Cobham Wood and Darnley Mausoleum

October 9th

A father and son are up in a walnut tree wobbling and stretching, chasing a rich harvest of green nuts. A little owl calls from a huge oak and two kestrels hang about. We walk up the track to the ancient woodland that is still not autumn gold but remains stubborn green and heavy with sweet chestnuts and hornbeam mast. The wood pasture is being restored by Highland cattle, with a myriad paths trampled through the head high bracken. These rare habitats, with their even rarer beetles in the abundant dead wood, have been tended for generations by the local aristocracy, surviving the modifications imposed by the great landscape designers of the 18th and 19th centuries and now in the hands of the National Trust.

The Darnley Mausoleum is an oddity in the middle of it all.  There is a masonic symmetry, in the classic design that is imposing and uncomfortable. The trees around about are dying back perhaps in sympathy but more likely from age or drying summers. The dog walkers are at large; we dodge many a mean-eyed Staffordshire bull terrier and give a wide berth to little clumps of black bags that have been hung to create malodorous decorations on some of the gate posts.

An October comma Polygonia c-album flies and lands, circles then settles for a minute in the afternoon sun, and the assortment of human impacts, the good, the bad and the ugly, are all forgotten in the captivating flash of autumn rich russet.

Comma butterfly in bright autumn light


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