Somewhere in the great wood lies a castle. Long ago and beyond memory it may have been a remarkable place. Motte and bailey structure, it lies buried under soft leaf mold leaving only a suggestion of shape. The surrounding forest harbors nuance and guards against discovery. I'm sitting under a tree caught somewhere between now and then, with no idea in which direction lies out.
It was Tom's idea to take a woodland walk after we had taken a moorland walk and I was post my best adventure mode. The wind had blown in our faces from all directions up on the moor and after a a couple of hours of wiping hair out of my mouth, my arms and eyes got weary despite the bracing air and the tantalizing views.
Descending into the woodland dells that make a vague sort of tree line below Dartmoor, we park in an empty National Trust forest lot and go for a walk without a map. Again.
A word about trees. Living in New England as we do, we have a lot of them but as our family farms fail we lose the balance of meadow/tree, meadow/tree of the past 350 years and totter between forest, housing estates and strip mall. Left to themselves, the forests have reclaimed the hard-won clearings made by those yankee farmers and there are some who say that a squirrel can still run branch -to-branch from Maine to Tennessee.
A recent move by the Tories to "privatize" (as in sell off) great tracts of British forest met with resounding opposition by walkers and birders and riders and hunters and resulted in Environment Secretary Caroline Spelman having to drop her bid and issue a public apology.
So a walk in the woods is a fortunate treat and would have been to us as well if we had not been clueless about where the castle path was and had that tiff over which way and gone our separate ways and, unfortunately, lost each other.
I like a nice soft wood. Who doesn't? When Tom heads his way and I head mine neither of us thinks we can get too far out of earshot to holler, "Okay I give up," only Tom does. I lose him within five leaf-stomping minutes. After another five of not hearing his stomps in a crackly wood, I start calling; gently at first and then with all the great lung capacity I inherited as the descendent of opera singers and hotdog salesmen. I hear nothing-- and Tom has the car keys.
After another half hour of slogging through the leaf mold of yesteryear and finding neither Hembury Castle nor my spouse I start that whole Blair Witch Project reel in my head and have trouble shaking it out. These woods are eery. A big black bird which may be a raven plunges through the trees and startles me into a full stop as I watch it caw its way to the sky. There are legends about these woods which if true, mean there are legions of Roman and Danish soldiers buried deeply beneath the soft ground I am treading. Legends lead to ghosts and I am prey to suggestion.
I stop and call again. Where earlier I simply called a gentle enquiry, "Tom? Tom?" now my word choice is less lady-like. I am counting on there being only me, the birds, the squirrels ("skweeralll in Brit-speak) and hopefully Tom, as my voice bellows across the wood and its silent, hidden past.
"What?" Tom neatly pops up just behind me and gets the galvanized jump from me that he had hoped for. I expand on his query ("What?") with some additions to what that make the skweerallls run for cover and we debate who heard whom for a bit before agreeing to strike off for the castle path which we find and follow and walk around a hump in the ground which must be IT and head back to the car park.
Oddly, later as we talk the walk over a pint at the Rock Inn snug in Haytor Vale, Tom insists that he never heard me call until he was right next to me. I am convinced that even the long-dead could hear me and we bat that around for a while until we run out of steam and realize that one of us could not hear the other and wonder why. We also find it compellingly curious that the well-marked path to the Castle was clearly apparent once we had re-discovered each other but seemingly invisible on our first sortie. If we had wandered off the map and into long-ago--how would we know? I for one cross Hembury Wood off my list of must-returns. Tom says he had a delightful walk and will come again next chance.