I have always loved woodland, and so we are fortunate to be surrounded by it here – not dense forest, but copses and thickets interspersed with fields. In fact, much of this woodland is not more than 100 years old, since the population was much higher at one time and the land was largely turned over to farming. We are also lucky to have a little piece of woodland of our own.
When we bought this…
This came with it…
When we moved here, the barn belonged to farmer neighbours. Having no use for it, they decided to sell it. This was in the early 2000s, when the property market here was booming in response to the even bigger boom in the UK. The idea of restoring a barn as a second residence appealed to people. But, since it is only 30 metres from our door, we bought it. For us, it will always remain a barn, which was its original purpose. You can read more about it on the link below.
Labour of love
The barn came with a field and an impenetrable wood. I conceived the project of clearing the wood and turning it into a sort of wooded park.
The first job was to gain access. When I say impenetrable, I mean that you needed to wear a suit of armour to get in. Unchecked, the undergrowth had run riot. Brambles, blackthorn and all kinds of spiny bushes had intertwined to create a lethal wall of vegetation.
The wood was clearly a field at one time and extends up the hill. It’s at a higher level than the field below it, and there are the remnants of a retaining wall. Clusters of stone indicate that the wood may once have been terraced.
Once we had cleared the edge of the field below, we found this ramp, formerly completely hidden by the vegetation. This was for carts and people to gain easy access to the upper level. It’s steeper than it looks in the photo.
While the SF rebuilt and repaired the 80-metre stone wall bordering the field and the wood, I girded my loins (and they needed some girding against the thorns) and started on clearing the wood.
This was a labour of love, accomplished with loppers, secateurs and occasionally a brush-cutter, and it took me nearly two years. A robin usually accompanied me, sitting on a branch close by with its head tilted to one side, before darting down to snatch some bug I had uncovered.
In carrying out this project, however, I realised that I was potentially depriving birds and wildlife of shelter and food. I decided to leave about a quarter of the wood wild as a haven for them, which you can see extending behind the oak tree below.
The result is a piece of managed woodland. Removing the competing vegetation has allowed the trees to thrive. They are mostly oaks and ash with a few wild pear trees and a kind of maple, whose leaves flame ochre in autumn. A once-yearly round with a brush-cutter keeps down the undergrowth. Fallen sticks and branches make good kindling, but we always leave some to rot down and provide homes for insects.
Occasionally, we take down a tree that isn’t thriving or is overshadowed by others and use it for firewood. During the first days of lockdown, we cut down an oak tree that was clearly dying. It was making valiant attempts to push out suckers lower down, but it was dead from two metres upwards. The SF’s father worked as a lumberjack in Canada for a while and passed on his skills to his son. Unfortunately, the remaining stump may be too much for our chainsaw.
I am proud of my wood. It contains some lovely specimens.
And there are treasures to be found. A little patch of wild strawberries, now flowering. The birds get there before we do, but we usually manage to pick a handful of these delightfully sweet and delicately perfumed fruits.
In the spring, clumps of cowslips make a yellow splash beneath the trees. Spikes of purple orchids push up through the grass. And the twining climber, respounchous (black bryony), the shoots of which are beloved of local people, is growing now.
Unfortunately, I have never been adept at finding mushrooms. The only ones I have seen in our wood are the non-comestible variety of cèpe.
The wood is a haunt for long-eared owls and nuthatches, woodpeckers and hoopoes. On a summer’s evening, while dusk falls, we like to sit in our garden and listen to the rustling and calling of birds and animals in the trees above.
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