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Great Pan himself,
The Faithful Shepherdess.-FLETCHER.
The Beech Tree's Petition.-CAMPBELL.
O Rosalind, these trees shall be my books,
As You Like It.-Act. ii. Scene ii.
PROFICIENT Manchester field-naturalist, fresh from his northern collecting-grounds and from a people more im
bued than we southerners with botanical and geological tastes, has lately accompanied our party in these Saturday afternoon rambles round London. We have listened with curiosity to the discerning observations of a stranger on the familiar landscape scenery of our environs. From Richmond and Windsor, and the ridges of the North Downs, our critic has viewed, perhaps, the best scenery of Surrey and Kent. On the opposite side of the Thames he has ranged from Harrow to High Beech—the leafy heights of North London, the well-wooded plains of Hertfordshire, the forest brakes and pollards of Epping. He has everywhere been struck in his summer rambles with the affluence of foliage which prevails in the landscapes around London. Nature in these southern countieg seems to him to rejoice in interminable tracts of leafy country abounding with hedgerow and tree. No stone walls or wire fences here partition the land and offend the eye with hard, unpicturesque,
proprietary line. Our hedgerows are invariably the living, flowering, fruit-bearing bush, bramble, or dwarf-tree, dear to the rural Muse. The elm tree, too, abounds in the commonest landscapes of Middlesex, Hertfordshire, Essex, Surrey, and Kent—the elm of the painter and pastoral poet, not the low-statured, horizontal-branching, large-leaved unhandsome “wych ” elm, so common in the north of England—the stately avenue tree, the glory of parks and ancestral mansions, the small-leaved London elm of the botanist. In physical contours and sky-lines, the country of the English Apennine has a variety and charm which are denied to the soft and meandering outlines of the geological horizons around London. In the element of the boldly picturesque our landscapes are almost everywhere deficient. But then Nature with us is more generally prosperous and subservient to man. Instead of the bare, the rugged, the grand, she gives us more amply the fertile, the fruitful, and the placid in landscape scenery. Such are the impressions of our Manchester fellowrambler, who scans for the first time the features of Nature in the environs of London.
Our Saturday afternoon ramble to-day is to one of those centres of Kentish landscape scenery to which Londoners love to resort for a rural holiday. It is to the Knockholt Beeches. If you have never visited Knockholt, you have often seen the crests of the trees on the distant horizon. You have seen them from the heights of Sydenham and Harrow, from Leith Hill, and on the railway journey from London to Sevenoaks. Perhaps they have been pointed out to you by nautical fingers as you have steamed up the English Channel, spelling out the inland beacons so dear to the homeward-bound traveller. Not to know Knockholt and its landscape is not truly to know the environs of London.
If we would charm our eyes with “the seasons' difference," as seen in the deciduous glories of Autumn, a stroll about Knockholt this fine October afternoon will give us the opportunity. Nature in the fields and woods is now resting after a season of fruition. The landscapes around us are lying in the mild and sunny calm of this most mellow Autumn. A season like that which is known in America as the Indian summer has followed the green and thick-foliaged months through which we have passed.
It is like
That beautiful season
Arrayed in his robes of russet and scarlet and yellow.. The trees are no longer um brageous in the lane or the woodland, and the vall'ombrosas in which we strolled in summer are thick with the fallen amber leaves. How these changing beauties of the year are rebuking the poets who celebrate the climes where eternal Summer prevails! Happily for us, ours are the changeful skies of Constable, as many of our countrymen are reminded when even in Australia's temperate zone they learn to welcome the sight of a deciduous tree. These autumnal charms which surround us in England this October afternoon the traveller seeks for in vain in the vast regions of the earth where an evergreen foliage reigns, and where the indigenous vegetation scarce marks the change from winter to summer. Vividly is this contrast portrayed by a writer who has learned in other latitudes than these to prefer our alternations of the seasons, with all their fitfulness and inclemency, to the equable and brilliant skies under which he has lived in the South.
“I have lived in climates where the orange and olive preserve an eternal
I bloom. I could never accustom myself to the monotonous permanency of their unchangeable garb. Their verdure responded to the heaven's unchangeable sapphire. I was ever in a state of expectancy, waiting for a renewal which never came. The days passed by, but the aspects of Nature were always the same. Not a leaf the less on the ground, not a cloudlet in the sky. Mercy, I exclaimed, 0 everlasting Nature ! to the changeful heart which thou hast given me, grant a little change! Rain, mire, and storm, I accept them all, so that from sky and earth the idea of movement may return, the idea of renovation, that every year the spectacle of a new creation may refresh me."*
Our journey to the Knockholt Beeches this afternoon will show us one of those aspects of Nature which M. Michelet so piteously desiderates.
