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Virtual Tour — Freeman’s Wood in Lancaster

 

Between Willow Lane (behind Coronation Field play area) and the River Lune lies Freeman’s Wood. So called because the local area, known as The Marsh, was once common land on which the local Freemen of the borough were entitled to graze their sheep. 

You can also get into the wood via the far end of St George’s Quay on the River Lune, when the road ends and becomes a track through the trees. The track, which was once a railway line, follows the river, all the way to Glasson Dock.

 

Into the Woods

The woods are webbed with paths that wind through the green-dappled light as you breathe the trees. Generations of children have played in the woods, making dens and trails for their bikes. Little Red Riding Hood, Hansel & Gretel, Robin Hood and the occasional party of teddy bears all pay visits. And at night there are other stories, of a hanged man, of ghosts and talking trees; I've not seen it myself, but I know someone whose mother-in-law did…

It’s very, very spooky at night. Spooky and lovely in moonlight. And silent, though as you come out onto the riverbank you might be lucky and find a deserted bonfire dying down where someone has been clearing the banks of their endless supply of driftwood. 

As you walk in the woods you might see shreds of an unusual blue textile in the ground. The area was once used by the nearby Williamson linoleum factory as a landfill site. Under the ground in places are the things they threw away; these scraps from the production process and also mixed rubble from various changes to the factory construction. The trees and shrubs have steadily gone back to work here, breaking down what lies beneath and slowly, gracefully, reclaiming the land for nature as the century passed.

You can find out a lot more about the history of this piece of land at the StoreyG2 website about it; the ‘Landed’ art project.

 

The Art of Memory

In the early 1980s a colony of artists lived in the adjacent farmhouse (now it’s been converted into housing). One Bonfire Night they had gathered up local children and made a great papier-mâché sculpture of a spaceship. Everyone was invited to come to Coronation Field and watch at night, as (well-rehearsed) heroic Marsh kids battled invading aliens through the lamplit spaceship, then retreated, narrowly ahead of a trail of small explosions, to leap from the ship as the whole thing went up in a dazzling starburst behind them, to cheering applause from the crowd. 

There were plenty of friendly bonfires along the riverbank that night. My big sister’s connections being frequently artistic, I eventually made my way back from the river through the wood to the farmhouse afterparty (not one to miss). On the way, in the dark, I absent-mindedly slid into a ditch and finally arrived with a wet leg and a heightened sense of adventure. Happy days…

Every couple of years or so the woods come under threat from a different kind of Space Invaders — developers. I won’t bore you with all the details, it’s easy enough to search. And to see the fence they built (which none respect, as the historic right of way is ours). Their whole schtick so conflicted with the solid mass of local memory that it inspired a new set of artists to get on the case ‘developing’ the fence and the signs that had been fixed to it. 

 

 

And all this inspired yet another set of artists to create for a project called ‘Landed’ and you can see the results of their work at http://www.storeyg2.org.uk/landed/

If you have an iphone you can also download an app there called ‘Trespass’ by Layla Curtis. It takes you on a path though the woods. The audio tracks are compilations of several conversations and they form a lasting document of the local community’s long relationship with this piece of land. Even if this land disappears under water, this app will continue to map these stories onto it indefinitely.

If you don’t have an iphone, you will create your own memories there. In Freeman’s Wood it comes naturally. 

 

 

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