Is That Gingerbread?


One of the oldest and most pervasive images in folklore is the Cottage in the Woods. Whether that cottage is where Grandma lives when Little Red Riding Hood comes to call or whether it is older and darker and might suddenly sprout chicken legs and walk about, the iconic image runs like a thread through our traditional story-telling.

As part of my series on the background and inspiration for Sixty-One Nails, I wanted to show you the house where Blackbird grew up. To understand what occurs here and how it is significant to the story you will have to read the book – no spoilers here – but I think you’ll agree, it’s definitely a place where something happens.

So this is the inspiration for Blackbird’s house, and its real name is Hole Cottage. It is owned and managed by the Landmark Trust and although it is a cottage now, it was originally part of a late-medieval hall-house, the rest of which was demolished in 1833.

To reach Hole Cottage, you have to find the gate off the road, and drive past some buildings and then enter the woods. The track under the trees is deeply rutted and quite muddy – this place never quite dries out. The track winds through the trunks until you come to the end and you have to walk the rest of the way.

You are immediately rewarded, though, as you come into the clearing and there’s the house, just like the picture. There is a lingering smell of old wood-smoke and the chitter and call of magpies. As you stand and watch, you cannot help but feel that you too are being watched. Maybe it’s the rabbits, scuttling into the forest margins or maybe the cottage itself wants to see who has come to stay.

We stayed here for a few days and it is a truly beautiful spot. The sense of isolation is quite profound and the only encroachment of civilisation is the occasional jet in a holding pattern for Gatwick which, while not far away, would seem to belong to another age.

It is not for the faint hearted, though. The heating is provided by a log fire and the surrounding trees mean that it rarely gets full sun to warm the bricks through. In the accounts of past visitors there are log entries which describe going to bed in socks and woolly hat and then drawing lots to see who will rise first to light the fire on winter mornings. Thankfully we were there in summer, though we still lit a fire each afternoon as the sun dipped below the trees.

A stream runs along the back of the house, and the sound of the breeze in the leaves means that while peaceful, the cottage is never silent. You are quite likely to be startled by a scuffling mouse or, when opening the door, disturb the rabbits grazing the lawn.

The surrounding forest is old woodland, dense until you break through under the canopy and then tangled with old briar and nettles. Come at the right time of year and you will find sheltering bluebells. There are pathways through to meadows with sheep that watch from the shade of great oaks and chestnuts.

As you meander back to the cottage and come into the clearing there is a feeling of returning to a time rather than a place, and that if you hurried, you might catch sight of a larger house, perhaps as it was originally. And then there’s a faint smell.

Is that gingerbread?

  1. #1 by Mike on January 23, 2012 - 8:06 pm

    It is indeed. Contact the Landmark Trust or visit their website at http://landmarktrust.org.uk/

  2. #2 by Hayley on January 23, 2012 - 8:02 pm

    Is this cottage available to rent?

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