Saturday, 22 March 2008

disenchanted forest

I have looked across the gorge from Great Doward, on a misty autumn dawn, and heard the stags grunt in the far woods. I have stumbled out of my tent on the Kymin and startled a herd of deer, and watched their white tails bob in the starlight as they bounded over the hedge and away. I have seen peregrines wheel above the cliffs of the Wye. In my imagination, the Forest of Dean is a place where the wild things are, and the scattered human population is scripted by Dennis Potter. And to make sure I didn't dispel the old enchantments, I made sure not to go there, although I've skirted the boundaries plenty.

Until yesterday, anyway. B invited me to join her for a walk, while the boys Went Ape at Mallards Pike. This involves swinging around on aerial ropeways and making Tarzan noises, and is the sort of thing that right thinking children everywhere should do as often as possible.

We left them kitting up, and wandered along one of the many waymarked tracks, trying to get lost. Dogs barked at each other while their owners shouted at the dogs. Family groups on bicycles wobbled dangerously by. Optimistic ducks in hopes of crisps paddled up to picnickers, at the side of the pond that had, the sign said, been created for leisure purposes.

I hate leisure. There is an industry devoted to it, there are clothes designed for it that some people not only buy but wear. This place in the Forest of Dean is apparently dedicated to it. But what is it?

Having posed the question, I'll cop out and not try answering it. It's too early in the day.

I am of course a Very Serious Person, and I have no leisure time. My forays into the wilds are for research purposes only. That or advanced avoidance tactics. So the nagging voice in my head reminding me of unfinished projects is always there, and I can be assured of remaining unleisured.

B and I walk on. Away from the huff and bustle, we begin to catch glimpses of wildness in small places. There are mounds and hollows, where once miners mined, now being swallowed by nature. There are old oaks, and walks off the path. I approve, cautiously.

On the way back to Bristol, we stop at Lydney Harbour. The full moon and the equinox have combined to make a very low low tide, and a huge sandbank is exposed. I've looked at these sandbanks on the Severn Estuary before, and wondered what it would be like to walk on them. Today we find out. There's this odd thing where the sand is rippled and dry, and then you step on it and it magically turns to quicksand underfoot. This can be a whole lot of fun, if it doesn't suck you under. And it didn't.