My spirit guide and I have a favourite place to go on woodland adventures. It is a truly remote area — the nearest buildings are smallholdings and bothies, there is very little cultivation, and the only other people you’re likely to meet are long-haul hikers coming down from the nearby hills or conservation specialists going about their conservation business. (For this reason I always bring a friend, but we both appreciate the quiet a great deal and our walks have always been very safe and tranquil).
In the winter, it’s impossible to deviate from the path even a little way, as the ground becomes a treacherous grass marsh very quickly and it’s easy to get soaked up to your waist. In the summer, however, the quiet, specious nature of the place makes it a perfect wildlife haven. I have learnt to identify almost all the species of birds I know by listening to the calls I’ve heard on my walks there, and my spirit guide and I have met bumblebees, moths, newts, and all manner of small fauna on our way.
Greater creatures have also made our acquaintance. Once we saw a thin, vivid fox pause upon the path. It looked right at us for a brief moment, then leapt on its way; bright prince of all it surveyed, wearing the autumn mist like a cloak.
Another time, we inadvertently frightened a mob of deer in a patch of sun. Mothers and fawns took flight around our ears, leaving us with nothing more than the impression of their slender flailing legs and the dappling of their sleek coats. There are tall, still herons who live in the miniature lakes which pattern the landscape, and there is a mysterious bird of prey who soars overhead in stately silence, never deigning to come close enough that we might determine its species.
My spirit guide loves to take the form of a tiny white butterfly, and in that aspect she brings my attention to all sorts of things which I otherwise would not have noticed. One extremely hot day a few weeks ago, we made a positively magical discovery. My friend had gone on ahead to look for raspberries, and as I was ambling along I felt a little breeze tug my ear, the sure sign that my guide wanted me to see something.
I peered into the woods in the direction the breeze had blown, and there spied the bare roots of an enormous upturned tree. Fallen trees are quite common in the area because of how exposed the surrounding countryside is, but this particular tree drew me. Usually, I would never consider leaving the path, having no desire to drench my shoes right through, muddy my knees, and be flicked in the face by sharp, wet stems. However it had not rained in several weeks, and the grass marsh was uncharacteristically dry.
A little way in, I came to a dip in the terrain. There are many such ditches running all across the forest, acting as drainage for the marsh and providing convenient slopes for small creatures to make their homes. I heaved my extremely short legs over a few towering tussocks and made it to the edge of the dip, after which I spent some time trying to find a way to cross which wouldn’t prove injurious. I was being looked after, however, and found easy passage a little further along.
The moment I crossed the ditch, the atmosphere changed completely. Up until that point, I had been enjoying a normal summer’s day, but on the other side of that ditch was something quiet and unearthly. It was as if the uprooted tree I was heading toward, and the space around it, had been covered in a delicate, silken blanket that muffled the surrounding woodland. I felt I had been invited, and went as softly as I could.
My spirit guide was waiting for me at the tree. The exposed roots made a giant curving wall, and nestled beneath them in leafy darkness was a little space, like a den, carpeted with pine needles and rooved cosily with nearby branches. There was room enough for me to crouch in there, and once I was settled I closed my eyes as my guide had suggested, and listened.
Far away, I heard the call of a skylark. The skylark is special to my guide and I for personal reasons, and hearing it in that quiet magical place made us smile all over our faces. Beneath the lark’s call were the sounds of other birds, each competing with the other to be the loudest and sweetest. Closer, I made out the rustle and sigh of leaves and grass, the hum of bees and the flitting of damsel flies, and, even closer, the sound of laughter.
It was almost impossible to distinguish from the other sounds at first, but once I had it, I knew exactly what I was hearing. Tiny, tiny fairy laughter.
Being unused to great big humans galumphing around the place, the fairies of that forest are a shy bunch. I had grown used to glimpsing them only in the form of certain insects and the floating seeds of dandelion clocks, and so I was astounded and delighted to be invited into their presence.
When I opened my eyes, the world was as sunny and peaceful as I had left it, and though the fairies were too bashful to show themselves, my guide did spot one who’d been slow in hiding itself and now scuttled as a little spider beneath a twig. Very carefully, we climbed out of the den and thanked the fairies for a lovely time.
On the way back to the ditch, we noticed a lot of baby pinecones. We left them where they were for the birds, but there was something extraordinary about so many waiting along our path. It was as if the fairies were saying “thank you for visiting”.
These days, when my spirit guide and I go walking in the fairy forest, we pay close attention to little spiders and ladybirds and baby pinecones. The fairies have rewarded us by becoming bolder, and even leave us little gifts sometimes; a single oak leaf, or a fallen rose petal, or an unexpected raspberry harvest.
The next time you’re out in nature, stop beneath an old, old tree or by a winding stream, and, just for a moment, close your eyes. You never know what you might hear.
© Pipa Summerby