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The Faces of Yew
Kingley Vale is an area of exceptional beauty in West Sussex, England. It has a rich history with an abundance of tumuli and other evidence of prehistoric activity (flint mines, barrow) and Roman occupation.
Today it is one of the oldest and finest yew woods in Western Europe; The age old yew grove at the core of the yew woods resembles a natural cathedral and served as inspiration for the following extract from Dance into the Wyrd.
This is followed by pictures of remarkable yew trees
An extract from DANCE INTO THE WYRD
As the trees became older and larger there was too much shade for these flowers to grow and they were replaced by a low shrub with green leafs which looked like small spear blades and the plant bore red berries which complemented the yew berries above.
“That be butcher’s broom,” Joy pointed at the shrubs, “They does likes it here in the shade of yew trees.”
“Are the berries poisonous like yew berries?”
“Naun, butcher’s broom be handy for medicine. But yew snottgogs aint poisonous neither, the seeds within are, but naun the flesh o’ the snottgog. You be giver o’ life and bringer o’ death in one. Used properly other parts o’ yew can be used for charm-stuff as well, howsumdever, ye maun be careless or it kill ye, surelye.”
The yew trees began to increase in girth and height, the straight trunks of the younger trees now replaced by gnarled curves and outgrowths. The swirls formed hideous scaly faces, some of them complete with hair and beards which was effected by the vines of a climbing plant which had green-white flowers with long fluffy sepals and climbed high, garlanding the higher branches with silky strands. Many of the yews had lichen cascading down their branches as well.
“Sheere-folk calls it old man’s beard or traveller’s joy. Most-in-general we calls it tom-bacca,” Joy answered when I asked her what the vines were called. “The lichen some folk call devil’s guts and others the Norn’s weaving. I use that last name.”
“Ye’ve heard of Yggdrasil?”
I shook my head.
“The yew pillars, the Wurreld Tree. It holds entire wurrelds on hern branches and at the roots sit three wise maids, the Norns, a-weaving. Each strand o’ silk the Norns weave links one thing with another. Jes like the Norn’s weaving on disyer yew trees. We say they weave the Wyrd.”
We were now passing into an area where the yews got larger yet, some of them were hollowed out leaving just petrified looking skeletons of the old trunks. These were palisaded by younger trunks that grew out of the old and supported the immense mass of the crowns above.
“Puck told me to ask you about Wyrd. He said it wasn’t like our ‘weird’ or the Weard Hunt.”
“Naun, Wyrd be something entirely different, a life force if ye will. Ye said that today ye see connections in Odesby, atween folk standing to make money out o’ the motorway?”
I nodded; Judd might as well have taken a paint brush and painted red lines from one to the other.
“Connections alike that, according to the Old Ways, exist everywhere. Atween every living creature: man, Farisees, bees, beast, tree, stream, hill and all.”
“Streams and hills are alive?” I raised an eyebrow.
“They has a sprite attached.”
“E’enamost likes a Sheere-folk spirit.”
“Like a shim?”
“Naun, yetner a shadow o’ life alikes a shim, jes a critter o’ sorts attached to a stone, a stream, and a hill amongst others.”
“Is Ufmanna a sprite?” I asked.
“Aye, a scrowse sprite who be somewhen tiffy and then skreels. Naun all sprites be like that,” Joy said.
“So these Norns decide who to connect with what?”
“Aye, or which threads to cut. Tis linked to yern fate. Wyrd bið ful aræd.”
“What does that mean?”
“Fate be unyielding. It means ye cannot avoid it.”
I stopped in my tracks when I saw that we were approaching yet another transformation of the yew trees. A long line of massive trunks whose lower boughs had grown so heavy that they had drooped like arched doorways, reaching the ground some six feet away from their parent. They had sprouted new trunks there, already considerable in size. It seemed impossible this had been nature’s doing for the boughs all drooped at roughly the same height and for the same distance, creating a tunnel effect.
“This be the bettermost place in all o’ the Wyrde Woods,” Joy said.
She had come to a halt beside me in front of the yew tunnel’s entrance.
“Was it arranged like this?”
“Tis unbeknownst to me, I think so for the tunnel turns at the end there and then loops around in a circle that keeps gwoan innards to the centre.”
“Like a maze?”
“That be what we calls it aye, the Whychmaze.”
“Can we go in?” I asked eagerly.
Joy nodded in response and we entered the otherworldly tunnel.
“But if fate is unyielding that means we’re just puppets on a string, everything is decided for you.” I continued, frowning.
“I doant believe that,” Joy said. “I believe that the Norns brings ye ta places, people. Howsumdever a web being a web, there be more strands to follow from there. If ye be naun aware o’ it, and jes head straight onnards all o’ time, then that’s yern path. If ye are aware o’ it, ye be the one who choses which strand to follow. But once on that path, the Wyrd be unyielding. Ye chose it and mus walk it to the end, or to the next crossing where it meets other strands.”
I pictured a tiny me crawling along the strands of a spider web that stretched for hundreds of miles.
“So we have alternate fates?” I asked.
“Aye. Ye think twere a coincidence that ye came to the Owlery?”
I thought about that. One the one hand there was the fact that it seemed so normal to be there, that it seemed so much like a home even though it was bloody strange of course. In that way it seemed like it was something that was meant to happen. On the other hand, it could just be a series of coincidences.
“I could have chosen not to come into the Wyrde Woods that day,” I said carefully.
“Could ye really? Does ye make a considered decision or were ye willed, mayhap something pushed ye?”
We continued winding down the tunnel which was getting more narrow now and curving earlier as we walked towards the within. I thought about No-tooth and Broken Nose. About losing my way, then the spontaneous urge to lose myself on the boughs and branches of my chestnut tree. The connection I felt to Nan Malone. The new connections I had to folk like Judd which had in turn led me, at long last, to Mum and Dad.
“I doant think twere by-the-bye, I think, one way or another, ye would have come to the Wyrde Woods, the woods are in yern blood lass, by ways of yern mam. She be a changeling ye know, from Pook Hall.”
“She told you that?” I asked.
“Naun. But I can tell,” Joy said simply and I believed her.
“Twere yern choice to come back or naun Wenn,” Joy continued. “Some folk can learn to have power over theirn own fate, if and when they recognise those moments o’ choice.”
“By being tessy or not.” I said quietly.
“Aye, in yern case that plays a part. Doant get me wrong, for if ye stormed out in a state I’d welcome ye back again. But ah doant think ye could does that yernself, I think once ye’d run, thread be cut for ye. And that be yern very own Wyrd being unyielding.”
I nodded; I was stubborn and headstrong and would no doubt conclude that being lonely and miserable was the better option.
“With all these threads binding us lass: Yernself, yern mam, myself, Puck, Willick, Lady Malheur and even Ufmanna, what be the central thread? The one that binds us all?”
“The Wyrde Woods,” I said immediately, that was easy to answer.
“Aye and here we be, at the very heart o’ the Wyrde Woods.”
The yew tunnel ended in a large clearing. In the centre stood….