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Archive for the ‘The Woods’ Category

What lies beyond the finishing line for local runners?

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Training for a Marathon is not, I concede, the most gothic of situations, yet it has afforded me a strange experience that, with I must say a little trepidation, I now wish to share with you.

As you know, the Lethmachen Marathon is two weeks away. I have been training for the best part of a year, spurred on, as I know many are, by the death of a loved one. I fell into a regular pattern of preparation: two short, fast runs in the week and a long run at the weekend. This I really did begin to look forward to, despite the challenge. My route took me through Wayland woods, out across the rolling hills south east the town, then back up along the main road, finishing off with a fair few suburban streets. I knew this 16-mile trek followed the bare bones at least of previous marathon circuits. A month ago, however, the finalized route was displayed on the Lethmachen Running Club website. I don’t think I was alone in being rather shocked at this posting, as the route had been dramatically altered. We now turned away from Waylands, running up past the old quarry, then into the farmland to the southwest. Unlike the agri-business plots to be found to the north, and directly to the south, these are seemingly unplanned affairs. each field takes no more than four or five minutes to cross, and that means there are many styles. The ground is undulating. I love hills as much as the next runner, but as a challenge I work out up to, conquer, then leave behind. These gradients never really break upon one, but for a few miles they never probably level out either. It is tough going. The first few weeks, I began to run a six-mile section of the the route after work, three or four times a week. I saw many other runners at that time, and we would greet each other in the usual way, and, unusually, we would often stop, and complain about the paths. I had a couple of days leave, so I took these, thinking that I could get a bit more experience of running the route in the afternoon sun. It was even harder going, but at least I began to get used to the uneven ground: yellow Lethmachen stone, or impacted dirt paths, with lines of grass often trailing down the middle, dividing it into tracks too narrow for anyone but a child to traverse with any comfort.

One night, a week or so in, I lay in bed going over the work of the afternoon. I found myself thinking especially of small section of the route. It begins with a pretty steep slope, concreted over, as it is used as an access to a farm. This takes it out of you, but in an enjoyable way. You can get real purchase because of the concrete, and I like the feeling of getting my back that extra bit straight, keeping a good technique in the face of the additional effort. At the top of this, the path curls to the left, past the farm, then to the right, and here, in what is always beautiful countryside, there is a site that quite takes the breath away: an old, tree covered path – a hollow-way – heading downhill.  It is so very green, and still, and the end of the path cannot be seen, as it dips and then ascends again from its lowest point. Now, as I say, this is a beautiful thing, but in the memory of it, just then as I lay in bed, there was something else, something extra. It was like – and I do find this hard to describe – but it was like an animal had turned and fixed me with its gaze. Not that I recognized some hidden consciousness in the path, but rather, an otherness that was only in the movement and the gaze: a still, silent, surface thing. And as I began to follow, in my mind, the journey that was to come, I was, quite without reason, filled with dread. I had run to the base of the hollow-way, then, before it ascended, as the new map dictated, I took a left, up a little incline, to a field of barley, with a path cut through it, its edges indistinct among the hazy, swaying, golden sheaves. The path ended across the field, in a dark hole within a thin line of trees. The sun had begun to press down upon me. Beyond this field was another, again of barley, and then another brief respite under dark green trees, before a further field, open to pasture, above which sat a farm, seemingly out of time, idiosyncratic, and uncaring as to the judgment of any other, and at the far end of this field, finally a road. But the idea of reaching that seemed very distant.

I don’t know if I had felt terror at the time. Perhaps I had. Certainly, the thought of running that way again is a terrible one to me, and so it remains. I don’t think I could do it. This is greatly depressing.  But why?  Why does this journey, up the concrete hill, down the hollow-way, left, diagonally, across the fields of barley, with their little wooded locks, and out through the pasture of the old farm, inspire such dread, that I would throw off six months of sweat to put some distance between us?

