As a child I was always fascinated by the ‘Man that lives in the woods.’ Wherever you lived there always seemed to be one. Know matter how big or small or urban the wood there was always a local legend of a guy (never it seems a girl) who was living there. The camp of the ‘Man in the woods’ was always a source of fascination something to be hunted down and dared to approach. The ‘Man in the woods’ always had an element of danger of the unknown an otherworldly aura to be pitied but also somehow envied.
My childhood books were full of this character in various guises. Enid Blyton’s ‘The Children of Cherry Tree Farm.’ featured Tammylan who befriended wild animals and lived off root soup. Clearly a man ahead of his time he believed in direct action for animal rights abuses and almost ‘shook the head off,’ a local ruffian who injured a bird. BB’s ‘Brendan Chase.’ not only had Smokoe Joe who lived in a woodburners hut but also three boys who ran away from school to set up camp amongst the trees for the summer. These boys would have been men after my own heart if they didn’t pass their time killing badgers and raiding honey buzzard nests. Lucky for them they did not run into Tammylan or their holidays may have been cut short!
Our local ‘Man in the Woods’ stood outside the bakers, dressed in an assortment of clothes given to him by passing shoppers, hoping someone would by him a pasty. Someone always did. He was crazy and unkempt but harmless and something of a local celebrity, our own personal Elm Park hermit who was looked after, in rather a ramshackle way, by the local community. He was rumoured to have a camp in the woods close to my house. I searched for it but rather half heartedly, fearing perhaps that the reality would not live up to my Enid Blyton fuelled fantasy.
Now I am not the hunt once again for stories of the man in the woods as I begin to research people who choose to live in unconventional homes for my book ‘Estuary Life.’
People who live outside of the rules understandably tend to keep a low profile but I hope this year to find them, track down the yurt dwellers, hut dwellers, shack dwellers, boat dwellers, hermits and outsiders and find out what bought them here. In doing so I hope to understand my own, enduring fascination with this way of life and learn if there is still a place in the 21st century for those who chose to step outside of the rules and take to the woods