Thursday, 11 February 2016

The Story Of The Land.







I've had a re-organise of my time. Prompted by being unable to remember the last time I had a day to myself to potter. I've given up a few things and am being strict with myself about not taking on anything new. 

As a result, the dogs and I have spent three blissful hours over the last couple of days walking through the woods and fields, along green lanes and beside ancient hedgerows.
I am learning winter twig IDs (having recently had to work on a hedgerow survey, an impossible feat unless you can tell what species you're looking at). I knew a few already- ash is a good one to start with because the bud tips are always black- and it's surprising how quickly you can build on this knowledge by walking in the countryside with a good key like the FSC guide above. After a while, you begin to recognise the look of a tree and you find you know it without needing to examine the buds on the twigs. Hazel, for example, has new stems that stand upright with an alternate bud pattern, while Field Maple has opposite buds and the new stems look like tiger bread- you know the mottled crust effect? Wild cherry has concentric rings running around the bark and blackthorn has a dark purple sheen to it.

There is an old, old, hedge nearby (close to, but not the same as the one I've written about before) and I found myself airily waving a hand at the various species that are in it this morning as the dogs scampered through the frost-framed grass and I followed along behind. Breezily, I informed them what they were running past without having to press my nose to the twigs to be sure. Field Maple, Hazel, Sycamore, Beech, Oak, Willow, Buckthorn, Blackthorn, Hawthorn, each has a character, a look and feel that is quite distinctive and once you know them they announce themselves quite clearly.

You can age a hedge by knowing the secrets of its species, depending on where you are. Hazel and Field Maple are rarely planted here and make for poor colonisers, so if a hedge contains them then the likelihood is it's Old. The plants along the margins tell a story too: Lords and Ladies, Dog's Mercury, Butcher's Broom, Primroses, Wild Daffodils, Bluebells, they all whisper of a past that contained, at some point, an ancient woodland.

I like to amble through the fields learning the plants and listening to their stories. It makes me feel connected to the land, a part of its story. It helps me understand it.

I spent some time with an old Yew yesterday, my hand on its bark, my forehead pressed against its trunk and waited for it to tell me its story. Yew is slow-growing. Many of the Yews in the UK are our oldest living trees, some believed to be thousands of years. This one felt old and although it now stands like a hunched-up guardian on the outer edge of a thin strip of woodland on the margin of a field, as I stood quietly in its company I got a sense of how the land once looked there, before the woods were cut down and stripped back to make way for the fields. Once, this Yew was deep inside an old, old, wood and all manner of woodland creatures passed beneath his branches and knew him well. Now he feels like a sentry quietly guarding what's left of it. 

Not far from the Yew at the bottom of the hill there is a badger's sett, still very much active with many doorways and shining white mounds of freshly excavated chalk. The sett is carpeted with bluebells and the badgers' pathways thread between them. The sett has probably been there hundreds of years, in the way of these things, with countless generations of badgers treading those same paths through the wood until they were well-known and well-established. At some point in the last hundred years, the wood that once stretched over acres and acres of this land retracted around them leaving behind this small thin strip among a sea of green fields. I spent some time wondering how the badgers felt about the loss of their wood, did they know what the old place used to be like, had a muscle memory been passed down?

There's a lot of pathos in that and I found myself feeling an overwhelming urge to give the land back to the trees. If ever I found myself in possession of a farm I know exactly what I would do. Plant some wildflower meadows, create bare ground, lay existing hedges and connect them up so a complete network was established linking wood with wood. Plant native trees, put in a pond or two, cut some rides through the woods for the butterflies to navigate, allow standing deadwood and rotten fallen wood to remain where it lies, reintroduce coppice on some parts and allow others to find their own cycle and balance. Remove the chemical load from the land and allow the wild things to find their way back. Wouldn't that be worth being part of?

CT.

25 comments:

  1. Sounds wonderful. Teddy and Poppy would be in seventh heaven.

    ReplyDelete
  2. Fantastic post CT, really made me feel like I was there on the Chalk looking at it all with you :) xx

    ReplyDelete
  3. A lovely post, CT. I'm always thinking about the story of the landscape around me, too and I'm always aware if I'm in ancient or new woodland. I would do just the same if I bought a farm or lots of land. I wouldn't make any money!

    ReplyDelete
  4. Fabulous post, your thoughts about the yew once being deep in the forest are very moving. I'm hoping that a farm comes your way, people like you should be custodians of this beautiful land of ours. I was pointing out ash buds to the children the other day, I remember my mother teaching me to identify that one when I was little. Glad you've carved out some time for youself, it's good for the soul. Those dear little doggies are looking exceptionally clean and shiny. Shampoo? CJ xx

    ReplyDelete
  5. I so enjoy reading your posts when you talk about your love for ancient landscapes. Our new cottage garden is bounded by very old hedges and also on the boundary is a very old yew tree. I've been researching liriodendron Tulipifera as we have an enormous one in the garden. The tulip tree was introduced from the US by Tradescant in the late 17th century so if is quite possible that our tree is as old as the cottage, about 250 years old! My children used to identify trees from bark, buds and leaf, the result of practically living in the woods when young.

