Place-names were created by people who first established their homes in the woodlands covering much of the countryside in early medieval times. Whether they were Celts, Angles, Saxons or Norsemen they lived in such close proximity to the natural world that we can scarcely imagine it. Nature provided them with food, fuel, timber to build homes, leather and furs to make footwear and clothing, herbs and plants to produce medicines.
The wildwood was richly stocked with Nature's bounty; but Nature could also destroy crops with a sudden violent storm or by ravaging beasts. Livestock were constantly at risk from predators emerging from the wildwood by night and even from marauding wolves by day. It was prudent to note the places where Nature helped or hindered in the daily struggle for survival: to identify which was friend or foe, useful or useless, edible or inedible. This intimate relationship with the natural world also led to belief in Nature's supernatural powers to bring good fortune or misfortune. A vast assortment of superstitions became embedded in national folklore, some of which still persist.
Words from the Wildwood traces the human relationship with wildlife from the dependency of early times to the prosperous days of recent centuries with an increase in the population of Britain creating a demand for more food. For most of these years Acts of Parliament placed a statutory obligation on local parishes to secure the extermination of a long list of 'vermin'. In the ensuing slaughter many species were driven to extinction or near extinction. A more enlightened conservation programme in the past century is helping to change attitudes and to restore some of the diversity of Nature which existed a thousand years ago when the flora and fauna of the wildwood were so much a part of daily life.
Robert Gambles was born and grew up in Derbyshire. He was a scholar of St John’s College, Oxford, where he took an Honours degree in Modern History and a post-graduate Diploma in Education. He also has a Licentiate Diploma in Music. His professional career was spent in Education, mainly in Ely and Liverpool.
He acquired a love of the Lake District early in life and he has lived in Cumbria in his years of retirement during which he has explored the whole district and written a number of books and many articles on various aspects of its history.
The author has also pursued his interest in a wider national history and a critical study of some of the well-known stories from British history was published in 2013 under the title Great Tales from British History, and was decribed by The Guardian as ‘hugely enjoyable’. Through his Norwegian wife he acquired a special interest in the life and history of Norway: Hayloft recently published his acclaimed Espen Ash Lad: A Collection of Folk Tales from Norway.
A keen but pragmatic interest in conservation and the protection of the natural environment has always featured in his philosophy of life and he was for many years a Trustee and member of the Executive Committee of the Friends of the Lake District. He has also worked as a volunteer for the National Trust.