Wednesday, 19 September 2012

Walk 30: A Wood of Puzzles - the Wood of Remembrance

Wild Clematis
It's a glorious sunny morning of early autumn, with the first light frost of this end of the year still melting off the leaves.  I'm in the Wood of Remembrance, a little plot of woodland off the northern end of the Slad Road, nestling under the eaves of Frith Wood, and this is the first of what I'm thinking of as my 'edges, woods and settlements' walks, branching away from the two brooks into the rest of the valley. I've always been vaguely aware of this little wood, but thought it was just a Woodland Trust area.  That's true, in the sense, that the Woodland Trust own and care for it, but according to the notice outside the stile which gives access from the road, it's more than that.  It was planted in spring 1981 'on behalf of readers of 'This England', in memory of their loved ones.'  I've tried to find out what the back story is for this, but so far without success.  Whose idea was it, and why?  Who are those remembered?  Were they local, and if not, then why here?

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
I've never been in this wood, which is why I wanted to make it my first wood walk in this project, and I'm quite excited to be exploring it.  I start off along the a small grassy path to the left, following the marjoram-and-clematis-covered bank.  ('Small' is due to become an over-used word on this walk.)  To my right, the wood slopes steeply uphill. The planting is only 31 years old, so of course, none of the trees are very large.  Here, it seems to be mainly birches and hawthorn, standing in grass.  There's lots of wild carrot (which I now recognise, since seeing it in church field), both flowers and also the seedheads in various stages from open to completely folded up.  They are the most extraordinary structures, and probably the most beautiful seedheads I've yet seen.  I'm always drawn to seedheads, by what's left when the flower has gone, which often seems more interesting in terms of shape and construction than the flower itself.  Here's another complex seedhead, with a few purple flowerlets just hanging on (wild basil, I've since discovered), and scabious, a flower I love, which also has a distinctive seedhead.

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
The path leads me out of the sunshine into a quite different sort of woodland.  No grass here - I'm walking on last year's leaves and the trees are planted quite close together.  Bits of the stuff they use to wrap the trunks of saplings in to stop the deer eating them are scattered about the place, and someone has been collecting dead wood into a pile.  Low sun is shining into this bit from the side and lighting up some very beautiful, straight young trees planted on an approximate grid pattern.  Their slim trunks are tastefully decorated with pastel spots.  Some are beeches, and some are clearly not (see how my tree identification skills have improved!), but they all have spots, so super-sleuth Amanda concludes that the pretty spottiness is due to lichens or similar and not a characteristic of the bark. What are these other trees, though?  I feel I should know them, but can't put my finger on what they are, like meeting a vaguely familiar face out of context.

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.

Eye marks
Many of these young trees have clear eye-shapes at various points on their trunks, where lower branches have come off.  They remind me of the birch forests I saw on a trip to Canada, where this is such a strong feature that it finds its way into Native American art.  Here, these trees have almost no lower branches, all their leaf and branch is at the top.  Some have no branches for 30 feet or so, which makes you very aware of their trunks, especially when decorated with lichens, or the occasional very handsome snail.

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.

Everything in the Wood of Remembrance has a toytown feel about it - the trees are small, and the paths are small, like a wood made for hobbits.  I turn back to follow another hobbit-path towards the middle of the wood and out into an area of meadow.  On one side is a patch of trees whose leaves have started to turn amongst other trees that have not and the accidental colour combination is startlingly beautiful.  Young ash in pale green with a white trunk, then a single tree glowing orange-gold, a mid-green tree with a dark trunk, behind them the dark greens of the larger trees in Frith Wood, and all against a bright blue sky.  I spend a while trying to capture the colours on paper.

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.

No comments:

Post a Comment