The third and final of three Tales of the Wilderness, in anticipation ofWilderness Festival,where Toast will be curating the Lakeside Spa this August.
Extract from Wildwood by Roger Deakin.
The House-sheds: Camping
I slept in the shepherd's hut last night after an evening swim in the moat, now beginning to weed up, under an almost-full moon. It was so bright, you could hardly call it proper darkness at all. At ten to four I was awoken by a blackcap hopping along the tin roof, then striking up the most exquisite warbling, at first utterly solo in the half-light, soon joined by other birds. It sang its heart out, moving about the roof now and then between phrases or cadenzas to a new vantage point, eventually ascending into the ash tree that overhangs the hut and the pond beside it. You hear everything in the hut: the foxes barking down the lane, even the rabbits thumping their hind legs on the ground sometimes. Easing myself up on one elbow about twenty past four, I inched back the curtain and surveyed the meadow. Yellow pools of buttercup, and here and there a pyramidal orchid, or a lush, intensely purple patch of the southern marsh orchid, the huger flowers stacked and layered like wedding cakes. A crow was flying in big circles above the pasture, climbing steeply, then gliding down for pure pleasure.
I dozed back to sleep, but was awoken by a most violent rumbling and shaking of the whole hut, then a sound of loud scratching. For a moment I thought a cat must have leapt in, somehow, through an open window and on to my bed. Then, looking through an open window in some alarm, I realised what it was: a roe-deer rubbing herself against one corner of the hut, inches away from my pillow. A clamour of hooves as she and two others bounced off through the standing hay. The birdsong was by now too loud for sleep, so I adjourned to the house across the dew for breakfast.
I'm lying in the shepherd's hut on a wooden bed under a boarded roof like a pine tent, between walls panelled with pine, tongued and grooved horizontally. Each time a nail has pierced the deep amber wood it has bled a black rusty stain that has crept along the grain and blurred, as though the wood or the wagon itself were travelling at speed. A woodpecker shrieks across the field. A wasp worries the windowpane, then zigzags above the bed and eventually blunders into the outer air. The open door frames a wall of green: the hawthorn, maple, blackthorn hedge, the dipping wands of an ash, nettles, graceful flowers of grasses. All stir in the hot breeze. Dust motes flicker and drift in the window-light. In the far corner, the stainless-steel stove pipe rises like a new stem from the rusty little stove. On the other side of the doorway is the pine corner-cupboard I bodged out of skip-wood containing spare blankets and Bushmills for cold nights. Across the common, cows have been lowing all night. Perhaps the weather will change. I sleep coffined in pine.
Why do I sleep outdoors? Because of the sound of the random dripping of rain off the maples or ash trees over the roof of the railway wagon, or the hopping of a bird on the wet felt on the roof, or the percussion of a twig against the steel stove-chimney. Out there, I hear the yawn of the wind in the trees along Cowpasture Lane. I feel in touch with the elements in a way I never do indoors.
Sleeping one time in Burgate Wood on the moated island of the old hall, I put my cheek against the loam and the cool ground ivy. When I closed my eyes I saw the iceberg depths of the wood's root-world. Walking there, picking my way through the trees, I had thought of it as perpendicular until I lay down and entered the ground-world. This is the part of a wood that only reveals itself occasionally after a big storm, when the trees have keeled over and the roots are thrown suddenly upright, clutching earth and stones. How deep do roots go?