Country diary: a windy walk in the woods

Barnwell Country Park, Oundle, Northamptonshire: The sound is orchestral, each tree tuned to its own pitch

Looking up into windy trees, Oundle, Northamptonshire.
‘You see the wind dance through that August-fat foliage’: Barnwell Country Park, Oundle, Northamptonshire. Photograph: Simon Ingram

A warm and fast wind is blowing – time for a walk in the woods. Woods in wind are joyous: so sensory. Here, wind takes form: sound, feel, vision. You hear it moving around you, feel energy breaking against the branches, see it dance through that August-fat foliage, every leaf a tiny sail.

There’s debris everywhere on the path. The wind’s like a late summer spring clean, dislodging dead wood, seed-pod posies, endless leaves. On the lake, crouched ducks drift on water riffled and silvery like fish skin. I wonder what they know on days like this.

I walk into a clutch of mixed trees – pine, oak and beech, evident simply by the debris – and lie with my back to the ground. I look up, watch, and listen. I love the shelter and the hunker: a primitive pleasure, glad to be enclosed from the wild outside, and exhilaration at the melee.

The sun’s out, and inside the little wood dappled light chases around the floor like golden strobes as the tree cover opens and closes above, light on, light off, an organic cadence, like breathing.

But mostly it’s the sound. Wind in a winter wood is rickety, squeaky. In summer, the sound is orchestral, each tree an instrument tuned to its own pitch. Needle-leaf pines hiss, like static, sudden and nimble. Broadleaf, like oak, is a roar that gathers and builds with slow power and a deep note. Stiff-leaved holly crackles. Ivy rattles against its trunks. Willow is the star performer, visually and audibly; it writhes and billows, those slender leaves producing an almost jet-like sound.

A heron stands at the water's edge, amid a swirl of windy woodland
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‘The unmistakable white sickle of head, and neck:’ a heron stands still amid a swirl of windy woodland in Barnwell Country Park. Photograph: Simon Ingram

Lying under the trees, every now and again I hear the thunk of something falling. I pull myself up using a pine trunk, and as I touch it I feel a slight, but deep, sway: a new sensation.

I look out of the woods and see the lake lined with flamboyant, dancing willows. The whole scene is moving: water, cloud, trees, air. Then I see something that isn’t, my eye hooked by that unmistakable white sickle of head, and neck. A heron. Perfectly still, hunkered like me in a little patch of calm amid ceaseless motion. I wonder if it’s listening, too.