The Wild Edges

September 30, 2020

We couldn’t come on holiday to the northeast of England and not visit Kielder Forest.

Here, in this 250-square-mile stretch of woodland in Northumberland there are plans to reintroduce our native big cat, the Lynx, which became extinct from the British Isles 1,300 years ago. I've been following this story for several years now, ever since I shape-shifted into Lynx during one of our retreats. I was to discover afterwards that the lynx has the fastest leap of all of the mammals on Earth and the experience had a lasting impact on me. The story of the return of the lynx fills me with hope.

Kielder Forest is England’s largest plantation forest and home to Europe’s largest man-made lake as well as being home to around half of England’s native red squirrel population. Arriving here amongst the fir trees has been a pleasant surprise as usually I'm drawn to deciduous woodland over coniferous. Light comes through the widely spaced out trees, and with moss and ferns carpeting the floor, patchworked with sun rays, it is very different to the plantation forests of Lancashire where we live that are dark and foreboding. It's a joy to bathe under these trees in this fairytale woodland landscape.

I first heard the lynx comeback story whilst sat around the kitchen table on our friend Tom's farm in the Yorkshire Dales. We run our Summer Solstice retreat there each year and I was chewing over ideas with Tom for the next year’s theme.

As well as a farmer, Tom is an archaeologist. His grandfather excavated the limestone caves in the surrounding area and Tom has inherited many of these ancient animal bones which he cares for in his private collection. I feast my eyes on them during many of our visits and run my fingers over their contours. Bear, wolf, hyena, lion and lynx, these bones lay preserved in the cave sediment, some for tens of thousands of years, each holding a story frozen in time waiting to be revealed. These bones hold the whispers from wild animals that roamed the limestone pavements in these upper valleys of the Yorkshire Dales National Park.

From Tom's large collection there are three bones that have caught my imagination: all from a lynx that crawled into a cave just a few kilometres away, Kinsey Cave. I am blown away by the fact that the discovery of these bones has made it possible for the lynx to be reintroduced back into our country.

There is a case to reintroduce a species which has become extinct from this country if the cause was because of human activity. Up until very recently it was thought that the lynx died out because of a change in climate during the last ice age, so there wasn’t a case for its reintroduction. When one of these three lynx bones found in Kinsey Cave was radiocarbon dated only thirteen years ago, what astounded archaeologists and ecologists alike was how recently this lynx died. They were shocked to discover that this lynx died between AD 425 and AD 600, establishing for the first time that the lynx survived in Britain into early medieval times.

Now we know that the lynx in fact died out because of human activity, it is a game changer for the possibility of it being reintroduced back. And this very thing is happening. Led by Lynx UK TRUST*, conversations between landowners, farmers and conservationists have been successful here in Kielder Forest, and steps are now being taken to bring the lynx back: an application for presentation to DEFRA is being prepared as we speak.

Sacred land

Tom's farm looks out over to Ingleborough mountain, the largest hill in the Yorkshire Dales and with its flat tabletop peak it is prominent for many miles around: we can see it from forty miles away when we stand on parts of Anglezarke Moor behind our home. Jason and I have been coming back here for eight years now, each time bringing like-minded spiritual seekers to this stunning landscape around the time of the Summer Solstice. Ingleborough is a sacred mountain: a place that sits on the fringes. A place that clung on to the old ways for longer after the onset of Christianity during Anglo-Saxon times than many other areas in Britain. When the Neolithic farmers settled this area was purposefully kept wild, so individuals could leave the safety of their homes and touch in with the Otherworld. We know this land was held sacred as it was occupied by the early monasteries rather than divided up and handed over to the Lords.

I know from personal experience that encounters with the wild are important for us human beings. I experienced a sacred encounter with the wild when I undertook a wilderness vigil with the West Country School of Myth two years ago. For four days and four nights I sat in the dark forest, alone with just a simple shelter to protect me from the rain and only water, no food. I went into the wild and let it claim me, conversing with something far bigger than myself. I find that something deep inside me emerges when I go into dark places.

We have just passed the Autumn Equinox, that point where light and dark are balanced. We have tipped over the edge now into the long nights and the dark half of the year. I see this movement in the wheel as akin to what is happening here in the UK with the Covid-19 pandemic. Infection rates are rising, and there is much uncertainty. We wait day by day to see what announcement our government is going to make to restrict our freedoms. In Lancashire we are already under measures where households can’t mix: my stepdaughters can’t visit us in our garden anymore. This is going to be a tough winter and my intuition tells me that this will be a winter of discontent. The pandemic alone would be enough, but we have Brexit to contend with too. Badly managed, it will spiral us into further economic uncertainty. There is no doubt about it in my mind, we are heading into shaky times, many people are already there. As a nation we are going into the Underworld.

