You've probably guessed that someone who names their business The Hawthorn Tree likes trees quite a lot. When I'm not working, my favourite thing is to wander through the beautiful Derbyshire countryside that I love so much and although I love the whole landscape, my favourite places are woods. There is something about standing amongst trees that grew tall before your grandparents were born and which will continue to be around long after you're gone that I find fascinating. They also provide a fantastic habitat for wildlife and every minute I spend there is a pleasure.
This week I was in Shining Cliff Wood, Ambergate. This is an ancient wood that was once part of the royal hunting forest of Duffield Frith and it takes its name from the gritstone rocks that it stands upon. There are acres of tall pines and larches as well as oak, yew, alder and others. This place has added meaning for me as my Grandma moved with her family to Ambergate in 1930 from Heage. Her father worked on the nearby railway for over forty years and they lived at Midland Terrace, near the station.
|St. Anne's church, Ambergate|
As I write this, it is the fifth anniversary of Grandma's death and she was very much in my thoughts as we passed St. Anne's church where she married Grandad in 1948. As you walk up the lane past the church you come to Ha'penny Bridge. This is where the Amber meets the Derwent and there used to be a little toll cottage here but unfortunately it was demolished in 1964.
|The River Amber (right) joins the River Derwent|
A little further on, on the edge of the wood is what remains of Johnson's Wire Works. Now derelict and silent, it was once a big employer of local men and the sheds hummed with the sound of the machinery. Grandma's brother worked there before and after his time in the army during the war. I'd be very surprised if owls didn't roost in these empty buildings. A handsome grey wagtail was walking around there looking for insects.
|The old wire works, R Johnson and Nephew|
A buzzard called overhead as we entered the wood and a male bullfinch perched on a tree at the edge of the path, like a little rosy beacon to welcome us. His mate was a little further along.
I love the earthy smell of a woodland; the damp leaf litter is the heart of this habitat, providing the perfect home for many different insects. This in turn provides food for many different species of birds. Great tits, blue tits, long-tailed tits and coal tits could all be heard but high up in the tree tops there came the unmistakeable calls of goldcrests. These tiny birds are sometimes called kinglets, as they have little golden crowns. I quite like the idea of the smallest birds in the kingdom being royal as it's an honour usually reserved for much larger birds like eagles.
Squirrels bounded about in the fallen leaves and pine needles. As we climbed up to Betty Kenny's Tree, the ground was so thick with pine needles that in places it was like walking on a soft blanket. Betty Kenny's Tree is now in ruins but it was once a mighty yew tree that was reputedly up to 2000 years old. Betty and her husband Luke were charcoal burners who lived there in the late eighteenth century and they built their hut around the tree. There is an old legend that Betty used the old branches to rock her young children to sleep and this is said to be the origins of the nursery rhyme Rock-a-bye Baby. The family were definitely real but their story has been embellished over the centuries, which I think is no bad thing.
|Betty Kenny's Tree|
If a walk through the woods doesn't spark your imagination then what will? When there was an occasional gust of wind, the tall pines seemed to sigh and whisper as they swayed, making a sound like water rushing over a weir. It's no wonder that Tolkien imagined the tallest and wisest trees to be creatures with minds of their own, Shepherds of the Forest. It is certainly true that trees become more interesting as they age, and I like to think it's the same with people.
We collected some small larch branches with little cones to keep for midwinter decorations. When they're on display they will be a reminder of this beautiful and wonderous place.
Photos (c) Eley family 2015
You can find out more about Betty Kenny's tree and her family here.
More information about Johnson's Wire Works.