I’ve been visiting Dalby for nearly 20 years – initially to ride the mountain bike trails, then later for the family friendly walks and the playparks, the picnic sites and Go Ape high ropes course. I’ve run trail races and parkruns, tried my hand at stone carving and watched open air concerts in the pouring rain.
But, I’ll admit that as a naturalist, the forest hasn’t been my first choice for watching wildlife. As a working landscape, its green spaces are dominated by orderly blocks of non-native conifers and clear-fell, and there’s a steady flow of recreational visitors.
In order to gain a different sense of the place I decided to approach this residency in the most literal way possible – by fully inhabiting the forest. I decided to visit in every season, to stay all night, to roam, to sleep with nothing between me and the trees or the sky. And it’s proving to be a revelation.
I’ve drunk from springs under the lantern of the Wolf Moon, sought shelter of the Bridestones from a howling midnight gale, shared dusky encounters roe deer and woodcock, felt profoundly connected to people who called this place home for thousands of years – some of whose bones lie here still in barrows and tumuli. I’ve watched the forest wake and unfurl.
This residency is giving me time and a reason to explore wider and deeper, to walk, to sit, to really look, listen and learn. It’s a privilege to explore when no one else is around – the experience of visiting in spring during lockdown in particular is one I’ll never forget.
I owe huge thanks to Forestry England, to Petra Young and Rob Herdman, and to Brian Walker whose encyclopaedic knowledge and love of the forest is inspirational.
Dr Amy-Jane Beer is a biologist, naturalist and writer, living in Ryedale. Follow her @AmyJaneBeer.