The English countryside was once a refuge for writers and artists of slender means. The life was peaceful, the air was fresh, and the rents were cheap. But like exotic plants transplanted to alien soil, they brought their own peculiarities to their new habitat. And they could arouse suspicion and sometimes loathing in the natives.
The yew trees of Kingley Vale comprise the most extensive yew forest in Britain and perhaps in all of Europe. Nestled in a cleft of the South Downs not far from Chichester, the site was declared the UK’s first National Nature Reserve in 1952.
It’s an aspect of the modern condition: most of us see more creatures on television than we do in the wild. Beauty and strangeness are translated into waveforms and pixels and then into a simulacrum. Not all of the beauty and strangeness is lost, however, and nor is the sense of relatedness, perhaps even kinship.
We were walking through Juniper Wood when we saw these outgrowths gleaming on the ground like some rare and improbable fungi. ’Gralloch,’ one of my companions said, and then, ‘Poachers’. Gralloch is a word derived from the Scottish Gaelic grealach, ‘entrails’.