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.”
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.
I’ve always quite liked the style of old handbills: the erratic punctuation, jumbled type sizes and overuse of exclamation marks especially. If I produced a handbill for this blog, it would look something like this…