precarious chance and got exceedingly lucky.
Yet perhaps this tree is lucky for more than one reason...the Glencoyne Pine is not protected by a forest, but rather it stands alone and exposed yet strong and bold despite the stark and brutal weather conditions, which usually hinder trees from growing this tall, this high up. It is a rather ordinary tree in an extraordinary setting; and on this particular day, we saw extraordinary weather conditions which only seemed to elevate its value to nature, as well as to Rob and Harriet's project.
Scots Pines aren't usually found alone, and so this isolated tree demanded our whole and undivided attention; we watched silently as its leaves were battered by the frozen wind, in awe of its great height and perfect posture. I thought that perhaps this was the luckiest tree in the world to be so confident, so alive and with such a breathtaking view to look out on. The tallest pine in the valley. I was sad to leave it, though by that point my fingers were all but frozen and heading down out of the storm was necessary. We left the tree alone, to battle Mother Nature's forces bravely.
As we descended, the weather cleared and the snowcapped fells above Ullswater appeared strikingly beautiful and eerily calm. Everything was covered in snow, from our eyelashes to our brightly coloured Millican Rucksacks; the Fraser, re-designed with some new features and colours. My particular favourite was the purple Heather pack, though the blue Tarn looked beautiful amongst the snow. The air was biting and my toes were numb from the cold, but I think we were all just happy to be out and about amongst the snowy forests and Lakeland views. I could have stayed up in the hills for a long time that day.
Somehow, quite unbelievably, when we got back to the cars the sun had come out, so we whizzed along the lake-front to a secluded 'beach' on the banks of Ullswater; eating our lunch and enjoying the clear and breathtaking view before us. I could hardly believe that just an hour before we were caught in a snowstorm at the top of the hill, just over my shoulder. Now the sun was beating down and the lake sparkled beneath it. It was a glorious afternoon that contrasted so starkly to the wintery white-out we had experienced that morning. While we enjoyed the sunshine, I knew we appreciated it even more for having battled the elements just a few hours before.
I thought of the pine; wondering what the view was like from where it was stood, wondering how many days like this one it had seen in its time, wondering how many people had stopped to even think about that pine.
Rob and Harriet's project invites us to think about what trees mean to us, how we are affected by being around them, and how they change through the seasons. The pair have visited their seven chosen trees multiple times, in multiple conditions; each time documenting their thoughts and feelings through photography and words. It got me thinking that next time I come across a rather grand tree, stood alone somewhere wild, I might stop to think about how it got there; all the elements it had battled, and all the people who have laid eyes on its branches. A tree is, after all, much more than just wood and leaves; it is roots and veins, a wise old being whose soul blows away restlessly in the wind, then creates new life again each year.