After months of waiting, our grandson River, and his Dad, Joshua, came to stay. It has been three years since their previous holiday with us in Treguennec. On that trip River was a toddler; now we were entertaining an inquisitive and talkative four-and-half year old brimful of ideas.

Our preparation for their visit started in early June. To give Joshua time to work, Rohan and I offered to be in charge for several hours each day. The prospect was exciting and in all our plans Rohan took the lead.

Books, games and toys were dotted around the house. My study was converted into his bedroom with a low bed in one corner, a wide area of floor space on which to play and on the walls a set of 1930s, pastel-coloured, French school posters showing people at work or scenes of the countryside.

Away from the house there was work to be done in the garden – it was time to lift the potatoes, pick the red currants and water the plants generally. And with beaches nearby, hours of paddling, rock-pooling and building fortresses against the incoming tide all beckoned. 

In addition to all this, Rohan had a project in mind – why not build a tree house? River would love somewhere he could play and dream and call his own. This blog is about that project which for me initially felt like a challenge too far. Not only was there the question as to where the house might be sited – we don’t have any large trees in the garden – but also I was worried that carrying the heavy loads and placing them in awkward places would be exhausting. 

Slowly details of the project were decided and became more manageable. First, the house would be built in a small and cherished fig tree that was brought over from London and planted as a shrub nearly twenty years ago. Second, the house itself would need neither walls nor a roof. The main trunk soon divides into five branches and with a rope strung between them, a makeshift surrounding wall was created. As for the roof, this would be provided by the tree’s thick canopy of leaves – on a fig tree these are particularly broad and luscious.

All that was left was to create the floor, more precisely the platform and to do this there was yet another problem – its five branches were so close that there was so little space between them for the platform to be usable. One solution, cutting one of the branches to make more space, was unthinkable. Not only is the tree itself precious, an event in my childhood made cutting an anathema. One day when I was around eight, I decided to saw off the main stem at the top of our box tree. It was my favourite climbing tree and sitting high up would be so much easier if a space was cleared. The telling-off I got that evening from my father remains one of my worst childhood memories – he was furious and the guilt and sadness for my action that day remains as vivid as ever.  

Luckily, the problem of the platform size was soon resolved – the space would work if the floor was extended out between the branches (see the first illustration). 

With the design concept decided, measurements were taken and materials bought. For the floor I needed a thick sheet of waterproof plywood at least one metre square;  for a ladder two sturdy round poles; to anchor the poles  I needed two metal holders to be driven into the earth, and for the wall several metres of a rope. I already had everything else in my workshop, and by chance those stores included a large sheet of an essential ingredient – a large piece of cardboard.

The actual building took around four days of which the most demanding element was cutting the cardboard such that it could overflow between the branches. Using its cut shape as a template, I then traced its outline on to the wood and cut out the shape with a jigsaw. That done, everything quickly fell into place.

Throughout my adult life one of my hobbies has been carpentry. It started at night school soon after Rohan and I married and over the years has involved designing and making bookcases, wardrobes and even a staircase. Building River’s tree house was very demanding, but as things took shape I found myself using umpteen skills and tricks I had learned over the years. That I could still do this gave me an enormous fillip. 

And River’s response could not have been more rewarding. The moment he saw it, he climbed on board and could not have looked happier (see second illustration). Some toys and a teddy soon joined him and a pulley arrangement later added to help take things up and down. As is so often the case – Rohan was right.

The first illustration shows a photo of River’s tree house – more a tree platform – awaiting his arrival

The second illustration is a photo of a contented River sitting aloft. The thick leafy canopy of the fig tree is clearly seen on the right. 

For helping me write this blog I would like to thank Marie, Joshua, Rohan and Vivien.

23 thoughts on “A Tree House for River

    1. Dear Sophie, I was lovely reading your comment. Interestingly, even in this weather the platform is a cool place to be. Love, Uncle Joe


  1. Joe,
    The tree house looks perfect. When I was a child I though tree houses were absolutely magical(still do actually) and I know River thinks the same. It’s so kind of you to build him one. Now his vivid imagination can run free in his own little space! It’s a memory that he will always cherish. Thank you.
    Wish I was there with you all. Xxxx


  2. Dear Joe
    Wonderul! Clearly there’s no need to spend £150,000 on a tree house (I assume anyway that it cost a lot less than this, even taking account of your time)
    (Did you see my other suggestion for the queen’s chinese whisper?)


    1. Dear Andrea, Thank you fo your comments. The wood, cord and poles did cost a bit but, your assumption is right, Boris and I have different values and standards. Love, Joe. PS no advances down the royal Chinese whispers chain.


  3. Dear Joe,

    When I was young I used to play with my friend Rosemary in a mangrove tree. We didn’t need to build a tree house as the branches were perfect, but how much more fun it must be to build a tree house! I loved your story and little River looks so happy. What memories he will have of the treehouse built by grandfather!




  4. We’ll done Joe!!
    River obviously loves it
    What a wonderful place to sit and dream
    Enjoy every moment with your sweet little grandson Love to you all Urs


  5. Comment published on behalf of Ian Bruce
    Thanks for this Joe. It triggered wonderful memories of my childhood, and I suspect for others who grew up after the War, as we called it and especially tree climbing. It was early 50s and the bombsites had older and newly grown trees. No chance of building a tree house because it was private land. The intense thrill while sprinting out of our house, of anticipating meeting my friends – the concentration on which tree and how high to climb – learning how to control the fear of getting down after having climbed too high. Your piece brought all of this back. Thank you. Ian


    1. Dear Ian, Thank you very much for your comments and the wonderful picture it paints. My post war childhood was in the countryside so playing in bombsites was impossible. Love, Joe


  6. A compelling narrative, Joe, and the impressive collaboration brought such a happy ending. I loved the composition of the photo of River, sitting in wonderment in his new domain: the light and shade were perfect.


    1. Dear Alan, As always your comments are very kind – thanks. I have looked again at the photo of a contented and wondering River I see what you mean. Yours, Joe.


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