The Way through the Woods
They shut the road through the wood, seventy years ago,
The weather and the rain, Have undone it again,
And now you would never know,
There was once a road through the wood.
Before they planted the trees,
It is beneath, the coppice and heath,
And thin anemones. Only the keeper sees,
That where the badgers roll
And ring doves take their ease
There was once a road through the wood.
But if you enter the wood,
On a summer’s evening – late,
When the night air cools, on trout ringed pools
And the otter whistles his mate
(they fear not men in the wood, because they see so few.)
You may hear the beat, of a horse’s feet,
And the swish of a skirt in the dew.
Steadily cantering through, the misty solitudes,
As though they perfectly knew.
The old lost road through the wood.
But there is no road through the wood.
At the bottom of the garden, a gate led onto the field. On the other side of the field was a wood. Her parents told her that she should never go into the wood, though she had heard her grandmother say.
“Oh, Mary’s a polite little girl, she would come to no harm in the wood. SHE would never harm her, in fact she would probably like to see her there. I saw her several times, and it did me no harm.”
Mary didn’t understand, but kept away from the wood all the same.
Until one summer afternoon, she had been walking across the field, and came to the old fence that ran round the wood. The field was so hot, and it looked so cool in the wood, the dappled sunlight was so beautiful. In a patch of sun she saw big black and white butterflies gliding across the glade. She slipped through the fence and walked into the glade, there was a path leading deeper into the wood. She followed it, deeper and deeper. Then suddenly she felt afraid, looked around, and suddenly realised that she couldn’t see the path back. She was lost. She turned and tried to find a way though the trees, but there was no way. She pushed between the trunks, branches tried to catch her, they pulled at her dress, they caught in her hair. Suddenly there was a lighter patch in front of her, she forced her way through the branches and found herself on an open ride, a broad strip of grass.
She fell on her knees, grateful to be free of the trees, and burst into tears.
She knelt there sobbing, and didn’t notice the noise of a horse approach, in fact she was so wrapped up in her misery that she didn’t notice anything until she was gently tapped on the arm. She looked up to see a young woman looking down at her.
“Whatever is the matter pretty maid?” The Lady asked, Mary knew she was a lady.
“I’m sorry.” She gulped through her tears.
“Why are you sorry?”
“Because I was told not to go into the wood. I am so sorry.”
“Don’t be sorry, you can come into this wood whenever you like.” The Lady smiled, and raised her head.
“You are free of this wood for as long as you live, do you understand?”
Mary nodded, but she had the strangest feeling that the Lady wasn’t talking to her, rather she was talking to the trees. As the Lady bent to her again, the wind whispered through the branches, as though acknowledging the Lady’s orders.
“Now what would you like?” she asked.
“I want to go home now, please.”
“Of course you can.” The Lady replied, and pulled her to her feet. Mary now realised that the Lady was dressed very oddly. She was all in green, in a long old-fashioned riding dress. She put one foot in her stirrup and pulled herself up on the saddle. Seated side-saddle she bent down and pulled Mary up onto her lap, she was certainly very strong. They cantered down the ride, Mary felt completely safe and very happy.
Suddenly they were at the edge of the wood, the Lady lifted her and gently placed her on the ground, then she felt in her pocket and gave Mary something, before she could say anything she heard her mother calling her name. She turned to look, and when she turned back to thank the Lady, the Lady had vanished.
As she told her mother the story, her mother went very silent. She didn’t say anything, but rang Mary’s grandmother as soon as they got back to the cottage. The grandmother listened to her story and smiled.
“I knew she would be safe.” Then she turned to Mary. “Now you can go in the woods whenever you want, you will be safe there, as long as you are polite to her, and I know you will be.”
Mary suddenly felt a weight in her pocket and pulled out a large, bright coin.
“The Lady gave it to me.”
Her father looked at it closely.
“It looks brand new – and its more than one hundred years old.” He said quietly.
This story began in the traditional way of many stories, I made it up to tell my children, after they wanted to know more about the wood in the poem. They would naturally ask further questions, but my reply was always the traditional one – ‘That’s enough for now, it’s time to go to sleep.’
About the Author
I am a retired archaeologist, who used to work for Dorset County County, where I mapped the wrecks off the coast. A maritime archaeologist who cannot swim is unusual, but there.
I have written a great deal, on many diverse topics, from the works of an arts and crafts artist, to a fossilised beaver, from early aerial photographs to medieval sundials (the last my father considered the most boring think I had ever written).
I read a great deal, and remember a heck of a lot, this actually has a downside, if you have difficulty in forgetting! For example I will often check the end of a story to make sure it ends happily, who wants a miserable story running about in your head for the next decade or so.
My wife and I are reenactors, Regency or Victorian, and I will try most of the odd things I reconstruct. I have limits, but not many …
Follow Gordon’s blog, The Curious Archaeologist, for a glimpse into some weird and wonderful corners of history
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