Cycling writer Rob Penn takes an enjoyable change of direction – into the woods

“I grew up under an ash tree,” Robert Penn writes at the start of his new book. Really, his point is that we all did. The oak might have inspired more poetry, and the willow has a more evocative name. Ash was never used to make “stately furniture” or “Her Majesty’s ships”. But Penn argues that for all its apparent lack of glory, ash has been, at least in Europe, our most intimate sylvan companion.

Fraxinus excelsior has certainly been put to an exhausting variety of quotidian but essential uses: primitive bicycles, barrows, tool handles, cartwheels, fishing rods, looms, ladders, joists, beams, butcher’s blocks, charcoal, toboggans – even Achilles’s spear. To Penn’s eyes, the freshly sawn wood is “pinkish white and disturbingly like human flesh”. When the situation calls for an unfussy, dependable wood, it is to ash that we have turned, but the literature about it is surprisingly thin on the ground.

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Source: Guardian Environment