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The Guardian - UK
The Guardian - UK
Paul Evans

Country diary: A horned sheep, caught beneath a ‘kink’

View from a kink oak at Old Oswestry Hillfort
A kink oak at Old Oswestry Hillfort. Photograph: Maria Nunzia @Varvera

When ley lines of fate and wonder converge on a place, something extraordinary happens. Just beyond where the lane intersects with the north/south boundary earthwork of Wat’s Dyke and the ring earthworks of Old Oswestry Hillfort, it crosses a long drumlin, and at the top of the rise is an oak.

This tree is one of the Kinks, a number of local 300- to 500-year-old oaks with very particular characteristics: wide-spreading, short-crowned trees with a pronounced lean, compensated for by long, kinky balancing boughs. These oaks, found as scattered, lone individuals in parks, fields or hedges, may be an ecotype descended from distinctive ancient trees that could have given rise to the “tree” in Oswestry and previous names.

From a field gate under the boughs of the kink, looking east across the north Shropshire plain, a horned sheep steps from behind the trunk to stand defiantly in the foreground like an apparition in a landscape shaped by millennia of hoof and horn. On the other side of the tree, another horned sheep is lying down, but starts moving strangely as I walk near. I see it struggling, a horn caught in the fence wire. I try to separate sheep from fence, but the curled horn is almost piercing the sheep’s neck, and it seems hopeless until a man comes running up the lane and helps, crossing the gate to lift the sheep while I untwist the wire from around the horn until it’s free.

The hands of my fellow rescuer and I are bleeding; the sheep glances back at us with disdain; an unkindness of ravens flies overhead, muttering; a celandine on the oak’s root, its one true flower is brighter than the sun; this overcast February day. Some questions arise from all this. What is the story? Does it start thousands of years ago, in the conjunction of ways through time, of trees, animals and people? Is it a glancing back through the victim released from sacrifice? Is it a story of collaborative work that, like the aperture through which this is seen, stretches to the compassion for the other or compresses to a wonder of the seemingly insignificant? All these things, including the unreliable narrator, continue to begin.

• Country diary is on Twitter at @gdncountrydiary

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