There is a local beauty spot just next to Addenbrookes Hospital, Cambs, called Nine Wells. Here in a small wood several springs rise from a chalk aquifer and wind their way through hidden water-courses amongst beech trees and scrub. A magical place, but these days very close indeed to ‘civilisation’ – an entire city of gleaming bio-tech complexes is being built on its doorstep.
However, there are two other woods called Nine Wells in South Cambridgeshire. One assumes it must be a very ancient name for a wood with several springs, perhaps sacred to a local goddess. So on a cold bright Friday morning in November I set off by bike for the Nine Wells wood near Whittlesford. As I set off the whole northern portion of the sky was a scoured pale blue with friable wisps of cloud-tendril stretched out chastely across the cold heavens. In the south wide drapes of milky grey – making the sun a diffuse disk of white brilliance. A sharp breeze from the west invited me to leave the bike and set off with a determined stride down a crisp track by a gorgeously crumbled ploughed field – off away from the village. Across the M11 and a gently sloping path leads towards the river country of Thriplow and Fowlmere – where more and better known springs arise. Below are pleated fields and snaking windbreak woods in colours of orange-rust and amber, and beyond in the south the long shoulder of the East Anglian heights, which collect the waters that rise hereabouts.
Leaving the footpath I tramp by a field edge accompanied by fricative willows and reeds, convened in a wide stream bed to my left. At the end of the field are the eaves of Nine Wells wood. A small sign says that this is a ‘permitted path’ – I can see a small bridge but no path beyond it. So it seems best just to wander randomly in this small piece of marshy woodland. There is a rich, damp silence, the smell of stagnant water and rotting leaves. A buzzard wheels directly overhead and makes its sharp, wild cries.
There are many stagnant pools, where the white corpses of sycamore leaves float. The water is black and still. A tiny muntjack deer dashes away into the undergrowth, then I am alone. I search for the springs but can find none. Nevertheless they must be there, feeding the many pools and water courses that festoon the wood, and the Hoffer brook which winds off to meet the Cam near Harston.
There are signs of gamekeeper activity, but not a game bird to be seen.
Gleams of amber gold
from the eaves
paths to the margin
Dark mirrors –
where summer is gathered