It was a heavy evening Full of the promise of violence, Yet I went out. Climbed up the steep driveway to the castle, Down into the moat Where the wind held its breath. The blackbird was silent as I waded through treacle, Air heavy, Charged with an electric current. The sickly sweet smell teased my nostrils, A sugar-coating of things to come. I risked a glance upwards. Thick clouds rolled in and blanketed the sky. I sped up. What's a light smattering of rain? But these clouds meant business. Past the wall of primroses I stomped. Red campion Red valerian Clumps of cow parsley, Nodding at a fellow solitary walker from a safe distance. Passing the thick stalks of hogweed, Chewing the name around in my mouth. I felt the first stealthy drops touch my cheeks. Light fingers, tentative at first, Multiplying into rice crispie rain. Its lightness lulled me Like a stroke before a Slap. Toes tingling Fingers fidgeting I strode under the front porch As the heavens fell behind me. Just in time.
A long read, written one blustery day two weeks ago…
I didn’t think I would go out today. Despite being shut inside all day, despite this being my one daily permitted chance to get outside during the lockdown, I didn’t fancy it. It was pelting it down out there. Blowing a hooley. I didn’t fancy getting wet.
Just before dinner the rain stopped. The wind blew the dark blanket of clouds on to the next unsuspecting town and left a large patch of heavenly blue. The sun shone down. I ate my dinner.
As I cleared away the dinner plates and rinsed then stacked them in the dishwasher I surveyed the situation outside once more. Iffy would be the word.
Sod it. I grabbed my coat, its pockets stuffed with hand sanitiser and tissues, had an obligatory pre-walk pee, then made for the door and the big wide world beyond.
It was cold. I definitely should have worn a scarf. I zipped my coat right up under my chin and set off up the hill at a pace that meant business.
But as I ducked under a branch and stomped into the first patch of woodland I felt something inside relax. I smiled up at the trees standing there in their usual spots. Hello old friends. The wind whipped their new leaves up into a frenzy. I glanced down at the twigs scattered about my feet and issued a silent prayer to the trees to wait until I’d passed from underneath before they released the next batch to the wind.
Further along, the path of earth and gravel became soft and squelchy underfoot. I tramped onwards, glad for a decent pair of boots. The robin and blackbird sang high above as I passed. The songthrush played its impressive vocal repertoire then paused when it noticed me standing there in breath-held awe. Listening to this bird’s vocal acrobatics never fails to fill me with delight.
I passed through patches of bluebells amongst the field maples, stopping to say hello to a man and his terrier from a safe 2-metre distance. I remembered my new naturalist app on my phone and opened it up, photographing different leaves here and there to see if I could add any new species to my ‘observations’ collection.
When I reached the Point the restless sea stretched out before me. I turned to face the castle up on the hill and my breath caught at the beauty of the sky on fire, its flames silhouetting the familiar keep.
Crossing to the lookout point to get a better shot, the full force of the wind rushed at me and nearly knocked me off my feet. I managed a few minutes of staring out at the waves in exhilaration before I bowed out, breathless and bedraggled, and turned for home.
I took the moat walk back, hoping the ditch would offer some shelter from the wind and approaching rain. Leaves of different shapes and sizes whirled around in the air, some landing at my feet, others being carried off up over the castle grounds. The moaning of the wind through Half Moon Battery made me quicken my pace a little.
Up on the road leading to the castle I said goodnight to the trees dancing either side of me as I walked down the hill. One last look at the sea, its rows of white-tipped waves rolling in, then I turned away and carried on down the street towards the flat.
There had been a brief spell of rain, a whole lot of wind, and, as with every walk I take around Pendennis Headland, a good dose of magic. A walk is always worth it.
On my daily walks I often take a route through the patch of woodland on Pendennis Headland near my home in Falmouth. The path meanders through lush field maple, sycamore and wildflowers before turning down to join the road, but if you continue off the beaten track you reach two areas of beautiful old oaks.