I am wobbled by this thought but I know that the Underworld is where the deep work happens. It is sticky, messy, difficult, but nevertheless, there isn’t a fairy tale out there that doesn’t have the hero or heroine of the story going into this place. They crawl around in the bottom of the well, pushing their fingertips into the mud and dragging themselves out in circles. Ropes are thrown down that are either too short or simply not seen in the darkness. However, there is a way out of the well of course, we just need to look upwards. There is the opening up above, a pin prick of light shining down waiting for that moment when we are ready to look up and see it.

Lynx light

In Scandinavia, the word for light is Lyn. As lynx are so secretive, they were rarely seen, and believed to be animals of the light: a mythical creature part in this world and part in the Otherworld. Lynx do not chase their prey: instead their large paws have retractable claws making them both excellent climbers and agile jumpers. They are able to climb trees that are almost vertical, and here they stay very still and silent, waiting to jump on their prey as big as a deer as it moves past. Their large paws also give them additional power as they spring straight up from the ground to catch a flying bird. They are able to strike down a bird up to three meters up in the air as quick as any mammal on Earth.

The discovery of the bones from the lynx that died in Kinsey Cave 1,300 years ago means there is hope that the lynx will once again hide in our forests. And as the lynx returns, the light returns. The story of the lynx gives me hope. There is a rewilding of our landscape underway right now: it is on the fringes, but it is happening. Along with the reintroduction of the lynx, there has been a successful reintroduction of the beaver. Beavers are keystone species and the greatest of engineers in the animal kingdom. Their creativity knows no bounds. They have created the largest structure of living animals outside of humans, which can be seen from space: the 850-metre dam in Canada’s Wood Buffalo National Park. Because they build wooden dam structures across rivers that hold back the water, beavers create and maintain habitats which are relied on by other species. Deadwood is inhabited by insect and which in turn attracts bird species and the pools of water they create encourage fish and other pond life including frogs, toads, water voles, dragonflies and otters. Beavers create whole ecosystems.

Lynx too are a valuable species, and their reintroduction will plug the predator vacuum we have here in the UK. With no natural predators, the British deer population has exploded resulting in woodlands being overgrazed and their ecology reduced. With the lynx to be wary of, deer will change their behaviour radically, becoming constantly on the move and grazing only lightly on each patch of forest. This will help forest vegetation regenerate and help substantially with carbon capture.

Disillusioned by the modern methods of farming, farmers too are catching on to the benefits of bringing back the wild. I was inspired recently by reading in The Guardian recently about Derek Gow, the guerrilla rewilder who is shaking up British farming by introducing storks, beavers, wildcats and water voles onto his 120-hectare farm in Devon. Then there is Isabella Tree who through her book Wilding talks of how she has over the past decade led a pioneering rewilding project on her farm in West Sussex using free-roaming grazing animals to create new habitats for wildlife.

The creation of these wild edges brings me hope as it is here that change is lurking. It is here that the secrets to change lie. It is here that the energy for change lies and from where something different can emerge. We desperately need something different. We need a different way and the story of the Lynx gives me that hope: that glimmer of light from the other side guiding us forward.

Wild awakening

I can see the wild awakening in people. It happened to me. It happened when I became disillusioned with the world I was born into. It started when I took myself off outside for prolonged and frequent periods of time, when I stopped and listened, when I stilled myself. During these periods I allowed those questioning thoughts to take a foothold and from there they grew. Once the seed was planted that was it.

The lockdown period we experienced and are still experiencing during this pandemic, as hard and disruptive as it has been for so many people, is doing just this. It has stilled people and it has encouraged folk to go outside. It has people tapping into the wild edge of their unconscious and has given them space and quiet to listen to the whispers that are lurking there. Once the quiet voices are given space to be heard, the work begins. It takes a few years, but the process is underway. This gives me hope. Hope that over time that wild part that has been awoken will grow legs and arms, wild knotted hair with birds nesting inside. Maybe even three heads, certainly with yellow bear eyes, wolf teeth and the scent of a fox.

