Into The Woods
Joanna Yarrow spent her childhood at Wilderness Wood with her parents who lovingly managed the 2000 year old wood for nearly 30 years. On their retirement a year ago she made the decision to continue the legacy by taking over the management of the wood with her partner Jonathan Smales.
As part of a series of new events held at the wood, Hannah Rosalie experiences the fifth Wilderness Wood candle-lit dinner. Change is afoot, but is it all that meets the eye?
I've been welcomed at the door with a carefully chosen selection of local English wine and organic apple juice. Several selections of tempting canapés have wafted my way and I'm admiring the log burner and rustic sheepskin strewn furniture when a little border terrier appears at the door. As I wonder whether or not I should let it in, someone else does, a man with his little boy (all ready for bed) wrapped around his neck. It's an endearing sight, and I'm warmed that a fellow candle-lit dinner go-er, perhaps let down by his baby-sitter, has still managed to make it.
I'm not sure if it's the arrival of the little boy or the dog, but everyone seems more relaxed. I politely engage him in conversation. As we chat, I twig that he's Dan Epstein, tonight's speaker. I suppose when I learned that we'd be joined by the Head of Sustainability for the London 2012 Olympics, this isn't quite what I had in mind.
My first encounter with Wilderness Wood was with my primary school, packed off in duffle coats and mittens to see the trees. "That's what most people say," replies co-owner Jonathan with a smile, who I'm fortunate enough to have sat opposite. Jonathan looks kind and unassuming - and I must admit I am a little star-struck when I learn he was Managing Director for Greenpeace UK a few years back.
Wilderness Wood has a reputation as a friendly, gentle, family run working woodland. As I arrived for the evening and parked my car I couldn't help feeling that with the excellent newsletters I've been receiving along with some great publicity in the national press, this woodland is ‘one to watch' and one could be forgiven for feeling it could turn quickly into the next thriving countryside mecca; make way for new car parks an interactive visitor centre...I hope not, as I feel I know this woodland and love it's familiarity.
As the evening progresses I soon realise that here is not a room of investors, nodding toward ‘sustainability', jumping on the next green bandwagon. Instead I'm privileged to be having dinner in a candle-lit barn, in a wood, surrounded by the fellow diners who care and the country's leading experts in sustainability. Joanna, her parents, Jonathan and Dan don't just dream of a more sustainable future, but they have actually started to make it happen.
The evening isn't just enjoyable, it's enlightening. Several talks by Dan are interspersed with delicious local slow food and some fascinating insights into the future of the wood. After a lively question and answer session, and a pot of peppermint tea, I make a move to leave. Joanna fetches my coat obligingly and with sparkling enthusiasm describes several ideas she has for the wood. All enthral me, and none require additional car-parking or an interactive visitor centre. I'm delighted.
Find out more about the woodland and it's owners at www.wildernesswood.co.uk. Forthcoming candlelit dinner speakers include Tony Juniper (April 1), "One of the top ten environmental figures of the last 30 years" and Lucy Siegle on Ethical fashion (May 6).