Saturday 30 March 2019

On the Day

As planned, I spent the day of the Great Betrayal (Mk 1) walking with friends in Hatfield Forest (which is nowhere near Hatfield, but over the Essex border, East of Bishop's Stortford). The day got off to a bumpy start when we found ourselves stuck in a wholly stationary traffic jam somewhere on the... actually I don't know the number of the road, and it hardly matters; we were somewhere near Potter's Bar, I believe, on our way to the M11.
 After a while, people started getting out of their vehicles, stretching their legs and chatting desultorily in the already warm sunshine. One of two – commercial drivers with deliveries to make – were understandably put out, but most were acting with typical English stoicism, laced with cynical humour. A rumour went around that 'they' had closed the motorway to fill in potholes, and this was widely believed, being just the sort of thing 'they' would do. I suggested that, in view of the date, there'd been a coup and the nation had ground to a standstill. Or maybe it was a dress rehearsal for the day we 'crash out'. Then a more plausible story developed, based on traffic news reports. Apparently there had been a lorry accident, which became an 'incident' for obscure reasons. Someone said there had been fighting, which might have explained the two police cars that whizzed by on the hard shoulder at one point, sirens blaring. Anyway, after an hour and three quarters of stasis in the sun, the traffic started to move, a cheer went up, and suddenly we were on our way...

 Hatfield Forest is an extraordinary survival. Here, as the great Oliver Rackham puts it, 'all the elements of a medieval compartmental Forest survive: deer, cattle [sadly we saw neither], coppice-woods, scrub, timber trees, grassland, fen, the medieval Forest Lodge, and dozens of houses round the boundary of various dates back to the thirteenth century'. (There's also a rabbit warren, of later date.) Rackham reckons it unique in England and perhaps the world. It has survived because, in the mid-19th century, the Houblons, a banking family with a country house nearby, bought it to save it from the developers. They had used the forest as their deer park and pleasure ground since the 18th century, when Capability Brown put in a lake, and a very pretty Shell House (now a cafe and visitor centre) was built.
The Forest was saved again when the National Trust bought it in 1924, and since then the Trust has done good work on the conservation and restoration front, maintaining Hatfield's character as a working forest. It attracts a good many visitors, especially when the sun is out and it's dry underfoot, but it's easy enough to get away from other people and feel yourself part of a largely unchanged, centuries-old landscape of broad grassy rides, woodland paths and rough pasture. The coppices were carpeted with violets, both blue and white, and celandine, and the sun had wakened large numbers of Peacock butterflies, along with Brimstones galore, and the odd Tortoiseshell and Comma.
  Ah, England – England on a sunny day in spring, with the trees just coming into leaf and the birds singing. Whatever happens, nothing will ever lessen the beauty of that...

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