I wasn't planning on a walk this morning, and I have somewhere else to be in an hour and a half, but currently we have sunshine, and you take that when and where you find it at the moment. So I'm off to see how much of Frith Wood I can explore in an hour and a half.
Frith Wood, aka Morley-Penistan Nature Reserve, really deserves longer than that. It's both a wood and an edge, being right on the ridge of the hill between the Slad and Painswick valleys and spilling down the slope on the Slad side. At the entrance to the wood it really does feel like an edge, because through the network of branches you can see right down into Painswick village on one side and into the upper end of our valley on the other. It has for a long time been one of my favourite views of Painswick and its church.
Decision time - I'm now at the point where two main paths separate. Frith wood is curiously shaped like a pair of trousers with a gap in the middle and one leg shorter than the other. And like the famous Trousers of Time, once you've committed yourself to one trouser leg, you can't get across to the other one. I decide to stay at the top of the ridge on what, according to the reserve leaflet, used to be the old drover's road, because that seems more 'edgy'. As in 'along the edge', let me point out, not as in 'exciting' - I'm not expecting excitement this morning.
Here's the thing about Frith Wood. Every time I come here, I get slightly lost. I don't know what it is about these paths, but they lead you astray. I am no longer on the drover's road, and I'm not sure how it happened. I rather think I'm on the next path down the hill, but I'll find out eventually. Coming to another fork in the path I choose the right hand one for no better reason than that there's more sunshine in that direction. It's very quiet and still. A buzzard flaps heavily away from me from one of the trees ahead. The occasional leaf flutters down. Everything is wet and gleaming with networks of fine drops on strands of spiders web. There's that lovely feeling you get after the rain finally stops and everything takes a deep breath. The paths are ankle deep in mud but that's pretty normal, this being one of the more popular areas in the valley for walkers, especially dog walkers, and riders. Can't you just tell that it's been a very wet year - late in the season though it is, everything is green and damp and covered in moss.
Sunlight edges the leaves and branches in a way which always makes me want to reach for the camera - the results are rarely what I hoped for but hope springs eternal. It's so fascinating what light does. As I walk along with the sun still almost head-on, flickering through the endless small trees on my left, I feel as though I'm inside a zoetrope (which is a thing the Victorians had, a sort of drum with slots in it and a series of images inside; rotate the drum and look through the slots and you get a flickering sense of movement, like a very old and battered film). At another choice of paths I keep going uphill, hoping to rejoin the drover's road at some point.
I've come to the gusset of the trousers now, where the two legs are separated by a field, and follow the upper, and shorter leg. The other thing I learned from GWT was that Frith Wood suffered badly in the hurricane winds of 1987, which is one reason why there are so few big trees in the wood. That's particularly obvious here, where the wood slopes steeply away from me down towards Painswick. The path dips downwards, becoming a mere shelf in the hill, and there are great humps and bumps all over the place which, on closer inspection, could well be the remains of the rootballs of big fallen trees. These are old, but here's a big fallen tree, still intact, which looks as though it came down more recently. Not last night, though, despite us having exciting winds, possibly the tail end of Hurricane Sandy, because it's covered in a drift of beech leaves.
Apart from that, the leaflet doesn't have much to say about this leg of the trousers, as though not much goes on here, and it does have a slightly abandoned air. But I bet it's full of non-human activity - looks like it could be a good corridor for animals, and just as I'm thinking this, here's a big hole underneath one of the ex-tree-humps which looks large enough for rabbits or even foxes. I like the thought that areas we can't find much to say about because humans touch them only lightly are likely to be buzzing with other life.
The path is rapidly dwindling in size and confidence and I suspect I'm coming to the end of the reserve. Suddenly the way is half barred by holly bushes and undergrowth; the path seems to continue, which suggests it's an animal path at this point, so I push through, and come upon a stand of very big and singularly impressive beech trees, which makes me glad I braved the holly prickles. Imagine the whole wood being full of such trees. They cling to the edge of hill, as do I, the path having lost even its shelf now. Not having massive roots, I go more carefully from now on, slipping in drifts of beech leaves. A remnant of iron fence on the ground suggests a possible boundary, so I turn parallel with it and make my way downhill. Suddenly I find myself on a real edge, the edge of a huge bowl-shaped quarry, long abandoned and overgrown, but still essentially a great big hole in the landscape. The bit I'm standing on is quite scarily undercut and there are trees growing right on the edge, roots clinging on for dear life. Lots of ferns are growing in the bowl, but I'm really not going close to the edge to look over. I had no idea this was here, and wonder if I'm still in the reserve, though there's been no obvious boundary.
My particular trouser of time is more of a pair of shorts this morning so I have to retrace my steps now, and save the other trouser for another dry day (assuming there is one, which seems doubtful at the moment). Still, it's been good to get out, and to wander in a part of the wood which doesn't feel as though it has that many human visitors. The sun is now behind me and lighting up the path ahead of me, catching the edges of turned-up beech leaves, so that they glow like the lights on the floor of a plane, guiding my feet to the exit. And here is a lone beech sapling with lots of leaves still clinging to its branches and the sun shining through them - my own small fix of late autumn colour.