The woods near home are great fun to explore, and the wild and windy weather over the past few weeks has opened my eyes to them even more. There are trees and branches down all over the place – but I’ve found as I’m out exploring with Bert that actually it’s the trees that have been down for some time that are the most
fascinating. So the other day I decided to risk it and take my camera out on our morning walk (and we all know what happened the last time I did that…)
But I kept a wary eye on Bert until we were well away from the
badger and foxholes, and everything was OK. In any case, he seems to have decided that the roots of trees are much more fun for rootling in and digging under.
The woods around home are really scrappy and messy – we’re not talking carefully managed woodland with majestic, magnificent trees here. We’re talking pockets of scrub and copses of spindly birch, scraggly hazel and hawthorn, with a few beech trees, growing in boggy and marshy ground, churned up by sheep desperate to find shelter. We’re talking fallen, rotten wood everywhere, snaggly and snarly twigs and branches waiting to trip you up, and deep, squidgey areas of clinging clayey mud trying to suck your wellies off as you step into it. It’s great! It might not be the most photogenic of woods, but it’s brilliant for wildlife, and really atmospheric.
There are fallen trees covered in thick, richly vivid, dark green moss. Lichens hang like scraggly pale-green hair from branches, and huge bracket fungi climb up broken-off stumps. There’s the constant sound of running water – there are little runlets and rivulets
everywhere, bubbling down the hillside to collect in yet more bog near the bottom.
There’s one tree that clearly went down a long, long time ago, and it’s bisected by a small stream – whether the tree created the
channel for the stream, or the stream cut the channel between the trunks I don’t know.
Walking through the woods, I’m accompanied by the sounds of blue tits and great tits, nuthatches, chaffinches, great spotted
woodpeckers, robins and wrens singing, and buzzards calling
overhead. The idyllic peace is only shattered when Bert spots a squirrel and chases it up a tree, then dances round and round the bottom, barking like crazy, challenging the rotten, cheating creature to come back down and face him…
Coming out of this section of woodland, we follow a track around the bottom of the hill to a stand of widely spaced larches, one of which, long-dead, reaches stark, spindly branches to the sky. There are an awful lot of old stumps here, too, where trees have long ago come down. I don’t like to hang around in this bit of the woods too long when the wind is up…
Near the top of the hill here there’s a pair of hawthorn trees – presumably once part of a field boundary. There are quite a few fences that still have some of the old hawthorns along them, like a dotted line where the hedge used to be. Unfortunately, some of those trees have recently come down and the farmer is going to have a bit of fence repair to do. There’s something about the shape and structure of this pair of trees, though, that I like, and while Bert is busy amusing himself digging under the roots of bits of old hedge (not helping the farmer’s cause any, I don’t doubt) I’ll sit on the side of the hill and contemplate the view.
We then head out into the open field and across to where there are three huge trees standing guard around an old sheep trough. All three are pretty remarkable, but one of them is completely hollow – gnarled and knobbly, with carbuncles and boils all over its outer skin; inside, it’s like a cathedral. There’s a hole at eye level where you can peer in and, on a bright day, you can see the colours of the wood, moulds, lichens and mosses growing inside; you can see the texture of the interior of the bark. It is beautiful.
I’m quite surprised that it’s still standing…