I suppose the obvious answer is that this was something of a prophesy. Was all my training moving me towards a heart attack at that precise point in the race? This seems unlikely: I am fit, and careful. And anyway, this seems too mundane, too neat an answer. The emptiness of the way, at that hour, may contain a more telling possibility: I had come upon a place that neither I, nor anyone else, was required to see. At that that time, it was a path that did not need to be seen, and this, perhaps, is what an unseen path looks like: it brings into one’s mind, of course, the spectre of one’s own insignificance, and the whole environment, therefore, shimmers with death, or something like it. Finally, and here is a strange thought, it occurs to me that the terror of the place could only ever be felt by one running at something like the pace that I was keeping. At walking pace, or with the speed of a bicycle, there would be no sense of the path before one both still and looming, that feeling of being both enclosed and exposed, of being funnelled towards some strange, uncanny end, and of knowing both human effort, and the stunning indifference of a world that could and would know nothing of this. The haunting nature of the place would only come forth for a runner. It was a trap – perhaps – designed to catch us, realized by our singular activity. What to make of that, I do not know…?

 

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A countryside alliance gathering against local residents?

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There are few people working the fields these days. Things were different when I was young. Back then Lethmachen was still the rural community it had been for generations and farming the land was still the way that most of us earned a living. Of course that was before all these big office buildings and business types started taking over the town, with their computers and their wine bars and restaurants. If my parents were still alive I doubt they would even recognise Lethmachen today. It’s not the place they grew up in, it’s been changed into somewhere else, and I don’t care what anyone says but the people are different too. For one thing, those of us that remain farmers are finding it more and more difficult to make ends meet; nobody seems to care about local produce anymore. That’s why we have no choice but to sell off our land to these property developers. I’ll never understand why we need so many houses, swallowing up the countryside until there’s nothing left. But it’s the truth that people never realise what they’ve lost until it’s gone.

All the folk from the neighbouring farms have signed petitions and gone on protest marches and attended meetings, but I reckon it never does any good. All the Council are interested in these days is money – I suppose what with all the cuts that is to be expected. But it is sad to think that the people in charge of running this town don’t even care about its history, about its roots. When I was growing up the local countryside was not just a place where a few scattered families lived and worked – it was the very heart of the community. Town dwellers would actually make a point of visiting the woods and fields out here. They would come for walking holidays, or for picnics at weekends, or just for a night’s drinking at The Bloated Sow. Its years ago now, but I remember hearing how the whole town was buzzing with excitement over the upcoming barn dance, or the fireworks display, or one of the summer festivals. As children we would spend hours exploring the forgotten pathways that run through the woods. Me and my friends would collect objects on nature trails, or play hide and seek amongst the trees. Sometimes we would even sneak out at night to go ghost hunting! But you never see anyone in the woods nowadays.

Which brings me to the point I am trying to make. Or rather, this seems the right place for me to repeat what other people have been saying. I have gathered, from certain small articles I have read in The Lethmachen Echo, that even folk who live in the centre of town have, over recent weeks, started thinking a lot about our countryside. Although none of these stories have been very specific, they do no more than hint at the details, I have filled in the gaps from local gossip I have picked up when travelling in to the shops. So, if I may be so bold to state the matter in plain words, the fear is that certain ‘things’ are coming down from the woods at night and lurking around the town. Nobody seems able to describe exactly what these ‘things’ look like; those who claim to have seen them could not even say whether they are human or animal or something else. However, all the eyewitnesses agree on a few points – the ‘things’ they saw were “dark and shadowy” (after all, it was always at night) and they moved in a strange, slow manner, as if they are feeling their way along unfamiliar streets and alleys (“like harvestmen moving through long grass”). From what I could learn, there is actually no evidence that these creatures are creeping down from Lethmachen Hill but, typical of town dwellers, everyone seems convinced that the countryside is in some way to blame. The main reason for this makes no sense – eyewitnesses have apparently reported that on the nights following their encounters they have all dreamed about the hill, and in particular that old stretch of trees those who live nearby call ‘The Petrified Wood’.

