Saturday, 31 January 2009

A combe wood

A chalk water stream running off the downs through this magical little wood
(photo taken looking down from a small bridge)

Bracket fungi growing off the side of an old tree
Today, the last day of January, I went out for a ramble with a small group of fellow walkers. Our walk started by Morgan's Hill and took us downhill to the peaceful hamlet of Calstone Wellington - clusters of snowdrops out along the sloping path from the old church. We headed towards the stunning Calstone Coombes taking in, on our way, a magical little wood tucked away in one of the deep combes. A chalk water stream flowed along the combe bottom, the water running straight off the Downs. Moss covered branches and fallen trees, fungi growing in profusion and last year's leaves still soft underfoot, gave the wood an enchanted air. I wonder if Edward Thomas was walking here when he was inspired to write his poem, The Combe.
The Combe was ever dark, ancient and dark,
Its mouth stopped with bramble, thorn, and briar;
And no one scrambles over the sliding chalk
By beech and yew and perishing juniper
Down the half precipices of its sides, with roots
And rabbit holes for steps. The sun of Winter,
The moon of Summer, and all the singing birds
Except the missel-thrush that loves juniper,
Are quite shut out. But far more ancient and dark
The Combe looks since they killed a badger there,
Dug him out and gave him to the hounds,
That most ancient Briton of English beasts.
Edward Thomas (1878-1917)
Edward Thomas had a great love of nature and the countryside, especially around Wiltshire. He wrote the biography of Richard Jefferies plus other successful books and poetry before enlisting to fight in WWI. He was killed in action at the age of 39.
Note: Combe is also spelt Coomb. The National Trust have spelt it as Coombes. With reference to the stream, a friend who knows Calstone very well has told me that I may have found the Calstone Springs ..... I must go back for a more thorough forage.