As you enter the second of these especially a hush descends on the clearing and you become aware you are in the presence of something ancient. A carpet of brown leaves shifts underfoot as you step further in amongst these peaceful sentries. Each of them is striking in its own way, but one tree stands out as being the most majestic. Reaching long arms out across the ground, its crown a Medusa mass of writhing branches, this tree holds me captive each time I am in its presence. Its trunk twisted, its cacophony of limbs, some heavy and grounded, others reaching skyward, gives it an essence of the macabre. There is an almost foreboding element to its beauty.
There is a magnetism to this oak but also an undercurrent of fear that bubbles in the bottom of my gut. Something about those serpent-esque branches and how they reach out towards me. They look as if they were made for motion, as if the tree is caught in a momentary pause whenever I look at it, only to return to an unnerving undulation as soon as I look away. If I look away for long enough, will one of those branches reach out towards me and grapple at my jacket with bony fingers? Will it try to pull me in towards a gaping mouth, or coil around my body and squeeze until my eyes bulge?
I decide the only thing for it is to get closer. A proper introduction is in order. I approach gently, as if to avoid startling a great beast into attack, and place a hand either side of the nearest branch. The bark is more grey than brown and cracked, the branch thick at its base then eventually tapering out along the ground, like a muscular elephant’s trunk caked in dried mud. I close my eyes and feel.
At first I am only aware of the dry bark beneath my skin, but all of a sudden there is a sensation, a sort of vibration, travelling into my palms. All living things vibrate, so could it be the tree’s vibrations as a living entity that I am experiencing? It’s hard to know, and when I ask my partner to do the same on a separate visit to the tree he doesn’t feel anything, so maybe I’m romanticising it. But I do feel something, some sort of energy. It’s similar to when you rub your palms together for a minute then hold your hands apart, palms facing, and you can feel a tingling sensation when the palms get closer.
On this occasion I just felt and absorbed the energy coming from the tree, but on my walk through there the following day I thought it only fair to try to reciprocate; to share some of my energy as a living being with it. So when I placed my palms to its bark this time, after feeling that same vibration or presence, I focused on sharing my own, on opening a two-way channel.
Now each time I approach this tree I say a silent hello, reach up to a branch, and close my eyes. If you’re ever in Falmouth and passing that way through the woods near Pendennis Point, and you see a young woman standing by a great oak with her eyes closed don’t be alarmed. We’re just having a moment.
I believe this tree and those surrounding it to be holm oaks, also known as the holly oak, so named for their holly-like leaves. This species isn’t native to Britain. It was introduced to Britain in the late 1500s, and hails from the eastern Mediterranean. An evergreen species, in young trees the leaves are spiny, but on older trees the leaves have a smoother edge. The leaves on this tree are smoother, as expected – it’s clearly been around a while! To the touch, they’re glossy on top and downy on the underside.
In Max Adams’ beautiful book, The Wisdom of Trees, he refers to the several life stages of an oak, including “stag-headed dinosaur” and eventually “withered wreck”. I feel this oak may be somewhere between the two.
I thought I would leave you with a quote from one of my favourite books, Wildwood by the late, great Roger Deakin:
The enemies of woods are always the enemies of culture and humanity.Wildwood by Roger Deakin
On one of my beach walks early on in the lockdown I came across this beautiful crab claw, its owner long gone. The perfectly simple mechanisms contained within the claw made this a perfect potential puppet arm. Sadly, after several weeks out of the water it dried out and began to crack, but not before I’d managed to spend an hour one afternoon drawing it.
Sketching with a graphite stick is my preferred medium but I felt the beautiful rich colours of the claw were too important, so I gave coloured pencils a go, layering up the different shades from lightest to darkest.
It’s been a while since I’ve taken the time to sit down and draw from observation. I haven’t quite got the shading of the curved surface right but I’m pretty happy with it for an out-of-practice attempt!
The sea was gunmetal blue, drifting to slate grey as the clouds shifted. A thick mist smudged the horizon. The world held its breath Waiting Far-off pinpricks shone through the gloom. The bulk of a great ship looming. The moment was heavy Still Waiting Then a herring gull screeched by and it was gone. Up on the hill, the castle watched on.