9 August 2016
At the end of June Commando injured his ankle. Our GP, when I finally managed to persuade him to go, told him he was too old to be running and should give up at once because he probably had osteoarthritis. Obviously, we ignored this diagnosis. Three weeks later, with things not really improving, Commando visited a sports physio for a second opinion. The diagnosis this time was a possible stress fracture. He suggested a full assessment at the Perform Sports Medicine Centre at the Aegis Bowl and an X-ray.
Unfortunately, when Commando went to get the X-ray the doctor at the Royal Southants didn’t agree.
“I’ll stake my medical reputation that you don’t have a stress fracture. It’s almost certainly tendinitis,” he said, refusing outright to X-ray the offending ankle. “We don’t do X-rays without a GP referral.”
So, despite his misgivings, Commando went back to the GP. The GP suddenly changed his mind about the original diagnosis and agreed it was probably tendinitis and almost certainly not a stress fracture but arranged an appointment for an X-ray ‘just in case.’
Today was Commando’s birthday. It was also the day of his appointment at Perform. He didn’t really know what to expect, especially as the X-ray appointment hadn’t yet come through, but it seemed an expert in sports injuries ought to be able to help. The physiotherapists there look after the Hampshire Cricket team and other elite athletes after all so they obviously know their stuff. As the Aegis Bowl leads directly onto Telegraph Woods I thought I’d go along and have a little explore while he was getting his once over.
Leaving Commando in the hands of the physio I set off over a stile and onto the trail I’d looked down before I turned back on my last walk here. To my right there were diggers and machines working away on a new golf course that will one day be part of the Aegis Bowl complex. They were kicking up a lot of dust and there wasn’t much of a view so I carried on. Soon I was through the kissing gate and back on the trail I’d walked before.
Now I was amongst the tall pines on a wide gravel trail. The ground below the trees was greener than before, filled with ferns and brambles. It was cooler in the shade of the pines and I wished I’d bought a jacket to cover my bare arms. Before long I reached the place where the trail divides. Last time I walked the straight trail through the woods, hoping not to get lost and looking for the remains of an Iron Age fort that’s supposed to be there somewhere. This time I decided to take the path to my left.
The trail curved steeply downwards through the slender trunks of the pines. Wooden beams had been laid out to form shallow steps. It occurred to me that, for every down, there is a corresponding up and, for the first time, I wondered at the wisdom of choosing this trail. Commando’s assessment appointment would take about an hour and I had no idea where the trail would lead.
The further I descended the cooler it became and, despite the white noise hum of the motorway somewhere behind me, it was eerily silent. Walking alone in woodland is one of my favourite things and, although they are peaceful places, they are rarely silent. Today there were no birds singing, no rustles of squirrels amongst the undergrowth, nothing but my own footsteps and breath. The silence made me feel uneasy, as if I was being watched. A look behind revealed an empty trail but I couldn’t shake the feeling. Something about these woods felt very spooky.
The familiarity of my iPhone in my hand felt oddly comforting and I was glad I’d decided to leave the fancy camera at home. To my right the ground sloped steeply upwards, tall trees cutting out the sun. Perhaps this was the hill fort? It would certainly be a good defensive position. Maybe I was sensing the spirits of all the Iron Age occupants? Whatever it was I was keen to move on as quickly as I could.
A little further on I noticed a gap in the trees to my left. Through it I could see a wonderful view of the work on the golf course. From my cold and dark vantage point the wide open, sunny space looked inviting even with diggers in the distance kicking up clouds of dust.
There was nothing to do but to keep moving forwards through the deep gully, skirting the edge of the pine covered hill. When I spotted a side trail going up the hill towards the path I’d walked before I decided to take it. Perhaps The spooked feeling would disappear when I got to the top?
It was a steep climb and the effort did at least warm me up. When I reached the top I realised I had no idea how far along the trail I was and I dithered for a moment or two trying to decide whether to head towards Telegraph Road or turn back towards the Aegis Bowl. A look at the time told me it was too early to turn back so I decided to go forwards for a while, at least until I got my bearings.
Before long I realised I was getting close to the gate out of the wood. Ahead was the raised grassy area that I now know is a resevoir, I could see the metal railings surrounding it through the trees. Rather than turn back the way I’d come I took the side trail leading past the resevoir. This was a risky tactic because I had no idea where it would take me but I hoped I’d end up coming across the low path I’d left earlier. There were at least broad leaved trees here on the higher trail and a little dappled sunlight. Even so, the uneasy feeling stayed with me.
A short while later the trail divided. Inatinct told me to take the trail to my left. It was heading in the direction I needed to go but curiosity led me forwards instead. Whether this was a good move or not remains to be seen but soon the trail ahead was bathed in sunlight and there were flowers. These were the first flowers I’d seen since I stepped over the stile so I stopped to photograph them.
A few more steps and I was looking out over the golf course again, this time from the far side. In the distance I could see the road the diggers use, close to the point I’d entered the woods. Beyond the trees was the Aegis Bowl. The golf course site was bounded by a wire fence and the trail ran to my left and my right beside it. A little way to the right a wooden gate had fallen or been pushed over. If I’d dared I could have walked onto the golf course but I knew I needed to head off towards the left.
