Into the woods…

““Fraxinus excelsior!” Bushcraft guide David Willis flourishes a stick in an impressive display of wand-craft.  His Harry Potter like incantation is the Latin name for the Ash wand he’s waving.  The Guardian recently selected David as one of the top woodland walk guides in the country.  He runs Bushcraft courses and free guided family walks in Bucks.  The ‘spell’ is just one of the ways he bewitches groups of children, and adults, into learning some of the magic of trees.   

Harry Potter’s wand seller Mr Ollivander maintains “It’s really the wand that chooses the wizard.”  But it’s not always easy to pop in to Diagon Alley.  So if you’re looking for a spot of magic in the woods, or simply in the market for a new wand, how can you be sure which tree is witch?  I spent a morning in the woods with David to pick up a few tips.”

Had the great pleasure of chatting to Bushcraft expert David Willis, who very kindly provided a guide to easy tree ID for an article I wrote about tree fact & folklore for Buckinghamshire Life Magazine – Which Tree, Witch Tree.

Lovely interviewing him in his office in the woods, with an old-fashioned kettle coming to the boil over the campfire, as he shared his knowledge & enthusiasm.

The Guardian picked David as one of their top ten winter walk guides, but he’s a man for all woodland seasons – delighting in the springtime froth of elder flowers, which he makes into tasty doughnut-like fritters, the bright berries of autumn and the sculptural branches of a winter oak outlined against a  crisp sky.  There are some of his top tree tips, alongside some tree folklore in the article: Tree Fact & Folklore, Buckinghamshire Life

David offers various bushcraft courses for adults & free guided nature walks for families as well as working with community groups and giving workshops at festivals: Bushcraft courses calendar  Highly recommended!

“I leave David setting up for a wood carving course and carry away a lingering scent of wood-smoke, like a trace of enchantment.  Whatever type of wand or woodland magic suits you, the trees are waiting to cast their spell, if you know how to look.”

Bruce Munro, Art in the Landscape & a Giant Prawn

“Sculpture gains by finding a setting that suits its mood and when that happens there is gain for both the sculpture and setting.” – Henry Moore

I was treated to a preview of Bruce Munro’s  ‘Winter Light’ exhibition in the grounds of Waddesdon Manor recently.  Flamboyant light installations in a formal Victorian garden.  So here’re some pictures from ‘Winter Light’ and a few other bits and pieces of art in the landscape that I happen to have enjoyed.

Winter Light

Beacon by Bruce Munro at Waddesdon Manor
Beacon by Bruce Munro at Waddesdon Manor

Beacon was originally constructed in 2013 on a hill at Long Knoll near the artist’s home, to raise money & awareness for breast cancer charity Cancerkin“This hill and surrounding countryside has long been my ‘canvas’,” Munro explained. “I lost a dear friend very young to breast cancer. By illuminating the night sky for a brief moment, I hope to send the message ‘you are not alone’.”

Bruce Munro’s Moon-Harvest at Waddesdon transforms hay-bales in their black plastic wrappers into a galaxy come to earth.

Enjoying the Moon-Harvest
Enjoying the Moon-Harvest

The exhibition is on till 4th January 2015, illuminating from 4pm.  Here’s my little piece about it in Buckinghamshire Life Magazine: Bruce Munro

The Crow Road

Fence-post crow guarding the path up to the ruins of Dinas Bran castle in North Wales, near Llangollen.  Dinas Bran has been translated as Crow Castle or The Hill of the Crow.

Dinas Bran

 The Great Storm

One of a series of sculptures by Jill Watson around the Berwickshire coastline, commemorating the Great Storm of 1881 in which 189 fishermen were shipwrecked.  This one is at Eyemouth, figures forever looking out to sea, hopeful their friends and families might yet come home.


Henry Moore

Loved the fantastic 2007 exhibition of Henry Moore sculptures at Kew Gardens.  Henry Moore is back at Kew, his Reclining Mother & Child in the gardens described by Kew as – “This bronze beauty will perfectly illustrate the clear synergy between Moore’s delight in the natural world and Kew’s celebration of nature.  Having his works perceived within a natural setting was crucial to Moore’s vision.”

Henry Moore at Kew 2007
Henry Moore at Kew 2007

RHS Wisely’s Henry Moore Arch is away as part of an exhibition, but his King and Queen have taken up extended residence over the winter.

