Gathering at one of the Trees In MInd trail WW1 poetry plaques

Creating the Trees In Mind trail

I spent the last few months devising the Trees In Mind trail, a ten-mile trail that culminates in a woodland at the edge of Marsden, the village where I live. The woodland was planted in 2015 and holds 527 oak trees (saplings, still), one for each soldier who died in either Marsden or the other villages and communities in the Colne Valley, during World War 1.

The trail was launched to coincide with Armistice weekend, with the walk itself during the day and then with an evening event with food, film and a couple of talks.

It didn’t take literally months of course to plan the trail but I had to work on it between work and family things and there was actually a fair bit of location and access decisions to be made. This was via a mix of screen-based planning (using Viewranger and Google maps/ earth on occasion) and a lot of getting out on recce walks. And the locations that would make the final walk hinged on reading through the excellent and large amount of research that had been carried out by others on the individual lives of all the soldiers that the woodland ‘speaks to’.

I spent many a night looking over spreadsheets and prints provided to me by four brilliant local history researchers* and often found myself honed in on one story, lost in thought about that one man’s life. Often they were younger when they died than my ‘kids’ are now. Very sobering. It was very affecting, not an ‘academic’ route plan type of exercise.

That said, the trail isn’t a memorial walk as such, it is more an arts trail (I’m clearly struggling with definitions here) as it uses poems or fragments of poems which have been fabricated as khaki-coloured memorial plaques. The poetry resulted from a series of workshops that were run up and down the valley over the last year and they are, to a plaque, also affecting and thought-provoking.

Trees In Mind poem plaque being read by hikers
Some of the group who joined the walk stop to read one of the poem plaques.

My part in this project wasn’t those workshops or the creation and siting of the poem plaques but was the route itself. I read through the notes on all 527 soldiers and decided on ‘significant’ places that would have linked one or more (sometimes many) soldiers together before they went to war. That included the schools they attended, the mills (even if the mill isn’t there any more) they worked at, social clubs they enjoyed, sports clubs they played for etc.

The easiest route up the valley from the first community looked at (Milnsbridge) would have been along the canal to Marsden. But that wouldn’t have taken in the war memorials, remembrance plaques in chapel or club and some of those ‘significant places’ referenced before. And to be honest, lovely canal walk though it is (and it is, come and visit) it’s a far more interesting and rewarding walk for having some elevation and a mix of countryside and terrain to it.

The rest of this post is lifted from my explanation on Facebook but I think it sums the project and the trail itself up, so I have quoted it verbatim here.

Before that though, you can see the Trees In Mind trail on Viewranger and if you are in the Colne Valley area, there are printed leaflets available. But the project funding only ran to 1000 leaflets so they won’t last for long. Hence having a permanent electronic home.

Screengrab of the Viewranger trail page :

My Trees In Mind trail write-up on Facebook

I did the route planning of the 10-mile trail over the last few months but it involved lots of folk who did huge amounts of local history WW1 research, tree planting, writing workshops and more, starting in 2015. I worked with some of them directly but others I only met briefly and others still I haven’t met face to face.

But we were all linked, I think, by a desire to create something that allows for reflection on what it means to be lifted from your family, your friends and community and never return. WW1 was the focus but that’s sadly an age-old human question that’s still being asked across the world.

There’s a woodland of 527 oak trees above Marsden, the village where I live, which was planted in 2015. Each tree represents one of the men, young and old, who died not just in Marsden but the other villages of the Colne Valley, in WW1. For example, there are 147 Oaks, representing the casualties from Marsden.

Yesterday was the launch of the ‘Trees In Mind’ trail which connects those villages and places of significance within them – for both those men and their shattered families – to the woodland.

Before the trail was created it would be fair to say very few people knew of the fledgeling woodland. Zana Wood and Duncan Henderson got talking in 2017 (I think) and after discussion with the Colne Valley Tree Society (the guys who devised and planted the woodland a couple of years before), the trail project was launched. Hats off to Zana and Duncan for their vision for a trail.

There are 14 poem plaques to be found along the trail, situated on some of the buildings or in areas of significance, the trail takes in townscapes, woodland, agricultural land, moor edge and canalside.

The drivers of my stage of the project over the last year were Zana and Jean Margetts and it’s been great working with them. “

More info about the Trees In Mind trail is on the Facebook page for the project.

The project team (me, Zana Wood and Jean Margetts) were joined at different stages of the walk by various folks. Some walked the full route with us. All were lovely and enthusiastic and really supportive of the trail idea. It was great to be part of the project.

Trees In Mind trail Poem Plaque
Outside Golcar Baptist Church, with Jean about to read the poem that she wrote and which is enshrined in the plaque.
Trees In Mind Trail Colne Valley walkers
One of the woodland sections of the trail, just after Merrydale Clough.

Finally, I’m going to try and include on more two of the Trees In Mind poem plaques that are in Marsden (there are three) in the Marsden Poetry Trail.. a bit of an ongoing project.

The wider Trees In Mind team

The Trees In Mind project was possible thanks to National Lottery Heritage Lottery Fund. And the woodland itself was been supported mainly via the Woodland Trust, which provides trees, and grant support from local funders, plus individuals. The excellent Colne Valley Tree Society did all of the original planting and carry out ongoing maintenance. And the poetry workshops output was reviewed and edited by Alan Prout and Julian Jordan from Write Out Loud.

*A huge amount of research into the valley’s WW1 fallen had already been undertaken and was shared with us by village groups, thanks to those groups and specifically:

Milnsbridge: Madeline Andersen-Warren
Golcar: Pauline Ellis
Slaithwaite: Peter Brown
Marsden: Pat Burgess

2 thoughts on “Creating the Trees In Mind trail”

  1. At last I have found your website and discovered how the plaques came about. Can you please tell me more about the dates on each. Thanks

    • The dates on the plaques are related to WW1 battles and so linked to when particular soldiers in the valley died, recorded on the rolls of honour and local records in each town / village.

      The plaques deliberately don’t link one soldier’s name to the poetry or date on a plaque, the idea is to give pause for thought for the wider number across the valley who died.


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