<I’d had my eye on this wood for some time; although to call it a wood is a bit of a stretch – a hectare of trees 300m up on a rugged hillside. More than once, as I had sped past on the road below, I had glimpsed its mossy interior and been intrigued.
Approaching from the west in bright winter sunshine I walked up through some tired looking sheep pasture dotted with knee high rushes. A rickety, rarely opened gate let me in through the dry-stone wall that surrounded the wood.
The contrast was shocking; from the dull monotony of the rushy pasture I had stepped into a landscape that had the hyper-real colour of a digitally enhanced movie. The ground sloped away from me in a near continuous jumble of boulders, ranging in size from a fridge-freezer to a loaf of bread. Between these were widely spaced, rather stately sycamores and some twisting deformed larches, some with tops snapped out in gales gone by. And the ground, nearly every inch of it was smothered in a carpet of brilliant green moss. This moss lay 30cm thick like a fluffy tactile duvet, only the boulders underneath giving it form, as if it had engulfed sleeping animals. This was like a place embalmed, silenced by a hand over its mouth; nothing moved.
I was entranced and scrambled about soaking it up and figuring it out. For all its seeming timelessness this could only be a frozen moment in the continuity of this collection of trees on a rocky hillside. The trees had clearly been planted (although goodness knows why) as neither sycamore or larch are native here, and the smothering carpet of moss must, at least indirectly, be dependent on the nibbling of trespassing sheep. Without them brambles, shrubs and saplings would be growing up and a living dynamic wood would have arisen. The hungry sheep will have nipped off any new growth leaving the unpalatable moss to wrap the place up in its beautiful embrace, like dust sheets on an abandoned stage set.
How the sheep got in I had no idea, but I did discover how they got out. Four matronly looking ewes casually clambered up a boulder the size of a small car, clattered on to the top of the boundary wall and made a long jump down into the pasture beyond. This was clearly a regular routine, but a one- way street, there was no way back from here. As long as they are able to go on trespassing the wood will remain frozen in its mossy stillness, but a patched up wall or fence will break the freeze- frame and life will begin again; the hand removed from the mouth.