Here be Dragons

Northwest of Chichester lies Kingley Vale, below four barrows – bowl and bell
The burial mounds of ancient kings, standing proud above the dell.
A thousand yew trees guard the sleeping kings – the largest forest of yew trees most have seen
Silent and gloomy, canopying the Down; the short and sheepcropped turf yields here to darker green.

We walked the weirdly quiet wood one February day, unseasonably warm.
We sat outside at Stoughton’s Hare and Hounds and toasted Winter’s death in Scrumpy Jack,
Then took the path past Tythe Barn House, climbing the Down’s steep scarp until we reached the top.

The forest lay before us- and below – and further off – lay Chichester – spire, harbour, shining sea.
We started downward through a firebreak trail, when suddenly a puff of smoke appeared
Mysteriously – with not a flame in sight…

Curious, we searched the track, the wooded slopes, but nowhere found the expected smoky fire.
Discussing other options for the ghostly smoke,we thought of dragons,freaky currents, gypsy folk
Or was it swarming insects – gnats or ants or flies?

We carried on at last, perplexed, unsatisfied we hadn’t found a cause…
A forest ranger sat within his van, basking and eating lunch.
We asked if there was burning going on that day and told our puzzling tale.
He stared “Why, you’ve observed the Living Smoke of Tennyson – not smoke at all but pollen from the yews
Exploding, impregnating all the trees and recreating new this forest of Kingley Vale.
This only happens rarely in the year – not many witness such a sight…”

We thanked him, left the forest, headed down the chalky track and found the car, well pleased.
Not many walks see Living Smoke from thousand year-old trees..
At dragon-hunting we had sadly failed – but Kingley Vale’s Sex Secret’s now unveiled.

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