Most evenings I take a walk through an ancient oak wood that hugs the shoreline along to Glenan Bay. When you scramble up the rocks from the beach into the trees you enter a slightly darkened world; a hushed one. Stop and listen, though, and you hear it. The leaves whisper to one another and the boughs gasp and groan. The undergrowth chatters. Wasps buzz like zippers and flies hum as they dance slow, sleepy waltzes. The smell is as mulchy and fragrant as a botanical garden, heavy with myrtle and bracken. You can’t avoid the boggy patches that, even in the driest of summers, suck at your boots then release you with a satisfying squelch and a niff of compost.
Icelanders talk about seeing little people in their landscape and you can imagine this here among the twisting roots, the lichen-splashed stumps and the boulders that sit, draped in mossy blankets, where the glaciers dumped them that incomprehensible time ago. The oaks have giant girths and gnarled branches. They create a dense canopy, but the evening light seeks out the gaps and dapples the ferny floor.
The path through this wood isn’t on the map. Nor are those places along the way that mean so much to me, like the long, low bough – as strong and supple as a limb – that we’d swing on as kids and the halfway burn with its clear, cool water. In The Wild Places, Robert Macfarlane writes about people being deepened and dignified by their encounters with particular wild places; not the soaring mountains and vast moors that we associate with wilderness, but rather the small, nameless places, like the halfway burn, that become special to us by acquaintance. He quotes Ishmael in Moby Dick: ‘It is not down on the map; true places never are.’
My vegetable patch is coming along a treat, and I’ve harvested my first crop: the trusty radish. I should be able to pick some gooseberries soon too – stewed in a little cider, pulped through a sieve and mixed with fennel, honey and mustard, they’ll make a tasty sauce to go with my freshly caught and grilled mackerel. The French and runner beans aren’t doing so well. They took a battering in last month’s gales and haven’t recovered. But – very excitingly – I’ve got a plot in the local community polytunnel where I’ll be able to grow some of the less hardy crops and, fingers crossed, meet some nice hippies.