Thursday, 22 July 2010
If you were to ask the average English person for the names of a forest or two, he might come up with Sherwood Forest (legendary home of Robin Hood), or the New Forest (home to herds of wild ponies) or if pushed maybe the Forest of Dean or Epping Forest. But beyond that, it is hard to bring a single name to mind. Of course we have woods - but these are not the dense tracts of trees I mean.
For our forests have gone, and with them the truly wild places, and with them perhaps, the dark places of our imagination.
In 1658 the Royal Forest of Needwood in Staffordshire was 92,000 acres and contained 50,000 trees, not counting holly and underwood. Of this forest few trees remain, but this area would have been dwarfed by the forest of Hatfield Chase in West Yorkshire which was 180,000 acres. A chase was, as the name suggests, a place for hunting deer. In the seventeenth century England was essentially all forest.
In the book I am working on my 17th century characters make long journeys and it would be easy to forget that travelling would take them through acres and acres of dark woodland, within which lurked the wild beasts hunted by generations of kings and princes ; the classic five beasts of hart, hind, hare, boar and wolf.
At night the dark would be complete.