Dr Martin Shaw talks of this wild twin residing within each of us in his recently published book Courting the Wild Twin. Here he brings through two European fairy tales that tell the story of how each of us has a wild twin who gets thrown out by society at birth. In both the story of the Lindworm and Tatterhood, our wild twin grows up an outcast away from the safety of the castle walls, but they don’t die. Instead they roam the forest, watching and waiting, excluded from court and biding their time until they can return. There is an encounter between someone within those walls who comes out to the edge of the wild forest and meets with the wild twin. This sets the ball in motion for the wild twin to return to court, a fully grown adult ready to shake things up. Oh, and how they shake things up.

As we drop down towards winter and begin our descent into the belly of the Underworld, I can feel the wild twin stirring.

Here in Kielder forest I keep on catching the glimpse of something or someone from the corner of my eye. As I turn around, there is nothing there. Or is there? Could it be the Lynx coming through momentarily from the Otherworld? I wonder. I wonder if the spirit of Lynx never actually left these shores. Instead perhaps it was waiting, hiding in the dark forest, much like those bones in Kinsey Cave, for the time when the door would open and the opportunity to return was laid down.

Now is that time. It is looking hopeful that it won’t be long before we have Lynx returning, all being well. Just as Beaver has. A coming home for Lynx, and a coming home for that wild part of us.

In these crazy times, maybe a little wild is just what we need.

It certainly gives me hope and a reminder that on the other side of the dark winter, the light will return. I will hold onto this knowledge and it helps me feel rooted going into an uncertain winter, knowing that in this dark much needed growth will happen as we will emerge on the other side, ruffled, perhaps with a few more scars, but perhaps just that little bit older, wiser and that little bit more wild having emerged from the Underworld.

An opportunity to go deeper with us

I have drawn on animal wisdom for many years now and the messages from animal’s have guided me through coping during this pandemic. Working with Animal Spirit Medicine is an ancient practice that can be traced right back to the Palaeolithic period over 50,000 years ago when our distant ancestors were drawing art deep in the caves and working with this old practice of our land is something we teach in The Mystery School.

If you would like to find out more follow this link: we would love to share this adventure with you if you aren’t already part of it.

*Lynx UK TRUST is the charity working to reintroduce the lynx to the United Kingdom. They run entirely on donations and so if you are passionate about this cause and drawn to helping out follow this link. They also have a petition you can sign via this link.

About the Author


Nicola Smalley is an edge-dweller, shamanic practitioner and writer living in Anglezarke on the edge of the West Pennine Moors in Lancashire, England.
Following a career in corporate sustainability, she now runs The Way of the Buzzard with her husband Jason. Her passion is anything connected to nature and the mysteries of the Earth.

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  1. That gives me such hope for animals of the UK, a natural predator being reintroduced, so good for the cycle of life.
    Thankyou for your words Nicola, as we approach the longer nights and the temperatures drop, I feel the lightness within me filling, so my inner fire will be fed through the dark times ahead.

  2. This is a great article, I certainly hope the Lynx is re introduced to the wilds of Northumberland and I love the way you have written about this. Also is good that you write with an ancient mythical narrative and magical way in how we face our fears and to overcome them. I think some of the most fascinating things in Shamanism is the spiritual and metaphorical death and the growing in rebirth. The transformative times we are all in, demands that we adapt, shapeshift, address our shadow and grow.
    I have been wanting to visit Northumberland and spend some time in the wilds there for a long time. Thanks this blog has further inspiring a visit to this beautiful place.

  3. Its a place I have wanted to visit. It sounds very atmospheric. Many of our former wildlife has disappeared.

    The introduction of wild bore is planned I believe. I know a landowner in Scotland wanted to reintroduce wild wolves on his land of several thousand acres. There was lots of resistance to the project.

    The landowner had Consultations with local farmers and village people. However Scotland Nature and famers representatives. Seald the the fat of the project.

    Investment in well-managed wild nature shouldn't stop the introduction of our native animals. They are part of our heritage. These animals played a part in the balance of nature. Instead there is excess deer heards. Which are shot. Introduction of a species which brings nature back in balance should be supported.

    1. Absoutely Len. Reintroduction of keystone species is so important to bring back the balance. I remember reading about the reintroduction of wolves into Scotland. I believe one of the issues is the fencing interfering wth the right to roam/ access for walkers. Lets hope something can be worked out…

  4. Hi Nicola, have just read this blog, so interesting, how I wish I could come up to Northumberland, the landscape looks so wild and inviting to what I’m used to in Hampshire, Sussex on the south coast which is beautiful in its own way
    Walking in the countryside far more since March and finding the Group has been a revelation, I’m learning so much! even though being a country girl, I feel I have forgotten and am now finding my way again.

