Woodland Wanderings in Wytham

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How Does A Girl From the Tropics End up in a British Woodland in Winter?

“The woods are lovely, dark and deep. But I have miles to go and promises to keep before I sleep”. This is an often quoted quotation by the famous English poet Robert Frost. The first line of this quotation is why I heartily recommend wandering about in woodlands and getting lost (temporarily) in their dark depths. However it was neither poetry nor a desire to get lost in dark depths of woodlands that brought me to Wytham Woods a few years ago. As always it was the practical and the prosaic that drew a child of the tropics and a hot house orchid like me to Wytham Woods and the synonymous village during one of UK’s fiercest winters. I was a first year PhD student at Cambridge University and needed to collect data for my First Year Report (FYR). The FYR milestone is supposed to be one of the most traumatizing milestones in the life of a PhD candidate and I could write a book about that (but let us not go there right now). So there I was in winter of 2012-13, kitted out in all pink like an Eskimo and began my on wards march to Wytham Woods.  My outfit probably gives the onlooker an idea that I don’t like winters and cold and snow. That is right. Till that point I used absolutely loathe venturing out in freezing temperatures.

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Wytham- The Quaint Agatha Christie Style Village

But everyday the bus would dutifully deposit me in front of the White Hart pub in North Oxford. I would dutifully march 1.2 miles uphill to the White Hart pub in the village of Wytham (yes, Oxford has two White Hart pubs). There I would chance upon my savior, the village tea shop for my morning cuppa. Wytham village actually has its own little tea shop. I still think of it as something out of an Agatha Christie novel. Come think of it, the village of Wytham has its own vicarage and its own little cottages and farms. And the White hart pub. It is a slice of Agatha Christie.

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But when I turned up, I did not think of the village and wonderful tea shop as the quite and quaint; they were just stops in my journey. For me the real journey would start after that. Another 3 miles uphill. I would finally reach my work site, huffing and puffing, frozen and sweating (yep that state of affairs is possible).  I detested the first few days of my fieldwork. With a passion. But as the weather grew worse, colder and snowier, Wytham Woods started growing on me.

Wytham- The Woodland, Site of Scientific Interest and a Wonderland

And not because it is a site of great scientific importance and one of the most widely studied woodlands in the world. Innumerable Oxford DPhils have come out Wytham Woods. It also has its canopy walk-way which lets scientists study tree canopies. Its a rickety climb and prior permission is needed before going up. But it is worth it, even when one has vertigo.

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That is how the world sees it and I saw it. But it is a place of tranquility, of wonder; bewitching, beguiling and echanting. It is worth that trek. That trek itself feels like an Alice in Wonderland kind of journey. My daily treks turned me into just that- an Alice and Wytham Woods was the wonderland. Don’t  believe me, see the photos.

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Can I realistically say, those treks were adventurous? No, really. They were an upgraded version of the constitutionals I used to take with my maternal Grandfather (Nana), a habit Nana developed when he was a student at King’s College, Cambridge University.  But my treks and (the subsequent data collection) were an adventure their own right. It comprised of almost 1.5 hours of trudging uphill everyday, frozen toes and bloodied socks. It was also a time when nature could invade an automaton like me and draw me in its web of colors, textures and flavors. Working alone in a woodland which is snowed in is thought to be bleak. Far from it. There is plenty of heterogeneity to be found even when there is a blanked of homogeneous snow. There are the winter colors, naked trees and of course the ducks.

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I Think Everyone Ought To Visit a Woodland

Every journey one takes need not be an Adrenalin pumping adventure. But it is important a given journey connects you to your inner core. This one did. During the course of this field season I won a Cambridge Half Blue (after the pistol team defeated the millennium old rival, Oxford in the Varsity match) and I won the trophy at the British Airgun Championship.

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I am a competent sportswoman but not championship material on a good day. However all the time I spent trudging  and facing the bitter cold readied me for a championship win. If one can face such miserable weather for several months in a row, what is a tiny trophy by comparison? The key take home lesson is that it is not just the pulse racing adventures that push our boundaries. Sometimes throwing us into the heart of the challenges Mother Nature throws at us its a big boundary pusher. I believe all those who live in temperate countries should take out the time to trek through their local woodlands. Too often we are fixated with finding adventure in exotic places . While that has its merits and is exciting, too often we forget the local. Even though by then I had lived and worked across so many different places, it was a local woodland that held so much magic for me. A tiny village just outside Oxford which is on nobody’s bucket list surprised me with its life and vigor (as much as I surprised it when I turned up the first day, all pinked up). Too often in the developed world, local endeavors such as cafes fail when faced with big brand name cafes. It is important we keep our tea-houses and cafes alive. Where else can one get proper English tea, scones and home-made fudges but a traditional tea house? So when one is not heading to exotic locations around the world, make time to visit your local cafes, meadows and woodlands. All those who are in the vicinity of Oxford (UK) I urge you to pop down to Wytham Woods. While the woodland where I worked is one part of it, there are meadows, grasslands and bucolic countryside to hold you in thrall. I am sure many such gems are hidden all over England. Please join me in this journey of discovering them one by one.

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