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