Weaving through the meandering vines. Feeling the gentle leaves surfaces beneath my fingers and the echo of the sweet aroma of the encircling forest. Puzzlewood Forest awakens the senses and gave me the chance to reflect on our role, as humans, to live in harmony with the natural world.
It is the beginning of a new decade; the sun glistens overhead and I can hear the blithe laughter of children behind me as the Shetland ponies welcome them to their home. Before me is a path that meanders off into the territory of the procumbent ivy and to enter this animal kingdom I must pass through the gateway. This gateway comprised of branches and vines that have naturally bent and clung to each other to form a natural archway has been claimed by the ivy king. As I walk through, all sound ceases, and the sun turns into darkness as if a veil separates our world from that of Puzzlewood Forest.
The rocks around are cushioned by the flourishing moss, spongy in its endless expansion across the soil, climbing up the trunks and up to the heavens in every shade from luscious green to dull olive. But really, I am here for the trees, and they are everywhere. Towering pillars with glossy leaves form a canopy high above; a ceiling that allows sunlight to enter only at its edges. This light then selectively illuminates all sorts of roots that twist and knot into elaborate tangles that could easily trip those not paying attention. There's something unnervingly serpentine and alive in them, these usually concealed anchors that now blanket the surface.
In the forest, there are also plenty of trees to see, of all varieties. Some, if not all, can be dated to ancient times and are gloriously aged. Spending but 5 minutes in the company of these trees, you'll find your immediate surroundings riddled in antiquity and have an affinity with magic and the enchanted. They hold a specific thrall in the imagination of those who visit. For me, this comes from the collaboration of the forest with other geological features of strange rock formations, known Scowles and secret caves. These remarkable rocky formations have developed over millions of years as water erosion of carboniferous limestone has created an otherworldly underground cave system that has now been brought to the surface.
During this development, between the Iron Age settlements through to Roman times, these areas were exploited for the extraction of Iron Ore. Talking to a local gardener, I learned that Iron Ore is a very rich fertiliser and an essential element for the growth and development of trees. It is no wonder then that Puzzlewood Forest has been described as both a mystical landscape and a fairy-tale-like environment, and that it has had such a profound influence on authors and film productions.
Forests, in fairy tales and sci-fi movies, stand outside the safe boundaries of the home and are instead places of enchantments with unexpected characters, fearful creatures and hidden dangers lurking in the dark. It is easy to see why J. R. R. Tolkien, upon visiting the forest, was inspired to write this forest into the Lord of the Rings tales. It eventually became the forest of the elves. With a pinch of imagination, I can see these elegant and ethereal beings walk amongst the trees and vines. J. K. Rowling is also said to have been inspired by Puzzlewood Forest and I can easily see myself amidst wizards, centaurs and Aragog in Harry Potter's Forbidden Forest.
Fourteen acres of ancient woodland means I am standing alone with the natural world. It is immensely and overwhelmingly peaceful. With so much deforestation present, Puzzlewood Forest shows that when left to its own devices, eco-systems of flora and fauna can thrive and flourish. It paves the way for how humans and the environment should co-exist, rather than industry set to destroy the natural world.
The air smells slightly damp, but the fallen leaves and trees make it sweet and calming. All around I can hear chicks murmur in the close distance and the occasional confident leap of the local squirrels. I'm sitting now on a wooden ledge beneath the expansive trees. I can see a robin dance around the shrubbery. I realise I am completely alone and yet within the company of thousands of unknown creatures. I feel a pang of sadness that the rest of the world cannot live in such harmony with all the earth's living creatures but in this moment; I am also staggered by the endurance and longevity of Puzzlewood, meaning I am content to remain in this dream for eternity.
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