We began on Golding’s Hill, at Broadstrood car park, where we met a man and a woman with a dog and a parrot. They were celebrating the parrot’s first birthday by taking it for a walk in the forest, in a transparent backpack with good views of the trees. We wished it many happy returns, then stretched our wings and flew off down the hill, along Green Ride.
At the bottom we stepped off the wide track and turned right to follow a winding path through the beech and hornbeam, along the stream then climbing up into the magic woods of Hangboy Slade… (A “slade” is the local dialect name for a wet valley. No boy was ever hung here though. “Hangboy” is from the French “haut bois” meaning high wood – Hornbeam Arts)
Another day we came this way and I could’ve sworn we found ourselves in a secluded dell surrounded by overhanging beech trees, each with its own rope swing. A little arena of stopped pendulums. But today it had disappeared and we were in another place, in these shapeshifting woods.
We crossed a footbridge and looped back along Williams Ride, climbing steeply uphill, looking for signs to tell us we were back on the right track.
Back on the Green Ride and there’s the dangling remains of a rope swing.
We’d walked this loop before, and at the bottom of the hill is where, walking towards us, we’d earlier turned right to follow the winding path along the stream, but this time round it was the first loop in a figure-of-eight. This time we turned right and followed a winding path along the stream in the opposite direction, along a path we’d never taken before, along Tippa Burn.
I don’t know how it got that name, it doesn’t appear particularly Scottish, but it runs rust-coloured red down from Jack’s Hill bog.
And quick, look, here! A lizard! Ah, but too late, it’s gone to ground.
Pollard hornbeams dance in an open glade, like multi-armed Hindu gods.
And an ancient oak rotates under my gaze, off the beaten track, we’ve not met before, our eyes only for each other, as I circle under its watchful stare.
Another turnaround tree.
All around the ancient oak my head goes in a spin; this newfound gnarly-crusted capstan tree turns me round and winds me in. I’m caught in its web.
Others gather round to watch. It’s a small group of dancing oaks. I’m lucky to find them, we’re not on any path, just following a stream that seems to have disappeared and left us turning in circles under tributary trees.
It’s a lowly dusty place, an underwood undercroft, it reminds me of forgotten childhood dreams, a submerged place of refuge and sanctuary, but then as we climb it becomes a more familiar zone of pollard beech trees, a forest cathedral of pillars and columns and shafts of filtered light.
Home Sweet Home