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  • Writer's pictureBeth Morgan

Otley Chevin Forest Park

The path from the carpark was on a slight decline, a muddy track interrupted by large tree roots bursting from the ground; perfect height to catch my foot and send me into a falling sequence. This treacherous muddy path led to a large walkway coated in compacted gravel, a strong line stretching as far as the eye could see, lined by towering trees either side guiding the way. It was 10:40am and it was raining, the kind of rain that was fine and un-noticeable yet clung to my hair, soaking into the fibres of my clothes. The larger gravel path was an exposed area within quite a dense forest meaning there was no shelter from the rain and wind, however the trees acted as a warning of incoming gusts of wind gently swaying afar, up close echoing a sickening creak across the landscape; a sense of panic at the thought of that creak turning into a snap and a large tree cascading down out of the masses. After a few minutes of walking along the wide gravel path, I met a woman who had been approaching me from the opposite direction. She had two dogs with her whose coats looked a little dishevelled, clumps of mud gripping to their fur but they happily trotted around the trees – disappearing and reappearing as they followed their noses to points of interest. ‘Bad rain round the other side’ she said, heavily sighing as she tried to get her breath back. Her hair was sticking to her face, her coat changed to a darker shade due to the amount of water that the fabric absorbed.

After having a nice chat, I continued to walk down the gravelly path. The rain started to ease, possibly due to the trees moving in close, their branches stretching out overhead covering me with a protective barrier of leaves. The tree to my left was covered in moss, only one side of its trunk was coated with a thick green layer. The green felt almost luminous against the dark bark below, contrasting against the strong orange hue that erupted from the environment surrounding it, Autumn fully had its grip. The longer I looked at the mould, the more colours I discovered: acid green, mustard yellow, pale pink, turquoise. I moved a thick pink pen in erratic movements across a page in my field journal in response to this mould, the ink spreading across the page with each raindrop that hit it. Upon completing this quick sketch, I placed my field journal back in my coat pocket, carefully closing the press-stud to ensure it stayed safe within. The ground was saturated with water, each footstep of a walker churning the surface below into a claggy, muddy consistency, grabbing at my boots and creating loud squelching noises with each step. My black boots slowly began to become a shade of chocolate brown, coated in mud with a hint of plant life concealed within its depths.

Burnt orange, mustard, smoky red, paprika; vibrant colours burst from behind the strong lines of the trees around me. The colours were warm, each tone in progressive stages of decay as the Autumn turned to Winter. The ground linked with the sky, leaves upon branches becoming flames against a light grey, illuminating the raindrops that managed to break through the canopy. The temperature for December was reasonably mild, however the wind that managed to cut past the strong trunks was cold on my skin and bit at my cheeks causing me to pull the zip on my coat a little higher to try to protect my face. Looking down at the muddy ground, I noticed a clear shape that had been formed under immense pressure and weight – a horseshoe. There had been many people – and many dogs – on the path, yet after a few different routes appearing I was now alone and this horseshoe was the only indication of life I had seen for a while.

Being alone made me feel very small. The trees around me seemed to grow with each passing moment, their long arches curling further and further overhead as if I was becoming cocooned within their reach. Their trunks stood tall along the horizon, strong repeated forms prompting feelings of déjà vu and abstraction. Broken down with my mind as strong lines of pale blue on a vivid orange background. Although the wind continued to fight with the trees, at this point of the path, I felt more sheltered and warmer within my winter coat. My pace was slow, taking in my surroundings, noting the subtle differences in each tree, the way in which each one was uniquely impacted by the wind; moving in their own way, emitting their own sounds from the movement. Around five minutes further down the path, I came across a wooden sign with the words ‘Public Bridleway’ carved into the surface. This explained the presence of horseshoes within the mud. The sign pointed to another path leading deep into the trees, the track becoming ever darker the further I looked. A break in the clouds revealed a sliver of blue sky overhead, a spotlight of sun illuminating this small section of trees, warming my skin in its subdued Autumn heat.

This illuminating sun became a continuing feature in my walk from that moment on, disappearing and reappearing like the wind. These bursts of light electrified the surrounding colours; emphasising the deep tones and vibrancy that accompanies this time of the season. The warmth of the colours on the forest floor swirled into a spectrum, the light seeming to carry this colour upwards; ethereal mist-like form cloaking the trees around me making it feel as though I was in a dream, time seemed to slow and surrounding noise faded. Ferns coated the ground either side of the path I walked upon, a layer of lace across the forest floor. These plants became more noticeable than the large trees that they clung onto – feasting on their life to gain height up their thick trunks – parasites of Otley Chevin Forest Park. The landscape opened up as I approached a point in the path which split into four different directions. I looked up at the sky, and along the path to the left. The mud was thick and claggy in that direction, images of muddy boots and treacherous footing made me re-consider this as a viable option – the lady from earlier ringing in my ears ‘bad rain round the other side’. I turned around and followed the path that clearly led in a circle back to the carpark.

The wind thrashed at the treetops above, the noise deafening and terrifying. Creaking of trunks and the clattering of branches against their neighbour, one disastrous snap a gust away from the felling of an age-old giants. The path turned into an incline, the backs of my legs burning with the effort to power my tiring body up the hill. The rain eased for a while, its slow yet damp presence being constant previously even when the sun made an appearance. I was very aware of the muscles in my lower back, thighs and the strength of my knees to absorb the impact of each step. The light was still odd, this etherealness feeling as if a film or lens had been placed in front of my eyes, distorting my vision, obscuring colour; questioning my reality. The hill was deceivingly longer than my initial impression, struggling to catch my breath as the incline stretched on and on. A pylon with three long, thin cables came into view and stretched above the tree-line – a human presence within nature. These cables disappeared behind the tangled branches but it was clear that they were linked to another pylon nearby, continuing in this way probably across the whole forest park.

It was clear that this path very much did bring me back in a circle to the carpark as the noise of traffic became increasingly louder. The path led me back into the thicker part of the forest, meaning it became ever more difficult to traverse, mud underfoot causing my boots to slip, hidden rocks under the mud forming a perilous uneven surface for my ankles. A small bird flew low over my head, a flash of movement causing my eyes to follow. It settled in a tree nearby and began to sing. It’s high-pitched chorus a welcome sound. Standing for a moment to listen, multiple voices could be heard, the whole tree filled with the same type of bird, each with its own unique take on the same song. Leaving the birds behind, I continued. The trees thinned and an opening appeared where a dry-stone wall separated a field from the rest of the forest. This exposed section of landscape was very windy. It battered my face, my ears aching as they lost temperature – hearing becoming sensitive. Even the sun shining down upon me could not counteract this feeling. My eyes started to fill with water, my nose beginning to run. The trees started to huddle around me again, forming a barrier to protect me from the attacking wind. Many dogs now appeared – back to civilisation – their owners only a few steps behind to keep them in check. The small opening in the trees that came into view was very familiar, the entrance back to the carpark. Jumping out the way of a boisterous Jack Russell who was just beginning their walk, I stepped over the tree roots and back into the carpark at just after 11:50am where my walk ended.

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