When I started my Ma in Travel and Nature writing in October 2019, I had no idea what to expect. I’ve always been one of those ‘writers’ that never actually writes anything, and while I’d known I wanted to do a writing themed Ma for a long time, I had no intention of doing actually pushing myself to do it.
I found the Bath Spa Travel and Nature writing degree by searching for distance learning courses as I couldn’t afford to move out of Milton Keynes. I was reluctant to apply at first, expecting rejection, but I forced myself to do it anyway; I figured that if I was ever going to explore a writing career I would need something more directed than just ‘creative writing’, and this degree seemed perfect.
The pieces that I title ‘Wiltshire Wonderland’ are taken from my ‘Wiltshire diaries’ collection, a series of works that I wrote in Corsham during my first residential stay for university. These are special to me because when I started at Bath Spa it had been so long since I’d completed any writing and I doubted my own ability. But as it happens, being able to share your voice and have some guidance from other writers can inspire some seriously dormant creativity.
This piece, ‘Pleased to meet Yew’, is the first thing I was asked to write at the residential.I was scared to read it aloud and my voice shook so much that I was barely comprehensible, but somehow despite this I received praise and good feedback, and from that moment on I have found the focus I needed to get my words out there.
I have fallen into a peculiar habit of introducing myself to trees that I find particularly striking. This afternoon, I met with an English yew just inside the grounds of Corsham Court. It was situated in a small clearing with three or four others (which I ashamedly admit I ignored) but marching towards the object of my affections I refused to blame myself for being interested in only one. Hurried footsteps could be heard bolting away from me and back over the park, and I felt the flap of wings that followed suit: Evidently, I had scared off any resting wildlife, and was thankfully alone.
The air was cold, and it rattled me. It smelled of nothing, just the way I have always remembered fresh air to smell. But when my shoes crushed the dead, sodden leaves underneath me, I kicked up an acrid scent of pine-needles when they rot after Christmas. Wicked roots peeped out of the mush that was the ground, the detachment between them and the tree was eerie and I felt as if I were in a fairytale. Before I reached the tree, it presented me with luminous red berries that hung from waxy, thin leaves. I took one of the Arils in my fingers and plucked it. It was fleshy and felt just like holding an over-ripe, miniature Nectarine. I crushed it and felt instant regret as it bled a clear slime that clung to my fingers. The seed was translucent and caved under the pressure of my nail.
Wet bark peeled from the trunk due to the recent rain. At the front of the tree, no larger than a piece of A4 paper, a section of it was rippled like corrugated cardboard. It felt the same too, not dissimilar to a piece of paper left in a damp room overnight. The texture made my skin twitch. I did not have time to admire it, as I was disturbed by a wasp crawling in and out of a deep, black welt in the bark. It moved with intent, working on something important, all while a violent humming exuded from its body. It was me that was the intruder here. Close to the wasp I spotted a slug’s trail, still glittering and wet to the touch. It occurred to me that this Yew is a shared house for many creatures.
Above me hundreds of branches knotted together, ascending infinitely into the sky. Looking up at them made me dizzy. The wind had shifted from a light breeze to instead sounding like somebody was blowing air through a metal pipe right into my ear. As it grew in volume it brought movement back to the area. The place was thick, again with the swishing of leaves and a bird that had returned for a vocal argument with a lawnmower. Turning my back on the tree, my soles sank into the earth; it was so soft that I thought it would swallow me. For a brief second I was tempted to stay, but hearing the wildlife reconvening behind me I kept walking. It had grown colder, and it felt too bitter to be outside, but I left smiling, thinking to myself that for a first meeting it couldn’t have gone better.