Alan says 'Take a stick'.
I don't think I'll need to fend anything off but I ask the question anyway, 'Why? Do you think there might be tigers or something in there?'
'No,' he replies 'but it's useful and will make walking easier. Take one of my beating sticks.'
Whatever. I forget.We've lived here for more than 4 years now and been around for something like 7 but I don't think in all that time I've hopped over the fence at the bottom of the field and done a proper bit of exploring in Badnage Wood. I've lurked around the edges and dabbled in the stream that forms its boundary. I've listened to the wind sighing through its dark conifers and watched twists of cloud wind across its face, I've heard the birds and beasts that make it their home and basically, well - just loved it being there.
We'd like to believe its name 'Badnage Wood' came from that of St Padarn. A native of France’s Bretagne region, Padarn journeyed to the British Isles, and settled in Wales as a monk sometime in the 6th century - not hereabouts but at Llanbadarn Fawr, Aberystwyth. The link is tenuous and hard to prove. More certain is the fact that this area has been associated with religious practices for well over a millenium. The little church at Trelystan which sits alone, way across a field on the edge of Badnage Wood, was most probably founded in the 9th century, and, we might speculate on a site of a pre-Christian significance. It feels to me like a place which has secrets and holds them close. Old too. Who did walk this land? There is more to tell of course - but this is not for here. You'll have to buy The Book.*
Sorry, sorry. Got waylaid by a bit of history. Anyway, today I promised myself I'd get amongst it and explore.
Over the little stile and into the dingle - don't get confused - there are loads of dingles round here. Think steep wooded valley (any size) and stream (s, m or l) therein.
I decide against walking along the stream which would be the best route. Wet feet and all that. I struggle up onto the slope and try and make a path there. It is my plan to follow the dingle and discover what lies in the hidden clefts and hollows of our landscape; the bits we do not see from the road. It's hard going - I stumble over fallen and felled branches and am tripped where brambles have taken hold and thrown out snaky grabbing tendrils which snatch at my ankles. Pitfalls are many; mouse and vole have made runs through the forest bed of soft pine needles and when I am not being tripped I plunge into their holes and tunnels. There is little to grab - sticks and stalks are either rotten of spiky. My route takes much planning and much studying of potential paths. There is time to stand and lean and look up through the tree canopy to the sky.
I know I am not alone. I just sense it. Little eyes, ears and noses, hunkered down for the day are tracking my passage most certainly. I think I am creeping along but this is a quiet place and each step I take snaps a twig with an earthshattering CRACK. I alarm a couple of buzzards and a raven which wheel and cry above me. Reassuringly there is nowhere for anything large, and with sharp teeth, to hide. I think.
Away from the stream and the light it's a dead place - little grows in the gloom beneath the conifers. Under the canopy of these tall slim trees is a thick acidic bed of pine needles. A few deciduous trees cling to life - ash, birch, and mountain ash - others have given up and fallen like a mega-game of 'pick-up-sticks'.
It's quite interesting here but I must say that after about 100m of this environment I'd had enough. By 50m in I'd decided that I'd be crushed by a falling tree in the next storm, nibbled by voles or starve to death if I found myself here post-apocalypse. Nothing for it then but to trudge on...
The conifers gave way - after what seemed like miles but in reality was only metres - to grassy broadleaf woodland, to oak and holly and, over a rickety fence, pastureland. I stroked this tree for a while. Just how often does one meet a woolly tree? Bless.
The way home - the easiest way home that is - was over the stream and up a logging path to the road. We're in shooting country here and young pheasants were in abundance, hanging around the release pens. I did my best not to alarm them too much, hating the idea of a wood-full of shrieking terrified birds taking off around my head. There were guinea fowl as well - a rasp? a confusion? - the watch dogs of the bird world and here to give voice if the fox comes too close I imagine. I crept around them too.
Finally there is a gate to the road and these bits of wood awaiting collection. Can anyone suggest a better collective name than 'Things wot to stand a Christmas tree up in'?
Yes, we have them here. In October. In Badnage Wood. Christmas is coming folks!
* 'Marton - The Story of a Shropshire Village' to be published spring 2010.