Tuesday, 31 January 2012

The Enchanted Wood

Ebernoe Common

Heavy snow-laden clouds seem to be propped up by the tall  birch trees around the small Victorian red-brick church, and the occasional flurry of snow litters the car park with flecks of white.

To the east of the church a path runs south and then south east, made up in that ancient way of compacted rubble, slippery with mud, ice and beech mast. To the left is Furnace Field, in warmer times a favourite haunt of adders. Now, nervous fieldfares bolt out of hedges to snatch morsels from the iced-fingers of grass.

Further on, across a stream-bottomed valley there stands a restored brick kiln, a reminder that this which nature has reclaimed was once a centre of industry, where the sounds of hammers echoed for miles around, while ther forests flickered with fire.

More evidence of this industrial past lies south-west of the church where a frozen furnace pond supports a small flock of mournful looking mallards. The pond sparkles like glitter has been strewn across it surface, and each clumsy mallard footstep echoes from bank to bank.

Great clouds of blue, coal and great tits engage in what appears to be a competition to throw over the largest leaf as they forage among the beach mast. Suddenly an old English sheepdog appears and sits obediently at my side. For a while we stand together in silence watching the birds before the voice of an unseen mistress calls him away, and with a glance over his shoulder he is gone.

Bemused I turn back to find the tits have left, and a solitary grey squirrel sits where they foraged, clasping a beech nut. I hear what I initially take to be a jay mimicking a buzzard, as they are known to do, when the call rises in volume, incessant and repetitive.

I scan the skies, the squirrel scampers up the nearest tree, and above two common buzzards appear. One is noticeably smaller than the other, who calls constantly. They glide only for short periods and at a low altitude, the cold air probably lacking the thermals they need for their familiar soaring displays.

It is easy to see why in Scotland they are known as the 'tourist's Eagle' with their long fingery wings and gliding flight. After fifteen minutes or more of calling and circling they fly west into the weak sun and are lost over the beech trees.

Across the forest the repetitive beat of a drumming great spotted woodpecker sounds out, loud but unseen, pausing occasionally, waiting for an answer that never seems to come.

Paths criss-cross this ancient forest, tempting the explorer. They are the remnants of trackways that lead to the industrial sites that were once common here, some are hollow-ways, hundreds of years old. It is easy to get lost here, happy care-free lost of a child in an enchanted forest. Following any of the paths north leads to the church, or if not the road that leads to the church, where a welcome flask of soup waits in the car.


  1. Great article, I really like the forest photograph. The South Downs sounds great and I really should make the effort to get down there.


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