January in an Essex Wood

By Sally Pudney on 13th January 2016

The weather was unexpectedly fine today, and as there is heavy rain and even snow forecast for the next few days, I thought I would seize the opportunity to get started on my 2016 project, ‘Twelve Months in an Essex Wood’.

Well, first, find your wood! I had, so I thought, studied the map well – how wrong can you be! – and thought I knew the way to go after I’d parked the car. I knew there was a long track down to the entrance to the wood, but sadly, I set off down the wrong long track. A helpful woman I met near the bottom of the hill put me onto the right path, and I got into the wood by what she described as the ‘back gate’. She did say ‘I don’t know how muddy it will be . . .’ The answer was VERY.

Hillhouse wood January 4

There had been a cold wind walking up the track, but as soon as I got into the wood, it was quite still, though I could hear the wind humming through the tree tops. The narrow muddy path went steeply down hill, where I crossed over a small stream via a plank and rail bridge. The stream was gurgling along, loud and fast. I tried to stick to the path that goes around the edge of the wood on the south side. When I headed more into the centre of the wood, the mud was thick, yellowish grey and clay-y. The low sun struck through the bare trees lighting up the green bark, and everything was streaked and spotted with the shadows of trunks and branches. I stopped to do some drawing on the sunny path, and also when I crossed another little stream where huge tree roots had created a series of miniature waterfalls.

It was very quiet. I heard the squawk of a jay, and a distant dog barking. A great tit called five times, and then a pause, five times and a pause. Periodically there was a great thrumming of wing beats as a huge flock of wood pigeons took off from a nearby field. Looking up, the hazel trees where covered so thickly with not-quite-out catkins, that they showed as a haze of pale yellow against the blue sky.   I could hear a pair of buzzards called to each other, though I couldn’t see them.

In the centre of the wood is a large open sunny clearing with some impressive old oaks. The bluebells are already pushing up through the leaf litter.


Hillhouse wood January 5

I walked round the perimeter of the wood, and back up the correct path to where I’d left the car. My walking boots were thick with mud. Next time, I’m considering whether wellingtons might be a better choice, and a walking pole. . .


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