Wilderness Wood to be precise – in East Sussex – and a delight. Privately owned and run, open to the paying public with trails, barbecues to hire, timber furniture for sale, grow-your-own Christmas trees, a barn with shop and cafe. And a continuing source of pleasure to this blog and its family.
We have walked in the Wood on a nearly weekly basis for more than a decade. The wife happily made an exception to her golden rule of not wandering about in woods on her own. We’ve burnt our burgers and sausages on the industrial scale bbq’s as a family and we’ve burnt them again in a larger social group. Sankersblog has sat it out in the tearoom while others walked, when recovering from major heart surgery, and has eased himself round on crutches after knee replacement (this blog, you may claim, is past its best).
Key family decisions have been made while wandering in Wilderness Wood — does the frank exchange of views I overheard recently over the phone mean that the wife is about to change her job, is it time for the chief blogger to take early retirement, where are we holidaying this year, which cake shall I have? We have seen deer. And, I think, a dormouse. Well, it was small and cute and we hadn’t brought it with us.
But the family member most in tune with the ambience and changing seasons at the wood was Molly, the black Labrador. Ears flapping, nose truffling enthusiastically through the fallen leaves, competing with the robins for a meagre crumb outside the cafe, rolling in the mud under the small footbridge by the Blair Witch hut. (I think it’s officially called Streamside Wild Cookout but we used to frighten the bejasus out of our daughter by asking her how much we’d have to pay her before she’d agree to spend a whole night on her own down there).
Molly would expect a stick to be thrown and, in the time honoured way, would – in theory – chase it down. She was however totally useless at finding what you’d just hurled. Bags of enthusiasm, absolutely no aptitude. To compensate, she would instead reappear with a sizeable branch between her teeth, struggling to extricate it from the undergowth. As the walk continued, the scale of these branches would grow steadily and, by the time we were heading back past the Tree of Life (as we christened the mighty beech) towards our well deserved cup of tea, Molly would be trimming passers-by at the knee with a substantial log and we would be shouting our warnings and frequent apologies.
Molly went to meet her doggy maker a year or two back, just short of 14 years old. Mrs A, who, being a vet, knows about these things, said her ashes (Molly’s, not her own) should be laid in her favourite place. The fridge, then? Apparently not; her ashes could really only go down by the Blair Witch hut. So Family Ankers walked slowly and sadly down the trail towards Molly’s muddy haven, bearing the tin containing her remains. But, as we approached the intended final resting place, we were dismayed to find what – by the prominence of a white bridal gown and chaps in tails — was clearly a wedding party occupying the space we felt was rightfully Molly’s on her special day. The wife ventured that we would have to dispose of the ashes at some other location but this blog is made of sterner stuff and pressed on through the throng bearing the tin onto the footbridge. No doubt, if approached, I could have dabbed a little ash onto the odd forehead and hinted at some dark local custom. I stood on the bridge, opened the tin and tossed the ash into the breeze, sadly failing to note the wife’s shouted warning about wind direction. I received Molly’s earthly remains full in the face and hair like something from a sitcom and for some days afterwards noted a grey sheen in the bath and shower — I just knew Molly would never leave me.
I do wonder just how our presence in the background of the wedding photos is explained away.
We still visit the Wood, and we still go down to the footbridge where Molly now presumably plays her own small, muddy, malodorous part in the ecosystem. Bless.