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Witches, Woods, and a Big Cat (Saturday Snapshots)

I’ve been at my mother’s for a few days, and I scheduled these Saturday Snapshots to appear early this morning, but forgot to press publish, so they just saved themselves and stayed hidden away!  They  were taken a week or so ago, on a glorious sunny day when the Man of the House and I went for a walk through Hopwas Woods, which has something of a spooky reputation.

Back in 1984 police were called when 16 people were discovered dancing naked in the woods. They denied they were witches, saying they were members of the Order of the Silver Star, an international occult organisation, engaged in a ritual to avert a natural disaster. More recently, in December 2010, the West Midlands Ghost Club unearthed a mysterious copper tablet inscribed with strange markings, and members also found an Egyptian style statuette. Horror writer Guy N Smith, who was brought up in the village, set some novels here, and over the years there have been sightings of a golden-orangey big cat, and of a tall ghostly figure.

 It’s difficult perhaps, to separate fact from fiction, and many people are convinced the woods have an unsettling atmosphere, but we didn’t feel anything odd or sinister: it was just very ‘treeish’, and amazingly quiet, especially when you consider that the busy A51 is so near. We could hear birds singing, leaves rustling, and branches creaking, while the noise of traffic was so muffled it sounded like the distant roar of the sea.

On the day we visited, the bluebells were still in bloom, looking a little past their best, but carpeting the ground beneath the trees with a haze of blue. The sun filtering through the leaves on the trees created a kind of dappled effect of light and shade. We saw grey squirrels, and butterflies (like the Speckled Wood pictured below), as well as ladybirds and all kinds of insects, butterflies and birds, which we were unable to identify because we left the recently acquired binoculars at home, so we have decided we need a ‘walking backpack’ for future expeditions!

 I’m always surprised that there are so many lovely places within such easy reach of home, and Hopwas is only two or three miles away, about halfway between Tamworth, where we live, and Lichfield.  The woodland, also known as Hopwas Hays Woods, is on a hill and seems to be an ancient site: it’s mentioned in the Domesday Book, where it is described as being six furlongs in length and three in breadth. Today the area covers almost 400 acres, and is owned by Tarmac. Fortunately, there is no quarrying, but much of it is fenced off, with wire, gates and forbidding signs, which seems a shame – ever the rebel, I ended up marching along singing Ewan McColl’s ‘The Manchester Rambler’ and thinking about the mass tresspass on Kinder Scout in 1932!

 Anyway, I tried to find out a little more about Hopwas Woods, but have only discovered that during the 18th and 19th centuries it belonged to the wealthy Levett family, and there was a Woodhouse (now demolished) where the woodman/gamekeeper lived.

 Last year local artist Gwyddion Flint got together with other artists and historians to stage an exhibition inspired by Hopwas Woods. He produced a booklet, in which Guy N Smith wrote about his childhood memories of The Woodhouse, and how he went shooting in the woods.

For more Saturday Snapshots see  Alice’s blog http://athomewithbooks.net/

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Author:

I'm a former journalist and sub-editor who loves needlework, reading and writing, and is still searching for the Meaning of Life, the Universe and Everything. Until I find the answer I'm volunteering at an Oxfam Book Shop and learning about Creative Sketchbooks!

36 thoughts on “Witches, Woods, and a Big Cat (Saturday Snapshots)

  1. Cheryl, it is a lovely spot and, as I have said before, I am very lucky that there are such beautiful and interesting places so close to where I live, and that I have the time to go and walk around them.

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  2. Oh, I love woodsy areas, creepy or not…and these look so lush and full of greenery, as well as bluebells. That butterfly looks especially gorgeous.

    But I agree that places like this are perfect for spooky stories, too. Enjoy!

    And thanks for visiting my blog.

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  3. Sometimes I wonder if the locals keep these stories alive and well in order to keep 'scaredy cats' away, realtors back from the prospect of selling land with 'a history', and those who are a bit in love with the quiet happy to have a place of solitude … beautiful photos.

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  4. It looks beautiful – especially the blue flowers! I think some of that background info would hang in my mind and lend a creepiness to it though.

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  5. Susan, you may have a point there. Perhaps people do cultivate the stories to keep others away. I do think the fact that it is privately owned, and there are areas where you are not meant to go, gives it a slight sense of mystery as well, and the Army from the nearby barracks used to do target practice there, so at one stage you had to check it was safe to walk there.

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  6. It was beautiful Alyce. When I was a child, living near the Thames, in Surrey, we used to go on woodland walks and pick armfuls of bluebells… you can't do that now though, and they are becoming rarer.

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  7. Vicki, I did a reply and it disappeared! Let's try again. Thank you for the comment. Storywise, I'm curious about places, people, things… and I used to be a journalist, so I still like to find things out and write.

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  8. A walk in the woods with a good story sounds preferable to a wood without a good story. I'm sure you were feeling anticipatory, ready for something strange, so that probably added to the fun, even though you never found anything bizarre. Great photos.

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  9. I sure don't have so many legends connected to my woods. These are interesting accounts and your photos are wonderful. Maybe because I live above the 49th parallel, I have yet to see so many wildlife (e.g. butterflies) or bluebells. We've a very short summer growth season. Your woods is lovely. Do you live close to it? I've been to England several times, but haven't visited the inland so am unfamiliar with the locales where you are. Glad we're both participants of the Sat. Snapshot. Would try to visit more often.

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  10. Thank you Arti – I'm in Staffordshire, on the border with Warwickshire, bang in the centre of the English Midlands, and about as far from the coast as you can get, which is sad, because I love the seaside.

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  11. If I were to ever dance naked in the wood, that is the woods to do it in. I love the magical pictures – the first one looks like a painting. Thanks for sharing!

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  12. I love this woodland so much, and regularly go walking up there.I think the most worrying thing is that the Government wanted to run that HS2 monstrosity straight through this woodland. Thank God it went quiet on that front

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