Of course these days I am too old for such children’s tales. Yet some of my neighbours reminded me that this is not the first time something of this kind has occurred. There were similar rumours back in 1969. I remember that was the year there was the outbreak of Dutch Elm disease, because Lethmachen Hill had been out of bounds all summer, and everyone used that as an excuse not to investigate any further. Anyway, eventually the stories died out. But then came the spring of 1976, when little Linda Snowbed disappeared, and it all began again. Linda was amongst a group of youngsters who had dared each other into exploring ‘The Petrified Wood’, even though they knew it was wrong. If you don’t already know, dead centre in ‘The Petrified Wood’ lies this dense copse, hidden away like it is either very shy or has something to hide. No sunlight is allowed in there, all the branches and hedgerows grow tangled and deep, and hereabouts people whisper of it as ‘The Wood Knot’. I went there myself, just the once, but not the same afternoon as Linda and her friends. Well, somehow the kids got separated during a game, and Linda did not return with the others at dusk. Blanche, her baby sister, had been with her. But when the adults questioned Blanche all they could get out of her was “It was the Ink-Sect! It was the Ink-Sect!” and some garbled story about a tall, thin creature, camouflaged in shadow, that peeled itself off a tree trunk and grabbed hold of her sister. Linda never came home, and once again the hill was out of bounds. Long afterwards, Mrs Snowbed recalled how one of their relatives had kept stick insects as pets, and Blanche had always called them ‘Ink-sects’. More to the point, what followed was a second summer of sightings – of dark ‘things’ creeping through the fields towards the town. Many of the older folk believed it to be Linda’s restless spirit, roaming from ‘The Wood Knot’. In fact, one of my last memories of my grandmother is of her, hunched over in her seat by the fire, shrugging her shoulders and saying sadly “Perhaps she’s alive. Perhaps she’s dead. Either way I suppose she just wants someone to play with”.

Being reminded of these old stories got me thinking about what they had in common. For a start, I realised that on both occasions mentioned above, the sightings of the ‘dark things’ occurred during a summer when the hill was strictly out of bounds. Whole areas were cordoned off – nobody went there; nobody spoke of doing so. This must surely be more than a coincidence, I reckoned with myself, if not the key to the whole mystery. Then I wondered if it could all be connected to what I was discussing earlier. Perhaps the woods are as sensitive as people. Once upon a time they were the centre of attention, they captured all our imagination, they were the first refuge of lovers. The woods were lived in, explored, even worshipped. Perhaps they were even proud of the fear that some people felt for them and the wild tales that followed? But what if people lost interest? What if nobody came to see them anymore, if they were no longer spoken of, nor written about in stories? Would they feel neglected, forgotten, spurned? Over time, would they grow jealous and bitter in the shade, like a jilted lover? Perhaps in their anger the trees and the shadows would breed dark things? And perhaps at nightfall these dark things would leave the woods and go hunting for an audience, gathering them by force? Such things are not unheard of around here, or at least they are half remembered in old folk legends – talk of ‘The Briar Folk’ or ‘The Stickmen’ or ‘The Deciduous People’ – whatever you prefer to call them. Not that I ever paid much attention to such old wives’ tales.

Yet once again it is true that the woods are empty. Just the other day, I barely saw a soul. Modern folk seem content to remain rooted in their homes, staring at their computers or their wide screen televisions. Rarely does anyone venture out into the street, let alone explore their local environment. For some strange reason, people would rather take a holiday abroad than spend a week in Lethmachen. Yes, today there are no children playing on the pavements or out in the woods. I assume the idea is that they will be safer in their own back gardens? Yet the trees hate us if we turn our backs. Rumour has it that ‘The Briar Folk’ are growing more fearless, more reckless. They can camouflage themselves almost anywhere.

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Radio Dada? A pirate signal haunts the airwaves…

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I am probably making something out of nothing. The concerns I am about to raise, the phenomena I am about to document, may merely be the result of some technical issue or even an overactive imagination. It is true that I have not been sleeping well recently. I suppose I am in an awkward phase of transition. My new shift at the warehouse means more pay but also means that I have to work unsociable hours: I clock in at 6pm and never get home before 2am. As you will understand, this had completely disrupted my familiar sleeping patterns, and so this could account for the strange things I have been hearing recently. Some of your readers will no doubt immediately conclude that my evidence is unreliable. They will point out, quite correctly, that I have only heard these things when I am alone and when I am probably over-tired following a long, physically demanding stint at work. After all, who doesn’t imagine things at that time of night? Sometimes when I am still sleepless in the small hours of the morning, it feels like I must be the only person awake in the entire country. I suppose that explains why I like to have the radio on. It is comforting to hear another voice or a piece of music, and when they have other callers on the air you do feel there is still a community out there, even at that time. As I said, the radio was a help, a comfort….at first. But lately I have started hearing things, and I am not convinced these sounds are all in my head. Have any other listeners experienced what I have?

