Sunday, 29 May 2011

An Interval in Sunlight

I rode up onto the Dunkery range this afternoon under leaden grey skies and in a very strong wind. There were no deer up there today and I came across only one heavily pregnant Exmoor pony mare and her yearling foal. The only buzzard I saw was hulked up on an oak branch in the woods, sulking until the wind dropped so that he could get aloft again.

It's nearly the end of May and  I wanted to revisit Bagley Wood before the bluebells die over so that's where I programmed Hoss to go.  Despite the headwind and the drizzle it was flinging in our faces, Hoss was very spritely and by the time he'd trotted me up through Allercombe and Hollowcombe the sun had broken through the clouds. The Moor changes quite dramatically when the sun comes out and I paused to look around at the still-winter-bleached hillside, its heather not ready to purple the slopes for another couple of months and its grasses not yet  verdant. Massive cloud shadows fled across distant fields giving a different picture with every passing second.  Below me, behind a screen of beeches, a wildstone wall marked the boundaries of Bagley.

As I rode on down the rough stony track, it gave way almost exactly at the stone boundary to a worn-grass path that dropped steeply into birch woodland. I could see the distant groundmist of bluebells long before I could identify individual blooms.  Spirals and waterfalls of blue ran down through curling summer ferns and barely-grazed woodgrasses and all around, despite the wind, a faint scent of hyacinth pervaded the air.  I pulled Hoss up and let him stand while I gazed around the wood.

Exmoor is not an easy place for trees to grow into towering giants and most of those in the bluebell wood are birches, holly and smallish oaks.  Past storms have toppled trees into the combe but over the years, determined survivors lying at impossible angles with their canopies lower than their bases, continued growing. Some of the branches on the upper sides of these fallen trees headed for the sky again and the result is an extraordinary sight. Close-growing rows of birch turn out to be branches of the same trunk and all take their strength from the remaining roots of the original tree that the wind failed to pull free of earth.

Sunlight filtered through the overhead canopies and sparked silver off raindrops on a spider's web pinioned among the bluebells.  The wind, still blasting from the south west, shivered the birch leaves and a few of these, shaken loose, startled Hoss into moving off.  Almost at the same moment, the grey clouds won their supremacy battle, the light in the wood changed quality again and the magic faded away.


  1. Hey, you're a poet, don't you know it?
    That was beautiful.

  2. I agree with Gail - beautiful descriptions. I could really picture those blown over, yet struggling on, trees.