At the weekend, between the turning of the leaves, and the turning back of time, I went for a walk in Salcey Forest.
Situated near Towcester, just outside the village of Hartwell, this is a landscape with real history in it's sap.
It was first created, or "emparked", along with other areas locally, by no lesser rambling enthusiast than Henry VIII himself, for use as a hunting forest. King Henry came to the the Grafton area of the East Midlands frequently, and made a number of "improvements" to things, most of them not at all to the liking of the rebellious local populous who were suddenly excluded from the new royal parks, with the possible exception of rights in some areas to gather wood for their fires. (In fact it's thought that the phrase "by hook or by crook" stems from the wording of this legal permission to scavenge dead branches.)
More recently, during the Second World War, when timber, labour and petrol were all at a premium, circus elephants were conscripted to work in the forest, felling and dragging out logs. After work they were turned out to swim in a woodland pool now called, fittingly, if not very imaginatively, "Elephant Pond". This got me to wondering if there had been other elephant's bathing in the wild in Britain before this, and it turns out that there have indeed been remains found of "proboscideans-straight-tusked elephant Palaeoloxodon antiquus, woolly mammoth Mammuthus primigenius and also a smaller mammoth, unique to this interglacial period and often referred to in Britain as the 'Ilford' mammoth". Now Salcey is actually about 2 hours north of Ilford, but it is pretty much straight up the M1, and therefore quite easy to find; so whilst I can't absolutely prove it's the only spa in the country to be patronised by prominent Pachyderms for several millennia, it seems entirely possible woolly mammoths could also have rinsed out their trunks here......Perhaps on a day trip from the Essex marshes.
Nowadays, the main attraction in the forest is the Tree Top Walk, a bridge-like structure that twists and turns its way up into the canopy, and offers great views, both down on the trees, and out over the landscape towards distant Northampton. It's not the biggest wow factor in the world to be sure, but it is a bit different, thought provoking, and free.
My morning stroll was also enjoyed by the Deputy Head, who has been staying at Hotel Quotidian recently, and can be seen here, neatly demonstrating two very important messages....
1. Get your arses outside people. It's fun!
2. Though you may be a successful, thirty-something, professional, you are never too big to be a big kid......
.........Or somebody's little sister.