Stories from the Barn

A hive of activity in the Hampshire downlands

Through The Woods by H.E Bates


Through The Woods by H.E Bates

Through the Woods by H.E Bates. When he was a child the writer Herbert Bates wanted to be a painter. He describes the paintings that he enthusiastically produced as being of ‘horrific badness’. So the introduction to this book, written by Laura Beatty tells us. I am so glad that H.E Bates as he is known, became a writer instead because this is a magical book about woodlands. A book chosen by Honey Bee Barn included in the Country Ways Book Box.

He recognized that words themselves are a form of paint and that a picture can be painted in the minds eye by using the pen like a brush. From childhood Bates lived with the countryside just under his skin and in this journey into the woodlands of his youth he weaves not just experiences and observations of being in a wood but the people that became part of this woodland experience as well. He follows the story of a little wood near his home through the changing seasons of one year. Everyone will recognize something of the woods we all walk in, if only we took time to stop and stare.

Through the Woods by H.E Bates

Come take a walk Through the Woods with H.E Bates.

The writing seems like the memory of a wood, those long childhood memories that cut deeply into our subconscious. Observations made all the sharper by the youthful brain. He takes us to a woodland of his youth and like an adult to a child, holds our hands and guides us through.

Read Through the Woods and then walk in one, with the words of Bates fresh in the mind, this walk will be the most magical woodland walk you will ever take. We are invited to see the biodiversity in the woodland through the lens of the turning year. He is so clever at capturing the obvious and turning into the special event it should be but most of us pass it by. An example of this is how Bates notices the dull brown buds on winter trees. How he observes the woodland moving into that phase when Winter is not at an end nor Spring arrived.

‘The phase, always brief, represents in a sense a prologue to spring and at the same time an epilogue to winter. Belonging all the time to neither one nor the other. The buds are awake but not yet open; they are no longer dead but still not alive.’

How perfectly does that describe the woodland as it is right at this moment, after a February morning walk? The way he writes about things we all think about such as when all the trees are suddenly in leaf when last time you looked there was no leaf to be seen.

‘The land is caught up, almost completely, in the green vortex of midsummer. It happens suddenly, almost imperceptibly, before one is ready for it.’

Walk in the woods


The Villain.

As an adjunct to the glorious nature writing, H.E Bates then presents us if his arch villain, the game keeper. Such an honest and frank description of his altercations with this person made me laugh. Bates seems unable to rein in his contempt for the position that stopped him enjoying the countryside as he wanted. Then we meet his poacher. Bates has an admiration for the poacher who he sees as part of the landscape.

‘He is the only survivor, now that the smuggler has gone, of the romantic thief, of the hunter who is himself hunted.’

The book was written in the 1930’s, when this view of a poacher, taking game for the table, might be acceptable. The poaching we witness today is in a different league altogether. I wonder what Bates would have had to say about it, very possibly taken a less romanticized view.

Bluebell Woods

Wonderful woodcuts.

If the words don’t entice you then the woodcut illustrations by the artist Agnes Miller Parker undoubtedly will. It is hard to put into words the beauty of these woodcuts, page after page of exquisite art. Like H.E Bates, the artist turns the unremarkable into something remarkable.

Through the Woods

Wood cut by Agnes Miller Parker.

The most quotable book?

It is almost as though H.E Bates has a quotable line for every encounter with the natural world. I lay in bed the other night wondering whether or not it had snowed. I made myself lie very still and knew it had. The line form ‘Through the Woods’ came to mind and caught the moment perfectly.

‘There is no stillness in the world like the stillness of the world under snow.’

Through the Woods by H.E Bates

ISBN 978 1 908213 02 0

Published by Little Toller