Another research trip for my book took me to No Man’s Orchard outside Chartham Hatch at dusk on a January evening where my presence seemed to concern others.
No Man’s Orchard – January
I walked away from the village down the narrow cut leading to the orchard, the wood sorrel lemoning the bankside verges. The tops of the pines burnished in sunlight. Emerging from the woods into the orchard , the light dazzled you. Wood smoke gathered in the deep dish of the valley. The blackbirds were chinking and sighing out the day.
I stopped at the noticeboard leading to the orchard. Three dogs came careering down the path, surrounding me, barking, followed by a couple striding out in wellies.
“You look suspicious,” the women said accusingly, gathering in her dogs with irritation.
“Do I?” I say, wondering just how.
“Well, you’re on your own. Without a dog.”
“In that case, I’m often looking suspicious.” I told her.
I could see she was unimpressed. What are you doing? She wanted to ask. What can you possibly be doing, out here, at dusk, on your own?
But, it seems someone forgot to send me the memo telling me that women are not supposed to do this. Just walk in the countryside, dogless, after the allotted hour of curfew.
I walked on, Under the arms of the grandmother trees, 150 Bramley’s, fleckle barked, Fieldfare chucking and the warm rot of apples still scenting the air. Wrens fizz by into the bramble.
I’m heading for Bigbury, where the ancestors lived. Up on the hill they traded and worshipped and enslaved their neighbours before being discovered by Julius Cesar and his invading army.
It’s growing dark, in the woods, it is all mud and rot, my iris’s darken to let in the light. My senses become alive to twig crack and footfall. I am not immune to fear. I don’t walk alone in the woods with no sense of it.
Charles Foster in his book, Being a Beast says, that hunting ‘gave me back my senses. A man with a gun sees, hears, smells and intuits much more than the same man with a bird book and a pair of binoculars,’ Maybe so, but the same man will never know the sharpening of the senses a women who walks alone in the countryside at dusk knows . He knows only what it is like to be the predator not what it is like to be the prey.
The full moon rises, the first of the year and the owls begin to call. I walk softly back up the darkening cut. I can’t escape the fear, it is hardwired into me. It makes me that bit more alive to the darkening woods. I can only refuse to be driven indoors by it.