When the Domesday Book was written, in 1086, what is now the pleasant London suburb of Ruislip was known as Rislepe, ‘leaping place on the river where rushes grow’. The book also tells us that it had more pigs than human inhabitants. These pigs roamed the extensive woodlands; and Ruislip Woods remain to this day, although smaller than they once were.
Ruislip still has at its heart the ancient village at its heart that was mentioned in the Domesday Book. The village grew up around the 13th century parish church dedicated to St Martin. The barns belonging to the former Manor Farm, just to the north of the church, still stand.
Ruislip is also the town where I grew up, and where my parents continued to live until old age and ill health necessitated a move away for the last few years of their lives. So it’s a place I know very well indeed.
Ruislip may be largely a built-up area today, but a significant vestige of its rural roots remains in that large tract of woodland to its north. This is the largest block of ancient semi-natural woodland in Greater London and is important enough to have been designated a National Nature Reserve.
These woods are what remains of the ancient woodland after land was cleared for settlement and crops in medieval times. They consist of four separate woods: Park Wood, Copse Wood, Mad Bess Wood and Bayhurst Wood. The woods were mentioned in the Domesday Book of 1086, when they provided foraging for pigs and timber for building and firewood. Later, timber from these woods was used in the construction of the Tower of London in 1339, Windsor Castle in 1344, the Palace of Westminster in 1346 and the manor of the Black Prince in Kennington. They were coppiced on rotation throughout the years with the timber sold to local tanneries. By the time King’s College took ownership of the manor, after it was confiscated from the Abbey, the woods were let for sport, with pheasants kept for shooting.
Today the woods are crisscrossed with footpaths and bridleways, and many locals (and some from further afield) enjoy walking and riding here. There is a large variety of tree, plant and animal species. The most common trees are hornbeam, oak and beech; in particular, the mixture of hornbeam and beech in Bayhurst Wood is considered unusual.
For Terri’s Sunday Stills theme of leaves and trees I want to share some photos of these ancient woods. As will be immediately obvious, they were taken on two separate visits; one a few years ago at the height of summer and the other last November. Both were to Park Wood, the area closest to where I used to live and arguably the least ‘wild’ of the four areas.
Summer in the woods
Although they look quiet in my photos, these woods are a popular leisure area for local people. They walk their dogs; take the children to play and discover nature; and even ride horses on the bridleways.
A November walk
For Jo’s Monday walk this week, let me take you on a late autumn stroll through these woods. Some trees are bare by now, others still have colourful leaves lingering. But there are far more leaves on the ground than there are on the branches. They don’t crunch underfoot on this slightly damp day; instead it feels at times as if we are walking on a deep-pile carpet! Oh, and I’m sure we’ll find some fungi and lichen too along the way.
I lived in Ruislip from 1959-1974 and again from 1977-1981, but visit only rarely these days