When I stand at my bedroom window I look across a broad valley to a wooded ridge that runs as far as I can see in both directions. Directly opposite, just under half a kilometre away as the crow flies, is Towerhouse Wood, ‘my’ wood.
From the first time I saw that view, 20 years ago, I knew that this was my home. When we moved in, on a gloomy day in mid December, the valley was shrouded with mist and for three days we couldn’t see further than the garden hedge.
To my great joy I discovered that the wood was easily accessible and had footpaths running through it. It was the beginning of a love affair. As winter turned into spring it was a revelation, first I found snowdrops, then celandine. Then the first, shy, wood anemones which became a carpet followed by a scented haze of bluebells and patches of pungent wild garlic. I go to the wood to escape, to think, to grieve, to pray, to find peace… It is a very special place.
The selfish part of me wants to keep the wood to myself, to tell no-one and enjoy the solitude, but it also brings me happiness when I share it with others. In the year before my daughter started school I used to walk there with her as often as I could, it was a very special time. Later I brought my friends and their children, then friends of friends. It’s now a bit more official, I am a voluntary warden for the Woodland Trust and have taken groups of guides, scouts, brownies and even a class of school children on guided walks. I love it when I hear that they have come back with their families.
The wood is rich in wildlife, there are tawny owls, a pair of buzzards nest there every year, and I always have the company of jackdaws. I have even heard the ‘cronk’ of a raven flying overhead. On a warm spring morning it is alive with birdsong. Unsurprisingly perhaps, there are badgers and foxes. I have come face to face with a roe deer a stone’s throw away and very occasionally an otter visits the pond in the boundary stream.
Perhaps the most enigmatic inhabitant of all is the dormouse. I always dreamed they would be there and a few years ago a friend from Avon Wildlife Trust showed a group of us how to survey with dormouse tubes. I ended up taking ownership of this and trained for a dormouse handling licence. After two years of looking, when I had almost given up hope I found a shred of evidence in one nest tube. On the strength of this I asked the friends group for money for dormouse boxes, and they agreed. I have found typical nests in two of the boxes, but have yet to hold my first Towerhouse dormouse. Meanwhile the blue tits have moved in, at least 16 fledged this year! I know the dormice are there. I check the boxes every month, so maybe this will be the year.
As you have probably guessed I have a particular affection for dormice. The video clip below shows a hunt for nibbled hazelnuts with a group of school children at a Bioblitz on the National Trust’s Tyntesfield estate, not far from Towerhouse Wood.