At the furthest point of the wood, where our land tapers to a sharp triangle, the boundaries are cliffs on either side. On one side the cliff is vertical, dropping away to marshy farmland; on the other the cliff is steep but climbable, rising to boggy farmland above. Our trees cling to the limestone outcrop here, and at the top, a relatively short length of fence separates woodland from pasture. This difficult-to-get-to spot is where most of our intruder sheep sneak into the wood; the sheep fencing we inherited when we bought the land is ancient and rusted, often broken and dipping to ground level – an easy dodge for a sheep. From the number of skulls we have found in the wood, it seems there has been a definite movement of stock through the wood for quite a while; clearly some of our visitors didn’t make it out alive. Unsurprisingly, when we suggested we’d like to replace the fencing along the top of the cliff, the field owner was keen. Hence the reason we found ourselves in a part of the wood we rarely visit, scrabbling for hand and foot holds as we hauled ourselves to the top of the wet, slippy banking to assess the project.
‘The plateau below would be a great place to build,’ Mark remarked. ‘Not far from your house.’
I looked back. Through the bare trees, the view out over the estuary was beautiful. The tide was out, sun reflecting from the fertile muds of the bay. I thought about the day, over two years ago now, when I found ‘my house’ in the trees. It was early on in our ownership of the wood, the time I was dropping Amos at nursery for three mornings a week. At least one of these mornings I would allow myself the time to go to our wood and get to know it. I made myself way markers and identified old paths, careful not to get lost and make myself late to pick up a very unsettled Amos. It was as one of these excursions was coming to an end that I looked back and saw a little plateau beneath the path I was taking. I almost left it, but decided I just had enough time to investigate – I didn’t like to leave it unexplored. I took the narrow limestone route onto the widening plateau and walked to its edge, a vertical drop off down to the fields below. But as I walked round the curve of the edge, back to the path, I looked down to see a wide ledge below me, tumbled with the remains of a building. It looked like a small homestead. My heart thumped against my ribs; I felt like I was in a Famous Five story. I phoned Mark as I stood there, buzzing. ‘You’ll never guess what I’ve found… a house!’
From where I stood it was impossible to get down to the building, but by walking on from the plateau, scrambling down the cliff and turning back on myself, I made it to the ledge. There was no easy way up from the bottom of the cliff either – it was a strange place to put a building. Excitedly, I picked my way over to it. In front of me was the ruins of a small house with outhouses. It had no roof and one wall had fallen down, but there was a window and a door way, and a cupboard cut back into the solid rock of the limestone cliff. The back wall was beautifully built and still standing, set into the cliff with holes to support beams. Did the house once have a second story? Standing on the rubble filling the main room’s floor, I wondered about the people who had gazed from the window. Words rose to my lips: ‘Who were you?’ I imagined a family there, imagined the view through newly coppiced woodland. This was the perfect place for a home, sunbathed from sun rise, almost to sun set. But how would you ever get in or out, and how would you stop children or animals dropping off the edge? I pictured the house rebuilt, a studio or workshop with a huge window to watch the bay through. It was hard to drag myself back to the here-and-now, but I couldn’t hang about. I ran back through the wood on my way to pick up Amos, buoyed on exhilarated imagination.
Later on, Mark and I asked around. It turned out a number of people in the area knew of the existence of the building, and one of the local farmers thought it had been a store for dynamite used in the quarry further round the cliff from us. So not a home after all. But somehow that hasn’t spoilt it. The little building feels like a home; it holds a spark of excitement and curiosity whenever I visit it. And it holds a little memory for me of the way I felt the day I found the little building hidden in the woods.