Wednesday, 27 January 2010

The Pools on the Hill

A Sunday walk, up onto the Beacon Hill. New Forest geology consists of layer up on layer of gravel, flint and sand. The raised beds of an ancient sea. Sometimes flat for miles where it is covered by heath and woodland. In other places , lifted into gently undulating hills.

On the long Beacon hill, there is an outcrop where iron age people lived for generations in a small hill fort. We walked to what remains of their long ago village. Among the gorse and birch scrub, there are still signs of ditched ramparts,where wooden pallisades would have protected the villagers from the wind and from their enemies.

Among the flat spaces where wooden homes would have been built, are many pools and shallow ponds. The photograph above shows a light streak of the thick clay that stops water draining through areas of otherwise sandy Forest soil. Up on the hill, clay must have lined dips in the land where water now collects. We wonder if these pools were here before the ancient people settled, or are they the result of digging and earth movement as the villagers constructed ditch ramparts , pits and foundations for their wooden buildings? Maybe, existing pools of water, which dry out only in high summer, would have been another reason for settling this hill top place?

The still pools reflect a looking-glass other world of stark winter trees and a clouded blue winter sky.

Trees and bracken grow on the still visible long mounds which were a part of the higher rampart protecting the hill fort and village. The mounds would have been topped by a wooden palisade fence.

This hill fort afforded a long view for its inhabitants. They would have seen friend and foe coming for many miles. Layers of land stretch into the misty distance, across the Forest, the valley of the River Avon and to the coast and the far line of the Purbeck Hills.

In the near distance, lie the tumulus burial mounds where ancestors would have found their final resting place.
Another view shows a sandy Forest track that leads to low-land water pools to the south. Did the iron age people use this way across the heath in their daily travels , as it is still used now by walkers and riders making their way to the far side of the village?

This quiet place of still pools reminds me of the Wood Between the Worlds. In C.S.Lewis`s first book of the Chronicles of Narnia, "The Magician`s Nephew", two children find magical rings in an old attic. When they put on the rings, they are transported to the Wood Between the Worlds, which is where their adventures begin. Digory, the boy, finds himself under water......

" Then his head suddenly came out into the air and he found himself scrambling ashore,out on to smooth grassy ground at the edge of a pool.

As he rose to his feet he noticed that he was neither dripping nor panting for breath as anyone would expect after being under water. His clothes were perfectly dry. He was standing at the edge of a small pool- not more than ten feet from side to side- in a wood. The trees grew close together and were so leafy that he could get no glimpse of the sky. All the light was green light that came through the leaves : but there must have been a very strong sun overhead, for this green daylight was bright and warm. It was the quietest wood you could possibly imagine. There were no birds, no insects, no animals and no wind. You could almost feel the trees growing. The pool he had just got out of was not the only pool. There were dozens of others - a pool every few yards as far as his eyes could reach. You could almost feel the trees drinking the water up with their roots..."

In the Beacon wood it was still winter and there were ponies cropping heath and holly by the pools. Still ,there was the feeling that jumping into one of those clear and wood-mirror pools might take you to another world.

Pasture on the sheltered slopes behind the hill fort woods.

Trees on the lane bank show signs of coppicing and hedge layering long ago.

Oaks and holly in an old hedge that surrounds a commoner`s cottage and pasture land.

Pussy willows opening on a tree by the lane. A small sign of the coming spring.

Thursday, 21 January 2010

Swans and Grey Sea

Yesterday, an afternoon of grey sky and cold wind. Down in the shelter of Christchurch Harbour there were gulls, swans, coot and mallard duck, resting on mudflats or rising hopefully into the air as walkers often bring food to scatter for the birds .

I planned a longer walk, but the cold was so harsh and the wind chill penetrated even the thickest clothing. There were few people about.

