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!
They say that good fences make good neighbours. When I bought Century Wood, my thought was not so much about neighbours but wanderers: wandering people and wandering deer. I put up stretches of fencing with this in mind, but over time they have come to define boundaries on the ground.
In practice, I’ve had very few run-ins with trespassers, although the first was quite a surprise. On my second visit after buying the wood in 2008, I heard shotguns and then three tweed-clad trespassers, two with guns, confidently wandered into what is now the central Glade where I was felling a tree. I suspect some local shooters had got used to the wood being unoccupied for many years. Signs and fences were an important part of stopping this, along with natural boundaries.
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.
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.
I don’t know about you, but poetry at school was a hit and miss business. Looking back, it feels as if a lot of verse was thrown in my general direction, some of which has stuck and some of which just bounced off – even when committed to memory overnight to placate a teacher. W.B. Yeats’ poem “The Lake Isle of Innisfree” is one that stuck, and a couple of years ago I realised its connection to hutting and to Walden in particular. The poem is short enough to quote in full here.