Mostly, I try and sleep during the day. I find it impossible to go straight to bed when I get home, which is typically about half two in the morning. It takes me at least a couple of hours to unwind, especially if anything has happened at work, if the orders have been packaged wrong or if I have had a bit of a run-in with one of the managers. These are the kind of things that trouble me and keep me awake; they race around my mind in circles if I attempt to just lie there and close my eyes. So before I retire, I like to have a quick drink and switch on the radio. The local station, Radio Wan, is the one that I found most soothing. At that hour they mostly broadcast talk shows, interspersed with the occasional record, usually something light and familiar. Not being young anymore, by the time I get home I am hardly in the mood for banging party anthems! Anyway, the topics discussed are mostly local issues, or simply just local residents phoning in to confess their problems or air their grievances. One night they may cover pedestrianization and parking permits, the next infidelity and terminal illness.  Even if you do not agree with their opinions it is nice to hear from other people when you are sat there alone in the dark, these other voices you know are not too far away. It makes you feel less isolated. Thinking back, it is difficult to pinpoint exactly when the trouble started. I probably was not even aware of the initial signs. They were so quiet, so subtle, like the way the dawn creeps up on you.

All I heard at first was static. Or what I took to be static – an irritating wash of white noise, as if I hadn’t tuned in the station properly. Over repeated nights, this would fade in and out of the listed programme at irregular intervals, until I found myself listening more closely to this interference than I did the conversation or the music. Half consciously, I began to recognise, to identify certain sounds. What could be mistaken for whispering was actually atmospheric sound. To be precise, it appeared to be a field recording of nearby Lethmachen Hill. Over the years I had taken a number of strolls up there, and I became convinced the distortion on the radio was in fact the sound of the trees up there swaying in the wind, the boughs creaking, the leaves rustling. Although I had never before heard them at night, I was certain that was how those trees would sound. It was as if the hill itself was broadcasting a signal; communicating. The more intently I listened, the more I drew from the ambience. There was the soft gurgling of what must be a woodland stream, and the grunting and whinnying of what must be small animals scavenging in the undergrowth. Most chillingly, I often heard the drawn out, plaintive, practically human cries of what I believed to be foxes.

Frustratingly, these snatches of sound have been infrequent and indistinct. They also seem to be repeated in random order, making it difficult to judge if I am hearing something for the first time or the fifth. As the days passed, I became increasingly impatient with the deejay and his callers, longing for the precious minutes when they would dissolve into a symphony of sighs and groans as the wind and rain swept through the hidden alcoves of the hill. I admit there are nights I spend hours waiting beside the radio, poised with pen and paper beneath a solitary desk light. You see, I have become convinced that this pirate signal is trying to communicate something, that the hill has a story to tell. Only of course the details are almost impossible to communicate on our wavelength, meaning that those who listen need to assemble the narrative from any clues that can be deciphered. For instance, on half a dozen occasions I have heard the same brief melody repeated, either hummed or whistled as if at a slight remove. It is possible, however I don’t think this is just stray music transmitted by a neighbouring station. Recently, my patience has been rewarded. Now, there are words. Just a single exclamation at first, evolving gradually into distinct, individual words. Finally, I have been able to hear what are apparently broken sentences, perhaps a conversation cut short? ‘No…not tonight…another night…’ I thought I heard a hushed voice say. ‘We should be getting back…it’s getting dark…’ she repeated. Then I think, in the background, an answer in a lower voice. Muffled, almost indecipherable: ‘There’s no hurry…’

That is my story. My motivation for writing to your site was the hope that other readers could tell me if they have shared a similar experience whilst listening to Radio Wan late at night? Is it just a problem with the local transmitter or the reception in this area? Do other people feel they are being communicated with, or is it just me? I appreciate that at that hour the listening figures are probably low. I did recently confide in a colleague at work. He is always very quiet and keeps himself to himself, so I figured he could be trusted. Yet he just responded by shooting me a very wary glance, and when I tried to go into the details of what I was hearing, he looked genuinely frightened and avoided any further interaction.

