Everyone knows the necessity of a stick companion whilst walking in the woods. A good stick is a vital part of any expedition. A stick is needed to prod things, to offer support on tricky descents, to arrange at arms length. A stick is necessary to Gandalf a little, to swish, or to brandish. There can be no argument, a good stick is imperative. But this stick should not be brought with you, it should be found, and each walk should be begun by selecting an appropriate one.
Ashton Court Estate is a short meander from the country end of Clifton Suspension Bridge in Bristol. Over the years we visited many times for a plethora of reasons; sometimes battling through a crowd, sometimes seemingly alone. There were weddings, balloon fiestas and free festivals. There were muddy runs dodging mountain bikes and gentle walks culminating in bacon butties. There were friends and family and many memories.
The grounds are a pleasing mix of woodland and meadow and manicured open parkland. It was here I saw my first little owl, blinking in the early morning sunlight and where I studied the muscular beauty of a red stag and his glamorous hareem. Dotted across the site are ancient oaks, hollowed and propped, colossal Sequoiadendron giganteum give witness to Victorian exploration and equally spectacular Magnolia grandiflora welcome you to the mansion. The dog graveyard was always visited; carefully, as a mark of equal respect, reading out each name with solemnity, wondering by the size of the gravestone whether it be Great Dane or Yorkie. With a little trepidation we would investigate the ice house; dripping and funereal and littered with evidence of modern shenanigans.
Each spring we would visit the bluebell wood, blanketing a knoll close to a rarely used entrance, far from the house. It may have been on one of these ocassions that I found the chosen one. I’m afraid I don’t recall the details. All I can tell you is that a stick caught my eye and at the end of the walk I decided to take it home with me. This not usually acceptable behaviour, in fact it was frowned upon. We had enough of a hoarding problem already to now start collecting random pieces of wood. But this one was special and I resolved to keep it and love it. And for once my resolve came to fruition. I lovingly rubbed it down and oiled it and it has been with me ever since. I have no idea what tree donated it to me or even what made it more attractive than the tens of others that had been discarded before it. Sometimes things chose you. That is my excuse and I am sticking to it (forgive the pun, although I quite like it myself).
It is totally hopeless as a walking stick, far to long, more crutch like. It would make a perfect shillelagh or bludgeon, both fabulous words although slightly contrary to my amicable demeanour. However, if I should ever need a weapon, I have a rather beautiful one to hand, which I am sure would make the violent act far more pleasant. Or perhaps not. On reflection, I will keep it as ornament and a peaceful one at that.