Ever since I was a little girl, I have been fascinated by nature; in fact my very first memory is crawling under a hedge to get to the other side!
I grew up rural in West Sussex on a very small council estate of post-war red bricked houses. We were surrounded by open countryside, stately homes, lots of fruit orchards and flying chickens!
Our own garden was large and mostly planted up with roses and vegetables, and to the front of the house was a very small patch of lawn which was used for small tea parties and taking family photographs. My real play area however, started at the bottom of the garden beyond the vegetable patch, down a steep embankment and onto a narrow footpath surrounded by dark mysterious woodland, where large toadstools clung to rotting tree stumps and the air was thick with the aroma of wild garlic. The footpath smelt like my father’s compost heap, rich and dark, and on rainy days, the marshy black soil seeped into my white canvas plimsolls turning them grey.
At the end of the footpath was a large field, lined with colourful bright hedgerows that had small hairy gooseberries and other jewel-like berries growing in them.
Beyond the field were large strips of ancient woodlands full of crab apple, hazel and cherry-plum trees. The rambling blackberry vines grabbed our attention with their hooky thorns and sticky weed seeds attach themselves to our hand-knitted jumpers.
We also shared our habitat with majestic shiny black Stag beetles, sloe worms and zigzag patterned Adders, which lived in the Bracken around our estate. I once bought a baby Adder home in an empty crisp packet, my mother was not happy!
These wild places served as a safe haven from the stresses of family life, the constraints of grey schooling and ‘noisy others’. The peaceful woodlands were natural theatres for conjuring up magical stories or making witches brew from mud and Bumblekite berries. Fond memories of the wonderful disasters like the time when we roasted Hazelnuts in the embers of a “secret fire” causing hundreds of nuts to explode, raining down burning shells that peppered our skin with tiny blistering burns. The pure adrenaline coursing through our young veins was exhilarating… I loved being outside, it felt incredibly natural; being cooped up indoors was not an option for me.
I remember my first day of school so vividly, it was a cold, grey, rainy morning, and the hard black playground matched my mood perfectly. My mother was trying to reassure me but I could see she was struggling as she peered closely into my confused and fearful expression.
I thought those days would never end, I felt like a fish out of water, they never understood me; I was labelled unintelligent, disruptive and gauche. I left school with handful of low grade CSE’s and was swiftly ushered onto course entitled “Home Management and Family care”… I wanted to be a poet or an artist but I was told I couldn’t because I was someone who always sat staring out of the window looking at the trees and therefore, I didn’t have the attention span required…?
As I continued through life, trying on the uniforms of a structured existence, the spirit of the wild danced along behind me and stayed hidden deep within my soul.
However, in April 2010 aged 45, a single parent with 3 children, something shifted very strongly within me. I was staring out of the 3rd floor office window, longing to be free. The burnt-out and depressed Social Worker that I was, stood up and walked out of her job, and never set foot in the building again.
A week later I sold my house and bought a small holding on the Isle of Anglesey in North Wales and returned to my Romani roots and true calling as a Hedgewitch!
The night before I viewed my small holding, I dreamt that I was sat under an Alder Tree and I was holding one of its seed pods in my hand. The next morning as I drove down the narrow Hawthorn lined road, there in the middle of the garden was a giant Alder Tree and at that moment, I knew that I had come home. As I stepped out of the car walking straight past the little cottage I began to explore the land that was calling to me.
At that time the 6 acre field was under a grazing licence and home to sheep. The land was compacted and the tall hedgerows were lined with old stock-proof fencing which the sheep used a step-ladder to munch on anything they could reach that grew in and around the hedgerows.
A few months later, the grazing licence came to an end and that is when the real magic began… The land started to come alive.
As I began exploring, I noticed so many new plants growing, the hedgerows were re-wilding and growing outwards, they were abundant with food, medicine, magic and mystery.
All through the hedgerows were signs of life and new growth. They were buzzing with insects and honey bees. I could see little rodents and hear large communities of birds chirping and in the evening, bats would be flying alongside them as if they were corridors connecting them to others worlds.
As I embraced their wonder and nibbled upon their edible gifts, their life force went into me, and I started to get a sense of the hedgerow’s spirit, they were whispering their magic to me and I sensed a beautiful shift in my heart and I started to sing out…
“Hedgewitch wandered over the land and spoke of love, peace and gratitude to all those were watching”…
It felt like my heart was receiving a wonderful healing, something beautiful washed over me and I had returned to my inner truth. From that moment onwards nothing could stop me; my reconnection inspired me to start planting trees and since February 2011 we have planted over 5000 native woodland trees along with little orchards of Welsh fruit trees, and to attract more species, dug a large pond.
As I continued to work with the energies of the land, a perfect haven was emerging all around me. However, beyond my sanctuary, things were not so flowing; an intense farming belt of sheep and mono-cultured crops was all around. As I continued to explore the island, the plight of the hedgerows spoke out to me. It seemed that everywhere I went, large areas of hedgerows were in a terrible state; they were either cut back very severely, or flayed within an inch of their lives.
Compared to my hedgerows which are self-sustaining eco systems, these were thin, patchy and straggly and any life that had dwelt within them seemed long gone.
Some of the ancient hedgerows of Anglesey date back 400 years and sadly before the Hedgerow laws were in situ, many were grubbed out to make way for larger areas of crops which inevitably require bigger and more efficient farming machinery.
The type of hedge cutting machinery that is now in use pulls and rips the branches. The poor hedgerows look like they have been attacked by giant cheese graters rendering them weak, vulnerable to disease, and at worst killing them. I became deeply affected by what I was seeing, I felt powerless and felt a great sense of sadness.
As a child, I remember the feeling of being around nature, the calming affect the woods, the comforting smell of the forest floor, my love of spiders and my deep sadness of seeing a dead stag beetle on the road. I remember how receptive I was to the beauty of a Dandelion flower and the love I felt when an ant crawled over my hand.
The hedgerows again began to whisper their magic to me again and so I wrote “The Little Hedgewitch”.
The story begins “In the middle of the most beautiful magical Island lived a little Hedgewitch” and tells the story of a little Hedgewitch who is bewitched by a clever dragonfly and taken away from the safety of her magical island and beloved hedgerows to face the devastation of the hedgerows that dwell in Darcland.
With the help of a starling, the little Hedgewitch finds her inner strength and helps the hedgerows to recover and realise their own potential and magic that dwells inside them.
The story centres on the amazing and magical benefits of connecting with the natural world. It hopes to inspire a love of nature in our children so they can understand and take with them, the important messages of protecting our future wild spaces and indeed, our beautiful enchanting hedgerows.
Originally written for and published by Pagan Dawn Magazine