Spring is sprung, the grass is riz . . .
PUBLISHED: 10:45 28 April 2015 | UPDATED: 10:45 28 April 2015
Lindsay Want's monthly indulgence in tucked away stuff that's simply oh-so-Suffolk
Ah, May morning. Across the county, from Geldeston Locks to Felixstowe Beacon, dawn dances in to the sound of bells, flapping white linen and the bashes of big sticks.
Suffolk’s sap is officially rising, its woodlands sprouting into leaf again, and village greens go wild with colourful characters and fun festivities. In its own traditional way, Suffolk still pays homage to the timeless synergy and interdependence of countryside and community, but then it has always been very mindful of the spirit of the wild world.
With his face half-hidden by leaves and with vines tumbling from his mouth, the Green Man makes regular appearances in Suffolk’s great array of churches, gently emerging from a stone pillar in Dennington, beaming down from the window in Woolpit or grinning garishly from a lofty roof boss in Freckenham. Elf-like cheeky chappies or sinister and unsettling figures from the dark wood, their forms are many – their true meaning a mystery. Perhaps they touch upon a medieval dilemma, hedging their bets between two spiritual worlds.
And then there is the Woodwose – a bearded, hairy fellow brandishing a big stick, oft found around medieval fonts. He’s pretty much an East Anglian phenomenon, our very own wild man of the woods.
At Framlingham he’s skinny. At Sibton he’s got a face like Father Christmas. In Halesworth he displays a modicum of modesty, keeping his parts private with the aid of his hat. Then at Peasenhall, Badingham and Cratfield he seems to have stepped into the metaphorical shoes of St George, taking on the dragon. A force for good? A sign of spirit? Next time you’re near Parham take a wonderful walk up from the church to the Willoughby’s magical moated hall. Would you have expected to find a pair of Suffolk woodwoses proudly guarding the Tudor gateway of this secret stately pile? Never in your wildest dreams.
The Wild Man of Orford
Wild? Orford’s mysterious merman must have been livid when he got tangled in fishermen’s nets off the 12th century Suffolk coast, and found himself hauled out of the North Sea, then locked away in Henry II’s castle. Storyteller of the time, Ralph de Coggeshall, relates how the ol’ boy was covered in hair, heavily bearded, speechless – even when hung up by his feet! – and showed no reverence or belief when whisked off to St Bartholomew’s for a moment of mass.
Straightforward Merman or woodwose of the waves, the Wild Man of Orford remains fixed in our folklore, a mysterious figure from a time when, like the dark woods, the sea was looked upon as vital yet wild, dangerous and other-worldly. Orford’s slimey green man gave his captors the slip and returned to the waves, but his story lives on – local oyster producer Pinney’s has adopted him as their emblem.
Green Children of Woolpit
The strange green pallor of two ferule finds known as ‘The Green Children of Woolpit’ is an ongoing mystery. Were the ‘Babes in the Wood’ just wild orphans of Flemish settlers, lost fairy children or extra-terrestrials? According to the 12th century tale, the green siblings were found by the village’s wolf pits during King Stephen’s reign. Dressed in unfamiliar clothing, speaking an unknown language, they ate just beans. A more varied diet normalised their skin colour, and although her brother died, the girl adjusted to society, learnt English and was able to explain about life in the dark, underground world of her homeland.
On the trail of little green men
Rendlesham Forest’s three-mile UFO trail takes in five reported incident and landing sites from the 1980s UFO sightings. Stand on the spot where pillars of yellow mist and strange crafts pulsating in blue and red, or floating on beams of light were observed. Wonder why the trees won’t simply grow there again. Little ones will find fun in following the alien waymarkers to decipher an extra-terrestrial language.
What’s more, your wild young things will surely find the adventure play area out of this world too - and enjoy brandishing big sticks of their own as they gather branches to make a wonderful woodland den! And to complete the day? Well, the Tunstall Green Man is only just down the road . . .
Must go event!
Meet the woodmen. Head off to Haughley Park for the Weird & Wonderful Wood event, the ultimate annual celebration of traditional woodland crafts. As well as highly skilled demonstrations from fletchers and bowyers, hurdle-makers and wood turners, wheelwrights, furniture and musical instrument makers, there are have-a-go workshops for all ages from whittling spoons and weaving willow to making dens and puppets. A chance to discover beautiful wood at its natural best and come face-to-face with a modern day green man or two!
Sat & Sun May 16/17, 10.30 am - 5pm (Sat until 6pm), Haughley Park, Wetherden near Stowmarket IP14 3JY. Day tickets: Adults £8 / Concession £6 / Under 12s £4 / Under 3s free.
Visit www.weirdandwonderfulwood.co.uk for full details.