Knockholt Beeches lie four miles away from any railway-station. Bromley, Hayes, and Keston would lie in your route, and you might drive through a beautiful country, by taking the common highway road; but an October sun is now shortening the daylight hours. We accordingly, take to the railway. We start from the North Kent Station, at London Bridge, with tickets for Chelsfield. In half an hour Chelsfield, which is a few miles short of Seven. oaks, is reached. In this brief space we have looked on the successive strata of the London Clay, the lower Kentish Tertiaries, and the Chalk. These subterranean realms of Nature's archæology, populous with the fossil forms of ancient life, how are they invaded and utilised by man! by a creature whose advent on the earth is but of yesterday in comparison, and whose mortal remains Nature has not yet
* The Bird. M. MICHELET.
Sealed within the iron hills,
amid her vast sepulchral museums! We alight at the entrance of the tremendous chalk cutting which lies between Chelsfield and Dunton's Green. Here are lofty prison-walls on either side. The vista before you narrows and darkens till it is lost in a low-burrowing tunnel in the earth. Deserted and solitary, how mysterious in the twilight is a great artificial ravine like this! How it tells of the presence of an arch-intelligence on the earth—of a being unknown in the ancient zoo ies of Nature! How different the memorials which man will leave behind him in the soil, compared with the vestiges of the millionfold ages of the past, perchance to puzzle the new race of beings who may hereafter inherit the earth, as they exhume the posthumous remains of his race !
But we must quicken our pace to Knockholt, for in this Chelsfield tunnel the eager geologists of our party are already espying in the face of the chalk the spineless sea-urchin and terebratulve in abundance, and are anxious to be at them, whilst Knockholt is still four miles away.
The Knockholt Beeches lie to the right of the railway, but you must first ascend the steps to the field on the left. Now skirt the railway until you reach the rick-yards by the Dunton's Green Tunnel. Pass through the rick-yards into the lane which crosses the tunnel, and you are face to face with the distant beeches, which crown the opposite slope. The walk to Knockholt on the highway is nearly in a line with this lane. Descending into Sprat's Bottom you cross the coach-road, and begin the ascent of
Knockholt "Street.” The walk is a long one. A few landmarks by the way-side—a serious-looking building on the left, flanked with gables, and built mainly of chalk flints; a wayside inn, with a conspicuous row of lime trees opposite, whose well-exposed roots are visibly clawing the ground, impress the route on your mind. A fringe of various forest-trees is on your left all the way up the street, and the eye is caught with the different stages of mortality in the foliage. The horse-chestnuts were long since singed by the July sun, and cease to lift their scorched heads in the air. But the Spanish chestnut, with its fine large and glabrous leaf, still shows some Titian-like masses of leaves. The firs are now in their glory, for their needle-like foliage gets a beautiful lustre in the Autumn. The hedge-rows, too, like the foresters, have their autumnal charms, for the silver-grey lichens are encrusting the boughs, and giving to the berries a lovelier scarlet. At length, here on the right, is Knockholt Church.
Here, too, overhanging the pathway, is the churchyard yew. It is
of vast circumference, and gloom profound;
This solitary tree ! It looks more than twenty feet in girth. Forward still—indeed nearly a fifth mile, and you notice an inn to your left, and a signalboard with the inscription, “To the Beeches !” And there are the Beeches in the field just over the stile.
This clump of tall and slender trees—this family of thirty or forty, mostly young foresters, dwelling apart on this grassy Kentish upland—are the Knockholt Beeches. Let us draw nearer apd make their further acquaintance.
Our first impulse is to compare the Knockholt Beeches with those ye saw in our last ramble at Burnham. But the comparison at once ends in contrasts. The Burnham Beeches have an enormous girth of trunk; not one of the Knockholt Beeches
possesses the average girth of those at Burnham. All the Burnham Beeches are pollards, and are of a great age. None of the Knockholt Beeches have been polled, and all but two or three might have been planted in the present century. The Burnham Beeches are a wood of themselves, beautifully interspersed with shrubs, a few oaks and elms, and the slender column of the silver birch to set off