The way to Tinker Bank Wood is along Dark Lane, a narrow old path lined with some veteran ash and sycamores. The bark of some of the sycamores is like a map, its contour lines picked out where the bark has peeled off. At the end of the lane, The Hollings is a romantic-looking terrace of cottages climbing up the hillside. Flowers spill out of the gardens into the path and I have always thought this would be a great place to live – though in truth I know it to be dark and dank beneath the Heptonstall hillside. There is a brief tunnel beneath the rhododendrons beyond, that forms the gateway into Tinker Bank Wood and you emerge in its midst at a junction of four paths. Several public footpaths cross the wood, many of them age-old routes, so you can vary your walk through it each day. Even then, there are still hidden corners in between that I stumble across with surprise now and then.
The first part of the wood is dominated by mature sycamore trees. It is the least interesting area, in spite of the few twisted oaks that wind like corkscrews towards the light. The leaves here are mulched up and broken only by the bluebells that will herald the spring with their bright clarion colours. Higher up, there are a couple of stately horse chestnut trees along the Hebden Hey track. They are the finest single trees in the wood and their huge leaf paws dominate the ground in autumn, a richer orange even than the beech beyond. Beech trees take over above the track, a bank of 19th-century plantings that are now at maturity and liable to fall in every storm. Throughout the wood, there are the shallow feet and broken-up trunks of fallen beech. At the top, there are so few left that light pours in where normally the beech canopy provides the densest shade.
Moving into the wood, the ground gets rougher, with lumps of gritstone scattered liberally across the slope. One is a curious mossy bowl balanced precariously on its side, others look like miniature versions of the great crags on the Heptonstall hillside above. This is now ancient semi-natural woodland and a true mix of trees; oak is more dominant, joined by the frail silver birch, and there is a thicker covering of ferns and brambles across the woodland floor. The grace of the birch is somewhat besmirched by lichen and pollution, but its bark peels off in satisfying paper-like sheets and there are huge polypores clinging to many of the trunks. Beech and ash saplings grow beneath the canopy, though few seem to last into maturity, and fallen trees block the way at every turn. You can see less in here and, as you pick your way between the trees, you are liable to come across the unmistakeable flattened circle of a hearth once used for charcoal burning or a curious circular pit lined with stone, whose historical significance has long since become indecipherable. At the bottom of the wood, the slope drops very steeply down to the old bowling club and allotments along Hebden Water. It steepens into a rocky scout further along, where a large boulder provides a good vantage point and place to relax in the summer.
The far end of the wood is my favourite, beyond the line of an old wall that once divided Tinker Bank Wood from Lee Wood. It is now identifiable only by the tall stoops along the bottom path, where holly closes in around the feet of the oak trees. Paths meander through these dark bowers to emerge in small clearings of oak, birch and rowan, one of which houses an early charcoal hearth, and another an area rich in russula mushrooms as well as the bones and feathers of a dead heron. In the middle of the densest holly tree, which bears the finest of berries in the winter, is a small tarpaulin shelter that is almost invisible from the path ten feet away. At the edge of the wood, you can gaze over the dry stone wall to a bright open field and the wooded slopes of Galstones Bank and Crimsworth Wood, at the top of which is the striking war memorial. There is even a small plantation of spruce trees beyond the wall, one of which has escaped some distance into the wood, a surreal three-foot miniature dwarfed by oaks.
Yet this is only part of Tinker Bank Wood, which blends seamlessly into Lee Wood and extends along the Hebden Hey track for another half a mile to lead into the Hardcastle Crags woodland, but that is another country. My corner of Tinker Bank Wood is just 300m long and less than 200m wide, yet there is a whole world to discover in it. There are at least four charcoal hearths, the site of a former hut perhaps used by someone working in the wood, the well-defined line of a level or trackway above the existing track, and the remains of a stone cross inscribed with lettering I am yet to decipher. The trees are full of the sounds of woodpeckers, tits, thrushes, magpies, warblers and robins, while there are plenty of squirrels that Alfie loves to chase, as well as inquisitive deer who come down from the woods around Hardcastle Crags. The wood changes at every turn, in every light, and with every season. And the most remarkable thing is that this is not a particularly remarkable piece of woodland; I could be describing any corner of woodland on any doorstep. While the moors inspire with their vast empty swathes and open vistas, it is the ever-changing intricacy of the woodlands that makes us return time after time. There is something simultaneously reassuring and unsettling about the familiarity of woods that are different every time you look at them.