Mellis: Thornham Walks

6 miles (9.5 kilometres) from Walnut Tree Farm and back. August, sun. With child and silly dog.

TL;DR geocaching, woods, walled garden & wasps

I am more and more convinced of the truth of camping – because we are all in transit through life

Roger Deakin, Notes From Walnut Tree Farm

I have the very good fortune to be living in Roger Deakins’ railway carriage, for just a week. The weather is still hot and sunny but we have the moat to cool off in if we like after a long walk. I have nothing to do but be here now and watch as August burns into September.

The sun wakes us as it comes pouring through the open door, but we’ve slept till late. So far we’ve slept late every morning, I have at least. I think it’s because the door is always open but the curtain keeps the carriage dark so we sleep in tune with the night temperature and warm up gently. After breakfast we set off down Cowpasture Lane.

In the 1960s Deakins fought for the trees on this ancient drovers road, the landowner wanted to cut them all down. Deakins won in the section adjacent to his land but after the train crossing you can see where the trees were cleared on a short section, and the wildlife corridor was broken, until the trees begin again further down.

Here’s a link to Patrick Barkham’s map from The Oldie when he walked Cowpasture Lane, where he wrote up a lovely history.

There’s a ton of geocaches in this neck of the woods and we found plenty, with plenty left on the side paths to do tomorrow, or the next day, whenever. We say hello to the friendly horses and make a side quest to another cache at Thornham Parva, and I’m very happy we did. Lovely son lagging behind eating his own weight in blackberries, I find a fabulous thatched Anglo-Saxon church, with an altar retable dating from 1330, and 14th century wall paintings, some faded away but some still clear. And a geocache, after looking under the wrong post for far too long.

We’re in the Thornham woods now which are open to the public to wander about for miles in, which we happily do. We both seem to feel happiest in amongst trees. “To enter a wood is to pass into a different world in which we ourselves are transformed.” (Wildwood: A Journey Through Trees) and we are transformed into foragers as we collect some acorns in their cups. It’s a poor walk we don’t come back with something, and when summer is beginning to cool we need some very deep pockets, and the house fills up with bowls of nuts and seeds. But it’s still too early for conkers.

We spot a tiny deer, it must be a muntjac with its antlers curving back. It’s in the trees watching us closely but on our way back we see him again, confidently standing on the path. Silly dog hasn’t even spotted him which is just as well. At night we can hear him barking from our wagon, unearthly at midnight.

Then we come to the walled garden, it’s a secret little gem of a garden with the late summer red hot pokers blazing against the red brick wall. There’s a stall with fruit and veg grown in the garden so we bag some grapes for the journey. It feels like a lifetime since I used to eat green grapes with seeds, there wasn’t another kind where I grew up. Lovely son has never had the pleasure of spitting the pips, he becomes adept quickly, but that’s because he eats grapes faster only than blackberries.

We wander the woods some more, spitting pips and geocaching but we are drawn without any resistance to the café. It’s a perfect pitstop until the wasps come because lovely son loves all of nature except wasps. It’s the time of year when wasps crave sugar so I try a couple of lures with elderflower cordial and sugar, and we try table hopping but there’s no getting away from the wasps. Lovely son grabs bits of food from the plate and runs back and forth. The wasps are causing no bother but he won’t believe it so we finish up and leave.

We decide to scoop round the woods for some more geocaches, getting scratched as we bark up the wrong tree and eventually reach Cowpasture Lane again. Who in his right mind would want to demolish all these trees? Then I notice something that had completely passed me by before, along the missing treeline at regular intervals are newly planted saplings sticking out of tight skirts. Someone has planted trees here again and it feels good.

There’s one way to cool down after a walk in the hot weather and it’s a magical and privileged one. We strip into swimming gear and get into the moat at Walnut Tree Farm with the pondskaters, dragonflies and duckweed, and it is glorious.

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Walk info

There’s no need to GPX this route, it’s a simple trek down to the woods, you can even navigate the way to Thornham Parva church with the geocaching app, or follow the church trail signs. Once you reach Thornham Woods, or Thornham Walks, you’re free to wander.

If you’d like to read more about woods, or Deakins’ life at Walnut tree cottage, head over to Hive for Notes from Walnut Tree Farm and Wildwood.

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