Theres some secret places that we Orienteers get to whilst competing in events, yesterdays session brings me to post about them. If you driven for several Kilometres into a private estate in Dorset, by invitation of course, or even if you havent this post might appeal. On the wildest day outdoors for a while, I had a new place to explore in and compete in a race, as much as any racing penetrating into the hidden places of England evokes some strong memories in me. Roald Dahl conjured these places beautifully in the book “Danny the champion of the world”, a story based in a rural county peopled by rich landowners, farmers, countrymen and poachers. Imagine if you will, leaving behind the crowd, and delving into a sylvan underworld hidden away from where most people go. Underfoot the freshest wild Dorset garlic is currently rampant, assaulting the senses with its pungent aroma, this stuff before it sprouts small white flowers is as good as any green addition to your diet, in fact theres probably 6 of your 5 a day vegetable power in a portion of this treated like spinach. First tendrils of new Bluebells are everywhere, a seasonal treat we all like to see, but I want to delve deeper than that. When we explore in Orienteering, in the more remote managed forests there are many towers up in the trees marked on the map and handy checkpoints, they are seating places for keepers entrusted with looking after the forest,or are they?
We were deep in the estate yesterday. Plenty of wild deer around, leaping out when coming near to them. On the longer courses as mine was many sections involved absolute seclusion, and solo running. I love this, and when a pheasant flies up in front of me as they did yesterday at least twice Im reminded again of how we are present in protected England, with all the changes modern life brings, there are some constants- and knowing that Pheasant shooting season starts in November in these places is a part of ancient English culture. In fact the culture Dahl wrote about years ago in “Danny”, I couldnt have reached these places growing up as boy in Blackpool, so being in them now completes the circle for me. Even as I run around on my Orienteering set course, every section unveils a new hiding place for birds, animals and maybe a poacher! Dahls vision pitched the hero of the book Dannys father against gamekeepers that still stalk the woods today, and more so who protect the stocks of Pheasants. This is the culture of these places, and I make no ethical judgement on shooting for sport, it happens, Im just lucky to be able to explore these wildest and most secret places. In some ways the owners of these estates arent any different from the ones outlined in “Danny”, they may be wealthiest in the land, maintaining it as Englands green and pleasant land, dear Old Blighty that never changes now matter how far we stray.
Near the end of the course I came across this metal object, which intrigued me- and further evoked the spirit of “Danny” , take a look at the first shot, evidently its to ‘protect trees’
With a little inspection though, the contents are revealed,
Now I might be wrong but that looks like Pheasant food to me? Protecting trees? or fattening the birds ready for shooting later in the year? who ever will know, I dont but imagining the keepers, skulking around at dusk, looking for poachers out gathering food for the family still thrills me. I managed to stay out of the clutches of the beaters yesterday, didnt fall into any pits set to catch me out and got back in one piece to tell the story. It isnt a park run for sure.
Tribute to Roald Dahl author of Danny the Champion of the World one of my favourite childhood books.