Without the fence it would have been a pleasant trail with the sunny golf course to my right and mountain ash and beech trees to my left, even if it wasn’t quite going in the direction I wanted. As it was I felt a little hemmed in and the dark woods felt like a malevolent presence. Quite why I felt so spooked is a mystery, as far as I can tell there is nothing to be afraid of in these woods and I’ve never felt this way before but I couldn’t seem to shake the feeling.
In an effort to distract myself I looked at the details around me. There were young beech nuts forming and the leaves of many of the beech trees were dotted with a plague of furry orange bumps. These, I knew, were caused by beech gall midge and contained the larvae of the hartigiola annulipes fly. They don’t harm the tree but they do make it look as if it has a nasty case of chicken pox or maybe acne.
Then there were the fat berries on the mountain ash, hanging in big bunches just above my head. Their colours ranged from greenish yellow to bright red. In fact these are not berries at all, but fruits. Once upon a time they were widely eaten although they need to be cooked first or the bitter parasorbic acid can cause indigestion and even kidney failure. The rowan, or mountain ash is traditionally a magical tree, giving proctection against evil beings and witches, along with preventing travellers from getting lost. About then, both of those things felt as if they’d come in useful.
The trail turned sharply right, following the contours of the golf course. Finally I was heading the right way. Even so, I still had a fence to my right and no way into the woods to my left and I didn’t really know where the trail would lead me. A look over the fence across the golf course showed I was getting closer to my destination though and I still had plenty of time left.
Five minutes later I came to a gap in the trees. Railway sleepers formed a bridge over what must be a stream in winter or at least a ditch and I recognised this as the place I’d stopped to look over the golf course earlier. Beyond, up a trio of wooden steps, was the trail I’d been on, close to the bottom of the steep steps where the spooky feeling had started. Truthfully, I didn’t really want to go back into the wood but I had no choice.
Rather than go back the way I’d come and pass the point where I’d started to feel afraid, I followed a narrow trail cutting diagonally across the slope. I could only hope it wouldn’t Peter out and leave me stranded with no choice but to turn back.
The trail wasn’t as steep as the one I’d come down but steep enough that I was glad to stop to take a photo of a lone foxglove. Puffing a little I reached the top and found I was almost back where I started. A look at my watch told me I still had quite a lot of time to spare.
Right before the kissing gate there was another side trail going off to my left. Part of me wanted to get out of the wood as quickly as possible but, with time to spare, I thought I should walk along it a little way at least and see if it led anywhere interesting. It wasn’t as clear a trail as the ones I’d been following so far and, when I reached a large oak tree whose trunk was covered in impressive burrs (or burls if you’re American), I stopped. These bulbous tangly growths are caused by stress, virus or fungus and the wood they produce is valued by wood sculptors because of its twisted grain. This would be a very valuable tree I should think.
Close by I could see the Aegis Bowl through a gap in the trees. I could even see my little car parked just behind the monkey puzzle tree and I took this as my signal to turn back. Perhaps the trail would have led me somewhere if I’d carried on but I figured it would still be there another day and perhaps then the woods would feel a little friendlier.
It was a relief to go through the kissing gate and emerge into the sunshine close to the monkey puzzle tree. With a little time still to kill I wandered past the Perform building towards the cricket ground. On the far side I spotted another trail leading away from the woods so I decided to go and have a look and see where it might lead.
What I found was an open trail beside gently rolling, grassy hills. After my spooky woodland experience I half wished I’d found it earlier. It didn’t look very long but I daren’t risk exploring so I turned back. Maybe another day?
Turning back towards the Perform building I noticed a curious garden behind it. It was overgrown with grass and weeds but unmistakably a kitchen garden. There were raised beds and even a tomato plant, staked and bearing green fruit. It seemed a very strange place to grow vegetables for sure.
With a few minutes left before Commando was due to finish his appointment I found a bench overlooking the cricket pitch and sat for a rest in the sun. I didn’t have long to wait. Soon Commando was limping towards me. It was a relief to see a smile on his face, obviously things hadn’t gone too badly.
On the way home Commando talked me through the appointment. The physiotherapist had taken a very detailed history and spent a great deal of time on a thorough examination. He couldn’t completely rule out a stress fracture but he was certain there was tendinitis. Either way, he didn’t see any reason why Commando wouldn’t make a full recovery and he was quite cross that the doctor had originally told him to give up running. All in all it had been a positive experience but he’d have to go back after the X-ray for a recovery programme.
Back at home I spent quite some time searching Google to see if there might be any reason for the way I’d felt in the woods. Obviously the tall trees and the lack of light can make pine woodland feel a little spooky and some places to seem to have an air of evil about them but I’ve never felt this way before, even in these same woods. There was nothing at all, no ghost stories, nothing terrible that had happened there. Perhaps it was just my overactive imagination. Whatever it was it seems both Commando and I are both out of the woods now…
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