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Form - Ancient Woodland

When you spend time in an ancient woodland, not only can you feel the absence of noise, but also time seems to stop, or becomes something distant. You can almost feel the creep of growth beneath your feet and overhead. I spend a lot of time in woodland, in ancient woods such as Strid Wood in Yorkshire, strips of peripheral woodland along waterways, or fully managed forested areas of pine. 

"There is pleasure in the pathless woods, there is rapture in the lonely shore, there is society where none intrudes, by the deep sea, and music in its roar; I love not Man the less, but Nature more". Lord Byron

All share the same sense of being apart from the outside world when you are in the thick of it. I don't think it is as simple as feeling peaceful as there always seems to be a raw edge, a sense of bewilderment (late 17th century definition: from be- ‘thoroughly’ + obsolete wilder ‘lead or go astray’, of unknown origin). I rarely stay on the 'paths', which are occasionally marked out by a dot of spray paint by helpful walkers. No surprise that many of our myths and legends, fairy tales and horror stories are set in the deep, dark woods.

Tree in Strid Wood, North Yorkshire

For eerieness and other worldliness, however, ancient woodland cannot be beaten. Twisted limbs of tree branches, plush deep pile carpets of lichen, rocky outcrops and monolithic boulders, golden catkins like tree decorations at Christmas, sharp and impenetrable holly bushes and the ever present rustle underfoot, a twig snapping ominously...

Twisted tree branches Callis Wood, Hebden Bridge

You will see changes formed over time by turbation and erosion, the movement of water shaping rocks and new ways, weather patterns affecting growth, invading species changing the habitats. 

Moss on tree branch, Strid wood Yorkshire

“For me, trees have always been the most penetrating preachers. I revere them when they live in tribes and families, in forests and groves. And even more I revere them when they stand alone..." Herman Hesse
By the river Strid Wood, North Yorkshire

You can see signs of transformation such as the coppiced trees, human built structures hiding beneath layers and layers of lichen, leaf mulch and ivy, and sometimes prehistoric evidence such as carved stones e.g the scheduled monument in Calverley Woods, West Yorkshire.

Dents in rock Callis Woods Hebden Bridge

A large boulder in Callis Woods, Hebden Bridge - not a cup and ring marked rock. These indentations were probably caused by quarrying, a further reminder of human impact in the woodland; or possibly by water pooling over time before the boulder tumbled.

‘Ancient Woodland’ refers to woodland that is known to date from at least 1600, when reliable maps first started to be produced. Some much earlier. During the past centuries most of these woodlands have been actively managed and shaped by human activity, which has created an archaeological resource that can tell us about how past communities used and relied on natural woodlands. This has also created a transformed habitat, which is constantly transforming itself.

Moss on bark macro Strid wood North Yorkshire

Environmental archaeology is a fascinating practice, which can help us to understand the use and importance of woodland in the past. They do this by taking samples from the stratigraphic layers of trenches during an archaeological dig. They can then use high-tech equipment (such as a mass spectrometer) to study different species from the pollen and other remains, such as charcoal. Form this we can see changes over time, such as the volume of species and whether this was due to human impact or environmental forces.

Visible impact by humans on woodlands include coppiced trees and clearances. In the past woodlands have been actively managed to produce raw materials for agriculture, construction and manufacturing industries, with different species of tree used for specific purposes. Aspects of land use, food production, tool use, and occupation patterns can all be established by combining the archaeological record with the environmental data.

Twisted trees Strid wood North Yorkshire

Ancient woodlands may provide an insight into land management practices, and in the development of local industries, over thousands of years. 

I have used flash in some images to highlight the unusual, 'structural' forms created through natural time and also creatively used focus to delve deeper into form - shape, texture, patterns and the inter play between light and shade. My interest was in finding unusual formations, which you don't really get anywhere other than in ancient woodland.

The camera used Nikon D7200, a Tamron lens 70-300 mm with Macro capability, and in camera flash. The challenge was to achieve clear, crisp images with interesting composition and focus. It's difficult to use a tripod in ancient woodland, especially on a steep hill, so I upped the ISO to make up for low light. Some, I took very low key to give a sense of foreboding.


River side Strid Wood North Yorkshire


Play list

The Cure - A Forest

Kangding Ray - Amber Decay

Orbital - Impact

New Model Army - Ballad

Bjork - Nattura

Depeche Mode - The Landscape is Changing

Pulp - The Trees

Laura Marling - Goodbye England

Earth - The Orb