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Notes from Enchanted England

Scandal, Brooks & Brocks

Eadwig, The All Fair, Edwy King of England ruled these lands from 955 -959. He is buried in Winchester but on the night of his coronation feast he abandoned his banquet to cavort with the noble woman Æthelgifu and her daughter. The man who found the naughty King was none other than St Dunstan who was NOT amused. A right royal fist fight followed and the saint and the King were enemies from that day forth. Æthelgifu had St Dunstan removed from Glastonbury and thrown into exile. No wonder the king’s reign was short.

He liked women Eadwig, the all fair. He seems to be generous to them. In 956 he gave noble lady Æthelhild (of twenty hides), a grant of land. From Droxford (where they grow beans) to Scida Felda - the place that is criss-crossed by brooks, traversed by wooden planks.

Ærest of Drocenesforda to biene stede · of biene stedæ to scida felda · þanan utt to langan leagæ middæ wærdræ · þanon upp to þære stigælæ · þanaon utt to wulf pyttun · þanon utt on Meone.

I like to think that the postscript of this manuscript was ‘ What ever you do, Æthelhild, don’t tell St Dunstan.’ But who can now say.

What I can now say is that in the thousand years or so since the gift, not much has changed in the landscape of Scida Felda, now Shiddenfield. It is still a place where brooks run through fields and mark boundaries. A network of wooden planks allow people to cross them.

Last Sunday found me walking the more solitary paths that crossed farmland and threaded through woodlands. A thriving beehive stood on a field border. This made me hopeful that the crop was not regularly sprayed with pesticides. Part of the footpath became boundaried by trees, so it felt more like a sunken lane. High sandy banks were laced with tree roots and I came upon a badgers’ sett. The many entrances were broad and high. The sand about was meticulously clean. By one of the holes, a tree had been clearly used as a scratching post. The bark had been clawed away. I pondered for a while whether this was a fox hole or badger, but the number of entrances, the post and the cleanliness indicated that this was the home of old brock . I searched for footprints, I could find none. But what I did discover sadly, was a skeleton on the middle of the track. The skull lay a few feet away and I considered it carefully. Badgers will carry out their dead from the sett and I hoped this was the case for this animal. For it to have been to have been picked so clean meant that no one had walked this path for some months.

Badgers are ancient creatures with strong links to English myth and legend. They are generally depicted as wise and kindly. They are known as Old Grey, reflecting their colour when glimpsed in low light. English writers from Kenneth Grahame to JK Rowling has given them gentle, powerful roles. Yet they have also been seen as bringing bad luck, injury and death to cattle. This is still seen today as badgers are blamed for increase of TB in dairy cows. The UK government is actively culling the badger numbers in some parts of England. A simplistic answer to a complex problem I suspect. Yet we get the term ‘to badger,’ from the hideous sport of baiting that illegally continues to this day.’ The dogs are described as ‘badgering’ their prey.

Mulling over the discovery of the badger sett I set out for home. Without thinking my feet took me to an enchanted part of Badger Wood. I love this area and delighted to see the promising growth of bluebell leaves , leaping up to take advantage of the sunlight that pours down. I walk over a plank bridge and look for the beech tree that is covered with symbols. For a moment, I think it has moved, but - my memory has played tricks on me and it is nearer to the stream than I remembered.

The bluebells wait to flower, the beech to leaf, the badger in her sett waits to give birth to her cubs. Spring is coming.

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