Leaving the car, parked beside the reservoir, we set off across the road bridge towards the dark expanse of woodland. The valley funnelled the wind into a crescendo of gusts that battered our forms and whipped the water below into a churning grey mass. After the summer heatwave, the reservoir was a shadow of its former self – ridged banks, raw in profile, towered above the waves. We leaned into the volleys, lulled into a false sense of security, only to have the squalls abruptly drop away, causing our progress to lurch between slow-motion and fast-forward … it was an exhilarating start to the walk.
The sky darkened further as we reached the foot of the trees and marbles of rain began to zigzag through the blasts of air. We joined a stony path that wound its way upwards, skirting the edge of the forest. As we climbed, the views across the valley gently revealed themselves, splaying away from the reservoir in a tapestry of rough grassland and grazed pasture.
A sudden bend in the path turned us from the open vistas onto a wide track, used by forestry vehicles; the route carved a bold line through the elegant profiles of the larches and pines, and the wind dropped … at ground level anyway. High above us, the slender trunks swayed in unison – enthusiastic choir members at an orchestral concert with skeletal silhouettes as far as the eye could see. We pulled coat hoods tighter around cold faces and breathed in the fresh atmosphere. Continuing along the track, fallen trees littered the forest floor at regular intervals, exposing shallow root systems to the elements. We glanced nervously at the moving skyscrapers and quickened our pace.
Lowering our heads against the rain, our attention was drawn to the streams that ran beneath the track. The rushing water, amplified by the channels, added a new voice to the symphony whilst cutting steep gorges down the hillside.
A large area abruptly opened out to our left, showcasing views of the valley and the reservoir below. The tangled ruin of tree stumps, twisted branches and bracken told a tale of recent felling, which provided a welcome window of light into the forest. A number of mature oak trees stood sentry over the scene, offering a clue to the land’s former character.
We left the track and meandered along a gnarled pathway, which led towards the lower woodland. Here the broadleaved trees grew in number – bare branches clattered together as the wind streamed past, providing a percussive dimension to the concert.
Passing young beech trees, stubbornly clinging onto their russet foliage, we turned onto an undulating path that ran parallel to the reservoir’s banks. The rumpled carpet of leaves gave way to umber needles, dampening our footsteps further as we moved through blocks of larch. The air had lost the wild freshness of the higher levels and was replaced by the rich, dark scents of the woodland floor – nature’s recycling.
We continued along the path, guided by remnant sections of dry-stone-walls that provided another marker of the land’s former use. Lurid green mosses – which upon closer inspection were exquisitely detailed – draped luxuriously across the dark stones.
The path marched on, running parallel to the higher route we had taken earlier, leading us back to our starting point. Tree-roots slowed our progress: exposed bones from an archaeological dig, they knotted the track, reminding us to remain in the present to watch our step.
Arriving at the reservoir, we gazed back at the forest. Our route was obscured, hidden in the protective embrace of the trees. The wind raged on, the waves tumbled and surged, and the dark woodland danced.