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Is a Big Cat preying upon the local dogging community?

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In spite of the plethora of ghosts said to haunt Lethmachen, unexplained deaths in the town are thankfully few and far between. Hence the sudden death of beloved father of two, Olly Boote, has fuelled much conjecture in the local pubs and local papers. But can his death really be labelled unexplained? Although The Lethmachen Echo has remained characteristically prim in addressing the circumstances, evidence supports the rumours that 51 year old Mr Boote led a clandestine second life as a participant in the local ‘dogging’ community. Over the last few years, those with homes on Lethmachen Hill have become increasingly vocal in expressing their concerns about the immoral, unsavoury activity they believe to be taking place under cover of darkness. They have also commandeered The Echo’s letters page to vent their frustration at the apparent lack of police concern. The police responded that their hands were tied as no specific criminal incident had ever been reported. Until someone comes forward detailing the unlawful acts they have witnessed, local law enforcement simply doesn’t have the manpower to post nocturnal sentries at every concealed lay-by or picnic area. ‘Naturally most of us never feel the urge to wander around the hill at night so we don’t actually see these things,’ explained hill warden and resident Derek Paisley ‘The worry is knowing that people are out there, hidden from sight and carrying on in secret’. Perhaps, as the police would have us believe, Mr Boote suffered a fatal heart attack in the woods as a result of some sexual misdemeanour.  However, associates of his have approached us with an alternative story.

Although reluctant to speak to the mainstream press, these valuable witnesses have contacted us as they appreciate the anonymity guaranteed by this site and also our willingness to keep an open mind. For a community obviously eager not to draw attention to themselves or the places they inhabit after dark, it is worth noting how insistent all of Mr Boote’s fellow ‘doggers’ were that the investigation into his death needs to be reopened and pursued with more conviction. ‘I was with them that found the body’ one informant told us ‘and it was the look in his eyes, just total fear and panic. Not a sex thing at all…’ The location of the body has also raised questions. ‘There was no reason for him to be that far from the car park, that deep in the woods’ commented another present that night ‘It was as if he had been running away, trying to escape something. The strain must have been too much for him’. Some of those interviewed also suspected a connection between the death of Mr Boote and an earlier incident involving one of their own: the unreported disappearance of a man known only as ‘Colly’. ‘With the dogging scene, people like to keep their privacy, no questions asked’ a ‘close friend’ said ‘But Colly was a face you would recognise, although nobody knew where he came from or ever saw him leave. People drift in and out; other commitments, other lives. It took us a while to realise he hadn’t been there, but when I talked to the wife about it, we both agreed he had been behaving strangely the last time we saw him. Sort of agitated, reckoned he had been followed through the woods by some kind of animal, he couldn’t say exactly what. Maybe a large cat or a stray dog…’

