Hazel, willow, beef and storytelling from Bedfordshire

Who was this Pope bloke anyway?

An ancient ash coppice stool in Chester Wood

An ancient ash coppice stool in ‘Pope’s Hole’

We own about four hectares of woodland of which one, Chester Wood, is ancient semi-natural. The rest is a plantation: Bottoms’ Corner, created in 1999. The ancient woodland is a strip that survived the destruction of what may have been a much larger wood of which no records survive as far as I know; its removal must have happened many centuries ago. Our wood’s survival might have been an accident, but I like to imagine a previous owner deciding to keep this small strip that for some lost reason dropped into his ownership. He may not have had the resources to remove the wood; it’s no small undertaking to destroy a wood entirely, for this requires removal of roots as well as the cutting of stems; as expensive now as it must have been centuries ago. I like to imagine however, that our predecessor, perhaps a medieval landowner, saw the value and even the beauty of this tiny piece of woodland and decided, against the odds, to keep it.

However it happened, we are very pleased it did.

We are now in the process of writing a management plan for both woods and that’s made us look at them in more detail than we would do ordinarily. How brilliant! Of course when examined closely, familiar thing reveal surprises. There’s an odd corner – the perpendicular join between two parish boundary hedges – called “Pope’s Hole”.  I’ve never before come across what amounts to a very wide hedge, that has its own name. Parish boundaries tend not to be moved so there’s a reasonable chance that both are of pre-Norman Conquest sort of age, so Pope may have been amongst Gravenhurst’s more ancient characters. Who he was, why this tiny piece of woodland was named after him and why there isn’t a hole to speak of now, are all questions to which I don’t suppose answers will ever be forthcoming. Perhaps The Pope visited Gravenhurst sometime in the past although I can’t help feeling that such an event would have been recorded elsewhere! Oddly, I haven’t really looked at Pope’s Hole very closely (not a phrase I’d thought I’d ever need). It contains some very large ash coppice stools that must be several centuries old. The one pictured has a diameter of around two metres which places it in the ‘pretty big’ category. What to do with this and the many other similar stools that sit in the old woods, and of course everything else in both woods are things that the management plan will lay out. Plenty of mooching about and pondering to be done before we get there though.


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