I like to start at the western end, off Finch Avenue. To get there, I walk over a railway bridge that looks nothing like a railway bridge, then before reaching the corner, hop up the low wall between a hawthorn and a young oak, and then like many others, cut across the desire path worn into the grass.
You made a myth of a whitewashed wall,
Jarring ambassador in green…
At first glance, there’s not much to see. At second glance, not much more. There are two hedges either side of a gate, rectangular slabs of green, largely blocking sight of the road beyond. They’re a little raggedy, but provide a popular skulking place for the local Dunnock; especially the hedge on the left, technically forsythia, but mostly serving as a framework for ivy. Though currently, scruffy spears are poking up, dotted with those cheerfully in-your-face lemon yellow flowers.
I never considered handles before this, never wondered who’d held my borrowed basket last filled it, gripped it tight, placed it back neat or abandoned by checkout, unsettling us in its eerie. Didn’t ask, didn’t wonder what those hands did, who they touched waved slapped caressed, ever so tender. Did they stare at the milk…
All of this nature appeared to be on tap, but to be there in Melbourne, during a summer of killer fires, was disconcerting. Although increasingly aware of the pace of climate change, or climate emergency back home, here the movement felt faster and more urgent than ever. This was Life going wrong at speed, not a sad decline over decades or years, but a race to destruction on fast forward.
The day Bristol Museum and Art Gallery’s Chinese Room disappeared, was the day I first realised that places, like people, can change.
To my childhood self, the idea that a place wasn’t fixed, that it wouldn’t necessarily always be the same and might even vanish, came as a shock.
It’s a strange thing to walk into someone else’s memories; especially those that have been woven and tangled about a place. A place that you’ve heard about, but never visited. Somewhere that means a great deal to the person who told you about it, but for you, who’s never been, it retains the status of a rumour.
For the young me, the ghost stories and folklore of Britain had a powerful effect. Odd to think of it now, but reading about the dead as a child, brought the wider world to a rich and vivid life.
Out there, it seemed, was a land, far older, stranger and deeper than my limited experience. A world where multiple layers of history could still be seen, or felt, not only in old houses, ruined castles and abbeys, but also in and around more ordinary sites such as shops, factories, pubs and suburban streets.
Surrounding the wall, stubby ash and elephantine coils of Cherry Laurel gave a writhing border to the site, which, just for a moment, became an abandoned sacred grove. For some reason – the unnatural quiet perhaps – the spot felt like a Celtic ‘Thin Place’, or more accurately a broken thin place, as here it seemed, any doorway to the eternal world had been blocked by litter and forgotten.
Two thoughts, or questions, struck me recently as I reflected on the books I’ve read during 2018. The first was, where do all these books come from? I don’t mean in a literal sense; from a shop or library, but where did I hear about them? I often wonder this about authors in end-of-year-round-ups of…
Imagine a world where there was a demand for poems to be repaired, plot holes to be fixed, unnecessary exposition removed, unfinished tales completed, or lost books and stories to be patched-up and rewritten. The literary equivalent of MyBuilder; let’s call it, Your writer.
The large frames created between the support struts, beneath the corrugated iron roof, seem like glassless windows, with ash and oak, horse chestnut, hazel, sycamore and brambles pressing themselves right up to the edges. Sometimes it feels as though passengers are being protected from the looming sylvan creatures beyond.
Going down to the mill is something we do every time we come here. It’s a short distance downhill from Rue de la Roche, where my parents-in-law live, to the town’s second river. When the water is low, as it usually is in August, the visit also includes a walk across the stepping stones and…
I started to wonder how far I should go, without a map or much water, but a trail leading out of town and into the fields is always hard to resist. After all, as Richard Jeffries notes in in Nature Near London, one should “Never omit to explore a footpath, for never was there a footpath yet which did not pass something of interest.”
A review and author interview as part of the blog tour for Lev Parikian’s Why Do Birds Suddenly Disappear? published 17 May 2018.
The shared notion of the long-vanished tree-scape of the Great North Wood is a vital framing device…As Sam from the Wildlife Trust notes: “We’ve encountered lots of people who are hugely enthused by the Great North Wood…The ‘vast ghost-wood’ which overlays and interleaves with the modern built environment is a great source of inspiration for many.”
Here were ancient trees, darkling trees, summer and winter trees, ancient oaks, looming pines, explosive cherries, laugh out loud at the wonder of it all trees. In one case a massive old volume was open on a page showing a 19th century photograph of a large Beech. Especially fascinating was the tree’s position on the side of a sunken lane, which meant that its multiple tangled roots were exposed to the world, in a glorious, twisting, serpentine display.
…there on the edge of the flat stretching roof
Stood a magpie, a gull and a pigeon
Neatly spaced –
The cast from some terrible joke.
A mysterious letter. A secret journal. An ancient wood, in borderland territory. Deceptive paths and strange, ghostlike figures, stirring at the edge of the trees. These were some of the elements that quickly took hold and drew me into Ryhope Wood, when I first read about it aged 15.
Recently I re-read it, rediscovered and found many new things to treasure.
Dead rats aside, there was one area of the garden that always made me feel a little uneasy. As the name suggests, there was once a mill here.
In the late 18th century it was a paper mill, but by the 1820s had become a cloth-mill. By the end of the Victorian era, the mill was gone, but perhaps something else lingered in the grounds.