Back in 1984 police were called when 16 people were discovered dancing naked in the woods. They denied they were witches, saying they were members of the Order of the Silver Star, an international occult organisation, engaged in a ritual to avert a natural disaster. More recently, in December 2010, the West Midlands Ghost Club unearthed a mysterious copper tablet inscribed with strange markings, and members also found an Egyptian style statuette. Horror writer Guy N Smith, who was brought up in the village, set some novels here, and over the years there have been sightings of a golden-orangey big cat, and of a tall ghostly figure.
It’s difficult perhaps, to separate fact from fiction, and many people are convinced the woods have an unsettling atmosphere, but we didn’t feel anything odd or sinister: it was just very ‘treeish’, and amazingly quiet, especially when you consider that the busy A51 is so near. We could hear birds singing, leaves rustling, and branches creaking, while the noise of traffic was so muffled it sounded like the distant roar of the sea.
On the day we visited, the bluebells were still in bloom, looking a little past their best, but carpeting the ground beneath the trees with a haze of blue. The sun filtering through the leaves on the trees created a kind of dappled effect of light and shade. We saw grey squirrels, and butterflies (like the Speckled Wood pictured below), as well as ladybirds and all kinds of insects, butterflies and birds, which we were unable to identify because we left the recently acquired binoculars at home, so we have decided we need a ‘walking backpack’ for future expeditions!
I’m always surprised that there are so many lovely places within such easy reach of home, and Hopwas is only two or three miles away, about halfway between Tamworth, where we live, and Lichfield. The woodland, also known as Hopwas Hays Woods, is on a hill and seems to be an ancient site: it’s mentioned in the Domesday Book, where it is described as being six furlongs in length and three in breadth. Today the area covers almost 400 acres, and is owned by Tarmac. Fortunately, there is no quarrying, but much of it is fenced off, with wire, gates and forbidding signs, which seems a shame – ever the rebel, I ended up marching along singing Ewan McColl’s ‘The Manchester Rambler’ and thinking about the mass tresspass on Kinder Scout in 1932!
Anyway, I tried to find out a little more about Hopwas Woods, but have only discovered that during the 18th and 19th centuries it belonged to the wealthy Levett family, and there was a Woodhouse (now demolished) where the woodman/gamekeeper lived.
Last year local artist Gwyddion Flint got together with other artists and historians to stage an exhibition inspired by Hopwas Woods. He produced a booklet, in which Guy N Smith wrote about his childhood memories of The Woodhouse, and how he went shooting in the woods.
For more Saturday Snapshots see Alice's blog http://athomewithbooks.net/