Discovering the Great North Wood

During lockdown, Catherine, like many of us, suddenly found herself spending a lot more time at home, and in need of something to do to break up the zoom call schedule (I think we can all relate to the zoom fatigue!). What better way to do this than getting outside, exploring the local area, and getting involved with a charity? Catherine has kindly written about her lockdown experience, and how it inspired her to become an outdoors person.

“Like many people, I learnt a lot about both myself and my neighbourhood during Lockdown. One of the most significant things was discovering that just 10 minutes’ walk from the flat I have lived in for 16 years is a lovely little wood. That wood became one of my Lockdown happy places.  

Let me rewind. It was the morning of 23rd April and I was heading to the park at the end of my road for a quick breath of fresh air before a day full of Zoom workshops. I bumped into one of my neighbours and her kids coming out of their house: ‘We’re off to pick wild garlic in the woods’, she said. ‘Which woods?’ I replied. ‘That makes me feel so much better,’ she exclaimed, ‘I felt so guilty when I discovered them last week. I have lived on this street six years!’ I have lived on this street for 16 years this week.  

The following day (when I was blissfully free of Zoom calls!) I followed her instructions to go through the gateposts on the corner of Beulah Hill and Spa Hill: ‘The ones that look like you’re going to go into someone’s garden.’ Twenty metres or so on a beautiful tranquil path opened up in front of me and within seconds I was plunged into a green oasis that smelt of wild garlic and was noisy with bird song. I spent the next hour or so wandering around the woods, discovering the fairy houses and wooden carvings that have been the hard work of The Friends of Spa Wood

Since then I have gone walking in those woods more times than I can remember. I soon realised that it provided a handy short cut to my partner’s house so I would cut through it on the way for garden gate chats and cake deliveries. I saw numerous dog walkers and runners and even spotted one person sat on a fallen tree working on their laptop.

I happened across temporary street art that just looked so amazing strung between two trees. One day I said to my oldest friends in our WhatsApp group: ‘I am off to the woods to listen to the birdsong,’ to which one of them quipped: ‘Is this your emergency message? Have you been kidnapped?’ I very much was not the kind of person who would go listening to birdsong, but listen to this – in the silent days of Lockdown the birds were magnificent. 

At some point I took to Google to find out more about Spa Wood. I had heard of the Great North Wood and knew that my area of Upper Norwood (better known as Crystal Palace) and the neighbouring West Norwood and South Norwood carried its name. My Googling quickly led me to the London Wildlife Trust and their conservation work on 13 remaining patches of the ancient wood. Their Go Jauntly App showed me walking routes to visit these sites. I decided that one of my Lockdown projects would be to visit all the sites in the London Wildlife Trust project. On the 12th of July I ticked off the last on the list with a trip to One Tree Hill.

Well, I say the last. Actually I couldn’t visit the New Cross Gate Cutting site because it is restricted access, but hopefully before too long I will get there. That’s because after my visit to One Tree Hill I came home, signed up to be a member of London Wildlife Trust and am now a volunteer on the Great North Wood project. I run my own business, a storytelling agency called Mile 91, so I am lucky enough to be have the flexibility to be able to take time out to volunteer during the week. My first session was at Spa Woods and I will be there again next Friday. They’re easy sessions to get to as I only need to leave my desk 15 minutes before the start time. When work allows I hope to volunteer at some of the sites further afield and I’ll make getting to the New Cross Gate Cutting a priority.

At the start of 2020, if someone had told me I would spend a large chunk of my year walking around woods in South London and by the time September came I’d be a volunteer for a conservation charity I would never have believed them. But would anyone have believed what was to come at the start of the year? Discovering the woodland areas near me as been one of the great joys of this unbelievable year though and I am really happy to now be doing my small bit to keep them healthy for others to enjoy.”

Catherine Raynor is a founding director of Mile 91, a storytelling agency for people who do good things. She can be found on Twitter and Instagram at @catherineraynor. All images courtesy of Catherine Raynor.

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