Tuesday, 12 November 2019

A truly fabulous wood but why is it called ‘famous’?

A truly fabulous wood but why is it called ‘famous’?

WHAT’S in a name? It’s a great question. Some of us try to decipher something about our origins. How does our surname or birthplace locate us in space and time?

More often than not the answer is simple. A former trade, the name of a town or village, an old allegiance, an ancient nickname (my surname just means red), or even the result of foreign provenance. But when it comes to certain place names all seems to shift.

A simple glance at my Ordnance Survey map of Chiltern Hills West (Henley-on-Thames & Wallingford) throws up intriguing place names.

Frieth, Fingest and Turville sound like a doughty firm of local solicitors; Aston, Stonor and Wargrave like a firm of funeral directors.

Instead of dwelling on our quirkily named villages, I’m exploring the oddly named Famous Copse. This lies near Bix, only a stone’s throw from Lambridge Wood.

It is a glorious day and the stunningly coloured autumn leaves are swirling around like a storm of confetti.

After parking the car, my friend Dave Kenny and I walk along a narrow road to the north-east towards Brawns House. The hedgerows to either side are reminiscent of some remote parts of Cornwall but with a greater breadth of species.

There’s dogwood, its leaves now a hue of a good claret, the bright yellows of field maple, English elm and hazel and holly dripping with red berries.

We turn off down a footpath to the left before reaching Bix Manor Farm. After bypassing Lawrence Farm, we cross a small field area and we are in the wood.

To enter this initially silent and homely wood lends a sense of security. The first thing we notice is the distinct lack of traffic along our pathway. No tracks, human, equine or otherwise, can be seen on the forest floor.

A marsh tit is the first bird to be seen and heard. The species is, sadly, in decline, as is its close relative the willow tit. We decide to skirt the periphery of the woodland in an anti-clockwise direction and follow the rights of way on the map.

Heading westwards, we soon encounter substantial earthworks to the northern edge. They are deep, continuous, obviously ancient and also intriguing as the map describes some portions as ponds. Mostly dry today, just one part is green.

The predominant tree species along the wood’s edge is beech with attendant silver birch, wych elm, pedunculate oak, ash and cherry, the interior full of larch.

Reaching the wood’s corner, there is a fine view from a stile looking north. Rooks are covering the ground. There is what looks like a minor reservoir towards the edge of Earls Wood to the west.

We head south and find some grand old crab apple trees and an ancient maple. Then we retrace our steps but, unfortunately, we don’t find my walking stick which I mislaid on the way. I’m sad as it had been my companion of 28 years.

Before leaving the wood we find a large hornbeam. We’d probably have missed it had we not been looking at the fallen leaves.

This time of year can be so rewarding in this respect. We spotted the leaves of whitebeam and sessile oak too but those trees were obviously in hiding.

All of which leads me back to my initial question. Why is Famous Copse “famous”? Why are the Devil’s Churchyard, near Ipsden, Devil’s Hill, near Nettlebed, and Fairies Hole by Badgemore End so named and who was Grim of his eponymous ditch or dyke?

Vincent Ruane

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