Country diary: autumnal reds and golds burn brightly


The sun, a huge rose floating in the mist, opens as wood pigeon flocks return to fields, leaving trees smouldering with October fire. The trees on Wenlock Edge that really burn with autumnal reds and golds are on the rose spectrum: wild cherry and wild service. Both Prunus avium – gean, mazzard or wild cherry – and Sorbus torminalis – checker, chequers or wild service – belong to the family of the rose, a fifth column of plants with a sensuality that ignites human and avian desire.

There is a stretch of woodland that runs along the top of a small ravine where a stream rushing from five springs cuts down the Edge into a little alder swamp before heading into Harley Brook and from there into the River Severn. Above the steep bank – still but for stream song, the pa-tunk of acorns dropping from oaks, a distant aeroplane, the inaudible melting of magpie inkcap fungi and the shift of leaves – a stand of tall cherries and services catch the afternoon light. Against a blue sky with drifting greys, the upper cherry leaves at 40 feet have almost gone; those that remain look yellow from underneath but scarlet from above. The wild service trees, with maple-like leaves, are a dense buttery gold, a dazzling understorey up to 25 feet tall spreading beneath; they may go a deep orange before they fall.

Wild service leaves

The local and Scandi blackbirds have been through the bright but bitter cherries and the rough khaki berries of service; they ripened in September and have all been snaffled up. Although both species are native to Wenlock Edge, this patch of woodland has an extraordinary density of them. The grey, banded candlestick trunks of cherry are tall and elegant; perhaps they were planted or managed to produce long straight timber for musical instruments or furniture. The dark, scraggily irregular architecture of services may have been encouraged for producing berries used in brewing and medicine effective against colic. Deliberate cultivation or random populations relict of ancient forests, this jumble of trees with its double flash of spring blossom and autumn colour is what marks the seasons, something now of inestimable value, a secret that passes from the miracle of the rose.


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