Constable Beneath the Trees
In 1994's Constable Beneath the Trees, Constable Nick returns from leave to discover changes at work and at home. The youthful Inspector Pollock, fresh from police college, sees himself as a new broom, a forerunner of fundamental changes in rural policing. Meanwhile, Aidensfield's vicar, Roger Clifton, is transferred to an important post at York Minster, to be replaced by the Reverend Christian Lord - and he, too, has changes in mind.
But the real shocks in store for Constable Nick in this collection of tales from Aidensfield are not provided by these newcomers, but by something which has been present all along. Constable Beneath the Trees turns the spotlight on a feature of the Yorkshire landscape which is full of surprises:
When I was a small child I believed that if I went down to the woods I would be in for a big surprise. It was all connected with a popular song about some teddy bears having a picnic in the woods. Perhaps because of that yearning for a big surprise, I spent a lot of time in the woods looking for teddy bears having picnics. I never found any.
There were, however, several fascinating woods around my childhood village even if I failed to experience that big surprise. They contained lots of small surprises and pleasures such as enabling me to discover otter cubs at play, to find caves, lakes and cliffs, to explore an old ruined millhouse, to watch salmon and trout swimming against the strong current of the river, to climb trees and peer into wood pigeons' nests, to listen to woodpeckers, to scramble up cliffs and poke my hands into the nests of jackdaws and to touch the eggs as the female sat on them, to walk nine times around the wishing stone and then wonder why none of my wishes came true. In those magical days, I carried a pocket book of British birds and learned to identify those I saw; in spite of my nesting exploits I never took or destroyed any birds' eggs.
Another secret I kept was the location of the holt of the otters whose cubs I watched. I knew that otters were hunted along that salmon river because they did kill these splendid fish, but even as a child, I felt I wanted to protect all forms of wildlife. I was fortunate to grow up in such a wonderful place and I suppose some would say my childhood was idyllic. For me, though, it was normal. I thought all children had such a splendid and wide-ranging playground because, in addition to those woods and rivers, I had open moors on my own doorstep with expansive views, rugged terrain and untold freedom to explore. I spent hours in those woods and upon those moors.
It was those superb woods which contained my own secret place and yet, throughout my childhood, I never did experience that magical big surprise. Maybe all my experiences were big surprises? How was I to know? As I matured into my teens and then my twenties, however, I must admit that those expectations began to evaporate. By the time I went walking in the woods as an adult, I had forgotten about big surprises.
Among the surprises Constable Nick finds in the woods in this collection are a colony of unidentifiable exotic birds, a stolen poet, an unexploded bomb and a missing child with a secret of her own.
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