I thought we should take a break from birding, but I wanted to take you back to Bush Wood on my ‘patch’ for a different journey.
The science of studying and making maps, Cartography, is both ancient and noble. It can be a science and/or an art. What I lack in both scientific knowledge and artistic technique, I make up for in enthusiasm. As I paced up and down the confusing set of woodland paths, I started to sketch a map in my notebook. I have since ironed out the more intricate kinks and bends and plumped for a simplistic depiction of where the paths lie projected on to a Google satellite image of Bush Wood. Duh daaa…
OK. It is a pretty slap-dash job, but I would welcome anyone who can show me a better map of the paths of Bush Wood – the lines shown on an Ordinance Survey map seem to bear no relation whatsoever to the actual footpaths (and no, I wasn’t just reading it upside down!).
Bush Wood is not the most diverse woodland you will have encountered and is mainly dominated by Oak, Hornbeam, Hawthorn, and Holly (the last two of which, along with an enormous quantity of bramble, makes much of Bush Wood – off the beaten tracks – virtually impenetrable). These plants have been expertly documented by Paul Ferris in his survey of the area.
Walking, or – more accurately at the moment given the amount of water – squelching around the paths is a little confusing, but the markers that help provide bearings – for me at least – are some of the more notable trees.
Please note all the following photos were taken on my iPhone as I was too paranoid I might happen upon an interesting bird, I refused to take my zoom lens off my camera.
Some of the trees are so distinctive looking in shapes that they are readily remembered such as this hornbeam:
Or this oak with the preposterously long lower branch:
Here is another shot of the same tree(s) but – just to show what a health and safety rebel / idiot (delete as appropriate) I am – with me standing underneath that preposterously long branch:
Or how about this for an interestingly shaped tree?
The biggest trees in Bush Wood are not oak or hornbeam, but a small number of Sweet Chestnut. And the biggest of all – a tree that is at least 300 years old – is a well hidden ancient giant known as the witch’s tree:
Unfortunately, my iPhone does not give a sense of scale, but it really is a bruiser of a tree. Even its fallen leaves are big:
You also can’t see the extent to which the roots are exposed at the bottom. If you are wondering why it is called the witch’s tree, choose whichever of the following explanations you prefer:
1) Around 400 years ago a woman was accused of witchcraft and burnt at the stake. In the writhing agony of death she was seen to scream out an incomprehensible curse. A great tree grew from a seed on the spot where she died. It had a complex set of exposed roots that were twisted and contorted like burnt limbs. The gaps are easily wide enough for a child, or even a reasonable-sized adult to crawl through. But, those carefree fools who crawl between the roots/limbs of the witch’s tree invariably fall sick, and some die. A coincidence perhaps, poisonous soil perchance, or maybe it is the manifestation of a doomed woman’s curse?
2) As the summer solstice sun sets, they say that young witches dance naked around this hidden tree. Some say that at the right time of year, the tree imparts vitality and extended youth into those who properly worship its wild antiquity.
3) I don’t know why it is called that. Sorry!
Before I get carried away with tales of magic, I wanted to re-post my map, but this time with four of the interesting trees plotted and marked, maybe to help you one day find the witch’s tree and its fellows: