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.
Surrounding the wall, stubby ash and elephantine coils of Cherry Laurel gave a writhing border to the site, which for a moment felt to me like an abandoned sacred grove. The idea of Celtic Thin places came to mind, though here it seemed, any doorway to the eternal world had been blocked and forgotten.
The thoughtless hands that had tossed bottles and plastic bags, now tangled in rolling brambles, made this more of a Thick Place – dirty and broken, frayed at the edges, with nothing but shadows able to leak through the veil and stumble off ragged into the undergrowth towards an indifferent city beyond.
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.”
It shouldn’t be a surprise to hear a woodpecker in a wood. It depends on the circumstances I suppose. In the last week of January, I was in a small wood on the edge of a housing estate in Lewisham – Hillcrest Wood. The sound of a great spotted woodpecker drumming isn’t yet uncommon, even in London, but here, as you will see, it felt unexpected, though enormously welcome.
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.