The tree in the wood

You know the old hackneyed expression about not seeing the wood for the trees? Well this week the Archaeologist and I set out on a quest to find one tree (actually two) in a wood. The wood in question is Woodfidley, in the New Forest. For those who are not familiar with the New Forest it is not new – it is over 900 year old – and it is not a forest in the sense of a dense covering of trees. new forest mapThere are trees but there’s more bog and heather and open heathland. The trees tend to be in Inclosures of which Woodfidley is one. The New Forest is situated in southern England between Southampton and Bournemouth and covers about 100 square miles. It is now a National Park.

I spent my formative years growing up there when we moved to Sway, just on its edge, in 1970 and the family home was there until my mum died (in 2010).

During those early years we (Dad, the Archaeologist and me) tramped the heath and heather covering miles and miles. Usually there was a purpose. One day, forty years or so ago, and prompted by the Archaeologist reading some pamphlet or dusty book he picked up in a second hand bookshop  no doubt, we went to find Woodfidley Man. That’s him below.

woodfidley man

Woodfidley man – sadly stolen from the Web and not our original

This image was carved into a beech tree in the middle of the nineteenth century by the workers building the railway that still crosses the Forest alongside Woodfidley. From the mid 1840s throughout the next 40 years various railways across the New Forest were planned and some built. Only one remains; this one. Here’s what the Archaeologist told me about it:

The line was built in 1844 – 47 between Dorchester and Southampton. It was nicknamed Castleman’s corkscrew, after Edward Castleman who was the main promoter of the line. Corkscrew because it twisted across the New
Forest to avoid the main areas of woodlands, or because it twisted across Dorset to link up as many towns as possible.

Back in the 1970s we found the tree (plus one with his comrade, a man with a bowler). Sadly this time our hunt didn’t succeed, but we did find a number of other contemporary carvings. As we had some time (after a very fine lunch) we headed to Sloden Inclosure near Fritham in the north of the Forest to see if we could find one of the Roman pottery kilns that dot the Forest. Did we? You’ll have to read on.

Woodfidley first. To find Woodfidley we parked next to Beaulieu Road station, an odd place as there’s hardly anything there. Why does it exist, you wonder? It’s because here, once a year, the Commoners sell their ponies at auction (and other horse flesh). This is an advert for the sales this November. New Forest ponies still exist, not that I’ve ever had much fondness for the walking dog food. Here’s a piccie from our walk. Say ‘Ahh’ and move on.

2014-10-09 15.44.02

Hmm. Not at all user friendly, is my experience.

Together with Spud the Archaeologist’s dog, the Archaeologist, the Maternity Nurse and I headed off alongside the railway. We passed the Bishop’s Dyke, reputedly having been built around an area given to the Bishop of Winchester by the Edward 1 in 1289. Local legend has it the Bishop was granted what he could crawl around in a  day.Heywood Sumner Bishop's Dyke This map, drawn in 1914 by local archaeologist Heywood Sumner shows its dimensions. It isn’t clear what was its original use. A hunting ground for snipe, a deer park? The earthwork is still there in places even if the railway slices through it. Here are some pictures of the walk to Woodfidley, including when we crossed the dyke

We split up, trying to cover as many beech trees as possible. Some had fallen; maybe the ones we were after were amongst them. Here’s the sort of thing we found


see how the script has grown over the years

And here’s a selection of other carvings:

Interesting and all that but not quite the full cigar. So, not being of the sort to be daunted, we had a pub lunch and headed up to Sloden Inclosure. Here’s another extract from Heywood Sumner on Sloden Inclosure and the Roman potteries.

Heywood Sumner Sloden

Heywood Sumner Sloden

It was wet by now and we battled along the ridge line to the wood. Once inside the Archaeologist sniffed out a dip in the ground and set us looking for places where the earth had been disturbed. It took about half an hour but eventually, by a tree root, some animal had been digging and we found some spoils from broken pots. Here are pictures of the walk to the wood, and, at the end some of the pottery shards we found.


And the pottery, both in situ and cleaned up

I find it extraordinary to think the last time these pieces were touched by human hand the Romans controlled England. 2000 years ago. Mind boggling. Tummy tingling. Fingers like mine.

I must take a moment to thank the Archaeologist for his company, guidance and constant education; the Maternity Nurse for ditto and dousing the Archaeologist’s enthusiasm when it began to get out of hand and Spud for being Spud. Our walk ended on a bummer; parked in the Forest car park miles for anywhere, while we headed off to the kilns, some hoodlum broke the car window and snatched a bag. One of those dark clouds that sometimes pass even on the finest of days.

About TanGental

My name is Geoff Le Pard. Once I was a lawyer; now I am a writer. I've published several books: a four book series following Harry Spittle as he grows from hapless student to hapless partner in a London law firm; four others in different genres; a book of poetry; four anthologies of short fiction; and a memoir of my mother. I have several more in the pipeline. I have been blogging regularly since 2014, on topic as diverse as: poetry based on famous poems; memories from my life; my garden; my dog; a whole variety of short fiction; my attempts at baking and food; travel and the consequent disasters; theatre, film and book reviews; and the occasional thought piece. Mostly it is whatever takes my fancy. I avoid politics, mostly, and religion, always. I don't mean to upset anyone but if I do, well, sorry and I suggest you go elsewhere. These are my thoughts and no one else is to blame. If you want to nab anything I post, please acknowledge where it came from.
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13 Responses to The tree in the wood

  1. Archaeologist says:

    Brother, what are ‘chards’, charred is what you do to sausages, Chard is the town in Somerset where the aeroplane was invented. I think you mean shards.


  2. Cindi says:

    Fascinating walk. I’m like you; I think about the history of what I’m touching or seeing. The tree “graffiti” expanding as the tree grows, the shards of pottery: so intriguing!

    Liked by 1 person

  3. willowdot21 says:

    Great post as ever Geoff, really interesting and informative ! well done not finding the trees you went for plan B and found the pottery ….. I wander what did the digging for you . I am sorry to hear the day was sullied by some idiot I hope they did not get away with anything too expensive…. I actually I hope it was full of dirty washing and stale sandwiches!


  4. Annecdotist says:

    Sorry your Big Adventure had such an anticlimax but hurrah for going on your tree hunt.
    BTW, chards AKA Swiss chard is similar to spinach and less prone to bolting. Don’t you grow it?


  5. Charli Mills says:

    Very cool, Le Pard Brothers! I’ve been anticipating this post and though the beech art was not found, seeing 150+ year-old scripts and initials is exciting to me! The shards were bonus! I get nerdy over finding late 19th century glass chunks in gopher holes around Elmira Pond and you have 2,000 year-old remnants. WOW! To hold those in hand, I can just imagine. Great adventure that not even a dark cloud can dampen.

    Liked by 1 person

  6. Fascinating, Geoff. Sadly, unless I get new knees, I’m probably not up to this walk now

    Liked by 1 person

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