Beside the stile is a goodly display of hawthorn covered in bright red haws, and lots of wild clematis covered in its furry-spider fruits. There's also red clover, cow parsley or one of its analogues, and wild marjoram. Suddenly, everything is beginning to look quite autumnal.
|Wild Carrot seed head|
The weather can be any old way at this time of year, but an infallible sign that autumn is on its way is a sudden increase in spiders' webs in the garden. (Why is that?) There are plenty of them here - the scabious seedhead I've just been photographing is anchored the ground on both sides by guyropes of spider silk, and there are enormous webs floating in the long grass, shining with melted frost, like fallen clouds.
|Sunlight on tree trunks|
Here's another tree puzzle. This is a young oak tree, but it's just a trunk, with no proper branches. The leaves are growing straight out of the trunk on slender twiglets. I don't think I've ever seen that before.
Thre's almost nothing growing on the floor here, where the sunlight is heavily filtered by the trees, but just a little further up, there's a glade with no trees, caused (it appears) by the removal of a big tree whose stump remains in the middle, and here there are nettles and all manner of other green things. The dense stems of something undergrowth-ish are covered in snails. The path leads me higher still into yet another different area of planting, ash and beech this time I think, though they look pretty similar at this age, both young, slim and smooth. You have to get quite close to the bark to see a difference.
A large bird flits through the wood close by me on silent wings. It could have been just a rook or crow because it went by too fast for me to see it properly, but that stealthy flight makes me think of a bird of prey.
I've now reached the upper part of the wood, under the eaves of Frith Wood, and it's different again. The trees planted here mostly seem to branch at hip-height into 2 or 3 trunks, and have rugged bark, liberally sprinkled with snails. No mixing these trees up with ash or beech saplings. They are planted in strict lines, a practice I disapprove of in theory, but visually there's something rather lovely about it in this place. It accentuates what I think of as the 'tree cathedral' effect, emphasising the structural nature of the trees, creating patterns and lines of sight for your eye to follow, corridors to walk along. It doesn't work with conifers, though, because they are too dark and heavy. And in fact, when the sun goes in, as it has just done, the effect disappears with the loss of light and shade. Now the wood feels dark and slightly sinister.
The path brings me to the western edge of the wood and suddenly I'm looking into gardens, bright with bean flowers and sweet peas. There is a grassy ride here, running between this part of the wood and the next part, where the trees seem better grown though not much taller. This may be because they all have lots of branches at a low level, despite being planted just as close as the others, if not more so. So here's mystery: why have these young trees kept their lower branches while the ash and beech saplings in the other part of the wood lost them? The branches were pulled off or fell off, I think, because otherwise the eye shapes wouldn't be there, so - eaten by deer? And why not these? I think these may be hazels, with their straight, slim, multi-trunks branching out at angles like a fan. Perhaps deer don't like hazel? The trees flanking the ride have really long, sweeping branches on that side, where there's no competition from other trees, and I have to duck underneath them.
My eye is caught by a little bug on a trunk with a brightly-shining bronze back, and in pausing to examine him, I notice that some of these trees have had their bark eaten from the ground upwards for about a foot, which seems odd. It's not exactly eye-height for a deer, and I don't see squirrels hanging about on the ground. Another puzzle. There is nothing much on the ground here, except small nettles, ground elder and last year's leaves.
The next section of trees are young ash trees and we're back to saplings with hardly any branches in the first 20 feet, and all the leaf at the top. And they are growing in grass - possibly because there are more gaps in the canopy so more sun is reaching the ground. The path reaches a fence and a stile leading into what is clearly Frith Wood, mature trees dwarfing the ones I've been walking through, so this is the northern edge of this wood.
Now I'm walking back through the grassy glade, long grass closely covered in spider's webs at all sorts of heights, which (following the hobbit theme) makes me think of the part of the story where Bilbo is nearly trapped in a ring of giant spider's webs. I've spoiled a morning's work for several spiders before I find a path between the webs. Also in evidence here, attached to the long grass, are the cocoons of six-spot burnet moths, which I now recognise, having seen them hatching on Swifts Hill.
It comes to me as I pass out of the glade into a new area of trees that this wood is like a house, a bungalow, with several rooms, each one full of a different selection of trees. Now I'm going into a room of young beeches, planted close together, and bordering on the northern edge of the wood, with someone else's garden, and vociferous dogs, beyond. Following the edge of the wood, I pass through a chequerboard effect of patches of grass and patches of tree planting, trees planted even closer together here, so that it's difficult to walk between them. In parts, this place feels like a sort of tree storage facility rather than a proper woodland. The final 'room' is an area of really young trees, too small even for hobbits to walk happily under their branches. And then I emerge quite unexpectedly behind the Woodland Trust sign on the bank where I started. From here, I can look across the road and straight up one of the upper fingers of the valley - Driftcombe, I think. This doesn't quite qualify as 'edge', because Frith Wood is above me, but it has an 'edge' feel about it.
I'm not sure what I think about this little wood. It has presented me with moments of great beauty this morning, but at the same time, I don't feel quite comfortable with it. I'm not sure of its purpose and its design doesn't make immediate sense. It's not entirely a man-made plantation, but nor is it a natural woodland. A puzzle, all round.