Suburban Safari: Freemantle Common 

Suburban Safari: Freemantle Common 

Words and images by Katie Isham

We’ve just had National Tree Week (25 November – 3 December) . I know what you’re thinking: surely every week is tree week? Indeed, it should be. But it’s not. So this seems like the perfect excuse to celebrate the wondrous trees in our lives. Especially as Southampton has recently been named a National Park City. 

An ideal time to visit your favourite trees. (Everyone has a favourite tree, right?)

In a city with so much green space to choose from, it can be hard to see the wood for the trees. Embrace the abundance: visit as many as possible. 

Freemantle Common is an excellent spot for some tree spotting. Not to be confused with the area of Freemantle near Shirley and Millbrook; this common ground is the other side of the city. A triangular strip of green (and various shades of brown and orange at present) wedged between the suburban streets of Bitterne and Merryoak, this is a quintessential playground for all. 

At the eastern corner is the actual playground consisting of the ubiquitous slides and rope bridges. Always worth swinging by if small humans need tiring out. 

Alongside that is the vast grass field of space. Nothing like a big expanse of freedom to run across, especially for dogs. Although I’d dare say it’s somewhat invigorating for humans too. I’ll settle for watching. Watching the hairy hounds gambolling across the soggy grass in pursuit of a stray ball. Joyous to witness. 

Almost as heartening as the landscape encircling the field. The common is bordered, almost completely, by our heroes of the week. Tall, beautiful, colourful trees. 

This is where the rest of us will reap the bulk of our enjoyment on Freemantle Common. The trees here are impressive any day, but on these cold, crisp autumnal days, framed by an eye-wateringly low sun and against a pure blue backdrop, they make every heart soar. Along the northern border, a whole range of these trees stand guard along the edge of Spring Road, protecting the park from the outside world. 

Only a small breach in the tree line can be explored to cross the road and follow the woodland path a little further to sneak up upon the epicentre of Bitterne village. Only if you really must return to civilisation. 

At the opposite end of the Common, the woodland is a micro-forest spreading across the width of the field, then tapering into the southern tip. Only a few seconds from the busy Peartree Avenue and dozens of front doors, this is the definition of a Suburban Safari. Wandering amongst these colossal, gnarled, ancient oaks feels like exploring a faraway land and yet we’re an acorn’s drop away from the domestic pavements. The roots entwine with the foundations of our homes. 

And you’ve got to love what they’ve done with the place. The interior décor is charming. A carpet of kaleidoscopic warm hues crunching and squelching under foot in equal measure. The vibrant mossy edging really finishes off the wooden cladding. And as for the ceiling, it is certainly not minimalist. A constantly moving pattern of interwoven leaves and branches and acorns and cones and seeds and needles. The squirrels certainly find it appetising. 

Wander through this woodland home to really relish the autumnal trees. Is it any wonder National Tree Week falls on the same week many leaves are turning and falling? 

But I haven’t even mentioned my favourite tree. 

Rising up from the mulchy thoroughfare, one twisted trunk stands out more than the rest. A cuckoo within the oak nest. A slightly angled, heaven-bound fir stands stubbornly between the shedding leaves. Stand beside this mighty trunk. Feel the grain of the bark. Stare skywards through the outstretched arms of the canopy. It’s hard not to feel very small in the world beside these gentle giants.  

Okay, it may be my favourite tree here, but I have many favourites. 

Where’s your favourite tree?

Freemantle Common has an extraordinary collection of trees to appreciate. Take your own wander here, or somewhere else around our National Park City. Branch out and find your new favourite. 

Cost: Free to walk, play and share the space around the trees. Free parking around the park on surrounding residential streets. 

Accessibility: Freemantle Common runs alongside Peartree Avenue stretching from Bitterne to Woolston along the old Roman road. Buses pass in all directions with many stopping in the main drag of nearby Bitterne. The park is mostly grass with some mulchy woodland stretches between the trees. Not much asphalt except the encircling pavement. 

Facilities: Children’s play park at one end. An obscene number of benches. Bitterne village is a short walk away for a wide variety of facilities including refreshments and toilets. 

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