Black Headed Gulls , their heads white now in winter plumage, flew away disappointed as I had only a camera in my hand. No bread for the birds yesterday. Across the harbour, where small boats have sheltered moorings, is the cliff of Hengistbury Head that protects the harbour from the longshore drift and westerly winds of Poole Bay.

The sailing club marina and the old buildings of Mudeford Quay beyond. There are quaint cottages once lived in by fishermen or coastguards, a pub and a stall that sells fish fresh from the boats.

A mute swan, preening on the mudflats.

The Air-Sea Rescue helicopter flew along the coast from Bournemouth and on across the harbour.

A plastic bag stuck amongst gulls and grasses on a mudflat island.

A mute swan gliding across calm water.

As I walked aroung the Quay and out of the shelter of the harbour, a fierce, cold wind caught my breath. Angry breakers rolled in over the submerged sandflats that stretch along the quayside.

Breakers crash and fizz up sand and shingle at Avon Beach. The wooded clifftops of Friars Cliff and Highcliffe lie across the bay.

The white chalk cliff of Tennyson Down where the western edge of the Isle of Wight rises out of a dark grey, choppy sea.

A small fishing boat, returning from Poole Bay, sped in on the tide towards The Run, the narrow gap which is the entrance to shelter in Christchurch Harbour.

The Run, with Mudeford Quay .

A last look back through pine trees towards the harbour and sheltered water. It was time to leave .

Tuesday, 19 January 2010

No time for a walk.....

Yesterday, just before dusk, a dense white fog descended on the Forest. I drove home with fog lamps lit , seeing just a few metres in front of the car and crawling at low speeds in case a pony or a cow wandered across the road unseen.

This morning, fog still covered the land,until the wintery sun began to burn through and wind from the south lifted wraiths of mist up into the sky and away from the snowmelt-sodden heath and Forest.

Fog clouds rising as the wetness of the land gradually evaporates away.

Sun through the fog banks above distant pinewoods.

Today I had no time to stop and walk, but I did pass by the stream at Wootton Bridge on my way through the Forest. The narrow road across the bridge and the hill beyond have been closed for over a week. Thick ice, from frozen water draining off the woodland verges, coated the long hill. On the first day of the freeze, cars were skidding and sliding into trees, into the ditches, through the bridge into the stream and into each other. By evening, "Road Closed" notices were in place.

The stream at Wootton Bridge was deserted today, but in the summer it is a popular place for families to picnic and for children to play in the shallows. Old trees leaning over the water are perfect for clambering over and a rope swing invites adventurous play. A stream that echoes with the splashings and excited voices of generations of children who have loved this place.

Muted browns across the heath towards Holmsley.

The lane at Wootton Bridge.

Streamside grassland still saturated with melt-water from the recent snow.

Delicate purple-red branches of young silver birches against a grey sky.

Old lichens on branches dipping down towards the stream

Later in the day, a strange, flattened image of the sun setting behind oak woods.

Dusk falls again and the temperature drops under a pastel winter sky. We may have more snow tomorrow.

Friday, 15 January 2010


Over the land freckled with snow half-thawed
The speculating rooks at their nests cawed
And saw from elm-tops, delicate as flowers of grass,
What we below could not see. Winter pass.
Edward Thomas
The thick crust of ice on a water trough is melting. The pipes are thawing too, so I no longer have to push wheelbarrow loads of water containers across frozen fields.

The field of long grass is melting first. Water slips under the gate and follows age-old channels down the slope. A pond forms and spreads over sheet ice, before it too melts and drains away through ditch and lane to the bottom of our hill.

Lawn grass shows again, between patches of melting snow where bird footprints mark the hungry searches of blackbirds and thrushes as they try to pierce the hard earth in search of food.

A splash of bright, frost-wilted spinach is all that remains of last years harvest.

Under the liquid amber tree, the leaf carpet reappears.

And at last....... a sign of spring. First shoots of snowdrops pierce the carpet of leaves beside a garden hedge.

While hazel catkins stand as harbingers of spring against a grey, cold sky.