Despite living in Nottingham, I’m actually a Sheffield lad. I grew up in a place called Wincobank. It used to be a village until it got absorbed into Sheffield when, like all cities, she expanded and grew.
Lower Wincobank rests at the roots of Wincobank Hill, one of seven (Although, some would argue eight, or even fewer….) in the Don Valley. The hill has some remains of a fort that up until recently, everyone thought was Roman. Turns out they were wrong and it belonged to the defending Britons who used it to mark their territory.
Between Wincobank and Ecclesfield, there is a woodland, just over five hundred years old. Woolley Wood. It’s a beautiful place and the bluebells and wild garlic are in bloom at this time of year. There are many species of tree, including Sessile Oak, Holly, Yew, Birch, Ash, Sycamore.
I have many memories of that wood, of playing there during school lunch breaks, of playing Wide Games when I was in the local Scout Troop. I especially remember when three boys ran all the way back to the Scout House because they claimed to have seen Wanker Bill, a local urban myth which I’ll write about another time! There are fond memories of taking my Nan’s Jack Russell (Toby) for walks in there. And of course, the Tarzan Swings that other kids made.
When me and my brother were little, we used to call it ‘The Haunted Wood’, so I was a bit disappointed to find it already had a name. And it isn’t haunted. Not by the dead, anyway. Woolley Wood is alive, there is a presence that runs through it, I feel it whenever I walk along its paths.
When I was a fresh starter in Paganism (when I was 19), I’d go there to meditate. I often found the bivvies that someone keeps making there, and they’re usually where the Yew grows thick and heavy… Leaving nice dark areas for concealment. So I’d use these as meditation areas. Not all the time, as often the wood reclaimed them when they fell apart. But I always found somewhere nice and secluded in the wood’s deep. It was here I first really touched the Earth, where I spiritually recharge. It was at this time I felt very close to the spirit of Wolf. And it turns out there is a reason why.
Woolley Wood takes its name from the medieval Wulfinleghes, Wolveleghes, and Wooleleghes; which all take their names from the Anglo-Saxon word that means ‘Woodland clearing frequented by wolves.’ It was originally part of a farming ground until 1161 when it was awarded to the Abbey of Normandy as part of Woolley Grange in. 1539 saw it confiscated from the Church and awarded to the Earl of Shrewsbury and passed onto the Dukes of Norfolk right up until Sheffield City Council in 1929*.
I doubt it has seen a wolf there in hundreds of years. But the spirit remains. During my university years, whenever I’d come home to Sheffield I made sure I’d go into the woods again. Late at night, I’d lie awake feeling the need to go running under the moon and stars, to be surrounded by trees, naked and panting…. I didn’t of course. But I so wanted to!
In recent times (at least within the past ten years) there has been an art project that has sought to bring out a connection with the Pagan mythology. Slabs of rock have been put together to create a sort of shrine to the wolf. It is covered in images of fish, claw marks and runic script. I think it’s amazing and I know that if it was there during my childhood, it would have fuelled my imagination to no end!
I have written before that I feel more connected to the Pre-Roman spirituality of the Land, but I do wonder if when discovering Paganism and the shrine was there, would I have been drawn more towards the Norse or Anglo-Saxon ways?
*Sheffield City Council.