IT’S great to see so many families getting out into the great outdoors in search of autumn colour.
Ramblers, dog-walkers, cyclists, foragers and picnickers – locals have been shrugging off the misery of face masks and social distancing by escaping into the woods at the first glimpse of sunshine, however unforgiving the October temperatures.
And what a spectacular show they have seen on those days when the sun breaks through the rainclouds and turns woods and parks into places of wonder and mystery.
Our earlier post about autumn colours took us to Burnham Beeches, Black Park, Langley Park and Cliveden – but it seemed remiss not to return to Penn Wood, given that our last proper sortie here was on such a monochrome February day.
How different the landscape looks now. The colours at this time of year are truly spectacular, the falling leaves forming a tapestry of different shapes and textures, and the trees themselves a glorious variegated backcloth of yellows and greens, russets and pinks.
It’s warm enough in the sun to linger over the array of different fungi peeking out from beneath the leaves, or pause a moment to study the cattle grazing their way incuriously around this remnant of Wycombe Heath, managed by the Woodland Trust.
Across the centuries, Penn and Tylers Green are villages that can boast a long and illustrious history and until the middle of the 19th century, this was a 4,000 acre common of heath and woodland stretching over seven parishes from Tyler End and Winchmore Hill in the south up to Great Kingshill in the north.
The landscape has changed a lot over the years, but you can sense history all around you here, and the evidence ranges from iron age earthworks and Roman pottery to written records of royal hunting parties in the 12th century or aristocratic shooting parties in the Victorian era.
Indeed, recent suggestions that an important Roman official was living in Tylers Green 1700 years ago might force historians to rethink the importance of this area during the Roman occupation.
The southern edge of Wycombe Heath consisted of Kings Wood, St John’s Wood, Common Wood and Penn Wood, where there would have been little if any settlement during the Saxon and early Norman period.
Back in the woods, the wild boar and wolves of the middle ages may have long disappeared but grazing cattle have returned, helping to maintain open pasture by trampling down thickets and fertilising the ground.
In the heyday of the furniture industry, wood-turners called bodgers worked in shacks in the woods here, while during the Second World War, Penn Wood was used as an army training camp, complete with an assault course and a rifle range. Later it became a prisoner-of-war reception centre and a holding base for Polish soldiers.
Today it’s a place to spot colourful fungi and keep an eye open for rare beetles, tiny mice, amd squirrels gathering their winter hoards. Or listening out for the sound of a red kite or buzzard overhead…or a tawny owl calling as dusk falls.
It’s not quite warm enough to linger under a maple with a book, but this seat under the trees looks so inviting it seems a shame not to be able to while away an hour or two watching the leaves falling and waiting for any woodland creatures to get sufficiently confident to venture out…