Ashdown Forest: the bats, owls and mists of Samhain

On the last day of October, a small group of us set out from London Victoria on a train to East Grinstead. From there, we a took a bus to get closer to a certain forest. I did not carry a camera this time, so all the pictures posted today are in courtesy of Mr Rainer S.

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Ashdown Forest is located in East Sussex, on the the highest sandy ridge-top of the High Weald Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty. When not knowing where to go, you can spend a bit of time wandering in rather civilized areas before fully reaching it.

At the start of our walk, we sauntered along an old railway track for a while (oh, how it really, really reminded me of the Ayot Greenway trail between Wheathamstead and Ayot St. Peter! –> my unplanned detour that shaped the real outcome of my Lea Valley Walk’s first day this summer: the road where I started limping and the reason I got stuck on a field of beans (the full story is here). After the old railway and some nibbles on the roadside, we decided to go and find the Poohsticks Bridge (a famous bridge from a famous children’s book) and wave the houses good-bye.

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Having easily found the bridge after a bit of walking next to fields and across them, we crossed it together with some horses (or donkeys in disguise?) and finally found ourselves in the beginning of the forest.

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There were leaves, everywhere. There should be special word for the way leaves smell on the autumn forest floor before the the first night colds. Hopefully, at least one of the languages has it. On the small paths, on the soon-to-be naked trees, in the creeks that had to be crossed and between the mythic looking ferns – the leaves where everywhere, bringing with them the feeling of carelessness known to people before they reach the age of 20.

Ashdown Forest needs time. In order to fully roam around there, a day is probably not enough. At least not in the season when the light starts fading rather early. But in our case, the day almost was enough. It left all of us with that bitter-sweet taste of wanting more, just an hour, two or tree more or time, yet not making us feel as if we had not had any time at all.

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We wandered deeper into the forest when noticing that the sunset was a mere two hours away. The plan was to go as deep as possible and then find our way back to civilization again.

This was the happiest I had been that entire week. Thinking about it now, October was a deeply happy month on all levels. (See, how I just avoided at least a one worthy mountain pun!) October was also a month that started and ended with a walk. As every month should, I say.

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Walking in Ashdown was calming and exciting at the same time. A small practice in zen, a small exercise of looking at the leaf patterns. The ferns rustled although there was almost now wind. When we got deeper into the forest we met no other people.

After the clear and sunny day, the darkness started to gather fast. The bats came out and the owls started hooting.

Only when the tongues of mist started crossing our road did we understand that all the sheep we had seen during the day had been black.

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More owls started to hoot.

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And more trees appeared that looked like they had been brought here from the 19th century. (Probably that’s the last time they did have leaves, when I think of it.) The darkness fully took over when we had walked through the mists and encountered our last flock of black beasts. This was pitch dark countryside darkness, the proper kind where you forget that cities exist. And in the middle of it, someone found a pub with a living fire. I can’t remember who but I’m very grateful to him or her. I would have taken that window for someone’s living room.

But things shouldn’t be too easy. And because life doesn’t want you to miss out on all the possible courses for one day, we had to leave that beautiful coziness quite soon and step into the deep darkness to make our way to the bus stop.

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No street lights, no house lights, no moon light. Just the stars, the occasional passing cars and the hope that the bus would come, not miss us or not run as over.

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More owls hooted. The old church spire was still there, probably looking as pastorally perfect as it had done in the fading light. More owls. More darkness. The most simple Samhain evening one could wish for.

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