Imagining the wildwood

I’m intrigued, not only because the Woodland Edge conference will somehow be happening within the forest itself, but just a stones throw from Taunton Racecourse. I’ve a loose affiliation with this place and a grey memory of photographing some hardy punters there one very breezy February afternoon. I learnt two things that day… 1. If your trains heading due north to Cheltenham, you’re going to the wrong race meeting  2. Having a camera round your neck can be a passport to generous hospitality, but a compass is a more reliable source of direction. I’m expecting something quite different from the Woodland Edge to what I experienced in the Members Enclosure a few years ago and I reckon that’s a positive. Wishfully, I’m hoping there’ll be a lovely stew simmering away in Camp Neroche to guide me in off the M5 when I make my way down from Edinburgh in a few weeks time (that was part of the deal yeh Gavin?)

Call this work?! Overlooked by the oaks on the edge of the woods, the team try to get down to timetable planning

If you don’t know the precise whereabouts of the event, from what I understand you’ll need to aim for a pub called the Greyhound Inn and then go north-west for a bit. I might claim to know something about what the venue looks like by peering down at it from space, but I prefer to let Gavin Saunders’ photos fertilise the roots of you’re imagination. After browsing the fruit’s of the Neroche Landscape Partnership Scheme’s website, I can’t help but speculate on the possibility of glimpsing a wild boar in the undergrowth or listening to the damp chorus of rooks homing in for the night. Having spent the last two months in Edinburgh putting up with whiny seagulls at my window like something out of a Hitchcock film, Michael Palin’s desire to escape the confines of his pet shop for something wilder feels quite pertinent.

Considering I was only introduced to Monty Python a few weeks ago by my flatmate, Alex Mitchell’s cartoon was completely lost on me when I received it back in August. First impressions can be deceiving, in haste I had initially mistaken Neroche as the event’s corporate sponsor. Having done some research on the matter though, I realised it was actually the name offered to the forest site in the 13th century when it was kept as a royal hunting estate. According to this nifty leaflet ‘Neroche’ is derived from the Old English nierra and rechich, meaning “the camp where hunting dogs were kept”… I guess a lot has changed since it’s royal days I will have to wait and see. Unless the racecourse now doubles up as a greyhound track during the week, I probably don’t need to worry too much about being savaged by dogs in the darkness of the night.

The conference planning group sit in the sun at the conference site, dreaming of the day when all the tents and people start arriving...

Over the next 2-3 weeks I will try to report back to you bits and bobs of what I see, hear, smell and eat from within the Woodland Edge as the event unfolds. So with 120+ attendants and delegates expected to land on Camp Neroche from all over the UK later this month, be sure to grab yourself one of those last remaining pairs of tickets as we announce the line-up here. As the leaves begin to fall, volunteers have been out and about crafting seating areas for participants over the weekend. I can just imagine myself sunk into one of these rustic creations now, lazily sipping on some local cider and reflecting on the days proceedings in front of an open fire. To top that off, I guess all we need is one of those better-late-than-never Indian summers…

– James