What images does Stockwood Open Space conjure up in your mind?
Trail Guide, Stockwood Open Space, Avon Wildlife Trust 1984
Unless you live in South Bristol, the images are probably a blur of green field, maybe some trees and a pond of some sort. That would be better than the picture I had of it a couple of months ago when I first arrived in Bristol. My new home was filled with the bare essentials and I was free to explore. So I set off on foot to find out what my local area contained. Google Maps didn’t look promising. There was a big green space but it was a golf course. The rest was a mix of dull greys. At least it’s what I could see without the satellite imagery. I didn’t have access to those in what was then an Internet free house.
Trail Guide, Stockwood Open Space, Avon Wildlife Trust 1984
I tucked my phone in my pocket and walked out of my front door, my sole focus being on walking away from the busy A4 connecting Bristol to Bath. I meandered in narrowing streets and soon found myself in Scotland Road. A sign declared it was flooded but I ignored it, ducking under the barrier. The last houses of the city disappeared behind me, leaving their space to trees, shrubs, and fields. I could hardly believe what I was seeing. There was the distant roar of the A4 but everything else was telling me I was in the British countryside I had come to know. Bewildered, I went on, eager to see where the road would lead and if the trees on my right would offer an opening for me to see what lay behind them because as far as Google was concerned the answer was ‘nothing’. But soon I reached the flooded area and unless I was up for a paddle, I couldn’t walk on. So I turned back. By this time the sun was already setting and I resolved to go back to the blank space on the map the following day.
I was standing at the edge of Stockwood Road, the blank space spread out before me. I had expected a disused industrial estate of sorts, or a wasteland forgotten by the people, but not what I saw. There were trees lining a tarmac path and nature as far as my eye could see. I stepped in and noticed a sign. I had entered the Stockwood Open Space Nature Reserve. I could hardly believe my luck. I left the sign behind and set out to explore what would undoubtedly become my new nature patch.
I followed the path and was led back home with a smile on my face. I had seen the remains of ancient woodlands, green fields, ponds, and an orchard full of apple trees. I knew I had only glimpsed what was contained in this open space. There was more to discover but my new job was starting the following day, my house mate would arrive a couple of days later and soon Christmas would take over everything. So it wasn’t until a couple of weeks into January that I had the opportunity to go back to spend a morning wandering away from the tarmac. By this time, I had done a bit of research and had even joined the Friends of Stockwood Open Space.
I came into the area via the Hungerford Road Open Space. A fenced-ringed path covered in wet crushed leaves separates the two spaces. It opened at the cart pond meadow where I found a hidden stone lined pond. The bare trees laid their branches over the water, sheltering it from the golden rays of sunlight. I snapped a photo. A dog arrived, his head already bent down to drink. I didn’t move and watched him for a while as he took a few strides into the pond. Refreshed, he lifted his head and saw me, a startled expression in his eyes before he began to bark in sheer surprise at finding an unknown human being in what clearly was his pond. I moved away and back into the sun-drenched field.
I crossed over to the dipping pond meadow and followed a slippery path along the water’s edge. The light was muted and the smell of wet earth invaded my lungs. I felt like I had entered a secret garden only accessible when water levels were low. I crouched down, watching the shimmering reflections of bare branches on the calm surface of the pond. A few people walked in the distance on the tarmac path but they didn’t see me. As my legs began to ache, I left my spot and went over a bridge made of two heavy wooden planks leading me into a bush. A narrow corridor had been cleared in the hedgerow, opening into a wide playing field. The light almost blinded me as I stepped away from the dipping pond.
Dog walkers were throwing tennis balls far and wide to the sheer delights of dogs. I ignored the frenzy of activity and made straight for the meadow opposite. Grass blades were long, welcoming thistles and newly planted trees still encased in plastic tubes. I wondered what they were. They were still too low to cover the view but eventually they would join the older trees I could see up the hill. I climbed up, carefully avoiding the few patches of ice the sun hadn’t yet melted, and found myself in a small woodland. It reminded me of the woodlands near Hertford that had once been my home for a night. I sat by a fallen tree and closed my eyes, remembering the peace I had found in that secluded place just outside of London. A similar feeling was growing in me here. Sheltered by the trees, I could barely distinguish the traffic of the A4 any longer. Instead there was the gentle crackling of dry leaves dancing on the floor, and the clashing of bare wood against one another above my head.
Growing cold, I moved away from the embrace of the forest and descended onto the playing fields once more. The pungent smell of rotten apples announced its presence before I could see any of it. Back in December, the apples had seemed like Christmas baubles on the trees. There were now more of them on the ground and as the ice covering them had melted, they were releasing their sweet decaying fragrance in the air and for once I wasn’t tempted to bite into a fruit.
I walked away heading for Ilsyngrove wood. I climbed up through the trees, emerging into the Coots meadow. Facing me was a row of houses, the border of the open space clearly defined by their bricks. I envied the inhabitants for having this meadow right on their doorsteps and I hoped they knew how lucky they were. I turned around to descend into the wood once more but was stopped short. I was at the highest point of the Open Space and I could see for miles. There were hills and fields stretched out in shades of yellow and brown, blurring into the distance. I wondered where Bristol and Bath had gone for a moment. Having lived in London for so long, I wasn’t used at seeing unbuilt land from any vantage point in a city. And then, I remembered this was one of the reasons for the move. There were limits to Bristol, limits I could reach by foot or bicycle. The countryside was there for me to explore under my own steam. I didn’t need a train or a bus journey to reach it.
Walking through Ilsyngrove I barely noticed the ancient trees around me. My head was filled with the vision of the hills outside of Bristol and dreams of future wanderings on their footpaths and surrounding roads. Not looking where I walked, I eventually emerged onto the tarmac path and followed it home. Stockwood Open Space was no longer a dull colour on Google Maps. It was a green space with wide open areas interspersed with ponds, hedgerows, and woods. But more than that it was now mine. I had seen its colours under the sun, I had smelled its earth, I had touched its trees, I had heard its birds, I had tasted its air. The courtship had begun and I can’t wait to go back to it over and over again to witness it grow and die throughout the seasons.