It started off as one of those little jokes, those tricks so many parents play on their children to try to persuade them to take a little exercise.
After roast beef and Yorkshire pudding with Nana and Grandad, and once the dishwasher was chugging away, we tried a strategy to get our little darlings tired out by bedtime.
“Who wants to explore No Dragon Wood?”
Rachel and Alice cried out in enthusiasm, tempted, as we hoped, by the exotic promise of the name. So we set off, and it was only when we reached the wood that Rachel thought to ask us –
“Why’s it called No Dragon Wood?”
“Because there are no dragons here.”
She mulled this for a few seconds, and I sensed she was considering a complaint. But the logic in my answer persuaded her, and by now she was enjoying the outing. She giggled and carried on walking.
Of course a trick like that works just once, but as the girls grew older they discovered for themselves that a walk in the country could be enjoyed, and the route through No Dragon Wood – which continued to be shown on maps with the less romantic name of Bottom Wood – was a frequently chosen option.
There may have been no dragons, but I felt sometimes there was magic of a kind there. It nestled close by the M25, and the roar of that mighty motorway was ever present, louder still in winter. Perhaps this discouraged other visitors, but for me the place had an eye-of-the-storm peace. And there were very few houses nearby, putting it out of reach of all but the most energetic dog walkers. This meant that if one of these more energetic walkers, to give a random example, had a mind to sing loudly as he walked his Labrador through the wood, he could be fairly confident that none but the dog would notice. It was rare to meet another human there.
And perhaps the path through the wood once followed a regular course, but it was rarely maintained, relying on the few feet that walked there to improvise new routes around the many fallen trees. So it now wound its way up through the woods in drunken swirls, with moss-covered logs frequently strewn across.
Alice even used it for an art project, writing stories and making strange videos based on No Dragon Wood. It had become embedded in family mythology. So when one day I saw that the battered old stile had been replaced by a smart new metal kissing gate, I sensed an opportunity.
I tracked down the fellow who administered the Chiltern Society’s Donate-a-Gate scheme, to ask whether a plaque with some appropriate wording could be attached to the new gate. I explained the story, and suggested that a more whimsical inscription might make a change from the many sombre benches and gates in memory of much missed Grandma, who loved to walk in these woods. He was very helpful, and came back to give me the good news that although his scheme was focused on central Buckinghamshire, and the gate was actually a short distance into Hertfordshire, the Society was on this occasion prepared to make an exception and take my money.
I consulted my family on the wording, and Rachel came up with an extra line – “No dragon related incidents since 1415” – a phrase heavy with its unanswered question, hinting at the impossibility of proving the negative, flavoured with the frisson of tempting providence.
And the plaque was duly installed and celebrated. We have walked through that gate many times in the last few years, congratulating ourselves on our little joke.
But this evening my wife and I are on the M25, heading home after a short break on the south coast, and we run into stationary traffic: we are being diverted off the motorway one junction short of our destination. As we inch towards the exit, we can see armed police by the roadside, police helicopters, huge military helicopters, and in the distance, just to the left of the motorway, a huge plume of smoke rising into the air.
(Published in Chiltern, the magazine of the Chiltern Society – issue 239, Spring 2021)
From Chorleywood, take the track beside the Stag pub and turn left along the path at the back of Heronsgate: when you reach the field adjoining the M25 walk diagonally downhill to the stile at the edge of the woods. From Mill End follow Long Lane and take the path on the left across a field, leading under Denham Way and up to the M25 footbridge: then follow the path diagonally left down to the stile. From Maple Cross use Chalfont Road or walk through Woodoaks Farm to the M25 footbridge. Fire extinguishers optional.
18 thoughts on “No Dragon Wood”
I’m enjoying your ramblings. You’re quite prolific at the moment! We’re in Umbria again at Lake Trasemeno where there are no sea monsters!
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Glad to hear you’re liking it, but…how can you be sure there are no sea monsters? x
FABULOUS story about No Dragon Wood!!
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Thanks Emma, really glad you liked it. Have you been there?
Wow, just over a whole year later and I’ve found this reply! No, I still haven’t been yet but, after 4 months with a slipped disc, it’s on the list for when I can finally walk out and self isolate outside for a change! Hope you are keeping well.
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Sorry to hear that Emma. I hope you get mobile soon and can visit it. It seems to be getting relatively busy under lockdown. Stay well.
The previous time I walked through No Dragon Wood, when it was still called Bottom Wood, we got lost. Detouring around some fallen trees we found a false path rather than getting back on the true path. It was a very dark day, and visibility within the wood was poor. I was eventually able to work out where we were, and we enjoyed exploring the wood more than just keeping to the official path allows.
Yesterday, discovering the new name to our delight, the path was rather clearer. It looked rather more walked that it had a year ago. Maybe more people have been walking it entertained by the story, as your children were. Maybe a few of the more obstructive fallen trees have also been cleared.
Why not invent names and see if you can get them to catch on? We need names for geographical features, and sometimes we need better names. We can all guess how Letter Box Lane in Askett, near Princes Risborough, got its name. The house on the corner looks older than the name. Maybe it didn’t need a name until after Askett got a letterbox. Names can develop because of mistakes, like writing Chorleywood instead of Chorley Wood, which was London Underground’s error. Being on the station sign and tube map, the OS rather hastily accepted it was the real name, and now it is. Jokers have also played their part. The City, a hamlet near Stokenchurch was named by local wags because it isn’t, but now that is what it is called. Treacle Mine Road, Wincanton, does not record any local mining, rather locals voted to name it after a feature in local (late) author Terry Pratchett’s fantasy books. A small lake in Scotland is now called Innominate Tarn because it had no name and a surveyor marked it as such. A hill in New Zealand is maked on the map as Taumatawhakatangihangakoauauotamateaturipukakapikimaungahoronukupokaiwhenuakitanatahu: the local Maori made it up to test whether they could make the powers-that-be do what they said.
