Secrets of Tocil Wood

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There’s a sense of comfort about the familiar walks that I take.  I know where each path will lead and what I can expect to see on the journey.  I know where I’m likely to find particular plants and animals and there is satisfaction in being able to mark their progress.  But the adventure of the path not yet taken is altogether different.  To know roughly where you are, but not quite.  To know that there are secrets yet to discover, which perhaps even those who live here are not aware of.

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I’m walking to Tocil Wood, a patch of ancient woodland in Warwickshire.  I have a rudimentary map in my head and a maze of buildings and footpaths to negotiate.  I could have asked for directions, but I prefer to see a path and wonder where it will lead, so I head off into the unknown, sure that I’ll find what I seek eventually, but with that slight disquiet of not knowing exactly where I am.  The path I take skirts a pond and is bordered by meadow: a profusion of ox-eye daisies, viper’s bugloss, speedwell and poppies.  Rabbits hop among the flowers and scores of waterfowl rummage around the pool.

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There’s a gap in the hedge ahead of me, so of course I go through it, finding a lush green path bordering a field of young crops.  At its end, a wounded tree forms an archway and what more invitation do I need?  Just as I’d suspected it would, this beckoning leads to a moment of magic.  A secret hollow.  An enchanted, perhaps even slightly sinister place that seems detached from the bright, open world beyond.  The hollow is shady, secluded, riddled with rabbit holes and surrounded by steep banks.  A baby rabbit grazes among the undergrowth.  There is a narrow path in the distance, blocked by trees.  But someone has discovered this place, because on the edge of the hollow a swing has been fashioned from wood and rope.  It hangs, empty, waiting for its maker to return.

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Later, I cross a small meadow of buttercups to reach a lake, fringed with reeds and littered with yellow water lilies.  A grey heron is hunched in the trees by the path that leads into the woods, like a grumpy guardian of the border to this arboreal world.  It’s a world of huge, gnarled oaks and papery hazel coppice: a four hundred year old wood with traces of more ancient earthworks beneath it.  A world of bracken and bluebells.  Of small, winding paths.  There is a brackish stream, straddled by an ivy-cloaked tree that has rooted on both sides of the water.

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I follow narrow paths, deeper into the forest, until I come across a clearing.  A glade sheltered by tall old trees that form a natural circle.  The ground is blanketed with bracken and bluebells, the sun slants in hazy beams.  It is a hushed place, steeped in atmosphere.  A space for magic or devotion.  The clearing has been enclosed by a thorny barricade, perhaps to conserve it, perhaps because if I was to step into it, it would transport me to a fairy realm from which I’d never return.  I long to cross into the clearing, to move between pools of sunlight and the shade of those ancient trees.  Instead, I’m stranded at the border, craving the enchantment that is just out of reach.

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I visit Tocil Wood twice, briefly, between the work commitments I’m here for.  I may never come here again.  But already I’ve found my secrets.  Those little pockets of enchantment that will endure in my memory of the place.  If I was to come again, they would be my pilgrimage places, those pauses that we return to again and again because they spark something inside us.  They’ll become part of my memory map of the places I’ve been, the paths I’ve walked, the things I’ve seen, enriching each recollection.

99 thoughts on “Secrets of Tocil Wood

  1. I was captivated by the title alone, Andrea. I knew there was magic ahead. 🙂
    I think perhaps your aura precedes you, and everything it touches becomes magical. Another wonder-filled, beautiful post.
    (I didn’t know “speedwell” was a plant. There is a tiny town in Tennessee named Speedwell and i never understood how its name came to be. The plant must have grown there…) Mega hugs my friend. Happy solstice.

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  2. I enjoyed that trip. I have seen enough places that are a big similar that you have me going down my own memory lane. Pleasant memories of times I wish I could return to, but know that my current knowledge and experience would make them duller, most likely.
    There is nothing quite like a new place, new experience, new person to get to know.
    Scott

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  3. I love this post, Andrea. Your writing style and those enchanting photos are a pleasure. And like you, I find it had to resist a gap in the hedge, just in case there’s a pocket of enchantment on the other side. It got me into trouble a few times.

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  4. Andrea you carry us with you on that beautiful walk. When I discover such gems as these, they often end up in one of my stories. I imagine that happens to you too. Thanks for sharing the magic, I could almost see the fairies hiding amongst the undergrowth.

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  5. Maybe it’s because I’ve just been reading Tinkers, but the beauty of your words reminds me of it. Places like this are so inspiring and magical. I hope you put that swing to good use too!

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  6. “If I was to come again, they would be my pilgrimage places” – I marvel at how in so few words in this posting you can turn a simple walk into an adventure. You, and the walk, are wonders!

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  7. That is a fine wood . What treasures you found on your visit . I love the nook with the swing just waiting for someone to use it . The spring flowers lept out of the picture . You have encouraged me to find my nearest wood and explore its hidden secrets.
    Cherryx

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  8. That light in wooded places — so hard for me to capture on photographic medium — stays fixed on the memory forever. The last photo is the perfect finale for the journey you’ve taken us on — thank you!

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  9. Thank you for sharing your journey with us – I so enjoyed it. I ‘find’ places like this not infrequently – I sense that they are determined by state of mind rather than the place itself – but then some places have more magic in them than others… 🙂

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  10. Beautiful everything – writing, pictures (particularly the white and blue flowers with the red poppy) and determination to choose the path not taken. Your enchantment with the path creates a rich sense of place.

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  11. Thank you for taking us on this enchanting walk through Tocil woods-something to discover at every turn!! Beautiful images Andrea- I love old oak trees and I love the one of the swing and the light beams slanting down!!

