As I have noted before, and discovered as a result of writing my series of articles for the Kings Blog, it is quite amazing just how much early impressions and experiences have a long term impact upon the rest of one’s life. I have a passion for woodlands, forests, copses, hangers and spinneys. So much so that I am never happier than when I am within the boundaries of any of these wooded or tree filled areas. Much of their charm is due to the fact that two visits are never the same, even a time as short as a month will provide quite amazing changes to an area. Depending upon the time of year and the particular season changes can be dramatic, for example, a fairly barren and quiet woods in early spring is transformed within a few short weeks to a green wonderland filled with the song of newly arrived migratory birds.
But back to Kingsley as, with many things in my life, my love affair with woodlands began there in my very early days. The woods which appear upon my Ordnance Survey map as Stephenfield Copse and which are located to the right of the Binsted road north of the Straits were then known as Wheatley Copse by the locals. The road, which is quite a steep hill, we knew as Wheatley Hill and it went between the copse and apple orchards on the left hand side. It was within the boundaries of this copse that I was first allowed to go out to play and I went with Robbie Woodward who was, for quite a while, my childhood friend. He was a bit older than I and as such, I imagine, was considered sensible enough to look after us both. In any event those woods were our regular playground and it was within them that I developed my lifelong love and fascination with woodlands. Not a huge area of woods, hence no doubt the copse title, those woods provided the habitat for a large range of birds and plants. Hazel, oak and ash were the predominant trees but towards the top, and in the middle of the woods stood a large yew tree. This we named the Greenwood Tree from the Robin Hood stories which were very popular with us at the time. We spent many hours beneath that tree and up in its branches where we played out our Sherwood Forest adventures. Primroses grew in profusion throughout the copse and bluebells followed together with large quantities of wood anemones.
Throughout the year a range of butterflies could be found and, in general terms, the place was abuzz with life of all sorts. I have a feeling that at the time there were a few pheasant rearing pens in the fields below Hoggats and to the top eastern side of the copse. Certainly there were occasions in the winter when shooting took place in and around the copse and neighbouring woods and fields. The crow of cock pheasants was common throughout the year and remains for me an evocative woodland sound. It was also here that I learned to differentiate between the holes gnawed into hazel nut shells. Mice and squirrels have differing ways of dealing with the nuts and therefore leave their identities in the process. There were then still a few red squirrels in the area and the dormouse was common, loving as it does, hazel copses.
As I increased in age so I was able to wander further afield and Alice Holt Forest became an area which I often visited. There I found much larger trees and streams as well, a double bonus. As previously mentioned, in a former edition, there was also the large pond beside the forest which was later filled in.
Deer were common, roe and fallow, early morning and evening visits could usually be relied upon for a sighting. Quietly creeping towards a corner in the forest tracks and gingerly peering around was a good way of spotting deer grazing on the rides. Newly planted areas with small trees and, therefore, tender shoots also attracted the deer and on two occasions I was lucky enough to come across a fawn concealed in the undergrowth. Quite one of the most beautiful experiences mother nature has to offer. Fawns are beyond doubt the most enchanting little creatures that woodlands conceal. Instinctively those little creatures are programmed to remain motionless and their colouring is very good at providing a degree of camouflage. It can be quite scary when the doe realizes her fawn has been discovered as she will approach an intruder very closely and stamp her feet. Abandoning their own natural fear of humans they will go to extraordinary lengths to protect their offspring. Although, in my experience, they stop short of an attack their actions make one very wary. Needless to say, in such circumstances, it is neither kind or desirable to inflict distress upon mother or baby by remaining. A quiet and slow retreat is the best course of action. There is, however, a great and abiding joy in discovering and photographing such a wonder. Apart from the deer Alice Holt provided a great opportunity to observe foxes and hares. There were, and probably still are, goods numbers of both creatures in the area. The hares used the forest for cover and shelter and could be seen in the fields along its edges feeding. In the long field owned by Old Park Farm, and known as Forest Field, it was quite common to see up to a dozen hares. The Aldershot beagles hunted this area but they didn’t seem to make much of an impact upon the numbers of hares to be seen. Litters of fox cubs were also common in the area and could often be observed after the fields of grass had been cut thus allowing the animals to be seen from long distance. Before grass cutting takes place it is easy to establish the presence of fox cubs as they romp in the grass and flatten quite large areas. Flat areas and well used tracks in the grass will lead the observer to the earth, usually situated in a hedge row. There are often other tell tail signs, of the cubs, in the form of bones and feathers etc. from the various food the vixen has provided for her litter. Sitting quietly in a hedge an watching a litter of fox cubs at play is another great pleasure which early summer evenings provide.
After the winter months when generally woodlands are at their most quiet, the arrival of the many migratory birds suddenly transforms the whole atmosphere of a woods to a noisy and busy wonderland. Of course, all of this takes place at the beginning of the breeding season for all of our birds and the non-migratory varieties also enhance the woodland bird sound with their own additions to the throng. Song Thrushes, Whitethroats, Wood Warblers, Blackbirds, Chaffinches and, of course the most beautiful of them all, the Nightingale all contribute towards the breathtaking symphony of sound which is the English woods in spring and summer. All of the aforementioned were commonly heard in the Kingsley woods of my childhood, I hope they are still and the good folk of today’s village are still enjoying them.