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Notes from Enchanted England

For an autumn wonderland, step out into Enchanted England

Liberty’s of London, just so you know, has opened its Christmas shop (On the 4th floor). You can go now and be depressed far earlier than strictly necessary. I have been, I have suffered on your behalf - there is nothing there that you won’t find replicated at The Range and I upset the staff by asking if the glitter liberally scattered on everything was environmentally friendly. (The answer is no).

So having been a little country mouse in the big city, I was glad to return and tramp around Shiddenfield Common that is particularly magical at this time of year. The Silver Birch, a much maligned tree in that it is typically described as a weed, is a tree that I recommend you seek out. Then, look at it against the yellow, charged grasses. If you are lucky and the light is right the trunk will shine with a metallic silver sheen. Its leaves shimmer as pure gold shapes against an azure blue sky.

The grace lying within this tree is not the only reason to give it a second glance. This tree has a close and complicated relationship with fungi. In Autumn it is never a surprise to find the Fly Agaric growing close to its roots and sheltering branches. In addition the downy milk cap and the ugly milk cap (don’t eat any of them) are known to have a close kinship with these trees.

Of course, should we want to see fairies then we should gather round the Fly Agaric at the next full moon. Then we will see them feed from and dance around these flamboyant, scarlet toadstools. At the same time, as the fae folk celebrated in the golden and silver woods, the birch branches were also used to keep away the little people. In Scotland the boughs were hung over cradles to prevent the fairies taking a child and replacing it with a changeling. The birch in myth and legend was greatly protective and even now is a generous host to many insects and birds, including the rare Camberwell Beauty - its caterpillar depends on its leaves for food.

In Welsh lore, birches were associated with love. In Siberia, tribal peoples, such as the Khanty still use birch bark to make containers for food, and peel off strips of the under bark to use as tinder for fires; the tree is not harmed. They also communicate through runic like symbols cut into birch trunks as messages for other passing that way; a living signpost! Interestingly, the word birch is thought to have derived from the Sanskrit word bhurga meaning a 'tree whose bark is used to write upon'.

Frankly if we are looking for wonderland, autumn or winter, forget shops - let’s start walking.

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