#02 – Castle in the Woods

They say that Oxleas Wood has stood for nearly 8000 years.

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Having walked beneath the bows and amongst the trunks of some huge oaks and massive pines, I can believe those boasts!

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Time Out magazine did a piece on getting closer to nature in London last week, and Oxleas wood was featured in the articles. I’ve never been to Oxleas wood before, I had never even heard of Oxleas Wood before the weekend, but on an overcast Saturday, I took the 80D out on my first outing and it is every bit as lovely as Time Out suggested.

When you visit Oxleas, you immediately get a sense of just how close it is to Greenwich and central London. The wood itself is hidden behind streets of residential properties; I think I could probably live across the road from the wood, oblivious of its presence for months it is so well hidden.

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But find it I did.

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Its a haven for dog walkers, and more than a few were happy to point out the best places to find the illusive woodpeckers I could hear but not see; despite their help, I never got a photo of any. But there were plenty of other photo opportunities.

Parakeeets, the squawking parrot-like species of green bird that plague Southeast London were their in their hoards, they are difficult to spot amongst the lush green canopy, but I did manage to find a nest hole in the thick trunk of one pine and it is needless to say, my long lens photography needs a little improvement. I wasn’t nearly quick enough to catch the busy birds passing to-and-fro through the trees. Over the next few weeks, long sense photography is definitely something I will work on.

Trees are a little easier to photo though, and between attempting to catch a parakeet in the viewfinder and chatting to the locals, I managed to capture some interesting images – I think.

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The key for me was getting off the beaten track, leaving behind the well-walked trail following the routes that only the dogs and squirrels run.

Being an 8000 year old woodland, you can imagine just how many felled trees and gnarled roots there are on show. But between them stand the firmest and tallest of Oxleas’ trees, and many of them are majestically imposing, they steal the attention from their smaller cousins from all who walk by.

After serving up a summer-like March, London has been notably chillier this week, and the Spring bluebells are struggling. Still, they carpet the woodland floor in their obviously iconic way. They still look impressive and instil that feeling of escapism from city life the daffodils don’t quite manage.

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You only find bluebells under the shade of strong branches and sat on a blanket of broken twigs, both give a sense of peace. It usually helps that in this setting, sunlight gets broken into those fine golden shafts you see in films and picture books, and that gives bluebells lighting that looks great even under the midday sun or beneath a cloud filled sky.

But there is another side to Oxleas Wood, a side in-keeping with the city life of London. Strange markings; arrows and glyphs, are painted on the trunks of the large trees – in graffiti.

It seems odd, but this actually suits the woodland, it ties it to the city and keeps its identity tethered to London. The graffiti – as far as I can see – is not vandalism, but instead, it guides exploration, just like the yellow arrows of the National Trust do in the Lake District. I would almost suggest that this graffiti actually suits Oxleas better than the yellow arrows of the Lake District ever would.

Follow these arrows for long enough, and you leave Oxleas Wood. Though the trees remain overhead, the name of the wood changes, and you come to a castle. Not grand like Knaresborough, or broken like Kirkstall Abbey, but tall, and compact. More like a sentry post, Severndroog Castle – I would imagine – looks more in keeping with today’s buildings than it would have hundreds of years ago. The odd angles of the turrets belie the 18th century heritage of the building, however, and the castle itself is now open to the public.

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I enjoyed my little Saturday adventure. What better way to spend a Saturday than exploring this lost corner of southern – very southern – London.

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