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A Walk in the Woods – a Spooky Ramble

Walking Boots in Action www.thinkingcowgirl.wordpress.com

Overnight last Friday a fierce north wind from the arctic swept over the whole country, swishing the prevailing south westerleys out of the way in its advancing grip. On the weather map it shows an arc of clear blue advancing southwards like a cartoon shadow, swallowing up the muted softness of the taupe and brown. We are the last to receive it, it looks like liquid fill.

The moon was full and the stars were bright in the night, there was a sliver of silvery light on the reveal. And we wake to brilliant sunshine, the sky is clear and cloudless and the wind is strong, the boughs of trees are being stirred to the core. Everywhere is rustling and sighing. I put on my gloves, hat and boots and go forth, as I do not want to miss this rare crispness, this wringing out of damp and mist.

It is the kind of cold that cuts through and I wrinkle my nose as it stiffens in the wind. The light is diamond sharp and the contrasts are deep, sometimes there is nothing in the shadows except black.

Ash Keys www.thinkingcowgirl.wordpress.com

Tyre Tracks in Mud www.thinkingcowgirl.wordpress.comSun through Trees www.thinkingcowgirl.wordpress.comMy feet make a crackling sound on the fallen leaves and then a crunching as I hit some sun dried shale. I take the route down the bridlepath, across the stream by way of a granite bridge and then cut away to the rivers’ edge and upwards into the woods. I have trodden this way many times before and today the going is hard on the sloping fields, the surface broken up into deep uneven divets where the resident dairy herd have chewed up the saturated ground with their hooves.Green Stile www,thinkingcowgirl.wordpress.com

I can hear the whoosh of wings as I disturb a wood pigeon. Crows are calling high in the sky and there is the ping and chatter of smaller birds in the thickets and understorey.

Granite Bridge with StreamI roll under an industrial looking electric fence and come into the pasture which borders the river. To my left there is high knoll stubbed with trees and then below to the right on the other side of the river are flat meadows punctuated with flag Iris.

River with Trees North Cornwall www.thinkingcowgirl.wordpress.comKnoll with Trees North CornwallRiver Meadows North CornwallI make my way to the wood which rises steeply away to the left, almost a cliff, the trees at a dizzy angle above me, the sunshine illuminating each branch and leaf. Once upon a time this was a working quarry so this is secondary woodland. Trees and Sky www.thinkingcowgirl.wordpress.com

I notice that there has been some major earth working going on and a track has been made by shifting tons of shaley soil, presumbably for efficiency to link the fields either side of these old quarries and woodland. I can see the scars on the bank which have been left by the digger. It makes it feel less secret than before and I have to scramble up an unstable bank, stones and soil slipping behind.

It brings it home that there are many ways of thinking about land. To me this is a place of living history, a place of beauty which reveals the story of its past in subtle ways. To this particular farmer it seems that it is in the way, an inconvenient rumple on what might be a smooth featureless land of endless green. But this is the same farmer who ploughed up old meadows and reseeded them with rye grass, and ignorantly filled in the wiggly stream at the bottom of the valley bordered by trees so the two fields either side could be linked. And then who knows, were they surprised when it flooded and many of the trees drowned? Out came the digger to scoop it out, leaving piles of earth by the side, gradually getting colonised with nettle and thistle. It made me weep. A whole ecosystem destroyed in one season, its beauty and purpose having taken hundreds of years to form. But we should take responsibility ourselves too – this is an industrial scale dairy farm – the supermarkets often pay for milk below what it actually costs to produce and this is driven by consumer demand for cheap food. Is it any wonder the farmer feels the need to maximise production from every square inch of land?

As Oliver Rackham says in his book The History of the Countryside

“(the rural landscape)…has been made both by the natural world and by human activities, interacting with each other over many centuries.”

In it he makes both a passionate plea and a reasoned argument for the conservation of the historic landscape citing that

“no art gallery’s conservation department would think of burning a picture by Constable, however badly decayed, and substituting a picture in the style of Constable by Tom Keating. Yet this kind of pastiche is daily perpetrated in the guise of ‘conservation’of the landscape”

The analogy may be a bit heavy handed but it perhaps it’s needed to dissuade people from the view that

“the rural landscape, no less than Trafalga Square, is merely the result of human design and ambition…in popular belief this view is simplified into the ‘Enclosure-Act Myth’, the notion that the countryside is not merely an artefact but a very recent one.”

