I wander down the paths and tracks, loving the solitary tranquility and the peace of this ancient woodland, imagining elves and faeries peering out at me behind the trunks of trees, feeling like I've been allowed in and trusted with a secret world.
It's cool and overcast and the only butterflies that are awake in any number are ringlets. I watch them flitting across the path and sitting on leaves.
Then the sun comes out and the wood comes alive. Golden Skippers wake as if the touch of the sun on their wings is a magic wand, bringing them to life after their night time slumber. I watch them chasing one another over the banks of bramble, furious in their pursuit.
I see the first Gate Keeper of the year, striking orange and brown, sitting quietly on a leaf by the path.
And a Meadow Brown, on a bramble flower.
I see Silver Washed Fritillaries, twirling round one another through the air, alighting every now and then on the earth or a flower to nectar or take mineral salts.
And then, something magical happens. I notice a small disturbance in the air at chest height, silver-grey-blue, and I think what could that be? Small Blue? But somehow I know it isn't. Somehow, although they are rarer than hen's teeth flying down here among us mere mortals, I know what this is and I know that, because of what it is, I will not find an Emperor today.
The diminutive cousin of the Emperor, one who shares his elusive tree-top habits, but who, unlike the Emperor, rarely ventures to the ground and so is almost never seen without the aid of binoculars.
The Purple Hair Streak.
Three of them come to me and settle on leaves and ferns. Two of them watch me. I don't know how much time passes while I stand in a daze, watching these beautiful butterflies. Eventually, they fly away into the treetops and I wander on.
It comes as something of a shock when, after an hour and half alone, suddenly there are other people in the woods. Any Emperors? they ask, hopefully. I shake my head. We've baited a log with fish paste, they say, hopefully he'll come down.
He won't, I think, not for me, not today, not after the Hair Streaks.
As if reading my mind they say have you seen any Purple Hair Streaks?
For a moment I consider saying no. I want to keep that commune with those special butterflies private, to tuck it away in silence, so it remains sacred, a gift given to me, but then I remember all the times people have been kind and pointed things out to me and how my life has been enriched by their generosity, so I say yes, there are a lot of them flying low just up the way.
The Emperors do not come and I head back up the track. On the way I find my thoughts consumed with something unpleasant that I have been trying to find a way through. Dark thoughts, such as I am rarely given to. I know that they are not healthy, but I can not get rid of them. I stop noticing the wood, I turn inwards, I feel bleak and angry and frustrated. And then I feel the lightest breeze stirred by butterfly wings on my cheek and across my forehead and I look up and there is a brown butterfly with white chalk stripes on her wings floating in front of me. She flies down onto some brambles, the most elegant, gliding flight of all the butterfly species. She is a White Admiral. And I stop thinking the black thoughts, I stop feeling angry and upset. I remember that you can not control the behaviour of other people, only your own, and I forget about worrying, I watch the butterfly and I know that this is the wood's message for me. To let go, to stop worrying, to trust the universe, and this magical wood, to take care of the proper balance of things. And so when I go home, I leave lighthearted and restored.