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Part Six - The Beech Hanger

And here we are at last! I suppose that, given that there's an entire section devoted to this area, you've probably already worked out for yourself the answer to the question, "Did I go into the hanger?" - and yes, you'd be right. =;) Still, I suppose I'd better explain myself. It is indeed true that you can't wander right into the hanger as you could in days of yore - the closest you can get without climbing any sort of fence is pictured below. Irritatingly, there was a flaw on this photo which cut off the left-hand side, where the remains of the Great Beech are, but as I have other photos of that I've used the picture anyway. It's not a terribly inspiring photo maybe, but the very high contrast made my poor little Praktica struggle, so this is the best I could do!

The beech hanger

You can just about see on the above photo (about halfway up) that there is a straightforward wire fence around most of the hanger. The key word there, though, is "most" - for whatever reason, this fence does not enclose two or three trees at the northernmost edge of the hanger... and one of those is the Great Beech itself! =:D That's not to say it was plain sailing, though, as between me and it was a lowish fence of the sort used to school horses. If I was to get to the hanger itself, I'd have to go over it - how could I square that with my determination to keep to public places?

Well, the answer is that I used a little bit of logic that I took care not to check too closely. I reasoned that the path along the Down was a bridleway, and thus used by horses. The grassy area running past the northern edge of the hanger was clearly designed for horses to run from the bridleway, over the first fence, along past the hanger and back onto the bridleway over another, similar fence at the other end. For me, that implied that this area was part of the bridleway, and thus also a Public Right of Way. You are allowed to climb obstacles to walk a Right of Way, and so it seemed to me that I had the right to enter at least the northern edge of the hanger. (Note to readers: if you can see any flaws in this reasoning, then I do not want to know! =;) )

Another view of the beech hanger

So, let's just say that I was now rather closer to the hanger than I might have imagined I'd get. Actually, I was in it for practical purposes. The photo above is a general view looking southwards into the wood. It was here that Vervain's group began to dig down into the Honeycomb in "A Message from El-ahrairah," and where Kehaar's run came up into the open air. When I visited, it was too early in the year for the trees to have sprouted leaves, and so there was little sound from the wind in the branches. Even so, as with so many other points on my journey, it was extraordinary to be treading such hallowed ground.

Bigwig carving

Ah, so we're on to "hallowed ground," now, are we? I know what you're after. *grins* And yes, the photo above is indeed of the Great Beech. That appellation is really a misnomer nowadays, as there is little left of the once-mighty tree beyond what you can see in the picture. However, I feel that its place is such that it should be allowed to keep its dignity and its name. =:) To the left, you can see where the gallop/bridleway runs back to the main path, but I'm sure you're more interested in the carving about halfway up the Beech's trunk, which is probably the best known of them all, and like the others is simply a single name, albeit in this case on two lines: "BIG WIG."

Fiver carving

Moving around to the south side of the tree (you can see the fence of the bridleway in the background) revealed another important name, "FIVER." Actually, in the photo it's possible to read this as "CLOVER," but I'm fairly sure that Fiver is indeed what it says. I was a little disappointed to see no mention of Hyzenthlay anywhere, but then I suppose her name would have taken too long to write! =;P

Moving a little way further still around the Beech to its south-eastern side, I had perhaps the most wonderful moment of my entire trip. There, low down on the trunk, were the names of not just one, but four of the Watership rabbits - and not only that, but the sun slanting through the canopy of the hanger behind me had illuminated the very area of the carvings, almost as though Frith himself was showing his approval. =:D I have to admit that this was the one point at which emotion completely got the better of me, and I couldn't help dropping to my knees in thanks.

Hazel carving

The four rabbits honoured here are as follows: "HAZEL" is at the top (of course!), with "SILVER" a little way down, more or less directly underneath. In between the two, on two lines and starting under the "L" of "HAZEL," I was delighted to see commemorated my own favourite rabbit: "PIP KIN." =:) And finally, somewhat worn away below the R of "SILVER," was another "FIVER." Yes, I know one shouldn't condone carving on tree-trunks, and I certainly wouldn't do it myself... but I have to say that the Great Beech, even in its ravaged current form, was much the richer for their presence. =:) I was very glad that I came into the hanger, and it was with a singing heart that I began the long descent back to Kingsclere, as we'll see in the next section.

Update: I've recently been informed that there is a stile over the fence into the part of the hanger holding the Great Beech, and that therefore my concerns about trespass were unfounded. I must admit that I didn't see a stile anywhere on my visit, so perhaps it was in the process of being replaced or something. Whatever, this is certainly good news! =:)