18th July 2022

There’s always been something special about this place after the rain. In the old days, before Storm Arwen, the woodland felt heavy with rainwater, each individual pine needle of each individual pine branch holding a droplet, together making millions and millions of droplets of water gently held aloft by this wood. I always admired the way the tree trunks were blackened by the rain. It gave this woodland a different hue, a different mood; quiet and still and heavy and beautiful.

And now, post Arwen, and in the midst of summer when the ferns that were unfurling just a few weeks ago are now standing tall and strong and vibrantly green, this place feels beautiful again after the rain. Over winter, it felt heavy in a different way. Bare, fading, broken. But now this wood feels so full of new life. Humid and lush and vibrantly alive.

This is a walk that regular readers will know well: my favourite place, and this, below, my favourite view. Why the favourite? Because it’s home. This whole place feels like home. It’s the place to exhale, to refresh and detangle our minds; to feel inspired by the shifting light or the richness of the tones in the landscape. To enjoy the textures and the quietness of the landscape; the birdsong through the woods and the calls reverberating out over Hedderwick Sands. To simply feel at peace.

And I’ve been thinking about this a lot recently as the character of this woodland has changed with spring and now summer, and as the ferns and the grasses and wildflowers have carpeted this coastal landscape again. You can see what I mean in the first photo above and in those further below. Over winter and early spring, we were always conscious of the fallen and broken and hanging trees, and while that hasn’t changed, the vegetation is so tall now in places that it’s covered the fallen pines. If you didn’t know this place, you might walk here for the first time and wonder what had happened, looking at the dense ferns that are head height now in some areas, and wonder why there are so many single and broken trees, not realising that the woodland that once stood here is buried below those ferns.

You’ll see what I mean when scrolling to some of the later photos.

But first, this moment. The tree below: there had been two here, side by side, and I’ve long admired and photographed this pair. The one on the right had suffered root erosion from successive storms and high, high tides. This in itself isn’t unusual as this stretch of the shore is lined with the roots of trees that have fallen here; trees that have clung onto the land for as long as they could before that one storm or high tide eventually brought them down.

And the tree on the right – you can just see the roots and the base of the trunk – had been clinging on for a long time. Then Storm Arwen blew through. Given how many trees fell at John Muir Country Park (3,000 was the initial estimate last November) it seems amazing that this one had stayed upright, but it had moved, shifting to the left, leaning on its neighbour – the tree below. For months we walked here and I looked at this pair, aware that another strong storm might bring them both down, given the weight of this leaning tree.

But no, nature had other plans. Storm Malik arrived in January this year, and it was another strong storm, although thankfully not with the ferocious force of Arwen. But, in a vulnerable woodland – across many vulnerable woodlands – Malik left its mark. Here, trees that had survived Arwen were snapped or felled, fresh wounds across the landscape. And here, because of the wind direction, the hanging tree was moved a few feet to the right, away from its neighbour; hanging in space, waiting to fall.

On our subsequent walks we passed this tree with care, as we do with various hanging trees along the paths. And then, on this rainy walk on the evening of June 24, the tree had fallen. We’d had a couple of really windy days, and that’s all it took. This tree was laden with pine cones and I brought three home, as I have from others here.

I guess in writing this, I simply wanted to mark this one change. To bear witness, if you like. When a place has been a source of peace for so long, you pay attention.

This pathway that runs through the wood from the shoreline to the fields: this is what I was referring to earlier when describing how the ferns and vegetation had changed the character of the wood. And these photos are from three weeks ago; these ferns are even taller now so you can feel completely enclosed in places when walking along this path, and with a palpable shift in humidity.

On this walk, there was a touch of coolness with a light mist hanging in the air after the rain, softening the scene and the hues. I’m writing this on a hot day here, the warmest day of the year so far, and wishing I could transport myself back to these moments, out walking with the lads, and the cool, damp, lushness of this Friday evening.

John Muir Country Park, East Lothian, June 2022.