Cherry blossom, tigers and dragons

Lockdown was easing, spring was in the air (if still a little chilly) and writer Anne Boileau was wasting no time in meeting a friend. The pair chose Arger Fen – “one of the loveliest woods I know” – for their walk and it held for Anne the magic it always had. Her beautiful words here are both reflective and offering a message of help – please enjoy and share with those you love and cherish.  

I celebrated the easing of lockdown restrictions on April 12 by meeting up with my friend Liz from Lavenham. It was a gorgeous cold, clear day. We met at the layby on the road between Wormingford and Assington to enjoy a walk in Arger Fen.
I’ve known this ancient wood for a long time and it’s one of the loveliest woods I know. My mother Angela Boileau used to live in West Bergholt and she and I watched in anguish as the Forestry Commission felled a portion of the wood and replanted it with conifers. After several decades, those imposters have been removed and the natural ancient woodland allowed to regenerate; it is growing back with vigour, volunteering a variety of native trees and shrubs, including a good number of tall cherry trees.
I was prompted to go there by the Japanese flowering cherry Tai Haku in my garden; I planted it in memory of my mother. But my late father-in-law Vernon Clarke, of Colne Engaine, also reminded me to go there; he always made a point of visiting Arger Fen in April. I remember him looking up in awe at those veteran trees: their straight, striated trunks, their generous spreading branches, garlanded with white blossom. He was a veteran tree himself by then.
There was plenty to enjoy when looking down at our feet, too: shiny celandines; clumps of primroses; delicate white wood anemones spangling the ground, interspersed with violets and ground ivy; on the higher ground, bluebells are waiting like ballerinas in the wings, with as yet just a hint of purple among the lush leaves; in the boggy area down by the stream, where a causeway is provided for visitors, the woodland floor is carpeted with fragrant wild garlic, dog’s mercury and wood sorrel.
Liz and I got a bit lost and walked back along the steep lane to the ford, past Tiger’s Hill Wood, where I recalled joining Ronnie Blythe and his friends for a bluebell picnic.
Back at our cars, we gratefully opened a thermos of tea and sat gazing across the Stour Valley towards Bures. The rounded contours of the land, oak trees still bare, hedges bright with blackthorn blossom, two horses throwing long shadows on the meadow. The folded landscape was pure John Nash; the blue sky with white clouds was pure Eric Ravilious; and the clouds of blossom on the trees and in the hedges was pure Samuel Palmer.
Wormingford. Wissington. Assington. Tiger’s Hill. The very names conjure up a hint of landscape memory, the ancient history of this borderland between Essex and Suffolk. On the wall in Wiston Church there’s a mural of a coiled dragon. We used to swim by that church; once a grass snake slithered right past my nose on the meniscus… a miniature dragon?
Ronnie Blythe has a theory that the Worm slain by Saint George (and some say it happened in Blood Field, behind Wormingford Church) was in fact a Nile crocodile who came here as a baby in the pocket of a crusader to be a pet for his children. When it grew too big for the bath, it was released into the Stour; there it thrived on a diet of lampreys, sturgeon, pike and eels… and grew very large and alarming. At which point they had to call in the health and safety officer on his white charger, with his deadly lance.