I’m sure we’ll all call it No Dragon Wood from now on. And doubtless wonder exactly what happened in 1415. It’s a good year to choose, for it was a year a dragon was defeated. Owain Glyndwr’s rebellion, rumbling on for 15 years from about 1400, was brought to an end in that year, and the remaining ringleaders executed. Glyndwr’s own death remains a mystery: he is said to have died that year, though there is no reliable evidence of him after 1412.
And there are tales of dragons associated with this part of the world, even if we need a relatively recent author to write them down for us. One of JRR Tolkein’s better minor works is Farmer Giles of Ham, a children’s book set on the Bucks/Oxon borders. A dragon burns down the Buckinghamshire village of Oakley. Defeating the dragon, Giles is made lord of Worminghall, a village in east Oxfordshire, whose name was evidently Tolkien’s inspiration for the story, even if the etymologists have a rather more tedious explanation for it. Giles makes us think of Chalfont St Giles, in whose borders No Dragon Wood lies. Perhaps Farmer Giles also had time to clear the other dragons around here too.
Another local dragon is the Green Dragon at Flaunden. When you arrive from the Latimer direction, you first meet a green dragon poking its nose over the hedge, though it is actually in the garden of the neighbouring house. Or at least it was. Unfortunately it wasn’t there when last we passed a few days ago, and the pub itself is still closed for redevelopment, as it has been for over 6 months now. Will the dragon come back when the pub re-opens? Is it even going to re-open? Will it still even be still called the Green Dragon?
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Thanks Ivan, what a brilliant response! Of course I would love it if No Dragon Wood became the official title. We also call one path in Philipshill Wood “The Scottish Track” because it is surrounded by pines, and the usually muddy path where Old Shire Lane turns left at the bottom of the hill we call “Soggy Bottom”. I agree that there should be more humour in our place names. I read that a village in Scotland called Dull has twinned with a place in Oregon called Boring. Love it!
I’m glad you picked up the Owain Glyndwr connection: in fact my daughter picked the date arbitrarily, but then was pleased to find the Welsh link.
And yes, I hope the Green Dragon in Flaunden comes back as a pub, and as a model. It was a good landmark to tell me I’ve reached the top of that horrible hill when I do that run.
“Chorleywood Walker” got in touch with this comment on 18 April 2020:
”Around Easter I was rambling through the wood having come round from the Chalfont direction and not entered from the Chorleywood side and hence not through the gate with the nameplate. I found a fallen tree trunk gently smouldering away; little did I know at the time that Dragons could have been the culprit, as I had assumed that occasional occupants of a nearby den were probably the cause. The trunk was lying on the ground and it was smouldering within a split in the trunk itself.
It was hot enough that a heat haze was rising from the trunk… and dry enough that there was only a faint wisp of smoke.
I did report it to Herts fire service, mainly because it had been very dry with no rain for several weeks, but I have no idea whether they attended or not. But I did suggest that they were going to have to park up on Chalfont Lane and lug a couple of fire extinguishers into the wood.
I wasn’t until a few days later I went back to double check what had happened and I approached the wood from the other direction and I noticed the sign on the gate and realised that I’d obviously had a lucky escape from the perils of a fire breathing dragon who must have been out for early morning target practice.
Top tip: if reporting a Dragon related fire in the countryside the Fire Service prefer location co-ordinates based on “What Three Words” or OS grid references and not GPS co-ordinates.”
What a wonderful story. And now I know the nutter who named it No Dragon Wood!
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Thanks Andrew. Quite easy to get lost there, I gather…
Love it. My sister in law used to live near Wimbledon Common and for years she searched for the Wombles with various little ones who still have fond memories of their walks there. when we got our allotment on which is quite a big site we didn’t know the names of our fellow plot holders so we used nicknames for them which now some fourteen years later have stuck. I wonder what they call us! Love your writing Rik!
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Thank you so much, Janet. Looking forward to the group’s second meeting!
This is great. I’ve wondered for so long about the name as lockdown walks have led to my enjoying no dragon wood…I have not yet seen a dragon. But I have wondered about 1415… Agincourt, St George ?
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Hi Alan, thanks for getting in touch. My daughter picked 1415 arbitrarily, but then found that it coincided with Owain Glyndwr’s supposed date of death. And as we Edwardses have Welsh ancestry, we decided to go with it! Happy walking, Rik
Hi Rik to add to the air of mystery about this area I am convinced that once, when driving along the M25, I glimpsed ostriches in the big field that curves down from the wood. Wanting to confirm this, later I actually walked over the field and did not see the giant birds themselves but did see an ostrich feather and a fragment of what might be an ostrich egg – did you ever see the ostriches??
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Hi Ben, thanks for your comment. You’re not wrong, large flightless birds – actually rhea – have often been sighted in the area. I think they originally came from a nearby farm. One, imaginatively nicknamed “Chris”, has become rather a celebrity on local social media. My wife and I once had a scary encounter with one:
That’s why we called it No Dragon Wood, and not No Rhea Wood!