'There is a ring of beeches on the hill
Lifting to the quiet evening sky
Layered tracery of green and grey,
Voicing reed - like in the hill - wind's sigh
Tales of long ago and far away.
Beneath them lies the valley wide and still....'
Margery Lea On a Hill in Shropshire from These Days (1975)
(Quoted in Silva - The Tree in Britain ~ Archie Mills)
Looking at our beechwood from a different angle recently I came up with what I thought was a truly original and clever thought.
This is another view, of what is actually called Berry Wood up there on the top of the hill, and which sits very nicely within my Beating the Bounds square mile. It is on private land but we have access because just on the edge of the wood is the source of our spring water supply, piped underground down to our house.
Yes, I decided, there is definitely something cathedral-like about our wood.
We have been trying to work out how 'our' wood survived the storms of 1987 and 1990 when so many others nearby were decimated. This wood, just outside Tavistock, which we used to live very near, and now pass on every journey home from town, was a similar picture of eye-catching symmetry until that night, and how devastated we were to see it the next morning. Even now, twenty five years on, it remains a ragged sorry sight, still in recovery...
Somehow our wood survived. Perhaps it was not quite in the direct path of the storm at its fiercest, who can know.
There is a calculation that involves measuring the girth of a beech tree at about eye-height and then doing some fancy maths to arrive at an approximate age for the tree, and on that basis we reckon some of ours are about a hundred years old. Not ancient, but old enough for us to imagine the planting taking place on the brink of the Great War.
Roger Deakin calls them 'The Sacred Groves of Devon' in his book Wildwood, and it's not hard to see why, or how our little clump could be seen as one too.
We enter by its west door...
...and without realising it I realise that we respect the silence, talking in hushed voices as we walk the natural naves and aisles. Even if we call the dogs we somehow do it sotto voce....we wouldn't dream of shouting up here.
More reminders of Ely Cathedral...
That was until I picked up Beechcombings by Richard Mabey and discovered that the analogy and comparison of beechwoods to cathedrals is as old and well-worn as my wellies.
Not so original then, but never mind, it still holds true.
We wander up to the woods every day with the dogs, and debate whether this tree or that has only just fallen down or has it been there a while... we can never decide. Did we see it last time or didn't we...
and on one particular day we watched the stormlight without..
Whilst behind us, a different world within, dazzling sunlight to the rafters...
'There is forgetfulness within this ring,
Where memory's steeped in calm and thought is stilled.
For they the secrets of old earth enfold
Within their shadowed forms whose crowns are filled
With lustre of the west and evening gold,
And in the listening silence seem to sing.'
And we are watching the ground very closely indeed, because our very own stained glass is starting to peek through...
I can't wait to see them this year.