Into the Woods I Go

Dying oak tree covered in ivy with leafless limbs

“And into the forest I go, to lose my mind and find my soul.” ~ Unknown

I was thinking about what woodland means to me when this quote came to mind in the middle of a photo-walk, just as I stepped into a magical wood that calls me back to visit, again and again throughout the year. 

Oak and hawthorn trees on a misty morning in Combe Valley
Oakenshield II

On Easter weekend I woke to a foggy morning in the valley, mist rolling in and out with a slight breeze, the warm sunshine failing to burn it off. I knew that the woodlands would be bursting into life, but the path up was (and still is) impassable, sitting under a flood that stands no chance of receding for some time, following the wettest March for 41 years. That weather in March had restricted walking and given me cabin fever, so seeing those improved conditions was all the motivation I needed to get out for a walk in the valley.

I wandered down to Oakenshield to see how it was looking, lit by a low sun the hawthorn leaf buds were bursting, taking on a green haze of colour in the mist.  The oak buds were still tight, but as the month rolls on, I know they will quicken into life.  The regular calls of the resident song thrush, robins and a very persistent great tit were joined by the rhythmic calls of a couple of reed warblers on the reedbeds.  The mist was short-lived, enough time for me to take two images before it had rolled further into the valley.  Knowing that it would be perfect for some woodland photography I decided to enter the valley from the Greenway and walk down to Monkham Wood out of the reach of the flood.

New growth appears on trees along a woodland path in Combe Valley
The Greening

As I entered, I stepped into a different world, the fog was sitting in the lower half of the wood with the sun throwing a golden glow that gave the mist an ethereal warmth.  There was the slightest hint of a breeze at the edges but as I followed the path through, a stillness fell that filled me with calm and an energy that felt like I was coming alive alongside all the woodland plants.  Carpets of wood anemones, celandines and yes, the start of the bluebell flowering…the harebells not fully opened, yet in places a blue cloud was growing.  The soundtrack to accompany this from a couple of chiffchaffs with their repetitive high pitched yet almost sweet song – sometimes compared to the sound of a squeaky wheel that needs oiling! And then the very urgent call of a nuthatch hidden in one of the many old oaks in this beautiful wood.

Two young beech saplings in dappled light in Combe Valley

Monkham is a small wood (sadly the crash site of a WW2 Spitfire shot down in 1940 and therefore an area to be treated with sensitivity) made up of oak and ash standards, coppiced hazel, hornbeam and sweet chestnuts. In summer it can be very dark as the canopy closes in, blocking out the light, yet right now it was perfect for photography. The sun still finding its way through the overstory and the fog, sending pools of soft, warm light down to pick out two young saplings with their fresh lime leaves, framed by an arch of teetering trunks.  Further along and my favourite tree in the wood came into view. I call her ‘Medusa’ for her snaking boughs – now with much of her bark removed and the heartwood polished by the elements and time, she is dressed in a coat of ivy.

For those that don’t know, in mythology Medusa, was a young maiden who courted Poseidon in Athenas temple. She was punished by Athena who turned her hair into snakes and anyone who looked upon her from then on would be turned to stone. In much the same way I see this tree in a setting where other trees are keeping their distance and seem to be turning away from her. 

Ivy covered tree trunk resembling a Jack in the Green in Combe Valley
The Jack

After an hour of enjoying the meditative flow of the wood I left Monkham. Looking back, (a photographers rule always look behind you), at the top of the path lined by anemones, was a tall stump of a tree, clad in ivy so much so it could have been the Jack from Jack in the Green tradition.  Nearby a clump of cuckoo flowers in bloom, a sign that the first cuckoo was due any day now. I left smiling one of those endorphin enriched grins, the walk in the woods had brought my imagination, creativity and my senses back to life, banishing the two or three weeks of cabin fever to history and making the quote at the start of this piece feel so apt for what walking in the woods means to me.

What does walking in the woods mean to you? Do you have any favourite trees that you ‘humanise’? The quote I’ve used is often attributed to the American writer and environmentalist John Muir, however, the Sierra Club and many other sources deny this.  If anyone out there knows who did say these famous words I would love to know.


  1. What a beautiful post together with stunning photographs. I felt like I was walking with you, noticing the wildflowers, listening to the songbirds and stopping to admire the trees (particularly Medusa), elder and sapling. Thank you for sharing your obvious love of nature, photography and more of this wonderful valley.

  2. Your wooden sight is fascinating, m dear Lin. It is so intriguing and looks full of secrets. I can even smell the Fresh old scent of the ancient trees. We might yet open the Pandora box! Splendid tell; thank you so much for taking us with you on this mysterious walk.

    • Thank you Aladin…it is indeed a magical wood filled with mysterious characters amongst the trees. I’m sure you must have many characterful ancient trees in your local forest…do you give any of them names? And yes, the fragrance of woodland was strong, intensified after the recent rain, petrichor mixed with the faintest of scents from the anemones and bluebells. I’m so pleased you enjoyed the mystery tour!

  3. Hi Lin, I believe John Muir first said “into the forest I go to lose my mind and find my soul”.
    What cracking photos! I particularly love the one entitled Jack…so much to see in that photo, imagery, faces, symbolism…pure magic and very timely for Jack in the Green in a couple of weeks time!
    Best wishes to you
    Margaret xx

    • Thank you, Margaret, I’m so pleased you like the images, this is only a small patch of woodland but has a magical element to it – I couldn’t resist the Jack!
      Yes, I too thought for years that John Muir had said that quote, but when I checked it for this piece it seems the Sierra Club (who John Muir founded and was president of for a number of years) state that it has been incorrectly attributed to him. At the moment I can’t seem to find any confirmation of who may have written it…but it does ring so true for the positive effect the woods have for many people.

  4. Lovely post Lin. Yes, there are wooded forest places near where I live. Nothing more enjoyable to me than to walk carefully over the path, overhanging boughs and creepers limiting the light coming through, seeing light on green at different angles.

    • Thank you, Susan! Its lovely to have woodland nearby – there is something both energising and calming about them and yes, I love the light coming through the leaves especially in early May, when they take on a lime-coloured glow. There’s a word for that light “Maienschein” which I think is German…it describes the green glow of sunlight through spring leaves…I do love these words that have almost been lost over time.

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