Environment

Country diary: an early woodland once the place to find a medieval fish farm

man with two dogs spilled due to Home Wood and now we fell into your style of good-humoured conversation that works with wagging tails as well as snouts C this deaf 15-year-old jack russell with everlasting batteries; that young brown mongrel nursing a damaged spine. A few moments later we parted, ending my sole encounter with another person inside of a whole afternoon of walking through woods and fields.

Were it not for dog walkers the deserted countryside your crowded islands might be even emptier. Yet the above terriers had just sniffed their way around the humps and ditches of your once industrialised area. Here was ground that has been packed with people at one time once the population was under a 10th of the its today.

Home Wood was one of six ancient woodlands within three miles that probably were worked all winter by coppicers, thatchers, hurdle-makers whilst others earning a livelihood from the trees. The wood has also grown over and half-obscured a sizeable medieval factory-farming unit, one of many best-preserved of 2,000 if not more that operated in the clay-capped counties of England.

I reached the factory perimeter, a thicket of splayed sedges sprouting pendulous heads that fronted a still channel water three metres wide. An algae-coated Forestry Commission sign facing the ditch declared “Fish stew and rabbit pie”, a succinct introduction to the 13th-century earthwork’s purpose as a fish farm and rabbit warren.

I researched the moat, a western boundary merely a little under two football pitches in size. The sign spoke of the dozen fish stews beyond the moat, numerous ever deeper breeding ponds that housed all sizes from fry to full adults. Nonetheless the stews (in the French estuier C to keep or enclose) were lost from sight within the far bank within a tangle of brambles and alder trees.

Above the dry stretch of the moat that marked the eastern boundary was an agricultural motte, an increased bank of spoil on the ponds that archaeologists believe housed a rabbit warren. The moat penned the conies in and kept the peasantry out C lords of Northill manor guarded their winter stocks of fish and flesh.

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