Initially reluctant to disclose what they were driving at, a story nonetheless begins to emerge, through suggestion and innuendo. Our interviewees fear that an unidentified but savage, carnivorous animal is stalking the environs of Lethmachen Hill and preying upon members of the local dogging community. Their chosen lifestyle renders them easy targets, as they add to their own vulnerability by selecting secluded, heavily wooded areas as their rendezvous points. In their eyes Mr Boote was a not a victim of the beast with two backs, but The Beast of Lethmachen. They claim this theory is substantiated by reports of tracks found on footpaths, shadows slipping amongst the trees and panting close at hand. Many of our readers will already have sounded a note of caution here. Not only does this ‘evidence’ bring to mind tales of smugglers fabricating phantoms on the marshes to draw attention away from their nefarious activities, it also strongly resembles folk tales of supernatural animals common across the UK. For example, the Black Shuck of legend is a ghostly dog whose appearance is dreaded as an omen of death (Lethmachen poet Obby Robinson recently dedicated verse to this sinister creature). Yet should we really be so eager to dismiss such sightings? Every year we hear reports of big cats prowling Bodmin or Exmoor, and although some folklorists view these incidents as little more than modernised myths, it may be significant that The Shire Safari Park is located only a few miles outside Lethmachen. Although the park owners declined to comment, it is possible that in the past an escape has been hushed up, that they have lost a puma or two. Even closer to home, it has been alleged that, with the introduction of the 1976 Dangerous Wild Animals Act, a number of landowning families on Lethmachen Hill released their menageries of exotic pets into the wild, unwilling to pay for licenses or waste time on regulatory red tape. Or could it be the recent, much protested building developments on the flanks of the hill has driven such creatures out of hiding, as familiar habitats and hunting grounds are destroyed?

Before the sceptics dismiss all of these theories as wild conjecture, at least a hint of corroboration can be offered. Of late we have been compiling a portfolio of similar experiences. The same night that Olly Boote died, a Cub Scout troop camping out on neighbouring Stickley Hill also claim to have been stalked by a predator. ‘We could hear this laboured breathing circling the tents, then it was sniffing around the guy ropes, like it was trying to pick up a scent. We kept quiet, had our penknives ready if it tried to get in, but after a while it must have moved on to another enclosure’. Farmers in the area have regularly complained that they are missing livestock, and a late night taxi driver almost left the road when a feline shape darted across her headlights on a country lane. One reveller, making his way home in the early hours a little worse for wear, insists he was pursued by what he later identified as a black panther. ‘I was taking a shortcut along those footpaths behind The Treelands estate, when I suddenly had this sense that someone was following me. When I turned round these bright, heartless eyes opened in the dark, and I just panicked and ran. It was crazy, I couldn’t remember where I was going, weaving around those alleys, no streetlights. But I knew it was on my heels all the way, getting very close. I think it was about to pounce when at that moment I stumbled out on to the main road. Thank God the night bus was there at the stop and opened its doors for me’.

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Disease and madness blights environmental protest…

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The news that one of our contributors has been involved in a major local story would usually be a cause for celebration at the office. As we are sure you know by now, the case of Owen Solomon is not one that warrants such a reaction. We considered spiking this story, out of respect to Owen and his family. Jon Hawkes, Owen’s long time investigative partner, persuaded us to go to press with this, however, going so far as taking on the lion share of research and writing duties. Here is his report:

‘‘Owen and I have known each other for the best part of twenty years. We met at school here in Lethmachen, and apart from the few years he spent studying at Oxford, have kept up a relationship of mutual support. From initial, tentative and library based ‘investigations’ into the Loch Ness Monster and UFOs, to our nationally recognised research work on CCTV, and on the growth of NLP in local educational institutes, working with Owen has proved exciting and illuminating in equal measure.

I was not surprised at Owen’s decision to protest the development at Wayland’s Wood. He has always had an interest in things environmental. Even to someone like me, it was apparent that the water board’s decision to tear down the ash trees to improve access to the pumping station there was foolish, especially considering the dieback outbreak this year. Two weeks ago, and nine days before the work was set to begin, Owen built a platform in the midst of the tallest ash, packed a radio, telephone and provisions, and prepared to sit it out. Initially the water board were worried; one protestor can so easily lead to many. Owen had misjudged the mood of the town a little, however. Although there was some sympathy, no one actually had the balls to follow him up the tree. There were attempts to talk him down, then a couple of heavy handed scuffles, after which he made the decision to tie himself to the largest branch he could find. Everything was set up for a big confrontation. I came to see him four days in, and he was in good spirits. I had a go at some of the contractors, and generally tried to show solidarity. It was all to the good, it seemed to me, and I was even toying with the idea of coming to join him if things got really hot. Anyhow, two days before showtime, I got a call from Owen. He was very distressed, and, to be honest, not making much sense. Owen has had some issues with his health in the past, so I was worried. On seeing him I became more worried: he was demonstrating all the symptoms associated with a psychotic episode. Interestingly, his train of thought kept turning on our investigations in Lethmachen. The police and an ambulance had been called. The cops told me what was afoot, and, I’m afraid, I did not object. These situations are difficult to get a handle on when you are actually there. Owen was untied, and taken down from the tree. He kept calling for me. The last words I heard from him were: ‘Give me another day. You can have the XXXXXX tree then. I’m almost there. O God! I’m getting it. I’m almost there’. I recorded them on my phone. Owen is currently in Coney Lane hospital, where he has been officially sectioned.

