Wednesday, April 06, 2005

Looking out over the valley

I went to Bedgebury Pinetum with my parents last weekend. The Pinetum, in the heart of Kent, looms large in my psyche though I can only remember visiting it twice and have probably gone there no more than half a dozen times in my life. It was where my Dad proposed to my Mum. Then we visited it a couple of times when I was a toddler, before and soon after my sister was born, one of the iconic photographs in my Nan's collection is of her grandchildren sitting on the trunk of a tree that had been cut down for kids to play on: Me first, probably somewhere between two and three, then behind me my cousin John, a few months younger but always bigger, then his brother James, about five, then Daniel and Matthew, around seven and nine, then Mandy who was the eldest of the kids and probably already twelve.

Bedgebury Pinetum is, when I read The Hobbit or The Lord of the Rings, what I imagine the Shire is like. It is the forest from The Lion, The Witch and the Wardrobe or The Last Battle, it is Sherwood Forest, it is Dunsinane. Although the park area is quite a small part of the location, when I was a toddler it seemed impossibly vast and I think that is part of the attraction. There's also something about forests that captivates me, they are fantastic liminal spaces where we can step out of the everyday and into that mythic English past that never existed, of Arthur, Robin or Geoffrey. Other people might prefer their hills or their moors, I prefer the stillness of the forest, it is a place to recharge, retreat and regroup, the wood is the bated breath before the next step. When you stand alone in a forest for once nature is not subserviant to you, it can take your breath and turn it back into oxygen and if you were to drop dead it could easily swallow your bones to nourish itself. Treat a forrest with respect and it will let you peak behind some of it's masks. When I die I want my ashes scattered in a forest, this one if it still exists.


In case you didn't know, a pinetum specialises in the cultivation of conifers. Bedgebury is the national pinetum for the UK, and a hasty Googling would suggest there's only a couple of others in the United Kingdom in total. The paths aren't great for getting my Mum around in her wheelchair and talking to one of the staff it seems all profits they make go to the Forestry Commission and the only money they get from them has to go to the upkeep of the conifer collection. Getting shafted by political people: Happens to us all.

From the other side of the valley

So I don't remember my earliest visits there any more except at an unconscious level that is probably generated by those photographs. It's a place that you really do need a car to get to, there's no train station nearby and while buses probably do go to the local villages they equally probably do so irregularly, and then you've still got a mile or two to walk from there. Due to the lack of funding from the Forestry Commission the amenities are basic but once you actually get into the park itself it is wonderfully peaceful.

According to the events diary they are holding concerts there this summer from Madness and The Beautiful South. I don't care for Heaton's lot but the idea of Madness, one of the original urban bands, transplanted to the depths of the countryside is an intriguing one.

Safety tip

Travel Tip: Take plenty of bread. The ducks and geese by the lake are really pushy.


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