Some places are evocative in a way that goes beyond that which we see with our own eyes. They tap into a part of our imagination that is forever child, filled with fanciful things and magical thinking, Resembling a Deans Fairy Tale illustration, Arger Fen is that place for us.
Approached via a mown path edged by fields of acid-yellow oil-seed rape and wheat on one side and tall stands of trees on the other, the path narrows and enters the woods: cool glades, sunlit meadows and tangled piles of coppiced branches. Arger Fen is a small fragment of the wild wood that once covered Suffolk over a thousand years ago and the history of those who lived nearby is writ large upon it. In Medieval times tenants from the local villages collected firewood and workmen dug out clay in the woods to line the timber-framed houses of that period and build their skeletons. These left their mark upon its topography, one of unusual undulation in an often flat county with its steep earth banks, one of which splits the Fen in two and forms the old Parish boundary.
The woods retain a sense of timelessness; apart from the conservation signs there is very little to remind you of the modern world and much to transport you away from it. The woodland protects species of plants and animals that you might not encounter very often; ancient stands of wild cherry (Prunus Avium) fuzzed with blossoms in the Spring, stag beetles, the hazel dormouse and barbastelle bats. Badgers crash about here leaving trails of destruction in their wire-haired wake- the crushed stems of bluebells and scrapes of earth near tree roots and tufts of fur wrapped around twigs. Twists and tangles of felled trees either left naturally or carved into wood sculptures for children to swarm over create mini eco-systems; roots and hollowed-out trunks slowly becoming colonised with ferns, ivies and even bluebells growing out at weird epiphytic like angles. Pollarded trees stand stark against the skyline, their haze of new yallery-green shoots sitting atop their crowns as Donald Trump’s toupee sits atop his.
The woodland has been carefully landscaped with boardwalks over the marshy areas and streams, packed-earth steps are cut into the earth banks in the heart of the wood and woodland pathways meander through Bluebells as they push forward trying to colonise the whole of the space. Local folklore told such tales of these delicate blossoms: that to walk through them would result in your being spirited away; that fairies would use the flowers as bells to call each other to their meetings. Called jacinth by the Elizabethans, they even used the juice from the crushed bulbs to stick paper together and the stems release a viscous sap, trailing like ribbons from your fingers and feet.
Stepping on them is at times unavoidable, releasing their sharp spicy scent into the air. wild garlic (ramps) arum, horsetail, cuckoo spit, dogs mercury, dandelions and meadow daisies edge the paths, creep up the trunks of uprooted trees, blur into the distance. The bluebells mingle with primroses and cowslips, their cold yellow tones complementing the wild violets that send their straggling shoots winding around the stolid clumps of primrose leaves. Later on there will be betony and black knapweed, yellow rattle and quaking grass. Fat white clover flowers will attract the bumble bees with their langorous drone.
The steep slopes thickly felted with Bluebells are a sight not easily forgotten.
The woodlands are bounded by meadow and rough grasslands providing a link between Arger Fen and Spouses Vale. Climb the root-filled rutted banks around the fen perimeter and emerge blinking from the shaded woods onto a light-drenched hillock in miniature, thickly grassed and flower-strewn. A mixed broad leaf tree-line intensifies the sense of sitting on top of a large grassy dome, one with a panoramic view over the Bure Valley, trees in the distance layered in colour and interrupting the patchwork fields. Bumblebees bump from flower to flower, disappear inside their winter holes, emerge. Roe Deer, pheasants and foxes dart across from cover to cover, woodpeckers clatter in the tree-tops and children swarm up and down the slope, rolling and tumbling then scrambling back up to do this all over again.
Ager Fen is not the most accessible of woodlands with its steep slopes and rough paths. Pushchairs will be restricted to part of the walk only and wheelchairs would find the going pretty impossible. There are no toilets or nearby places to eat. This is somewhere to bring a picnic in a back pack and then, along with a good book and the willingness to run free with the kids you can spend hours very happily. Come be a kid yourself.