Here is where things get murky. When the cops were up the tree, they noticed the ash was suffering dieback. The decision was made to cut it down with immediate effect. Now, I had seen no evidence of this four days before. In fact, I had not seen any yellowing of leaves until the moments immediately after Owen was cut down. Coincidence? I think not. Murkier still: what made Owen relapse just at that moment after ten years without incident? How might we establish if he had ingested anything he should not have? If he is clean, would the contractors condescend to tell us if any untoward words were whispered during the long hours of the dark?”

We have one more thing to add: this is not the first time the trees of Wayland’s Wood have been blighted. It was here that the greatest number of elms was destroyed during the outbreak of 1974. Economic stagnation, terrorism, strikes, a lurch to the right: is it simply that we have turned our wheel full circle?

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A bitter row has broken out between Chief Constable Barrington of Lethmachen’s police force, and senior Social Worker, Ms. Sarah Walsh, over the circumstances surrounding several violent attacks which took place in local Holly Woods.

The row began when Ms Walsh criticised police efforts to find the perpetrator of a recent, brutal attack on schoolgirl Sharon Waite which left the 15-year-old ‘battered and bleeding’, claiming police had “failed to take her [Sharon’s] statement seriously”, “had not learned from past mistakes” and were “still pigheadedly chasing their own tails”.

Chief Constable Barrington responded indirectly at a news conference about the ongoing investigation into Miss Waite’s attack, saying: “I imagine Ms Walsh is referring to the statements recently made by Sharon, and by Alice Grimshaw in the 1968 case of a similar nature, against certain deceased members of this community. I am simply not going to waste police time and tax payers’ money investigating off-the-wall claims made in the heat of the moment by two very confused, traumatised young girls, whose cases are over forty years apart. We have enough on our plates catching and punishing the living,” he added wryly, “without troubling ourselves with the dead as well.” Police are currently looking for an out-of-towner, most likely male and mid-20s, in relation to the attack.

Chief Const. Barrington has urged Ms Walsh to apologise “fully and unreservedly” for her comments, a call now echoed by local politicians. But far from backing down, Ms Walsh hit back yesterday, telling reporters: “Alicewas brutally beaten and abused, found shivering in her own excrement outside the mouth of Holly Woods. That girl told them what happened and no one listened. They [the police] failed Alice, and now they’re failing Sharon. A male out-of-towner? Please. He [Barrington] is the one chasing phantoms. People need to know the truth,” she added, “that Holly Woods isn’t safe for our children because of dangerous, malignant forces – not ‘out-of-towners’.”

Known for its stunning views, picturesque walks and diverse wildlife, Holly Woods has always been a popular site among ramblers, dog-walkers and those seeking peace and respite. Since the 60s, however, Holly Woods gained a sordid reputation when the first of several known attacks took place. All victims to date have been children or youths aged 16 or below – the first, and youngest – Alice Grimshaw – being just eight at the time. The Grimshaw case was one of the first Ms Susan Walsh ever handled as a junior Child Caseworker, which some feel is perhaps why the most recent incident concerning Sharon Waite has sparked such a vehement reaction in the usually-professional social worker.

Councillor George Braddon has now also called for a full apology from Ms Walsh, saying “I don’t know what possessed her to make such ludicrous statements, but she has brought shame on the town, shame on her profession and shame on herself. The police here do a fine job at maintaining law and order,” he added, “a fact she ought to remember the next time she needs them.” She is currently under indefinite suspension while her comments are investigated. A panel will then meet to discuss the future of her career.

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