Holly Berries  www.thinkingcowgirl.wordpress.com

I press on higher into the woods leaving the river behind. There is a gorse still in flower on the steep bank, or maybe it’s come into flower, confused by the sudden sun. It provides a late feeding station for a plump tawny bee which buzzes from bloom to bloom. If it weren’t so cold it might be summer. Intense red holly berries sparkle amongst the yellowing foliage of field maple and ash. There is a gentle rain of leaves.

Gorse in Flower October www.thinkingcowgirl.wordpress.com

Autumn Leaf Falling www.thinkingcowgirl.wordpress.comI arrive at the site of the old quarries. A sign tells me to go no further as there is danger here. All old quarries say this, sometimes it is true and sometimes it isn’t, the sign is there to remind you that whatever you do it’s your own responsibility. This one does feel particularly spooky and the vertiginous cliff of overhanging slate over the cave entrance doesn’t look that stable so I keep my distance. In the green gloom of overhanging trees, the sunlight partially obscured by the canopy, it makes you think of gremlins and night creatures, witches and hobbits. Halloween would definitely not be the right night to visit here, you could seriously scare yourself.

Old Slate Quarry North Cornwall www.thinkingcowgirl.wordpress.com

Old Slate Quarry North Cornwall www.thinkingcowgirl.wordpress.com

Old Slate QuarryNorth Cornwall www.thinkingcowgirl.wordpress.comI peer through the trees to a second quarry which has now filled with water, a green pond standing in a circle of trees, ropes of ivy cascading in jungle like fashion from the branches.

Old Slate Quarry North Cornwall www.thinkingcowgirl.wordpress.comI hear a crack of a branch somewhere to the south and human voices. It makes me jump a little and reminds me that I am in fact trespassing so I begin to make my way home. On the way back I see the spreading stag headed oak, its branches crying out to be climbed, though for me those days are long gone.

Stag Headed Oak North Cornwall www.thinkingcowgirl.wordpress.com

On the bridlepath I find a dead mole. It is not often that you get to see these underground creatures so I pause for quite a while looking at its shape and wondering how it came to be to be here. Also on the ground is next years oak trees.

Dead Mole www.thinkingcowgirl.wordpress.com

Acorn in the Mud www.thinkingcowgirl.wordpress.comI have warmed up after the uphill climb and pop in to see the cows. Belita is lying down in the sun looking content.

Traditional Hereford Lying Down

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20 Comments Post a comment
  1. What a wonderful tour! It was such a treat to go on this walk, while the weather outside my window is raging. Belita is an absolute doll-face!

    October 29, 2012
    • Thank you. We’ve been hearing about the big storm, whereabouts are you? Obviously I totally agree about Belita 🙂

      October 30, 2012
  2. Really lovely! Thanks for taking us on your walk with you!

    October 29, 2012
  3. Julia Wylie #

    Ah, I feel like I have been out for a walk with you. Next time I will have to help you into the tree, you are definitely still sprightly enough for a bit of climbing!

    October 29, 2012
    • Well, I’ll look forward to that! Better get your muscles in trim, you know I can’t do uphill stuff anymore 🙂

      October 30, 2012
  4. You are fortunate to have such riches on your doorstep. Thanks for sharing them.

    October 29, 2012
  5. What a spot you have landed in — and you pay such beautiful attention to it all! Gorgeous images both in words and from your camera. You are living one of my fantasies – thanks for the vicarious pleasure!

    October 31, 2012
    • I find that’s a good thing about blogging, you get to be part of other peoples worlds! And thanks I’m pleased that you like the journey I made, though the beautiful places make it easy. Perhaps I’ll go for another stroll soon.

      October 31, 2012
  6. franion #

    Thank you so much, and for sharing about farming mistakes – where else does one go to learn such things these days?

