amongst my current reading two books by writers now living in Norfolk stand out; Beechcombings by Richard Mabey and Moored Man by Kevin Crossley-Holland – which is beautifully illustrated by Norman Akroyd with etchings and watercolours. this is a collection of poems about the spirit of that liminal place, the North Norfolk saltmarshes, embodied in a mythic figure with more than a touch of Grendel about him, Moored Man. (Crossley-Holland has a translation of Beowulf under his belt, illustrated by one of my all time favourites, Charles Keeping).


Under the Milky Way
his hidden lips and little throats
open, they stay open
as he sips and gurgles.

Under the dark, burning places
he spreads himself and plots himself.
Prone and accepting.

He strops his blades
under the red star.
Like nerves his wiry hairs quiver.

Under the wrenching moon
he is slats of ghost-light,
he is ribs and rising.
All he is, all he was
In this dream of re-becoming.

from Moored Man’s Tides

He faces the offing and world’s rim.
Home of the nightfall.

the mysterious quality of both text and image perfectly represent that place which cannot decide whether it is land or sea.

the welter; the rim;
the colours of separation;
always the ache of his tides
deep within.

Beechcombings is a far more matter of fact book, but it is still poetic; beech trees Mabey has known, and a wonderful assemblage of facts about them. much of it is about the landscape of southern England; the Chilterns, the New Forest, Felbrigg Hall here in Norfolk, or France – Fontainebleau Forest and the Barbizon School of painters. ‘the narratives of trees, the framings and images we make of them’, as Mabey puts it,  and ‘the trees’ own narratives, the stories they weave themselves in their migrations and distributions, in the groupings and patterns they form, even in their physical responses to being moulded by humans towards beauty in one direction and utility in the other.’

as a child I grew up with beeches just south of Norwich; my close-knit family  of grandparents and cousins lived with some wonderful gigantic beech trees, their huge roots exposed on the side of a steep bank. later in North Walsham our garden had a hollow beech tree in the centre of the garden, surrounded by a raised lawn made by its roots, and decorated with bracket fungus, in which lived a family of tawny owls. beech trees are not so common in Norfolk. the single specimen in the roadside hedges of Bale came down last spring, the lower part of its trunk all hollowed away by rot. it was a landmark, its branches all stretching away from the prevaling westerlies, like a head of hair streaming in the wind. there is one more, in the bridle way hedgerow, but it also has bracket fungus, so perhaps will not last much longer.

at Felbrigg Hall Mabey identifies the northern most beeches growing naturally in England. one pollard measuring seven point six metres in girth may be the biggest and possibly the oldest in Britain.  they are remnants of the wood-pasture that existed on Felbrigg Heath before three centuries of tree planting by the Wyndham dynasty.