The country is all about a pause in a rejuvenated forest, which also includes cycling routes and villages to explore. The magic of the landscape
‘ Imagine lying down on a beach or swimming in a ocean, or your mind would like to go anywhere.’
Archery instructor Katie attempted to mentally get me to turn off so that when I fired my next arrow, I could get back in the area. All good, but my mind insisted that this appealing grove should be made happy in Devon. I was in rather beautiful wood. That is at least the excuse, as my arrows wrapped around the colorful goal merrily into that white paper.
The wood that distracted me is a 5-hectare affair in the fertile farmland of Exmoor, a bit south. Anna and Pete Grugeon, who went to live there 10 years ago, are at home and livelihood. They saved the wood that had degenerated poorly and transformed it into the Bulworthy Project, a natural reserve (it’s located on the crest of a mountain known as the Bulworthy Knap) and got a crust out of traditional charcoal production practice.
Now they’ve also constructed an off-grid cabin in their canopy, where a friend and I were breakfast for two nights. Our payments also helped to keep the wood: for every night your cabin is booked the pledge that the couple will plant a tree.
In this eco-friendly spirit, we decided to travel by train and bike, a move that also provided us with the chance to explore the rural hinterland of Bulworthy. We had crossed a National Cycle Network route 15 mile from the Tiverton Parkway station, which had us gladly bowled on the Great Western Canal Trail for half the trip. (At the end of our short trip, we returned to Eggesford’s Bijou Branch line station along quiet country lanes where we ate a fine alfresco lunch at Eggesford Crossing Cafe, a newly established trackfront café.)
Once we got into our new micro-home, we would have mocked our hosts through the trees for a guided tour of their wood, a free offer for all visitors.
“These were all thick conifers when we moved ten years ago,” Pete said.
In a very sorry condition, he described a wood. A former proprietor who had built a deer clasp, the local red deer, had no problem with vaulting from an adjoining cliff, exacerbated the negligence. Once in, they discovered the fence too high to spring back, so many of them were trapped. The first job of the couple was to purchase the wood and release the prisoners.
A century later, a large number of trees, including oaks, birches, bees, and hazels substituted the impenetrable walls of wood. We walked along winding paths and an old narrow path on a slab whose fine beeches were a beautiful tunnel. After years of dreaming of living in the same wood it was simple to see why Anna and Pete chose it.
Anna said, as we welcomed the chickens and swine, who were also woodland dwellers, “We’re trying to be as independent as possible. There is plenty of strains, chanterelles, wild raspberries and hazelnuts, and Anna has also become the vine maker–we sampled her elderberry wine that night, leaving us in the cabin.
The couple inspire anyone who thinks they can not pursue their dreams because they do not have the necessary formal training. They were also proficient amateur builders who didn’t value their teaching of woodland husbandry from scratch. “We first set that up,” Pete said, pointing at an already venerable shed. “We constructed our house, and have learned from it.”
Then it must have seemed like a child’s game to build the cabin. They used a dropped oak, a kerrywood for the windows and a bedhead from a holly tree section. The effect of all this wood was that it didn’t feel like we were leaving the wood when we got inside.
Unfortunately, most of our stay were confronted by the gods of the English summer. The cabin was however cozy and proving an effective water heater with a woodburning stove. Two evenings later in our spacious suite a fire was still provided on our first night.
Solar panels provide electric coolbox energy, all lighting, wireless Internet access and a telephone charge (though it is a mystery that someone living here wants to maintain in contact with the outside globe). There is a well stored kitchen with hot-and-cold storage room, hot water, and a hammock, barbecue and a fireplace with its own tree trunk bench just outside the porch where we ate our breakfast.
We hesitated to leave our sanctuary, unsurprisingly. However, we were happy to perform tongue-cradles: chasing or scanning the marsh and willow tits branches. One night we walked away to the village of Rackenford, a brief distance. The Stag, the former inn for his drivers (“One person recalls his sheep riding into the front room,”Oliver informed us thathis co-owner is alleged to be Devon’s oldest pub. Oliver showed us the marks of his witches: tiny holes burned in old woodwork to capture evil spirits that had descended from the chimney. He brought us to Psychopomp, a Bristol micromachine with a mixture of pomegranate seeds served with moreish gin.
Back in the forest, Anna and Pete have sometimes given charcoal and bow making classes, and have partnered with a neighbor who provides classes in clay and archery. This neighbor is Katie Cox, who has played for Devon, England and the UK and has won a heap of awards and an European bronze medal for her in the multiple shapes of clay shooting.
In addition to her fascinating insight into the psychological rigors of sport of the highest standard, she showed us as good a teacher as it is a shot: I was thumping the arrows into the golden heart of our target at the end of our session. I’d just gotten a mere woodland fan to Bulworthy. The fresh Robin Hood, I left it.
Angelique Chrisafis is the Guardian’s Paris correspondent. She is responsible for churning out quality articles based on her research while keeping an eye on the tech world. She likes technology, gadgets, and food. Works as an individual contributor to the team.