Driving the A39 road from the top of Pedwell Hill to the foot of Puriton Hill takes you along the narrow ridge at the top of the Polden Hills. On either side, the land falls to low-lying moorland. Near a turning for Shapwick, the route dips through woodland – Loxley Wood. Fifty acres of ancient woodland, Loxley Wood is a winding dark valley in which the mobile phone signal disappears. Should you decide to pull into the lay-by and wander into the shadows, it would not be hard to feel a sense of timelessness.
In younger years, the name of Loxley Wood had a evocative powers. In times when television programmes told tales of heroism and derring-do, when the good side might lose battles, but always won the war, Robin of Loxley was the sort of figure who inspired admiration in an eight year old boy. Loxley Wood on the Polden Hills might have been far removed from the mythical home of Robin Hood, but it would have been easy to have imagined green-clad men moving between the trees.
Of course, the Robin Hood story itself was as far removed from reality as Loxley Wood is from Sherwood Forest. Robin Hood in the stories we were told was a brave soldier who had returned from the Crusades to find his lands confiscated by the evil Sheriff of Nottingham, who served the corrupt Prince John who was ruling England while King Richard was away at the Third Crusade. King Richard, in the story we were told, was a good and just man, the Lionheart who would restore equity and justice when his battle for the Holy Land was complete.
Of course, it was all nonsense. Richard would never return to England because he had hardly spent more than a few months here since childhood. Richard’s home was in Aquitaine in south-west France, he spoke French and Occitan, dwellers in Sherwood Forest would not have understood him if he had spoken to them. The Lionheart was a cruel and violent man who was responsible for the cold-blooded murder of two and a half thousand Muslim prisoners whom he had been holding as hostages at Ayyadieh. Had Robin Hood been a Crusader, he would have been complicit in the killing of countless Muslim children, women and men – in the name of the Church. At one point, John, who was a villain in our stories, was forced to raise money to ransom his brother, who had been captured by the Holy Roman Emperor. The ransom was two or three times the income of the Crown, so John had to raise taxes, and his raising of taxes was something for which he was vilified in the tales we were told.
Loxley Wood is a beautiful spot, even more beautiful for having no association whatsoever with Crusaders, kings or men in Lincoln green.
Can’t mention Loxley Wood without reference to Swayne’s leap, or the Polden Hills without a story about Thomas Pocock, our local Robin Hood, robbed the rich and shared his gains with the poor. His ghost can be seen riding his horse around the area of the Priory, if you believe that sort of thing. Never seen him myself, even after consuming vast quantities of agricultural wine.
I saw a signpost for the footpath to Swayne’s Leap, passing along the road at 6.45 this morning – it was the first time I had noticed it, despite having travelled the road countless times.
I had never heard of Pocock – I shall look out for him when passing the Priory!