PRESERVING THE SILENCE AS LOCKDOWN LIFTS

As lockdown eases in Cambridge, the winding medieval streets fill up again, narrow enough to warrant a new one-way system – enforced by slapdash signs spray-painted hastily onto the cobbles. The quiet fens, until recently the haunt of herons and the occasional egret, are filled with picnickers and punters, in numbers unheard of even in the height of summers past. It is a joy to see so many newly enjoying the outdoors, but in a city of this size, peaceful time in green places is suddenly hard to come by.

My two years in Cambridge have been an ongoing search for a slice of true wilderness among manicured college gardens and motorway-side nature reserves, and now, as the crowds have moved from the market place to the small havens of urban green, I wondered how I might rediscover the silence and solitude that I had previously taken for granted.

I was lucky to grow up in rural Gloucestershire – a child of rolling hills and windy ridges. Here , however, the air stays still, and the huge grey skies blend with flat, fallow fields. In the stagnation of lockdown, more than ever I longed for the wild forests of home. On the evening of the summer solstice, my prayers were answered. My quest for the untamed led me down an unassuming and unadvertised footpath, off the corner of a busy road. The tangled arch of bramble and bindweed eventually opened up, and I stepped into an image of perfect abundance – a hidden permaculture paradise and silent woodland sanctuary. Just ten minutes away from where I live, a thriving community garden, hidden in the trees and unknown to all but a few.

I wandered in awe through the overflowing plots – courgettes, artichokes, sweet peas and nasturtiums, lovingly tended through the crisis. At the far end of the garden, through a hole in a thicket of creaking beeches, the path dipped into dappled shadow. A well-trodden stepping stone forged a route across the brook, and the traffic noise was hushed by the gentle whispering of ancient woodland.

From here, I followed a trail through the trees, the same twisted roots and lofty soft-green canopy that grace the ancient forests of my (ancestral) home. At last, woodland gave way to a field of swaying barley – ochre and olive in the slow wash of golden hour. It was the sanctuary I had been searching for, and would likely never have found had it not been for lockdown and the sudden overcrowding of my usual silent spaces. I joined the community garden that evening and have since shared my new secret safe-haven with a select few of my nature loving friends.