Saturday, 6 June 2015

In a dark, dark wood

There’s a wood near my house, very beautiful, once coppiced, now full of gnarled oaks and cow wheat (which is much prettier than it sounds). Pengelli Forest. You can walk in it for hours and get lost, which people frequently do.

Alternatively, you can park at the gate, walk a little way down the road, and turn into a lane that leads down, and down, and up and down, past a farm, along green meadows, and over a very picturesque little footbridge.

Then you come to a cottage. These days, it’s just about impossible to miss it. The public footpath, which was once a morass of mud and brambles is now a super-highway of hardcore, and the trees that totally engulfed the cottage in the past have been cut back, so it stands proud in sunshine.

Totally derelict. The hardcore and cutting back are recent. The dereliction is old. I first came across the cottage about 25 years ago. I climbed over a farm gate at the bottom of my garden, crossed a field of cows,, wriggled under some barbed wire, and slithered down through mysterious woods, losing a boot in the mud in the process. And there was the cottage, lost in gloom, heavy trees crowding round it.
Ruined cottages were still being snapped up back then, and done up as holiday cottages, but this one was probably far beyond saving, even then. The walls were split, the roof was gaping, the upper floor was collapsing as its beams rotted, the detached floorboard handing in mid-air. I could see, peering through the window, the old inglenook fireplace, with a battered pan or two abandoned on the old blackened hearth.

It was full of mystery, full of shadows and secrets, and it settled firmly in my memory. It was the cottage in my mind’s eye, when I wrote A Time For Silence (, about a girl who comes across the old cottage once owned by her grandparents. You can’t see a place like that, without wondering who had once lived there.

Much of the mystery is gone now, thanks to the clearance of the trees and hedges. The fireplaces are still there, empty and greening, the metalwork rusting, but the chimneys have gone, probably considered too dangerous to passing hikers. The collapsing upper floor has gone too, although the post holes where the beams had once fitted are still visible. No sign of the stairs. I think I recall it as a mouldering ladder. Someone’s using the place as a workshop, but nothing’s going to patch the cracks in the walls. It will be down soon, I expect – probably bulldozed, now the tracks have been opened up. Alas.