I arrive in a summer storm. The landscape is blurred with rain; rain that is like a Flamenco, drumming away the sticky heat. I came here a year ago for a work event and never expected to return. A year ago, I found secrets here, in the shade of Tocil Wood.
This is a place buffeted by trees and run through with water. And it’s a place of fowl: a gaggle of Canada geese grazing on the grass, mallards, moorhens, coots and Greylags. Geese honks are like clanging buckets in the distance. I expect a colourful meadow of poppies, buttercups, ox-eye daisies and viper’s bugloss, in contrast to the greens and whites still dominant further north. But the meadow is gone, replaced by the construction site for a new building. I can see only a cluster of ox-eye daisies and buttercups fringing a muddy pool of water behind metal barriers.
This meadow path was the track that led me to a small swing in an enchanted glade, but if the meadow is gone, perhaps the enchantment will be gone too. I find another way around, into the watery landscape, through oaks dripping with rain. There was a broken tree here last year. It formed an arch that beckoned me on, but the arch too has vanished.
I struggle to find the track to the glade. There appears to be no way in, but it’s just a matter of easing the eye into the shapes of the undergrowth. I push through and there is the swing, still hanging in the darkness of the dell. Lying right beneath it is a single blackbird feather, like a welcome. I take it with me.
I walk further into the shaded glade. It was always a dark spot, but today it is fogged with rain. The ground is slippery: thick red mudstone that has been gathered for clay here since the 1st century. Part of the steep slope has been roped off. But a little further in, two more swings have appeared. The first seems to have been made by the same hand as the original, fashioned from slatted wood and rope. The second is bright blue plastic. Both wait, empty, for small bottoms to fill them.
And though my original arch through the trees has gone, there are others here, trees bent and twisted, beckoning me along the tracks. One leads to a den that has been created in the trees. A child’s toy lies forgotten, colourful plastic among its dead branches. There are ropes fixed into the hillside. This unlikely spot has become a place to play. A slightly wild place, the kind we might wish to have inhabited as children. I follow the path further into the trees. The ground is choked with young ivy and campion, there are oaks and hazels and fallen trees. I emerge damp but satisfied to have reclaimed a little of the magic.
Later, I return to the woods. I find the clearing of trees that I discovered a year ago. Another secret space in the forest that spoke of enchantments and stories yet to be revealed. I wonder if the heron at the edge of the pond is the same bird that guarded the threshold to the woods last year. A place has many stories. In one story it remains the same as the first time we met it. In another, builders put up barriers and change its landscape. In yet another, children take over and make it a place of play. My story of Tocil Wood is all of these and none of them. I was only here for a moment but I am part of the story too.