Memories of Felley Woods by Barry Harper

I have visited Felley Woods frequently over the last twenty-seven years and wherever I have been in the world my thoughts always return to that beautiful wooded area close to my home in Nottinghamshire.

Memories of the woods have always motivated me when I needed them most. I recollect the sight of the graceful red kites gliding leisurely on the thermals high above the valley near to America’s Farm, and the carpets of beautiful bluebells on the forest floor. I think about the old farm buildings, the disused lime kiln, Haggs Farm, the remains of Beauvale Priory and The Old Hunt Kennels, described by DH Lawrence in ‘Sons and Lovers’ and ‘The White Peacock’. He called it 'The country of my heart'. This area is also close to the ancestral home of the poet Lord Byron who I imagined walking around the footpaths with his faithful dog Boatswain. These literary thoughts have always inspired me.

I have fond summer memories of walking along the dusty footpaths, through woods of sycamore, birch, oak, and beech; I picture and smell the golden sun-drenched wheat gently swaying in the warm breeze. In springtime, I cycle past the spectacular sea of bluebell and dog’s mercury, the blackthorn (sloh) bushes in full flower and the bright yellow fields of oil seed rape. My thoughts of autumn are of beautiful copper and pale yellow leaves covering the forest floor; the nights drawing in, and seeing the trees silhouetted against the backdrop of beautiful sunsets. Winter brings pink and purple sunrises, pine trees laden with snow, cold air, and the sight of bare, bony branches of deciduous trees tossing in the heavy winds.

Early one morning in late March, I walked in the woods, it was misty, and damp underfoot. As I left the footpath to stroll in the knotted undergrowth of the trees I could see that the beech, oak and sycamore were not yet in leaf, but the tall scots pines displayed their bottle green pine needles and chestnut brown cones. It felt peaceful in the stillness and I was comfortable surrounded by nature. I could hear the sound of my footsteps as they scrunched through the damp undergrowth and slid over the mossy fallen logs. Listening intently I heard the screeching staccato voices of bird song, then the flutter of unseen wings. The cool breeze rustled through the higher branches of the mature trees.

There had been heavy rain and the small streams had become swollen, the clear water surging and splashing along the muddy banks, carrying with it woody debris. Plumes of foam appeared where the flow was momentarily impeded by rocks. There was a smell of the distinctive bitter-sweet pine needles, tree bark, and the damp forest, as the mist swirled, creating new shadows and dark patches, revealing sudden clear views of my surroundings. Through the shifting dawn light I saw the lichen on the trees, and the shaded mottled undergrowth. A breeze carried the ripe smell of damp wood and earthy fungus. Suddenly there was a flurry of activity as a large fallen tree branch snapped under my foot, disturbing a family of grey squirrels. Then there was peace and calm once again.

Breaking the silence a large fallow stag deer close by nibbled on the new tasty shoots in the undergrowth. He moved his head up and down and the hot breath steamed from his mouth. As his head moved he revealed his long fawn antlers and I counted twelve points, but one was broken away. His beautiful brown coat, tinged with grey, had a silky sheen, and his muscles rippled along his powerful haunches and sleek torso. The expressive face twitched, as he was disturbed by a noise in the bushes and his great powerful body lurched. Hardly making a sound he faded away into a large glade of birch trees.