Sunday, October 8, 2017

Gather Ye Chestnuts

With time to kill whilst one of my kids was engaged in Sunday morning sporting activities in Waldron, I took a stroll up towards Cross-In-Hand and stopped off at Selwyns Wood Nature Reserve, run by the Sussex Wildlife Trust. With a dog in tow, the 30-acre wood was perfect for a Sunday morning walk and I seemed to have it all to myself; in the 40 minutes it took me to make a circuit, I saw no-one.

Sloping down to a ghyll stream at its centre, the wood has a network of narrow winding paths under the cover of a dense canopy of trees. Up above is home to the usual woodland birds - willow warbler, chiffchaff, nuthatch and marsh tit; down below, the area around the stream attracts dragonflies and, especially at this time of year, various species of fungi.

Elsewhere, the forest floor was covered with burrs from the sweet chestnut trees that, along with beech, seem to dominate. I prised open a few of the spiky capsules to reveal the glory of the shiny, dark brown nuts inside. This immediately sent me back in time: eating roasted chestnuts sold from a brazier on late Saturday afternoons in the autumn and winter was one of the joys of going to watch football when I was a kid; and in the more recent past, taking my own kids to Greenwich Park on Sunday afternoons and seeing members of the local Chinese community gathering chestnuts for a more sophisticated culinary use was a heart-warming sight.

Back in Selwyns Wood it was not all autumnal damp and dark: coming up from the stream, the path suddenly opened out into daylight to reveal an area of heather, glowing brightly purple in the October morning sun. I sat on a rudimentary bench and soaked up the rays for a time before plunging back into the wood to add to my pocketful of chestnuts. If it's cold enough to light the stove tonight, the kids might get to sample a taste from my childhood.

Selwyns Wood Nature Reserve, Fir Grove Road, Cross-In-Hand, TN21 0QN

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