I could smell the scorched earth and wood before I saw it. We were walking at John Muir Country Park a few weekends back, on a warm Sunday, and we’d decided to take the reverse route to our usual loop, walking along the side of the woodland that faces onto the salt marshes. I’d paused to take a video of a view through the trees on the edge of the woodland as the sunlight was catching the grasses in the breeze, and as I moved closer I thought, what is that smell? I knew what it was, but why… why could I smell burning?
And as I looked across the fallen trees, I realised there had been fire here. Patches of scorched, blackened earth. There’s the remains of an old bunker (you can see it in the first photo above), a remnant from the days when this area was used as a training ground after being requisitioned by the War Office during WW2 (this was before Hedderwick Plantation was planted in the 1950s), and I walked on top of it to gain a wider view of this scene.
To be clear, this isn’t a camping spot. You’ll sometimes see people camping along the edge of Hedderwick Sands, but you wouldn’t here, below these unstable trees. And it certainly isn’t a ‘let’s just stop here and light a fire and watch the sunset’ spot. The earth is parched, and a few weeks ago, when there had been no rain for weeks, the tree trunks and branches were bone dry. No one would light a fire here.
And yet, here it was…
We walked on, skirting around the edge of the wood in this gorgeous light, the setting sun brushing the tree trunks and the pine branches with golden and amber hues. It was beautiful. Because that’s the thing: some people will look at Hedderwick Plantation and see only its destruction, but we see its beauty; the landscape evolving to hold and shelter new life. A landscape that deserves to be respected and protected.
John Muir Country Park, August 2022.