The Woods

Oak trees started quite close to the back of the garden, rising steadily for about one hundred and fifty yards to a gentle ridge. The edge of the wood was surrounded by a thick fence, but there were soon gaps in it. As children we walked through the edge of the wood to reach the stream and the meadow beyond, but we never went far into the wood, for it was private, owned by the Ecclesiastical Commissioners. People living in houses which backed on to the wood could pay a fee to walk in it, and many of the houses in Tetherdown, Durham Road and Fortis Green had back garden gates which led directly into the trees. For them the woods were their back garden, stretching from Fortis Green to Coppetts Road.

Most of the wood was large oak, but there was a coppice of hazel and hornbeam, for this had been a 'managed' wood for centuries. Trees had been felled carefully and individually as one culls a herd of deer, killing a few each season, but leaving the herd intact. Hazel and hornbeams had been cut to the ground time and again, so that the old, gnarled roots spread out like the arms of ungainly starfish, throwing up crop after crop of slender poles. The first must have been coppiced centuries earlier to be used as fencing, to hold up runner beans, or even to make wattle and daub cottages. Each time new poles had sprung up, to be lopped in their turn a few years later. The local ironmonger sold bundles of pea-sticks made from the tips, and bundles of bean poles, all cut from similar coppiced trees.

The forest clearing was a favourite spot, with a brighter, more dappled light than under the oaks. Nowhere in the wood was there the heavy, dense shadow such as one finds in beech woods, but always the open, airy feeling of oak, with great branches high above, naturally bent to sharp angles, Those L shaped timbers would in earlier days, have been used to join the sides to the decks of wooden ships, heavy and strong, but wooden ships were long gone. The open hazel coppice had a different charm,open,, fresh and light. Bright sun glinted through the leaves as if on rippling water, and at dusk the light became a mysterious blue grey, full of glancing shadows. This was the time for 'sugaring' moths.

 

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