On the idea of the woodland and how the project developed

Stephen and Claire on the Rollrights woodland project

Stephen: I decided to plant the wood because there was a large ancient wood next to the house I grew up in and I always loved as a child to roam this wood and play in it. So I thought it might be more fun to have a wood than a ten acre field. Planted Feb 98. Btw the trees were planted in Feb as 12″ saplings in a field that had already been sowed with barley . I “bought” the putative crop from the farmer. Luckily it then rained for 6 weeks in a warm early spring and the trees thrived so that an expected 60-70% survival rate became 95%.

The wood was planted as part of a Forestry Commission program to support tree planting a condition of which was to plant mixed native English trees. This is taken to mean – oak, beech, ash, lime, cherry, sycamore, larch, pine, field maple, hawthorn, blackthorn, hazel. I am pretty sure that anything else is there by accident.

I insisted on the green paths thru the wood, initially resisted by the FC but now apparently highly endorsed for new plantings.

pathPathway through the woods

The grass circle area was declined planning for planting because the Oxfordshire archaeological survey believes the whispering knights monument sits on top of a burial barrow which extends underneath the circle. Ditto the field by the road is thought to contain some Neolithic ruins.

grass-circleThe grass circle and the Whispering Knights beyond it

Originally there was an anti muntjac deer fence round all sides but I have now removed from east and south with more to go. The only problems I have had have been squirrels eating bark and killing the trees, birds seeding brambles and a ragwort infestation.

squirrel-damage-2Bark stripped off by squirrels

Claire created the idea of the artistic mounds so she can explain that.

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Claire:  When the trees were young, Stephen and I focussed on pruning and for a long time the trees were so young that even keeping the whips at bay was almost impossible. Many years ago, I began to make circular coracles because I realised that they were a delightful habitat for birds and other wildlife, and cover. Over time, I began to understand the different properties of the wood that was pruned and felled and began to create larger structures. conifer-mound After many years of working in the wood all day, I dreamt of seeing the horizon as the golden roseate hues descended through the wood where it had been cleared. I thought that a sea of coracles would continue to provide habitats even when the trees lifted themselves over the horizon and the light pierced through the thick gloom of the young forest.

morning-mounds-2 In the watery sunlight of a winter morning

All through my time of 12 years in the wood, my mother was terminally ill, and she died this year in May. My immediate palliative response was to build her a large scale barrow shaped structure. I made it very methodically and to last: beautifully aligned long bodies of ash straight as warriors; interwoven with oak branches; overlaid with a “coffin” of pine; and a mantle of tightly interwoven larch. I wept as I made this structure; each weave a memory, difficult ones, happy ones, they are all there traced into the body of this fine object that dominates the mid-wood.

claires mothers moundThe mound that Claire made for her mother

This year, as spinal problems took over, I thought I would need a lot more help to create an arc of beautiful mounds, barrows, and coracles, depending on the felling. I felt that the natural sweep of the wood would invite a clarity of aesthetic purpose in preparing those who approach the Whispering Knights and the Rollright Stones through the Bright Hill Wood, and, likewise, as visitors come in the opposite direction, imbued with the 5,000 year old sustainability and rough hewn artistry of the Whispering Knights barrow, that there would be a pleasing silage, an after effect of the aesthetic moment, in a living cathedral in which are buried thousands of plants and trees that once lived, as all those humans who walked the ancient Ridgeway once did as well.

whispering-knightsThe Whispering Knights up close

The thought came to me that for millennia, the Neolithic peoples walked this way through to the Knights barrow, or from the opposite direction, and always in a state of reverence. The Stones were also revered and a centre of pilgrimage.

The beliefs of most of the people who have traversed the land of the wood, which itself contains parts of the ancient burial ground, were animist. They believed in the forces of life and nature and held in the highest esteem their most competent leaders – those who understood best how to survive as semi settled and migrating hunter gatherers.

Over time, in the wood, I came to think that we must be building an infinite cathedral to sustainable life. I could imagine the trees as columns and a vast and ordered expanse if the remains of its fallen warriors and their limbs, each vanished and unrecorded. Like sarcophagi, or barrows, not chance amalgamation but reverent and shapely structures.

from-the-grass-circleThe woods and path from the edge of the grass circle

The arrival of Logs for Labour and Karl and Miranda have given us all a chance to realise this vision within a few years. A reverent space dedicated to the travellers who came and buried their eminent dead 5,000 years ago, a peaceful and enhanced aesthetic experience for those gazing beyond the Knights into the Wood, and a surprising and willed preparation for access or departure in a state of reflection and quietude…. Maybe about life, maybe about death, maybe about the invisible many who came this way before and will come after, long after we are gone, when the structures are only real again in photographs.

But, for a time, a sudden glimpsing of the green lady and her crook, a sense that there is a dragon asleep beyond the Knights, a ziggurat in a clearing; a thoughtful progression of elaborate and exquisite habitats of impossible elegance framing a rising wood, a temple of life itself, which will one day gleam all through, from stile to stile of the footpaths to above the Whispering Knights, with the extraordinary vast blaze of the sun setting on the ancient Ridgeway and its glorious and eternal stones.

I wanted to add that plants and trees feel pain when they are cut so that was why I decided that those limbs and bodies sacrificed for the health and longevity of Bright Hill Wood should be treated like those of fallen warriors.

8 thoughts on “On the idea of the woodland and how the project developed

  1. Oh my i got quite goosebumpy. The *spirit of place* of the land is in good and empathetic hands and i truly loved reading this. I have an inkling that this idea will cross the pond to our woods because the reverence and consciousness element to me seems incredibly important. Thank you Miranda for sharing this project which i was enthralled with from the start. There is a very strong sense of caretaker in me and while a different land the evidence of indigenous Indians using this land is obvious in the large grinding stones and bowls (metate) we have found…. i will let you know… i am quite excited about this. I am not sure how to begin!

    1. It’s great that you feel like this too – I was absolutely blown away when it was explained to me and had to sit down for a while.

      Shortly, I’ll post about how the mounds are done. Can’t wait to see what you do in your woodland!

  2. Stunningly written, I felt as though I were walking through a forest of time, and a forest of life and death and life again. I live in the US now but grew up in Greece where there is a similar deep connection to those who passed before. It is a consciousness of time and place, both for the humans and for the other Earthlings that passed before; the plants, stones, animals, all seen as sacred in a way that this modern American culture I witness now does not. Very little is sacred here, and that which is sacred, usually on Native American grounds or parks, must be fought for and protected with claw, law, and tooth.

    My eyes teared up when I read about Claire’s mother passing and the building of the large barrow.
    Thank you for this.

    1. Thank you, Pauline. It’s good to see that other people are getting this beautiful project and I’m glad you commented to say that. I am so glad I came across this work and even more glad that I can be a part of it.

  3. Congratulations Claire and Stephen, I love the idea that you’ve revived an ancient tradition – linking the past with the present in an ecologically friendly way. I ‘ve always believed that trees are the souls of the forest and so, knowing that someone will take good care of them, sounds good to me.

    1. Thanks for commenting, Melissa. Another person gets it! This is so pleasing!

  4. Those airy boughs, that caught and held the sun
    Now guard your mother’s shade, piled one by one.

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