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Fairies in the Wayford Woods
Being part of a chaotic Wyrde Woods research quest with my mates Magén, Cathy, Liz, Gerrit and Jack in March 2015. Destinations included Warwickshire, Oxfordshire, East Sussex, West Sussex, Somerset and Dorset. Text by Nisse Visser, photographs by Gerrit Orgers
Whispers of the Wind
Ne’er did two pilgrims change their itinerary as often as Gerrit and I did; incidental whirlwind was the name of the game and most often we simply followed the whispers of the wind. One such whisper came during a frenzied late evening window of Wifi allowing us to touch base with our digital homes. Three or four Wyrde Warriors (my collection of die-hard proofers) sent word that a BBC news item was going viral in selected social media groups: A veritable Fairy Forest in Somerset where a profusion of Faere Folk dwellings had reached such numbers that Fairy Control Measures were deemed necessary.
I am blessed in that Gerrit is game for anything Weird & Wonderful and we hastily changed our plans to incorporate an immediate expedition to this Fae Forest; our curiosity all a-boil and a-bubble. The decision was fittingly made at the foot of Glastonbury Tor; the entrance to Annwn, the realm of Gwyn ap Nudd, King of the Faere Folk in Wessex. If our quest was to yield contact with the Faere Folk its nature would change from an exploration to a diplomatic mission in an instant so I decided to dress formally. My only claim to a title is ownership of one square foot of land in the Scottish Highlands gifted to me by my friend Magén and that is accompanied by the highly dubious title ‘Laird of Glencoe.’ Being fortunate enough to have had the foresight to pack them I donned my kilt, sporran and plaid for the occasion. Added to this was my archer’s belt. There might, after all, be some sort of battle with whomever was trying to impose Fairy Control Measures and both Gerrit and I knew where our loyalties lay and had bows and filled quivers to hand in case the Faere Folk needed some allies.
The Axe River valley
Finding the Wayford Woods
Our quest brought us past Ham Hill to Crewkerne; the ochre town centre bright in the sun. There we turned westwards to find these Wayford Woods which were at the centre of Fae activity. Leaving the main road we chugged up a narrow country road to be confronted by a spectacular view of the Axe river valley. The road became increasingly narrow and upon reaching the hamlet of Wayford we took a wrong turn which we corrected when we discovered we had left Somerset and driven right into Dorset. A farmer gave us directions in a delicious West Country accent: “Turn roight, then left, left again, onto a doirt road where the woods be to yer roight.”
Having evaded the potholes on the ‘doirt’ road Gerrit manoeuvred us to a halt by the side of the W-Woods and he all but bounced out of the car. I had to take a bit more care; swinging your legs about in kilts can be risky business. We entered the woods and were soon looking somewhat puzzled as we had to negotiate our way through an extensive bamboo grove. I had learned that the woods had once been part of a local manor house and wondered if the owners had collected exotic vegetation as the late Victorian Malheurs had done in my Wyrde Woods which I have endowed with Californian redwoods, magnolia trees, Japanese cherry trees and whatnot. To my delight a sign informed us that this was probably the case because the Wayford Woods - like the Wyrde Woods- contained redwoods, magnolias, a sea of rhododendrons and many more species from over the hills and faraway. Wayford and Wyrde fused instantly – we had come to the W-Woods and were becoming rapidly enchanted by these woodlands even as we were still skirting the edge.
Close to this edge was a playground with a proper tree swing which, of course, had to be tested. After this mandatory formality we were able to confirm that the fairy sized playground which had sprung up overnight had indeed been removed. I huffed and puffed in righteous indignation; where were the poor Faere Folk to play? Steven Acreman of the Wayford Woods Charitable Trust had insisted that “We are not anti-fairies” but said that the “planning proposal” for the fairy fairground had been rejected. We soon spotted further evidence of the Fairy Control Measures as we found little hinges at the bases of trees; evidence of the former presence of fairy doors which have since been removed. Steven Acreman’s perspective is that the profusion of fairy doors – which peaked at some 200 – is “in danger of getting out of control.” Another trustee, Stuart Le Fevre, said “The problem is there are just too many of them – and some are a little bit garish, they don’t fit in.” He was referring to the difference between the skilfully constructed wooden doors with handles and other minute details and those of brightly coloured plywood decorated with tinsel and stickers. However, Le Fevre was insistent that the disappearance of faery doors was just as mysterious as their appearance. “I think it’s the goblins. Our goblins have very good taste.”
To be fair the trustees do not intend to evict the fairies from the Wayford Woods, as one spokesperson said: “We like fairies, we don’t want to discourage fairies. But we want people to avoid damaging trees and flowers.”
I am not sure up to what extent the beech, ash and oak trees which have had doors attached to the nooks and crannies between their roots will suffer permanent damage from the screws used to attach the doors’ hinges. However, I do understand the argument that many of the doors are affixed to trees well away from the path which leads to the trampling of bluebells by clumsy human feet and I am sure the Faere Folk would be inconsolable if their blue-purple spring carpet is destroyed by a multitude of visitors.
