Welcome to our AFON Advent Calendar! Each day leading up to Christmas you will find a wonderful new post by a different member. This years theme is your favourite nature reserve; where do you go to escape from the world and connect with nature? Enjoy!
It’ll always be ‘the Woods’ to me. Throw me in a hundred beautiful, biodiverse forests from Cornwall to Romania to Madagascar, but those trees behind the garden gate that I’ve known since my memory began will always be THE definitive woods.
A life changes in a flurry of ‘eras’ around you, yet whenever I return home and step through that first grove of sweet chestnut, the wood seems constant – as Talking Heads said, “same as it ever was”. Of course there are changes – the fluctuations of animal populations, the trees that fall with each new storm – but they’re like shifting furniture within a cathedral. It’s a comforting familiarity when everything else seems to change so much, and given I’m away from the place most of the year, my visits during holidays are all the more special.
Walking under it’s wintry boughs, the bare greys and browns may seem deathly to some, but of course it is just the long slumber – the distant dream of Spring won’t be long. It’ll be the most wonderful bluebell woods I’ve ever seen again, that sweetshop aroma signalling the lazy drones of awakening bee-flies, the slow worms will appear from beneath the rotten oak-branch and discarded school-desk, and the badger cubs will come rolling out of their sett, chitter and chuckling.
The months will warm, the roe deer’s coat will turn russet and the swifts scream as summer takes to the stage. Perhaps this is where the woods gets greedy – the delicate bluebells, campions and stitchworts are barged through by swards of bracken and bramble, botanical bullies edging into every square inch, reverberating with wrens sheltered underneath. But some of my fondest memories are from this time – there was the vixen and her six cubs I spent every sunny afternoon following at the age of 15, and two years later, the barn owls, nesting in the abandoned cowsheds overlooking the meadow at the Northern edge, whom I watched from rearing to fledgling.
As autumn comes, the leaves I kick up beneath my feet ring with the childhood adventures as we raced on through – there was a time when all the kids in the street had their group den, and the woods felt like a community. To our imaginations, it could be anything – the Forest Moon of Endor, Jurassic Park, the West African Jungle, or literally enchanted, and filled with wizards, trolls, goblins and ents.
The woods today stands indifferently as it did to us then as it does now, or even as it would in centuries gone by. The bells of Romsey Abbey ring out in the distance for Christmas-tide, and as the sound reverberating among the branches, mingling with the chitter of the long-tailed tit family, it may as well be ringing a thousand years before and nature would not know, or need, any difference. This is the Woods. It’s where I found nature, and represents all that I find beautiful, addictive and magical about it.