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  12. The names of the flowers and your pictures took me straight back to the unspoiled dreaming country of Shakespeare’s plays and time…
    I wonder if the wood was only four hundred year old or if it had been there since time immemorial…

    so good to know that places like that are still there. I was so shocked at how built- up it had become around Stratford the last time I was there, after decades away…

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    • I’m glad this took you on a trip back in time Valerie, the wood is on the edge of the university campus so there are lots of buildings around there, though you’d never know it when you were in the woods.

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  13. What a wonderful enchanted journey you’ve just taken me on. Very brave of you to go on such an adventure, with the possibility you could become lost. Dogs are so lucky, as they have their noses and set down markers with their wee, so they can normally find their way home!

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  14. This kind of writing I could never do 😀 and the reason why I absolutely love your blog so much Andrea. So poetic, lyrical and enchanting! I’m always amazed at how much you know about the different plants and flowers you come across.

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  15. Andrea we both appreciate wandering and discovering but you describe it so much better than I ever could. I do have the germ of a short story where one might stray a little from the well-trodden path and… well who knows. I’ve never been there but I’m guessing Tocil Wood is one of the highlights that Coventry has to offer 🙂

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  16. There is nothing more magical than a wood. The secrets that we see, the ones we probably pass without quite seeing yet somehow knowing that there is something there. Having our own private places in the silence, fantastic. Something that nourishes your soul and gives you deep memories of nature, you just can’t beat it.

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  17. Andrea, I know it’s going to be a wonderful walk when you take us along with you. I’m wondering why you might not return to this delightful place again. The open meadow of wildflowers is pure enchantment for me. I hope to achieve the natural look in the gardens I’m planning but I had too much going on when it was time to be preparing the beds and was not able to get my seeds in the ground this year. It’s now gotten far too hot for them to come up this season. I do have several wild flowers that came up from last year plus numerous perennials but nothing makes this gardener happier than seeing wildflowers go on forever.

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    • Thanks Sheri, I was down there for a conference and given the continuing budget cuts we’re likely to have over the next few years, it’s unlikely I’ll be doing much more of that. But I’m glad that my experience of it was so enchanting. I hope you get the chance to plant those wildflowers for next year.

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  18. I love how you explore. Having a general idea of where to go but letting the path open up to you and trusting in it. Very cool. Amazing photos. Your words made me feel like I went on this magical adventure beside you!

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  19. I enjoy accompanying you on your walks and discoveries of “pockets of enchantment.” I try to get out every day to walk and delight in the sensory experience of nature. I only wish I could describe these sensations with your eloquence.

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  20. Truly enchanting. “It was the perfect place to have a swing, for here you were as secret and safe as though shut in the heart of a flower. No one could see you and you saw nothing except leaves and birds’ wings, flowers and grasses. No one visited you except the sunbeams or a silver shower of rain, and, sometimes, the lady and the little boy.” from The Bird in the Tree by Elizabeth Goudge.

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  21. Stunning images of the magic woods and field flowers, Andrea. I would love to know the story of that swing… Thank you for sharing your experience in such beautiful words!

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  22. I loved that magical walk, Andrea. Thank you for sharing. I enjoy exploring forests, and I would have been excited to come across that swing. I would have immediately jumped on it. 🙂

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  23. Beautiful writing, as always, Andrea. Unfortunately (and I suspect it’s worse here in the States), some of we humans have lost our wanderlust and, even the desire for footpower (I don’t completely blame the automobile, but . . .) I live in a small rural town, and the post office (such as it is, with very limited hours) is only about a quarter mile from my house, so I am definitely spoiled, but it almost shocks me that I am one of the few people in town who walks to the post. I almost never see any fellow townies going about on the simplest of errands like to the post office (there are relatively safe pedestrian walkways and not too much vehicle traffic).
    In any case, just letting go and trusting oneself to experience nature like you have done here–and regularly, thank you so much, from the readers who get to hike and dream vicariously through your words and photos!–is really incalculably valuable. By the way, how does one pronounce Tocil Wood (like “to sill” or “toe sill” or “to seal” or “to kile” or ????)? Glad you got to see it in between required work!

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    • Thanks Leigh. I grew up without my parents having a car, so I got used to going places by foot or on public transport. We do have a car now but I haven’t driven for a long time – wandering on foot just seems normal to me – and you see so much more! I actually don’t know how you pronounce Tocil – I think of it as toe sill, but it was something I never thought to ask!

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      • Andrea, thank you for sharing your life stories! I didn’t grow up without a car, but in my younger years, in my grandparents’ neighborhood, I would often ‘leg it’ (or bike it) everywhere, so it felt that way (like I was without transport). It’s sad that we have lost that innocence and peripatetic-ness as a species–in some parts of the world, anyway.

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  24. Oh Andrea, I want to go into that Fairy realm! I love walking through the woods and discovering these pockets of enchantment that you describe so evocatively. I felt the atmosphere of wonder and the thrill and excitement of making these discoveries, of holding your breath as you listened to every rustle of the leaves and every snap of a twig. Loved your photos, the swing reminded me of one I had growing up in Suffolk, tied to a tree just like that at the end of our garden. I loved it, and spent hours whiling away the hours, dreaming up all kinds of adventures and visits with the fairy folk. Not forgetting their firefly lanterns, of course 😉 Beautiful post, thank you Andrea for taking me along this deligthful walk.

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  25. Pingback: Return to Tocil Wood | Harvesting Hecate

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