Alex James: Woodland is a luxury, pure and simple

Rural Notebook
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The Independent Online

Cheaper than a car, probably, but more expensive than land, which is, in theory at least, profitable without much investment, woods are usually an indulgence; something to be enjoyed. They are to space what Sundays are to time, a place where nothing is supposed to happen.

Some farmers use their woodland as cover for game: more and more, in fact. Shooting has seen a huge rise in popularity over the last 10 years, but it is only a certain kind of landowner – always, as far as I can tell, deliciously posh – who turns his woodland over to sport. And, actually, the nicest thing about a day's shooting is the feeling of being surrounded, almost suffocated, by poshness and tweed. The world's finest hotels can't compete with the feeling of luxury, of nobility, that drinking bad gin while cold, wet and covered in mud inexplicably brings.

Of course woodland exists principally because the wood itself is a crop, but it's not a cash crop, it's a banker. Paddy, who looks after quite a lot of woodland in the area for clueless arrivistes like myself, tells me that no one is spending money on their woods at the moment: it's the first thing to go in the credit crunch, well-tended woodland. I mean, who really needs it? Even red squirrels prefer the less-tended kind, I imagine.

My wood, eight acres of ash, oak and brambles, hasn't been touched for decades, but we've been attacking it this week. Pulling out every other tree to allow the remaining ones space to grow properly. It seems much bigger in there now. The logs that are coming out are not quite big enough for anything except firewood, but the value of that, about £5 a ton, is almost enough to cover the cost of the work. In 50 years' time, it'll almost be worth selling the logs as the timber they were planted for a hundred years ago, but hey, that's not a bad deal for another 50 years' walking in the woods.

Trout and about

We'd only popped into the woods while on our way down to the river. We were after some trout. On the scale of useless beautiful things, the river is probably right at the top. I love it down there. Paddy had his fly rod, but it was too overgrown to get a cast in. He was disappointed, but surrounded by butterflies and poppies in a rare sunny spell: well, what else does a man at leisure need? Happy as a dog on a beach.

Cool design

Dinner up at the big house on Saturday: very nice, too. We ate in the old ice-house, a lovely temple-like building above the subterranean vault where they used to keep the champagne cool during the summer. "Eight feet underground it goes – it's cold down there even now with no ice," explained my host. "Amazing bit of design, really." Indeed.