A weather-beaten old gibbet still stands on the ridge above tiny Combe village. Back in the 18th century a local man and his lover murdered his wife and, duly apprehended, were sent up here to swing. Their skeletons remained aloft until picked clean and bleached, the old bones wired together. I expect that they creaked and rattled in the breeze. This isn't a cheery spot, though the view is lovely.
I try to come up here at quiet times, not so much for aesthetic reasons as simply because the parking area is small. This time it was a squeeze to slip truck and trailer into a suitable space, on a pronounced grassy slope. Handbrakes were applied hard. Few people come up here with horses, judging by the curiosity with which Brena was regarded. Some people even photographed her.
A rare sunny day was welcome, even if accompanied by a biting wind. The weather had improved from the previous day - 15mph gusting to 25 mph rather than double that - and the sky had cleared. I planned our ride to keep out of the wind as far as possible, and we headed south into the sunlit valley. Half a mile from the parking area we were beyond the range of casual hikers, enveloped by silence, treading a parallel world beyond industry and towns and the web of highways.
And so Brena carried me into a world of curiosity and imagination, a place with the time and space for me to think.
The trail slid downhill, camouflaged by a belt of woodland between pasture and arable. Brena trod carefully upon the slippery leaf litter, stopping now and again to check out movements in the open land beyond. Sheep grazed here, a bird of prey flew there. Distantly a farm Land Rover returned from feeding livestock. Brena saw them all. That's how a horse behaves that has spent much time in the hills and mountains, knowing the sight and scent of wild creatures.
I ducked beneath low branches. Clearly few ride this way. Judging by the tracks, just a handful have walked or ridden bicycles this way. Out here a map is necessary, and the confidence to set out where no-one else may come for a day or a week.
The low sun shone oblique through the branches, dazzling lichen-crusted trunks. Brena and I flitted between bright light and inky shadow. Mystery swirled about, for what strange thing might not appear? People will say that they love woodland. But it isn't coincidence that fantasy tales - be they Tolkien or Grimm - or their Hollywood realisations - cast woodland as the home of nameless evil. The antidote is found beneath forest bough too, however even those who do good - be they Tolkien's Elves or even Disney's more recent Dwarves - are complex and prone to compromising behaviour. Nothing in the woodland of fiction is benign, and that which isn't evil is only guardedly, selfishly good. In short, a facsimile of reality is to be found here. One should look out and take care of oneself in the woods.
Back at the ridge we bathed in the last golden rays of sunshine. A full moon looked down from the pale winter sky. Good grass being available, Brena suspended her interest in people, places or things.