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Veteran Oak – Compton Dundon

We set off at 1pm on New Year’s Day. Two humans with one intention, to wind a meandering path through the Wintering undergrowth to the summit of Dundon hill.

We were immediately drawn off piste, away from the thick mud of the path, and into the woodland’s edge.

The going was far easier in the woods, a blanket of ivy covered the floor and the undergrowth was sparse enough to pick ourselves a path through the initial section of ash trees, crossing occasionally onto the trails of furry little creatures and following them for as far as they would carry us.

As we proceeded through the woods, a large figure approached us. A distinctive silhouette with a large fat trunk and long winding branches, going this way and that. This was the silhouette of a notable oak if ever I’ve seen one. As he drifted closer it was confirmed, an oak with prolific burl growth around its base and reduced to its lower canopy with fallen leaders, decades old, surrounding it. We seem to have a knack for sniffing them out, or perhaps they are guiding us in!

Now, halfway up the hill, we found ourselves hidden amongst a plantation of old hazels. Hazel coppices are spooky places, especially in the Winter time when the hazel’s long arms are bare and reaching out like huge spiders. This one was made all the more eerie by the giant serpent clematis vines climbing leafless from coppice to coppice, dangling their long bodies on the ground. Despite our unease, we proceeded, stopping to climb into one or two of the coppices, standing upright and straight faced in the navel of the hazel in a feigned attempt to mimic the tree.

In the naval of the Hazel


Scarlet Elf Cup

Picking our way through the mixed woodland, we came across one further ancient pollarded oak with a trunk of at least four metres girth, giant field maples, large fallen limbs and uprooted trees, huge cupped hands of ash growing from stools three metres across. In one area, buried amongst the coppices, we were drawn to bright red jewels shining from beneath the fallen foliage, a treasure we did not know we were in search of, the scarlet elf cup.

We emerged from the undergrowth next to the old Holy Well, onto a slope where stand two large horse chestnut trees. Heading onwards and upwards, this time via the stairs to the top of the hill, we approached our destination, the undulating grass landscape inside the ramparts of the old hill fort.

Field Maple Lychen

It’s strange up there, like a place out of time, the sunken grassy landscape is punctuated with islands of mixed woodland, large hawthorns and stands of field maple dripping with lychen, creating meandering walkways so numerous that one is never really sure which way is the way. The landscape is completely different from the woodland surrounding it, and the fields surrounding that and the mood is altered further by large corvid gangs, including ravens, flocking and cawing overhead.

A rim of trees encircle most of the hill, obstructing far reaching views of the surrounding countryside so that we feel enclosed and safe yet a little unnerved. Elevated and exposed yet strangely nestled and comfortable, even reassured by the curtain of nature that shields us from the real world, and allows us to drop into our own little fantasy realm.

This place feels ancient, like the scene from a movie, we can imagine the people going about their business up here, the hustle and bustle. We imagine walking through the main thoroughfare and we stop for a while to sit on the ramparts. We imagine people living up here, how isolated yet well protected they may have felt.

Descending Dundon Beacon

On this New Year’s Day we navigated the hill like it was a labyrinth, taking every unexpected turn we could, we were guided by the trees, always knowing our route and destination was in reliable hands.

At times it felt like we would never make it out of there, the downward journey along the squelching path seemed to take longer than the ascent, like the woodland was somehow altering as we moved through it.

Our arrival at the foot of the hill felt like a dream, always just that little bit out of each, a feeling of complete lostness in the woods, just as my companion yells, “oh, I remember that hole”, and we realise we made it!

Photography credit: Eloise Price.

Misty Tor – Stone Down

Walks during the past month have been carefully selected and of a high quality. They have included morning Tor walks to enjoy the mists, visits to the Avalon Oak and the maiden ash trees on Stone down, loops out around the back of the Tor to visit the woodland. A special exploration on the slopes of Paradise lane, venturing into un-walked territory and meeting the portal ash, an ash tree with a large wound in its trunk that is large enough to be a doorway.

I am grateful that this month has been quite restful, or at least slow paced, January feels like a little rock for us to shelter beneath while we wait for certain movements of nature that signal Spring is creeping over the horizon.

I have been focused on setting intentions and planning for the forthcoming year, resulting in the following todo list: This year I intend to restart the tree identification workshops, initiate walks in Wells, get a catalog of nature photos online to sell, produce a nice early 2023 calendar, and release a 5 track album of recent songs. This is alongside current events, tree walks in Glastonbury, guided tours for tourists and Abbey walks. Wish me luck!

In the meantime, enjoy the visual diary below which includes highlights from recent walks, and a recent demo recording of Meet Me Over There, the first track on my forthcoming release, For The Fire, which is now available to pre-order on BandCamp.

Meet Me Over There – Demo

A rough take of track 1 of my new E.P. For The Fire.

Buy Track

Tor Sunrise Silhouette

Waiting Photographers

Tor Steps – Mist through Ash

Tor Sunrise with Gate

A Visual Diary – Jan 2022

Matt Witt

Author Matt Witt

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