“Landscape has been for me one of the sources of my energy… The whole of Nature is an endless demonstration of shape and form.” – Henry Moore


“Bid men of battle build me a tomb fair after fire, on the foreland by the sea that shall stand as a reminder of me to my people, towering high over Hronesness so that ocean travellers shall afterwards name it Beowulf’s barrow, bending in the distance their masted ships through the mists upon the sea.” – Beowulf

Part of the charm, for me, of standing stones and burial chambers is the way they sit like ancient sculptures in the landscape.

Peacocks & Soldiers

Hughenden Manor near High Wycombe has annually changing sculptures in the grounds.  In 2014 commemorating its recently revealed secret history as a WWII map-making base, code-named ‘Operation Hillside’, with Watchmen – tree-trunk soldiers by Ed Elliott.

tree sculpture

The year before saw jigsaw-pieced mirrors of peacocks and red kites by Emile Jones.



The Lost Gardens of Heligan‘s Mud-Maid, a giantess asleep in the snow.


Bonus Material

And a few odds and ends, because what’s not to love about a giant prawn on the quay and a shark in a roof.

Christmas Ostrich

Autumn Delights

“The mellow autumn came, and with it came the promised party.” – Lord Byron, probably one thing you could trust him on was to spot an opportunity for a good time. And surely autumn is the best of times. Glowing leaves, crisp skies, bright berries urging us to get out there and snatch the last golden days before the winter dark. New England may have ‘leaf-peeping’ hotlines, but the beech-woods of Bucks have their own enchantments. Even when it rains.

I love autumn, so was delighted to be asked to pick some places to enjoy autumn in Bucks (even if it rains) for Buckinghamshire Life magazine.

Here’s a PDF of the full article – Bucks Autumn or it’s on Buckinghamshire Life’s website

And here’re links to the places featured in the article –


For fairy-tale grandeur and innovative art installations

Waddesdon Manor
Waddesdon Manor
Bruce Munro art installations for the 'Winter Light' trail through the grounds
Bruce Munro art installations for the ‘Winter Light’ trail through the grounds

Waddesdon website

Chiltern Open Air Museum

For being open at night-time on Halloween, harvest traditions and stories by the fire in the roundhouse


Chiltern Open Air Museum website

Hughenden Manor

For all things apple and for being a secret WWII map-making base, codename ‘Operation Hillside’

Apple Day - 57 varieties grown at Hughenden
Apple Day – 57 varieties grown at Hughenden
tree sculpture
One of Ed Elliott’s ‘Watchmen’ sculptures commemorating the top-secret WWII map-makers

Hughenden Manor


For neoclassical elegance and a pumpkin hunting trail through the grounds

Autumn Colours at Stowe The Palladian Bridge at Stowe Landscape Gardens, Buckinghamshire Chatham Island


Wendover Woods

For the Rothschilds creating a trackway through the woods for their zebra & cart, but mainly for the Gruffalo….


My niece making friends with the Gruffalo at Wendover Woods
My niece making friends with the Gruffalo at Wendover Woods

Wendover Woods

Cheerful Weather for the Wedding

“The film’s set in the 1930s.  It’s a barn dance scene.  You’d get to wear a vintage dress and they’d do your hair.”

or, how I ended up spending a day in a tithe barn in Wiltshire.

I’d never been an extra in a film before, aside from sitting around in a bustle at a Victorian seance for one of the Booktrailers I produced, but had a great time being one of the extras for Cheerful Weather for the Wedding (2012, dir. Donald Rice), even if I’ve only just been brave enough to watch the resulting film.

Turned out, there weren’t actually any fancy vintage dresses in my size, so had fun instead being dressed up in yellow gingham & an apron & felt very much at home being a bar-maid at a 1930s country barn dance….

Cheerful 3

My job entailed the excellent direction: “I need you to take your jugs, walk over there & chat to those men”.  Happily I managed not to fall over.

Here’re some stills from my fleeting appearance, as it could be easily missed through inadvertently blinking….  (& also of the bunting I helped make, which features rather more.)

The film’s an adaptation of a novel by Julia Strachey.

CWFTW bookIt stars Elizabeth McGovern, Steven Mackintosh, Felicity Jones, Juno Temple and Luke Treadaway.

Here’s the trailer:

Vintage Festival Film

Had a great time helping out some NFTS students making a film about the first Vintage festival, held on the beautiful Sussex Downs in 2010.

With fairground rides, a vintage motorbike ‘wall of death’, classic cars, a 1920s dance-club, the Chap Olympics, a host of brilliantly dressed people and stacks of music.  Here’re a few pictures from the festival: