I am sitting here feeling a bit sorry for myself with a sore throat and a muzzy head that has kept sending me back to bed for the last couple of days. This evening I have manged to get up and sit by the woodburner but I am still feeling dopey and dozy and lethargic. So I thought I would distract myself by telling you about a visit last weekend to a rare and beautiful place.
Coed Nant Gain is a piece of ancient woodland near the village of Cilcain in Flintshire. Its owner, Iliff Symey, has devoted the last twenty five years of his life to caring for this place which he calls "old growth ancient woodland". Ancient woodland in England and Wales is defined as woodland which has been in existence since 1600 or before. This woodland is much more than four hundred years old, possibly thousands of years and certainly stretches back into prehistory. This wood was in existence when the iron age hillforts such as Penycloddiau and Moel Arthur which sit above my farmhouse were occupied way before the Romans came. It sits on the side of steep valley (nant is a brook or small valley in Welsh) so it has not been a wood which is easy to work and this perhaps accounts in part for the way it has been left undisturbed for so long. Read Iliff's article and look at his website which explains the origins of the wood and his approach to its care far better than I could.
The North Wales Wildlife Trust had been looking for volunteers to help with the planting of an ash dome in a natural amphitheatre within the wood. Iliff is concerned to protect the genetic stock which forms his woodland so all the saplings to be used would be lifted from the wood itself and moved to the dome site.
Tree trunks have been laid in a circle to produce natural seating and in the centre of the open circle is an area of flat ground which contains a fire basket. The plan was to add to the ash saplings which were already forming part of an arc around the centre of the amphitheatre to create most a of circle. As they grow the ashes will be woven together to make a dome. The only other dome like this that I know about was created by the artist David Nash If ours looks anything like his in thirty years time that would be wonderful, whether or not I am here to see it.
Working in a wood of this age and planting trees which will be here long after you have gone is oddly calming.
Here is one of my trees. Behind it you can see the stones which came out of the hole. It is good to know that I am not the only one whose land is full of stones.
In front of the amphitheatre the ground falls away steeply to the stream in the bottom of the valley. The wood is full of ash, beech, oak and holly. At this time of year the beech in particular is glorious.
It was a strange day, snatched from ordinary working and followed by too much driving across the country and a rush of work and feeling unwell. I am not sure I have processed it yet. The sight and smell of the wood, the colours, the faint scent of decay, the sound of the leaves underfoot remain with me though.
I am glad there are places like Coed Nant Gain in this country still and people like Iliff obsessive enough to give their lives to their care.