With a couple of hours to spare on a glorious late-autumn morning, a walk in the woods seemed like a good idea. Ashridge holds a lot of very special memories for me. Amongst other things, there was the magic of May Day when the bluebells were in bloom and my son and I went for an unexpected walk.
There are some beautiful old trees here. It is an odd place, half wild, ancient woodland, half planted estate, belonging to the big house that was once a priory that belonged to the young princess who would become Queen Elizabeth I. The building that stands there now is a more modern affair, a mere two hundred years old, built by the Earl of Bridgewater and now a business college.
Closer to the house, the grounds have a more managed appearance, but when you get away from the more frequented paths, it is not unusual to see herds of deer. There are birds everywhere, squirrels in the trees and newts in the dew ponds. Ancient trees of imposing girth shelter saplings and wildflowers and you can see the cyclical and ever-changing life of the forest as you walk through the trees.
You begin to get a sense of how ancient these wooded places really are… how they once stretched across much of the land and gave shelter, food and warmth to its people. The creaking of the branches, the rich smell of damp earth and the copper carpet of beech leaves evoke the stories and legends that were born beneath the forest boughs and there is a timeless quality that is quite otherworldly.
It almost seems an intrusion when people appear, glad in the bright, synthetic colours of fashion, walking their dogs and snapping away with cameras… Even I felt out of place, as if I needed to stop and simply be with the wood and earth here leaving the constraints of time and necessity behind for a while.
Yet the wood itself wears bright colours. Crimson and scarlet, yellow, green and gold against the rain-blackened bark and earth. Light ripples through the leaves, casting laughing shadows on the ground. Berries sparkle like Yuletide baubles, and the fresh greens look as if importunate spring were attempting to join with autumn in the dance of the seasons.
That dance is visible here, rooted as deeply as the hoary oaks and stately beeches. Free as the leaves that fall or part to reveal a bashful sun. From seed to sapling, from majesty to a decaythat fuels the seeds. It is a dance to the rhythm of life…and we too follow the steps, whether we realise it or not.