PETER LARKIN: Woods in the Nearby Materials They Are For

Open country is corridor-prone, closed edges are dynamic or merely advancing.  Living on the edge of a small Midlands town (Kenilworth), itself rather like an assarted wood in outline, nearest open access takes the form of a wedge fanning out broadly north-west and dotted with beleaguered quadrants or triangles of small woods.  Northwards are Crackley and Rough Knowles with the three-cornered wedge of Whitefield Coppice beyond.  A dismantled railway now a greenway penetrates Crackley but has become partly reabsorbed by it as it allows access to the flank of the wood furthest from the road.  More to the west is Chase Wood, now reduced to a track-side linear copse by the height of the wheat prairie era. North of here are Stakes Wood and Long Meadow Woods, while Poors Wood and Black Hill Woods continue westerly from the foreshortened horizon of Chase Wood.  Earlier maps show some of these woods larger than I ever knew them, or in some cases they proved almost entirely vanished into grassland. There are a few unnamed larch plantations.  Fanning further north or north-east, Broadwells and Black Waste are equidistant from the footpath and can be entered fairly easily, especially the former scant of fencing but now aligned with the HS2 route.  Beyond, Park Wood, Plants Hill and Tilehill Woods have become compact islands surrounded by Coventry’s postwar light industry expansion.  Their total invasion by paths of desire belie their stalwart squared percentage of mappable space.

As the wedge gets ever broader having lost touch with its apex, there intervenes a country of small half-used fields and paddocks with narrow lanes criss-crossed by numerous spiralling footpaths which offer no clear passage across the terrain (which originally nobody would have needed). Once at Berkswell, the wedge dissolves into the greater expanse of 19C parkland with oak woods and a lake giving on to outer pine and larch plantations of The Bogs and Sixteen Acre Wood where the gnarled softwoods make a fine post-mature portico to the footpath.  They too have been found out by the proposed HS2 line.  Across to the west is the aptly named Breach Wood which seems to have been largely decimated by a World War 2 runway and then became a vehicle proving ground now skirted by the lean cupressus-screened fields of Runway Farm.  Some way further out is the FC’s Hay Wood, known to Shakespeare but now largely replanted with postwar softwoods left to go a bit gappy and amenity-opportune.  Dropping down nearer the approach to Warwick are a number of unnamed plantations or small coverts around Haseley Green, some of which keep a certain charm as if in a state of suspension.  Chinn’s Wood, however, is a phalanx of larch whose shallow density is unenterable but Palefield Coppice does beckon as you skirt one side of it but cross it via an adjacent stem. It has no real interior but attractive flanks of oak and poplar with some beech. A final micro-swirl of 19C pheasant coverts provide an arena which the map can only populate by inscribing Haseley Business Centre upon it.

Currently, a newly conceived corridor (HS2) hangs over the entire area, ready to flush out exact field corners or narrow hollows and unlock local densities of wood cover, rendering them unrecognisable and divided from themselves precisely through those fragments that will survive miscellaneously.  However, the woods as pared back or interrupted will resume as they can the shapes of their extent, provoking all signs of life readily harmed and lending the mutilation some sort of community.  Trees are bigger than people but dwarfed by people communicating with people – that’s why woods have to be listed according to sometimes listless names down some local blind end.  Tokens of place are set aside by the place itself as it redistributes its edges and then loses itself among them with not enough low-pressure intervals to reselect itself, through (or in spite of) the materials of what it can do.  On a good day, trees absorb what is otherwise our waste accelerative haste around their slewed selves, becoming the stocky porches of our corridors bestrewn with destinations.  It’s a moot point who gets whose thinnings first.

PETER LARKIN is the author of Terrain Seed Scarcity and Leaves of Fields and a new collection, Lessways Least Scarce Among is due out from Shearsman later this year.  He has been interviewed for Intercapillary Space and for Cordite and contributed to Harriet Tarlo’s Ground Aslant anthology.


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