Aside from his charming company, one of the wonderful things about having Craig for a visit is it gets me out seeing things that I haven’t yet seen. I think I assumed that some of the more beautiful countryside areas require a lot of effort and costly train journeys.
But today for just £1 we caught the number 3 bus all the way to Dalkeith, where we wandered off to the Dalkeith Country Park. Craig had been drawn to my wee guide book’s promise of a “Forest of Oak.” The park contains the remnants of the oak forest of Caledon, the kind of eerie woodland I read about as a child in fairy tales. Imagine gallant men on horseback braving the darkened tracks while the crows called ominously overhead.
The entire park is about 850 acres and was once part of the estate owned by the Douglas family of Dalkeith. In 1643 the Buccleuchs bought the land and is now one of four estates in Scotland owned by the Duke of Buccleuch. The park is managed by Buccleuch Countryside Service (It is a beautiful park so I will try not to complain about the many tax write offs available for wealthy aristocrats in Britain). Near the park's entrance also stands the grand 18th century residence of Dalkeith House, which unfortunately looks less than fabulous at the moment as it is currently covered with quite a bit of scaffolding.
We ignored the advertisements for the adventure park (perhaps I shall swing through the trees another time) and followed the trail along the river. We had to keep stopping because we kept finding glorious clumps of mushrooms for Craig to photograph. Said he: “Arboreal fungi -can never have enough.” We also paused often to watch the falling leaves and the way the languid river carried them softly along to some unknown destination.
Upon reaching to top of a long zigzag path we saw the first of the oak trees. But rather than stay to the path, which didn’t look like it promised enough tree gazing, we headed off into a field and ended up spending some time dodging cow pats and squelching mud before finally traversing the field and joining the path again.
The trail was perfect in so many ways. I helped Craig search for acorns for his beloved. I also collected a new feather, some small oak branches and some acorns of my own. Most of the trees were gnarled with age and many of the branches were bent in a way that made it look like some mysterious hands had wrung them out like a damp towel. We ogled deep slits in fallen trees where mushrooms were growing. Sometimes the wind kicked up and acorns would rain down on us along with the leaves. One leaf fell on Craig’s head but he decided to just carry it there until the wind decided to take it again, which it did not far down the path.
When we were out of the oak forest we followed a wider path and this is when the sun broke through and glowed through the still-green leaves of poplars and birch trees. We reached the marble basin dedicated to the memory of Jock Hunter, or as Craig put it, “a monument to a serial thief of men’s underwear.”
This really is such a lovely country. I think that so much of the time I have my eyes closed to the splendour that is everywhere, waiting for me to notice it. I go to work, I come home. I take the same walks and travel the same routes on my trips to the shops. I must miss so much.
I still feel a little stunned by today’s discoveries. Many of the oak trees I saw today began their lives in the 14th century. We saw one whose trunk has been severely split, but still it lives, its leaves fluttering above as if no wound in the world could keep them from dancing.
My collection of precious acorns are held inside a wine glass on my shelf, beside which is a larger glass holding two feathers. I shall add my little oak branches to a vase and consider my Halloween decorations well underway.
Once again Samhain is nearly here and I am already hungrily holding on to this, my favourite season. It is too gloriously eerie, too erotic, too sensual. My favourite moment of the day was when the wind pushed down a long, thin branch toward me. The tip of the branch came closer and closer to my neck as if to touch me, just lightly. A small gesture of perceived lust that made me groan.
But now I am nearly out of earl grey tea, so a trip to Sainsbury’s is required. Tonight’s special treat is chocolate bread and butter pudding with ice cream. Gooey good.