Procession Lane has its roots in the deep past, it is an ancient artery and has been flowing with plant, animal and human life for thousands of years. Once belonging to the landscape, a seamless part of it, it now lies alone between a huge new reservoir and intensive pheasant rearing pens with the sound of the A47 washing over. Its Green Men are adrift on their isolated path, unable to connect with other fragments of ancient vegetation. It’s called delayed extinction and when these oak trees die, their Green Men will die with them, cutting all ties with our ancient vegetable past.
Beating the Bounds was first mentioned in laws drawn up by Alfred the Great and it was probably an ancient tradition even then. A day for a procession, rituals, drinking and general merriment was put aside each year for walking the boundary of a parish. Before the written word and before maps this was an essential way of making sure everyone in a parish knew its physical limits. Long after it had lost its pagan meaning and been appropriated by the Church as part of its rituals for Rogation Days, knowing your parish boundaries remained essential. Obligations to pay poor relief and entitlements to burial depended on indisputable boundary lines. Over the centuries processions become perambulations and my neighbour remembers in the 1970’s more of a Sunday nose-about with his father. Walking the Bounds was just an excuse for seeing what your neighbours were up to.
Not every parish has a boundary as magnificent as Procession Lane, it embraces you between warm hedged banks evenly spaced with mature oak trees and one extraordinarily big and beautiful hornbeam. One hundred and fifty maybe two hundred years old, the tall and upright oaks at the beginning of the lane begin to give way to shorter, squatter, older trees. Boundary trees are very often the oldest trees in the landscape, hedges come and hedges go, woodland is harvested for timber but boundaries largely stay the same.
At roughly four hundred years old, these pollards are in their prime. Each one uniquely moulded by its position and by the treatment they have received at the hands of generations of people. Limbs lost and wounds healed are visible, rot, warts and whiskers flourish, every deep wrinkle and cavity is an expression of a time long before I was born.
It was common knowledge when these trees germinated that all vegetation was animate and that the greenwood was full of sprites. Oak is especially laden with folklore, from the Druids holiest tree through to Charles II’s Royal Oak and the current, badly drawn, Conservative Party symbol, we invest them with all sorts of human characteristics. The famous medieval Green Men carved and painted on the roof bosses of Norwich Cathedral can still be seen, just out of the corner of your eye, in these old oaks. Grinning and leering, grimacing and making silly faces, Procession Lane abounds with them, they follow my progress from oak tree to oak tree, through a role-call of native English coppice growing from fabulously gnarled stumps, right to the far end, to the MacDonald’s roundabout, where they laugh and shout obscenities after me.
After graduating from Norwich School of Art, Tor married a forester and moved to a tangled stream-side slice of land in the headwaters of the River Yare. Looking intensely at one location, so riotously bursting with life, heightens the contrast with sterile farmland around. Perhaps Tor’s generation of poets, artists, and writers inspired by the English landscape are in fact beginning to write its epitaph.