    October 31, 2012
    • Glad you enjoyed it. Large scale intensive agriculture has a LOUD voice, but lots of little voices can add up to a SHOUT. At least that’s what I hope 🙂

      November 1, 2012
  7. Learning about the true cost of low food prices is truly maddening… I was shocked to read about the filled stream! What are we to do? Shout louder? Educate better? It was a beautiful read, as always, and the sunshine looks wonderful!

    November 1, 2012
    • Thanks B. You are out there in the field doing it for real and spreading the word, don’t know if you can do any more! x back to hail storms now!

      November 2, 2012
  8. It’s lovely to get out for a walk on a day like that, and your route looks delightful. One thing that has been on my mind for a while is why do supermarkets pay such a low price for milk? I can’t understand it, because they need it to sell (it must surely be one of their best selling items) and yet they dictate the price. If supermarkets didn’t stock it, people would go elsewhere to get it, I can’t help feeling that something should be done about the price to make it fairer to farmers and to stop the kind of thing you describe from happening in the countryside.

    November 3, 2012
  9. What an amazingly beautiful blog! I really owe Argyle Socks for this one! Well written, beautiful photography and a wonderful coridor into someone elses world to explore, to wonder about and to read fervently over my first slowly sipped mug of tea at 5am when the world is full of possiblities and I have the house to myself while the rest of my world sleeps. The dog is pushing me with his nose for his walk and his seal eyes are NOT working…this blog is too good to stop reading! Sorry Earl…you are going to have to wait! I can’t wait to see what is around the corner…where it’s going and where this wonderful meandering prose is going to lead me…”sit”! How privilaged you are to live in an ancient land where history rides alongside you like a ghost as you wander about in your day to day life. The holly…the gorse…both weeds here in Tasmania but both bee and bird magnets are carefully monitored for any spread but secretly smiled upon…hopefully they don’t start acting like the forget-me-nots…

    November 25, 2012
    • I’m so glad you like the blog so much it’s always a treat to get such enthusiastic feedback! 5am? That’s hardcore that is 🙂 But I guess it’s a lovely time of day before it gets too hot and busy. It does feel very ancient around here, we even (possibly!) have our own ghost – I’ve yet to do a post about this but it’s on the list…
      Interesting what you say about holly and gorse – we’ve heard about bramble being a terrible pest in your native land but not these. Anything else europe has bequeathed you? Don’t get me started on forget-me-not, lovely of course, but it’s pretty rampant even here (this is from my former life as a gardener and my years of pulling it up!) can’t imagine the way it romps away with you…looking forward to seeing what you’re doing in Tasmania

      November 26, 2012
      • Australia would have to be an horticultural poster child for what not to import when you are trying to colonise somewhere else… pest species…you name it…we have had some homesick expat sneak it in and grow it. South African plants adore it here in Australia and it’s neck and neck between their endemics and those of “The old country” as to who is going to take over first. It’s our place to stand in the middle and use what pitiful horticultural knowledge we have gleaned from our past 4 years of studying (and learning that you NEVER learn enough…) to stem the advancing tides…we sometimes feel a bit like King Canute :(. Forget-me-nots are our nemesis. My dad had a water hound with wooly long ears that used to romp free on the property and would come home with his ears neatly pinned to the top of his head like he was wearing a furry Russian hat. I (in hindsight incredibly stupidly) used to mow dad’s lawns for him when it was all getting a bit too much for him (4 acres is always going to be too much for someone who could care less about plants…) and would stubbornly mow around the forget-me-nots in the second garden where he never went…how ironic that I get to wear my karma on my socks…my work pants and festooning my hair…oh well…I guess you have to learn don’t you! 😉

        November 26, 2012
      • Oh no! Well, you are an inspiration for trying to work to encourage the native flora. It’s hard to get people on board with this sometimes, because it can seem xenophobic if you make a direct parallel with human movement. But humans are all the same species! I guess the destructive consequences of alien species are easier to see in a place like Australia cos they grow so rampant, what is the general feeling among ordinary people?

        November 28, 2012
      • So long as “someone” cleans up the weedy species the status quo is maintained…time to get volunteering with landcare methinks!

        November 28, 2012

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