On a short break to Barton on the Heath, with time to take a longer, exploratory walk, and a dog to take out anyway I do an unproductive search for Woodland Trust woods; they are small and few in number. That said, Batsford Arboretum is up the road, there are many National Trust woods and properties and where there is any wood of any size, even if designated ‘private’ there is usually a footpath through it.
Like a twitcher ticking off birds I want to tick-off the Woodland Trust Woods regardless so I head north to the nearest, towards Shipston and Ilmington. Flowers Wood is small enough to be someone’s large garden; just 1.55 acres of former pasture left by a Mr Dennis Lowndes Flower, CBE – 25 years ago.
Now planted, if nothing else it allows me to see what various trees at 25 years old look like. See above. Thigh width. I use ‘All Trails’ to register/monitor this walk – the shortest I have ever done. What use is an acre of wood to the Woodland Trust? Even 10 acres is small and 100 acres is just starting to be meaningful. Surely we need 1000 acres of land being moved to woodland at a time to make any difference in the long term at all? Flowers Wood is just an indulgence or a tax break.
As is often the case with these small plots, according to the Woodlands Trust Management Plan, ‘local people were instrumental in fundraising to purchase the land’ yet I also read that ‘the land, on which Flowers Wood has been planted, was given to the Trust by the Dennis Flower in August 1994.‘ There is a yew and a couple of Scots Pine in the north-east corner which suggest the former paddock or meadow was just an extension of the neighbouring garden. I wonder about Dennis: something about him would be interesting. Google Dennis Flower CBE of Ilmington Manor to learn more. Afterall, this wood and these trees are in his name.
I learned from the Woodlands Trust management plan that the site was included as one of 200 planted by the Trust to celebrate the Millennium under their Woods on Your Doorstep initiative.
The Flowers Wood site is not on Waze so I reverted to Google Maps which may have the location though to my eye the plot looks more triangular than a rectangle.
Down the road in Barton on the Heath we were planting trees by the side of the road in the name of our children and grandchildren – there is a ‘Zoë Tree’ I pass on foot and driving towards Todmarton which will be 22 years or so old.
The pleasure of the site is in part the drive through north Cotswold country lanes to find it.
There are older trees in the hedgerow than in the wood and the houses, predominantly warm Cotswold sandstone and several hundred years old (or built to look this way).
“A disused railway line embankment forms the western boundary,” I read. This embankment has been integrated into a garden and a deep cut through it allows the stream to run through.
My curiosity takes me to where this line came from and went to and how better off we would be with the line reinstated.
The line of mature trees fringing the stream is the wood’s greatest delight and exactly the kind of thing I would have explored as a boy. I would visit here with children old enough to plod about and clamber over the fallen trees and not worry overly about the odd nettle sting.
As the management plan describes the southern and eastern boundaries are essentially hawthorn hedges – intermittently cut back the old wood left in situ.
The management plan fails to pick up the 200 year old oaks that line the adjoining lane, each forming an aggressive silhouette, like a giant hand reaching out of the earth.
The main species planted was oak, with ash and cherry and alder near the stream on the northern side. The 500m (or 400m) circular walk was scattered with oak leaves in mid-February when I visited. The pleasure will be to return every five years or so and perhaps see the trees reach 50 years knowing that those not cut out and allowed to mature could see 200 years or more. What children’s book did I read in my youth where a boy in mediaeval times buried a longsword in the roots of a young oak only to collect it centuries later?
Getting round the 500m walk in 5 minutes I retrace my steps twice in different directions. On the third outing I delve around the ground hoping to find wild garlic but only find sorrel, nettles and dock leaves.
I traipse through Ilmington before heading into Shipston for a trip reminiscing on the time I lived nearby 22 years ago. Little has changed; the toy shop is now full of nicknacks, the co-op is the same, the parking as trisky. I end up by the mill. I wander over to Sheldon’s Wine Merchants out of curiosity.
Dropping into the iconic wine merchants for no better reason than remembering coming here in the early 1980s with my father (taking me to Oxford off the M6 to the A34 long before the M40 was created). I have returned on and off myself in the 1990s.
I am spotted ‘is your face familiar from Long Compton’ I am asked to find I am talking to someone who had served in the village shop 20+ years ago and remembers our family and children.
We play catch up with those who have died, children who have grown up and where we all may be.