We’ve had the Log Cabin at the wood for 12 years now and as well as being genuinely useful for forestry, it doubles up as a getaway we can use any time and without any notice. With all the travel disruption at home and abroad this summer we decided to have a couple of weekend breaks away, and spend a Monday to Friday week at the wood when the weather hadn’t gone haywire.
The setup is very similar to these pictures from solo stays when I’m doing forestry work. Camp beds, gas stove for cooking, and electric 12V lights or gas lanterns. You can see more in this video I did.
During the days we did touristy things, including the Ironbridge museums, Lilleshall Abbey and Lilleshall Hall National Sports Centre, Hoo Farm which now has an impressive woodland dinosaur park, and Wightwick Manor near Wolverhampton.
At the wood, we also did important work on dens, and spotting buzzards and hares.
On the last day we looked at stretches of the old Shrewsbury and Newport Canal which is being restored here and there, including work starting at the Berwick Tunnel just east of Shrewsbury and impressive progress at Wappenshall Junction where the basin should be ready to refilled with water later this year. There’s currently a narrow boat on the short stretch of canal that survived in Newport too, which all helps build awareness of the Shrewsbury and Newport Canal Trust‘s work. The canal was part of the picture of water management in the Weald Moors on which the wood sits, and I’m becoming more interested in how it all developed as the history of the draining of the land is also the history of the wood.
On the way home we stopped for ice creams at Norbury Junction. This is where the Shrewsbury and Newport Canal met the larger Shropshire Union Canal, which is now a busy route for leisure canal boats. All that’s left there of the small canal is a short stretch used as a boat yard, but one day it may be linked up again and allow boats to travel all the way to Shrewsbury.
It’s now high summer in Century Wood and the place is full of life. I was here at the weekend, for the sun and the heat and the welcome downpours of rain. Today is Monday 20th of June 2022 and tonight will be the shortest night of the year. The Summer Solstice is tomorrow. At 10:14am BST the Sun will reach the end of its annual journey north, stop, and begin again to move southwards against the pattern of fixed stars and constellations in the sky. This makes tomorrow the longest day of the year.
Later in the week, the traditional Midsummer Day is on Friday 24th of June, which is also the saint’s day of St John the Baptist. Along with Christmas Day, the 25th of March and 29th of September, Midsummer Day was one of the Quarter Days which divided the year and on which rents were traditionally due. It was a day for many of our lost traditions of bonfires, maypoles, and fairs.
Mid summer features in one of my favourite Kipling poems, “Tree Song”, set to music by Peter Bellamy in the 1970s as “Oak and Ash and Thorn”. Of the trees the poem lists, Century Wood is only missing Yew and Beech.
Of all the trees that grow so fair,
Old England to adorn,
Greater are none beneath the Sun,
Than Oak, and Ash, and Thorn.
Sing Oak, and Ash, and Thorn, good sirs,
All of a Midsummer morn!
Surely we sing no little thing,
In Oak, and Ash, and Thorn!
Century Wood is called Century Wood because it was first planted up as woodland by the Duke of Sutherland around 1900. The Leveson-Gower family gradually accumulated land in Shropshire, Staffordshire, and Cheshire over several centuries. Their stewardship ultimately affected the pattern of land ownership today and even what the land looks like.
There were a lot of Leveson-Gowers, but I’m only going to pick out three that made the most difference to how Century Wood looks today.
There were widespread floods in Shropshire this weekend and they reached right to the boundaries of Century Wood. I had planned to stay for the day but in the end I broke off early and went up to the Lilleshall Monument for a wider view and then to Lilleshall Abbey. Inundations aside, it was a beautiful sunny autumn day.
This first picture shows the view from the bridge over the mainline railway near Mill Meece, with a flooded field beside the tracks. A diversion had been put in place, but this led to a completely flooded lane complete with abandoned Land Rover Discovery half sunk into the verge.
In September I was in Boston again and went back to Concord and Walden Pond that I first visited in March: ‘In 1845 Henry David Thoreau built himself a cabin in the woods beside Walden Pond in Massachusetts and started the process which led to “Walden; or, Life in the Woods” in 1854.’ In that post I talk about what Thoreau said and did, and here I’m just adding more photos and videos from September with enough of a description to identify them.
I’ve done a lot of travelling this year and last month this included New York. Henry David Thoreau lived there for most of 1843, a year and a bit before he went to live in the cabin in the woods by Walden Pond that I wrote about in April. Naturally, I made time to retrace some of his steps and photograph one of the woods he probably knew.
Before we get on to my visit in August, I should explain the context. Thoreau’s mentor was Ralph Waldo Emerson, who had established himself in Thoreau’s native Concord in Massacheusetts, writing and giving popular public lectures in a world before television and film. The town of Concord had a good road to the city and port of Boston via Cambridge, the location of Harvard College. So Emerson and Thoreau were able to get around and enjoy a cosmopolitan environment, whilst living within sight of fields and woods.
Yesterday I caught the Tolkien biopic which is right at the end of its release in cinemas. Without giving away any spoilers, it’s set against the latter part of his childhood, time at university, and service in the trenches of the First World War. The main themes are his relationships with his similarly-gifted school friends (the other three boys of the “TCBS” club) and his difficult pursuit of the love of his life, Edith, but there are secondary themes of his fascination with language and hints at the importance he attached to trees. It reminded me of how he influenced some of my own early treeish thoughts.
This week I spent a couple of hours in the early morning at Bagley Wood near Oxford. The wood has been owned by St. John’s College since the aftermath of the dissolution of the monasteries, and before that it was owned by Abingdon Abbey since 955 AD. It is managed as a nature reserve, for research, and with some areas as plantations. I took a lot of phone camera pictures, as I didn’t have my DSLR with me. I saw a few deer, Bluebells, log stacks, standing dead trees, Leyland Cypress, Oak, Hazel, Larch, and Scots Pine. There were quite a few areas of planting with tree shelters, including one with Oak that I photographed as shown below.
A reader asked me about the “woodscraft” category that some posts on the Centurywood.uk blog have. Using modern computers to communicate forces us into a world of hashtags, keywords, and categories, so that things can be sorted and found. But it turns out that this word and related terms have a surprisingly long history.
First, I should say what I mean by “woodscraft”. The About Page says it’s “living out in the woods, managing them, and making use of their produce”. The craft of woods if you like. And that’s small woodlands rather big forestry as well.
In 1845 Henry David Thoreau built himself a cabin in the woods beside Walden Pond in Massachusetts and started the process which led to “Walden; or, Life in the Woods” in 1854. This book has gone on to become a classic of American literature, held up by advocates of self-reliance, resistance to the power of the State, naturalism, and conservation; and studied by generations of school children. Even in the UK, it’s often quoted, with its mixture of philosophy and the outline of Thoreau’s efforts to lead a self-reliant life from the land around his cabin. For me, over the last ten years it’s become an increasingly valuable account of living and working in woodland, of learning and practicing woodscraft, and becoming the amateur naturalist of your own environment.