    ReplyDelete
  6. Such a heartfelt post and you describe your countryside so well.

    Our old, overgrown boundary hedge is being coppiced at present and I would love to have it laid again, as it used to be in old photos we have from between the wars. Do you know of any traditional hedge layers in the Forest or West Hampshire?

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. I'm checking for you. Will let you know when I hear back x

      Delete
    2. Can you drop me your email via comments? I won't publish it. I have a couple of names for you :o)

      Delete
  7. What a beautiful post. I should really make the effort and learn to identify different trees; I'm pretty hopeless at it. Your doggies are adorable. xx

    ReplyDelete
  8. So interesting. I'm OK identifying some trees but not all. I love to see the hedgerows and all the wild flowers, I can't wait! :-)

    ReplyDelete
  9. A landscape magically brought to life through your blog.
    I'm with you all the way.

    Jean
    x

    ReplyDelete
  10. We have a large yew tree at the bottom of the garden which is probably older than the house. I love your description of the one you communed with - they are like sentinels. I'm fascinated by the hedgerows around here and would like to know more about them. I'll have to brush up my id. Lovely post, CT. x

    ReplyDelete
  11. I regularly entertain the fantasy of buying this patch of land and re-wilding it....from a tree nursery into a woodland -- seems oddly fitting somehow. Ah, perchance to dream...

    Glad you're setting aside time for yourself. I'm sure the hounds are delighted with the new world order. xo

    ReplyDelete
  12. I love this post! I walk Rocky by our local hedgerows whilst it is dark each morning. I can't see them clearly of course but the images of them are clearly ingrained in my soul after growing up in the area where I live xx

    ReplyDelete
  13. Wonderful post. I can see your dream landscape perfectly. Have a great weekend! x

    ReplyDelete
  14. I'm not buying books at the moment - but I've noted this one for the future. I realise I mostly know trees in my locality because I have seen them year in, year out in the summer. It would be good to know what I'm seeing when further afield too. (Or should that be 'father' ? I'll have to look up the difference.

    ReplyDelete
  15. Your time with the doggies sounds wonderful! The only twigs with buds I think I could identify would be ash, possibly beech also I think I know those! Your farm sounds amazing, be sure to invite me for the day! Happy Valentines! xx

    ReplyDelete
  16. Lovely post setting out so perfectly what so many of us feel :)
    If I had a farm I definitely wouldn't make any money! :)

    ReplyDelete
  17. In theory I agree with you - and I would in practice too before I married a small Dales farmer. Now I know that in order to make a living of any kind on a small farm (100 acres - and there are plenty like us)we must utilise all the land. We do however leave the margins for wild flowers (we have orchids here and there and our beck is full of marsh marigolds), we only cut our hedges in late winter so that the birds have time to nest - we get superb bird life - and we don't put chemicals on the land. So I suppose we do our bit.

    ReplyDelete
  18. I loved this post...I spent a good few hours out walking with the dogs today, the frost was welcoming and the sun soon warmed my face and the pace warmed me through. I love to look at the trees and hedgerows...there is so much to be seen of you just take the time to see it which many people don't in our now fast paced world. Your last paragraph is my idea of a perfect haven.x

    ReplyDelete
  19. Blissful walks, sounds wonderful. Time to think and ponder is always special. Enjoy xx

    ReplyDelete
  20. Glad you are finding time to have 'me' time, I really need that right now... Looks a lovely book,knowing trees is a fascinating subsect to learn.
    Have a lovely weekend.
    Amanda xx

    ReplyDelete
  21. What a wonderful post.. sounds like you've had some lovely 'me' time and with your description I was right there with you.. thank you :o) xx

    ReplyDelete
  22. Hey CT,
    Such a moving post, lovely. I am woefully ignorant about most things, but I sense age in places. There is a stillness that surrounds it, and I always feel privileged to be allowed in. I feel it up on Rosewall Hill. I realm hope that you are one day able to create such an environment that you describe. So generous and noble. And think of the beauty. And what a legacy to pass on. Go CT!
    Leanne xxx

    ReplyDelete
  23. It is just getting the farm! Sometimes the thought of doing something similar makes me work harder, work really hard. I've just read The Wild Places by Robert Macfarlane and learned a lot about how tree'd we used to be and how different the landscape. Just think, you'll now be part of the story told by that old Yew to the next person who's hand gives love.

    ReplyDelete

Thank you for leaving a comment. I always enjoy reading them and will try my best to reply to every one. CT x