6 Feb 2012

The Magic Apple Tree

If I was stranded on a desert island this is the book I would want with me
to remind me of home.
It is a 'comfort' book written by Susan Hill documenting a year of
her life in Moon Cottage
in a small Oxfordshire village during the 80's.

The Magic Apple Tree
Samuel Palmer

The Magic Apple Tree: A Country Year
The Magic Apple Tree
(A Country Year)
Susan Hill

Each season is illustrated beautifully with the engravings of John Lawrence.

"On clear winter nights, I go outside and stand underneath it (the apple tree) look up.  Through the bare, down-curving branches, I see the moon, ringed with frost, and the hard, bright points of stars in a cold sky.  The apple tree contains them within its shape and forms a shelter over me, it gives a framework to this place, the cottage, the garden, the near countryside, and to my vision of them.  I should not like to lose it".

"At five in the morning, I woke to a wonderful silence.  I went to the window and pushed it open carefully. A little heap of snow fell inwards on to the ledge.  A light wind was taking it now, moulding and shaping it against the hedges and fences.  Everything was bone-white, under the riding moon. I wanted to go out and walk in the fields by myself, to watch for owls and foxes and smell the night smells.  Dull common sense and tiredness prevailed.  I returned to bed and have ever afterwards regretted it, for such times come rarely and the countryside under the first, heavy fall of snow at four in the morning is a changed and an enchanted place, the imagination would feed upon the memory of it for ever after."

Apple Tree in Winter

"Fruits have been visible on the apple tree and on all the various trees around me, for some time, and now they are reddening, ripening and swelling and darkening.  Stand at the top of the stone steps , now, looking through the branches and they are what you first notice.  Turn your head.  In the wilderness garden of the derelict cottage, the apple trees and bending with fruit, berry-red and huge."

"In early October, the woods begin to come alive again, and that surprises many people, who think of them in autumn as places of decay and dying, falling leaves and animals hiding away for their long winter hibernation.  But it is summer there that is the dead time, in summer the air hangs heavy and close and still, nothing flowers, nothing sings, nothing stirs, and no light penetrates."

Apple Tree in Autumn

"From its shade, I look over the buttercup field, down to the stream, the willows beside it, and the rise beyond.  All the cows are clustered near the water, with just one or two grazing a few yards further off, and it is so utterly quiet, so still, that I can hear the soft slap of their lips around the grass, the tearing of it out of the ground, and then their jaws, munching and munching."

"Summer did come at last and, when it did, it was one of those summers of poems and stories and country pictures, a once-upon-a-time summer, it was hot day after day, week after week, so that we slipped into a dream, where we imagined it never ending, a paradise world of long, golden days."

Apple Tree in Summer

"The blossom opens slowly, slowly on the apple tree.  One day the boughs are grey, though with the swellings of the leaves to come visible if you look closely.  The next day and the next, here and there, a speck of white, and then a sprinkling, as though someone has thrown a handful of confetti up into the air and let it fall, anyhow, over the branches."

"But at half past five, I get up, slip out and set off with my bicycle in the glorious morning, up through the empty village, for on the bicycle, I can see over the tops of hedges and look down the rides, towards copse and meadow and all the flat Fen, I can go further than on foot through the lanes, getting off whenever I like, to lean on a gate or poke in a ditch, and I love the quiet, silky sounds of the tyres on the tarmac road, the click of the chain and the whir of the pedals, like wings, when I go fast."

Apple Tree in Spring

This book is like an old friend, and a constant companion - I have re-read it many times, each time finding another little gem, a perfect description or something I can relate too.   This is the book I would wish to have with me on a desert island - no question.

The final words of the book - "I picked up my log basket and went towards the cottage and, as I did so, the wind gusted off the Fen towards the apple tree, taking the last of the leaves, the last remaining apples, and leaving the branches bare.

I shivered.  The year had turned again.  It was winter.

I went inside quickly, and closed the door."

Susan Hill

All photos courtesy of Google Images


  1. I bought this book when it was first published and have always loved it. Have you read Susan Hill's 'Through The Kitchen Window'? I enjoyed it but not as much as The Magic Apple Tree.

  2. She has a very vividly descriptive way of writing. Like her, I enjoy being outside when few other people are - very early on a Summer morning, for instance. I'm a country person at heart, not a townie!

  3. Susan Hill is one of my favourite writers. She never disappoints. Her descriptions of the tree and the countryside around her cottage in different seasons are wonderful:)

  4. I really love this post and now I must read Susan Hill's book.Thank you for bringing it to my attention.The whole blog is looking really nice.lol Angela

  5. Thank you Angela - hope you enjoy reading it as much as I do.

  6. Lovely post about a wonderful book. Flighty xx

  7. Samuel Palmer's work has a haunting quality! Many years ago in 1974 , whilst doing my Foundation Course in Art and Design at Bradford Regional College of Art , our fine art lecturer Ray Buck showed us a film The Magic Apple Tree about Palmer. The film used the Ralph Vaughn Williams musical piece Fantasia on a Theme by Thomas Tallis and both the film and the mystical piece of music have haunted me ( in a good way! ) ever since!

    Sadly the film is only available to watch at the British Film Institute I have been unable to find a copy to watch online!


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