The First Encounters
Experiencing the Magic
We headed deeper into the W-Woods, eager to lay our hands on any grimy goblins defacing Fae property but all thoughts of wringing their wrinkly green necks were soon forgotten as we became thoroughly enchanted by an area where the Faere Folk Real Estate was very much in evidence around the aptly named Grand Hollow Hall. We shed our years (decades really) as if a Fae Godmother had sprinkled Fairy Dust on us and soon we were bouncing from tree to tree to knock on the little doors. Some we opened to find little notes left by children as well as other gifts and to these we added our own. It was only a day after we had a discussion about the magic which can be found in woods and how awareness of the Wyrd can be spoiled by turning this into organised religion. The moment more than a handful of believers gather together someone or other will appropriate the role of High Priest which then leads to inevitable structural formalization which means that any spontaneous action and reaction becomes lost in rules and regulations. The Wyrd is personal and interaction with it intuitive, not proscribed. What we saw in the W-Woods was some sort of instinctive understanding of this concept by children. Sara Maitland, writing in the Guardian ( ‘Don’t do away with the fairies’, 4/3/2015) worded it very well when she wrote: “Woods are magical. Throughout northern Europe they are deeply linked to older ways of being, to what we might now like to dismiss as superstitious, childish nonsense. But we cannot so simply wipe this out. Woods are our original home. If we do not populate the woods with imagination, with stories, with wonders, we will destroy them, or limit our own flourishing – or both. I believe that most of us have a deep yearning for the magical, for a secret “otherness”, for an environment flowing with abundance – not just with nature but with super-nature too; with a rich background of stories and concepts and images.”
Apt words and the quintessence of the Wyrde Woods tales I have begun to tell in Escape from Neverland and Dance into the Wyrd and plan to tell in future Wyrde Woods novels such as Forgotten Road and Secret Spring. Aside from this sneaky self-promotion this is more or less what we saw happening in the W-Woods on this bright spring day as we watched two small children interact with a fairy condominium complex. Their eyes were filled with wonder and curious questions filled the air. “Better than sitting behind the computer,” their dad explained and we fully agreed as we marvelled at the small humans whose belief in the Faere Folk was visible in the awe with which they approached the trees.
Kids Strike Back
The infestation of fairy doors which required Fairy Control Measures were teaching a new generation an appreciation and love of the woods and that -in these days of greedy property developers and a government intent on selling off areas of natural beauty entrusted to their care- can only be a good thing. The Faere Folk have been driven deeper and deeper into the last remnants of their former green realms and awareness of them will hopefully give future generations the determination to leave them those last bits of habitat. It will also, I believe, link them with our ancestors whose belief in the Fae was strong; a belief which has far from died out. A Fairy Investigation Society survey has revealed some 400 sightings in Britain during the last quarter of 2014 and nationwide more people put faith in the Faere Folk than UFOs or honest politicians. Though hardly hard evidence I was pleased to note that a Mirror poll regarding the fairy doors in the Wayford Woods showed 48% of those polled believed that the fairy doors were built by humans against 52% who credited the fairies themselves (results on 8 March 2015).
The determination of the wee ones to fight for their ‘Fairy Forest’ and the preservation of the Faere Folk was in evidence already; the gruesome goblins might be busily removing doors but a host of new ones had been put in place to judge by the dates inscribed on the doors. True, some were garish indeed, we found a tree with three plywood samples in bright primary colours which may not have suited the taste of the more conservative Faere Folk but when I looked at the last one I felt a sense of relief and triumph. Written on the door was ‘Dad’s Door’ and I imagined a father taking the time and patience to construct fairy doors with his kids and then embarking on a mission to refurbish doorless fairy homes. What else can you say but ‘Heck yes, way to go Dad!’?
Okay, a bit garish, but....
...part of Dad's Door. Way to go.
Guardians of the Woods
Close to the entrance of the W-Woods were some memorial stones commemorating caretakers who had loved these woods. Being somewhat predictable I thought of Fred and Willick Maskall as well as Joy Whitfield and Oscar, Priscilla and Puck Malheur; characters in the Wyrde Woods novels whose devotion to the Wyrde Woods stemmed from an innate oneness with the woods. The Wayford Woods covers 29 acres and was set up as a charitable trust in the 1990s. Apart from the aforementioned exotic trees there is a stream, a meadow and an ornamental lake. The woods used to be part of the grounds of Wayford Manor and were designed by Harold Peto who was a landscape architect of the Arts and Crafts movement. This was a cultural movement in the late 19th century and early 20th century which was intended as a protest movement against industrial and commercial enterprises which crippled the human spirit and curtailed –if not eradicated- the Wyrd and Wonderful in our environment. A central theme of the movement was the revival of fairy tales and I assume that Harold Peto would be delighted to find out that his W-Woods have become a focal point of Fae activity which does suggest a revival, based perhaps on the deep yearning we have for a few mysteries as described above by Sara Maitland.
The Green Lady
We wandered off the main path for some inexplicable reason and ended up traversing a very muddy narrow path through an abundance of rhododendrons which led us to an apex of an already magical morning in the W-Woods. Though she only stood some four or five feet from the main path and was quite tall we both walked right past without noticing her till a fleeting glance revealed a moss covered statue of a regal green woman who –at that place and that time- could only have been a Fae Queen. Perhaps she had been placed there by Harold Peto though I do prefer to believe that she comes to life after the sun sets and walks along the Faere Folk dwellings to keep the goblins at bay. Gerrit immediately suggested we name her Titania, after Shakespeare’s Fairy Queen whose name and reputation I have shamelessly stolen for my Wyrde Woods tales. I agreed and we stood there for a while, quite awestruck at our encounter with the Fae Queen which completed in every possible sense a visit to a place where realities merged and fused as easily as a childhood adventure. There was no doubt that we had, for a short time, been in the Wyrde Woods.
The Fae Queen
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