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Country diary: A marginal place with a touch of magic to it | Ed Douglas


Unfortunately, the once thriving Retton Clough Farms are now in ruins. All that remains is a pile of stones, overgrown with shrubby trees. The farms sit atop a hill, overlooking a stream that is currently raging due to heavy rainfall. As we approach, the rain begins to pour down the old cart track, but suddenly a large patch of blue sky appears from the south-west. The surrounding slopes are illuminated with vibrant colors as the bracken turns copper and the oak leaves begin to yellow.

Two farmhouses once stood here, connected but separate, likely constructed in the 17th century. Over time, they have been known by different names, with Bretton Twin Farms being self-explanatory. Another name was Fairest Clough, also known as Fairies Clough – fitting for a place with a harmonious flow and tangled woodland that holds a hint of magic, especially on a day with both sunshine and showers like this one.

Crimson waxcap, blood red in the sunshine.

The area of land next to these ruins was referred to as “nine akkers”, or nine acres, although it was actually closer to seven acres. This patch of rough fields was situated between the steep bank of the clough and the steeper hillside leading up to the wild moor above. It can only be described as marginal. I have a photo from just after World War I showing the farm buildings before they were abandoned following years of struggle. The pasture is still used for grazing today, but the hillsides surrounding it have now become covered in trees such as oaks, sycamores, mountain ashes, and birches, further enhancing the feeling of a lost world.

I descend deeper into the valley until I reach a fence, where the incline becomes steeper as it rises above the stream. I had set up camp here earlier in the summer, falling asleep to the soothing sound of the water. But now, I can barely recognize the area. In the past few months, bushes and shrubs have invaded, and where I had placed my tent, clusters of bright red waxcap mushrooms now grow, oozing a sticky substance and glowing in the warm autumn sun. Some of them have begun to split open with age, revealing a yellow fringe.

I summoned the mycorrhiza of the waxcap, which were longer than anyone could remember, and they spread towards the bottom of a nearby oak tree. The tree’s branches stretched gracefully over the water’s surface.

Source: theguardian.com