Dusk falls in the winter woodland. The birdsong echoes out more clearly without the rustle of summer leaves.
My 18 month old daughter has recently learnt the word, “another.” From behind me, where she sits in her carrier, she excitedly calls “tree!” A pause. “An-o-ther tree!” A pause. We wait. Luckily, she has been distracted by a sparrow in the hedgerow. “Bird!” she waves goodbye as it takes flight.
We have picked a different route today, to the east of the woods. It is a gentler, quicker walk and, hopefully, less swampy, as it is on higher ground.
We fall into our usual marching pattern. My husband keeping up with our two youngest boys, who go at running pace. Our second son zipping back and forth between us. My eldest son chats to his sister and helps me, pointing out trip hazards and low branches – hard to spot whilst shouldering a baby carrier.
These fences are a new sight. Previously, the wardens relied on bright red tape to keep walkers out of the protected areas. Instead, how natural this woven barrier looks, merging with the trees beyond. It will double as a haven for wildlife too.
The boardwalk will look stunning in springtime, surrounded with bluebells and bowers of blossom, but it is most welcome today, when it protects us from storm-washed ground.
It ends a little too soon. One glance at this path and we all take a diversion through the undergrowth.
When we three stragglers catch up with my third son, he is transfixed. Autism gives him an unwavering attention to details that might otherwise be missed. I call to him yet he does not move nor answer. Thinking that perhaps he is watching a timid creature, I approach him quietly.
I wonder what it was in this scene that captivated him – perhaps the symmetry of the trees framing the fields beyond, or the vibrant greens after many weeks of steady rainfall? Maybe the striking silhouettes against the pale sky. I gently place my arm around him and he nestles in as we share this moment of stillness together.
Afterwards, it is as if my mind has been sharpened to the sights before me; my son constantly reminds me of the delight to be found in the apparantly simplest of things. A little way on, I see the mossy tree trunks, almost iridescent in the strange glow of the pre-dusk light. I turn to tell my son and, of course, he is already down at ground level, inspecting them.
A last view of this February woodland before heading home. Spring is almost here. The rambling thorny brambles that carpet the forest floor will be covered in delicate white blackberry blossoms and scattered amongst them will be countless English bluebells. The Charnwood Forest has been seemingly dormant for months, but very soon it will burst into life.