Woolley’s Cottage

I went back to my old house at
Broad Strood today.
The footings remain
And the well
Whose water
Even I wouldn’t drink.

The drain to the septic tank has survived.
I used to love the smell especially in summer
Mixed with honeysuckle and azalea.

The gaffer coming out for a pipe
Silent under the stars
But the last couple of years
I was blind as a bat and
Deaf as a post.
Feckin’ useless the gaffer said
Only he is dead
Kind and dead
I lived for his smell
And his tread.

May Highlights

I enjoyed seeing Lake Mymms on Wednesday 2nd which I’d only ever seen completely dry. It was a magical experience in spite of my apathy. A completely different landscape from its dry self.

I can’t quite remember how I got to Northaw except that it involved swimming along a submerged path alongside the walled garden of a nineteenth century mansion house. Then, from the village, a long trudge on a muddy bridle path south leaving woods and parkland unexplored.

On Thursday 10th Theydon Bois to Chingford in a thunder storm. On Debden Lane large mothers waited in large cars for large children.  I entered the forest through birch woods along side an empty campsite. I stopped for tea mixed with rain water and beech frass. The rain fizzed like a salted slug, but  I was happy. It would get worse across Copley Plain and Hangboy Slade. Hangboy had a top ten hit in the 50s country charts with a song about the famous Richard Turpin who really did live in a cave in the forest – despite geological evidence to the contrary.

Climbing out of the valley and just before reaching the road you come across the remains of a cottage.

I had been reading A Forest By Night by Fred J Speakman, the naturalist and writer who loved the forest so much that he spent a whole year’s nights in it watching badgers. He later set up the field centre for children in the forest.

I enjoyed the book. Not for the badgers but for the people and the historical titbits like the lopping tool found preserved in the roots of a giant beech near Debden and a mammoth tooth recovered after heavy rain dislodged it from a stream bank near the Epping Road.

Speakman was friendly with all the forest keepers including Keeper Woolley and his wife who lived in the cottage whose footings can be seen today where the main ride crosses Golding’s Hill.

A Canadian engineer billeted in the forest during the Second World War drained the well and found it to have been fashioned from a natural cavern. They drew off 10,000 gallons of water and discovered the bones of a horse and two silver pistols.

From High Beach I walked down Church Road to avoid mud, heard a cuckoo near Whitehouse Plain, and continued in  a relatively straight line to Chingford.

On Wednesday 16th I walked from Mill Hill Broadway via roads to Scratchwood and then under M1 via Clay Lane and Edgewarebury to Elstree.

I enjoyed exploring Scratchwood – it was bigger than I had imagined it from the map. But I couldn’t quite rid myself of the feeling that I needed to keep looking over my shoulder.

Part of the problem was the walk up the A1 to get there. You start the walk paranoid – yer viscera shaken by HGVs. And you are never completely out of earshot. And you get it in stereo with the M1 as well – and the railway thrown in for good measure. The roads fan out to form a cornetto with a tranche of Edgeware as the chocolate biscuit base, the golf course in the cone and Scratchwood the ice cream. You never quite lose the feeling that you are in the right ingredients – oak and hornbeam and wild garlic and yellow archangel and the rest – but in the wrong place.

Still the streams meander gracefully down the slope through the oldest part of the wood. Reeds rise from the iron-rich swamp in the lea of the rubble mountain abutting the south west corner. The banks of the streams are covered with spring flowers.

The westernmost part of the wood is actually owned by Network Rail and a well-used path (not a public footpath) follows the railway under the M1 and out into fields. I followed my nose – and hoof prints – around a couple of fields towards Edgewarebury before picking up Clay Lane and following it as it climbed gently up the scarp again with great open views across the fields.

The lane is great walking at any time of year but especially in spring when it becomes a corridor of wild flowers. It is more or less a linear wood – because the hedge rows are so wide. Ecologists have suggested that they might be “assart” hedges – the strips of original forest left from clearing areas of the forest for agriculture.

Here I answered my question from 25th Jan when I saw some hard landscaping being carried out towards the bottom of the lane. A cemetery extension has colonized a few acres of green belt.

The intrusion is quickly forgotten on the ground – though not the nagging feeling that the real loss is incalculable. The thieves have crept past the gate whilst the keeper’s dog sleeps on.

Leaving the lane I followed the road past Bury Farm grateful for the fact that it is still home to swallows that shot past me at head height and dipped over the fields towards Harrow Hill like everything was all right in the world and no one would even think about destroying the patch of green they call their summer garden or the rotten roof beam in the old barn that is their ancestral home from home.


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