Around the corner from the hubbub and excitement of Whipsnade Zoo lies a remarkable landmark, Whipsnade Tree Cathedral. The site was the original inspiration of Edmund K Blyth, who served in the British infantry in World War I and lost two friends in the conflict, with another wartime comrade dying in a car crash in 1930. On a visit to Liverpool that autumn, the colour and beauty of the unfinished Liverpool Anglican cathedral impressed Blyth and his wife deeply:
“We talked of this as we drove south through the Cotswold Hills on our way home and it was while we were doing this that I saw the evening sun light up a coppice of trees on the side of a hill. It occurred to me then that here was something more beautiful still and the idea formed of building a cathedral with trees.”
Blyth, who had previously bought two cottages in Whipsnade for use as holiday homes for poor London families, envisioned a cathedral of trees as a fitting memorial to his friends and a symbol of faith, hope and reconciliation. The cathedral has never been consecrated, but is used for wedding blessings and interdenominational worship and there is an annual service on the second Sunday in June. The cathedral takes the layout of medieval cathedrals as its inspiration, so you enter through a porch of oak trees into a lime tree lined nave before coming to a chancel of silver birches and yew hedging. Four chapels reflect the seasons with different trees in each, and a garden of flowering shrubs framed by cypresses is the main feature of the cloister area. Despite the occasional sounds of a strimmer or of small infants running amok, the cathedral remains a beautiful, tranquil space in which to relax and reflect.