    1. Delighted to be sharing this adventure with you Kathy 🙂 yes the soouth is beautful too – very different and also with its wild parts. I grew up in Kent and love that landscape as well.

  5. What a thought provoking essay Nicola.
    I have a huge sense of the foreboding that surrounds us all at this time and clearly experienced in your words.
    Never the less I hear the glimmers of hope for the future not only the Lynx but for a changed and better place to come.
    Interesting your mention of a well because several years ago I went to a sound healing session during which I envisioned myself as a naked child stuck in a dark dank well but as I looked up a beautiful snowy owl was standing on the rim of the well his chest illuminated by the full moon and in that way I was able to see the gaps in the bricks to enable me to climb out and sit on the owl who flew me to safety.
    A very profound and unforgettable experience..
    Sometimes we have to reach the pits to see the light at the end of the tunnel or the well in my case.
    The Lynx and Beaver bring us hope and a glimmer of a better place.
    Winter us a time of going in and nurturing ourselves a time of reflection and hesitation ready for that new beginning we all aspire too.
    Thank you so much for allowing me to write this and thank you for reading it too.

    1. I have loved reading your comment here Alison thank you. That well metaphor was given to me during listening to one of Dr Martin Shaw fairytale tellings. It is really powerful isn’t it and it is fascianting to hear you was this in a vision too.

  6. Beautiful reminder that we must go into the Underworld and do that difficult work. We are doing it in the USA now. Not easy or fun. May the Lynx return and bring the teachings we all need to remember.

  7. Wow – that must be amazing to have been in connection with the bones of the lynx that folks have recently realised died between AD 425 and AD 600 and has established a case for its reintroduction. I didn't know about that.

    I also have a feeling this winter is going to be a time of descent. The lynx feels like a good guide.

    1. Thanks Lorna, it was really cool to hold those Lynx bones. I tried sleeping with one in my van to see if any Lynx inspired dreams came through but I didn't get a wink of sleep so had to place it outside at about 3am! Lynx does feel like a good guide for the winter yes.

  8. This is so beautifully written, thank you. I've always been attracted to Lynx, and was unaware of these plans. I might look into it further.

  9. Thank you Nicola and Jason. Great article and photos.
    The potential return of the Lynx and the path to rewilding wildlife gives me hope, in what are grim environmentalundefinedecological times. Wonderful that the sea eagles have now returned also.
    I became very optimistic about the mooted possibility of rewilding the European Bison, however I’m not sure if that is going to happen in reality? . Fingers crossed.

    1. I have heard bison are going to be reintroduced in Blean Woods in Kent. I have ben following that story with interest as it is really close to where I grew up. Everything crossed for that too 🙂

  10. Thank you , a wonderful read . I also read the Derek Gow piece in The Guardian and found it both fascinating and full of hope . I have always been drawn to Lynx without really knowing why . I like to think , somewhere I have crossed their spiritual path and made that connection
    The pandemic is a difficult time for so many people , usually through no fault of their own but I hope as a society we can find a simpler slower life more in tune with our surroundings. Nature is THE most powerful force on earth , if we ignore or disrespect her power hope will be gone . Take care

  11. Thank you for sharing this. I love the well metaphor, looking up to find hope. I find the ageing of the Lynx bones amazing!
    The Rory Duff October newsletter (dowsingundefined earth energies) I read also forewarns of difficulties. He also creates hope. I will be meditating on earth energy nodes to give love to Mother Earth, and all opportunities to expand spiritual practice will be used. I am so glad to have found your Mystery School this year. We appreciate all the hard work you and Jason have put in, to share your knowledge with us. Many blessings.

  12. I loved reading your article Nicola . I could imagine the lynx in the woodland at home with the lynx family, watching them growing in numbers.
    We seem to be having a great awakening, a shift in thoughts about being one with nature and the wild, maybe not everyone has those thoughts but I'm sure many more humans are being aware that we need to break free, open our eyes and ears to the greater world around us that desperately needs us 'on side' to live in harmony and to reintroduce lost species, like the Lynx. Northumberland is my favourite place, it has a wild strength.
    Thank you for inspiring me and awakening my imagination X

    1. Northumberland does have a wild strength doesn’t it. Such a beautiful landscape. Thank you so much for your comment here Lesley and you are most welcome 🙂

  13. Nicola what a beautiful blog. I was enthralled reading it and have really learned a lot about the Lynx …Deer. We are I feel being made to look at everything we believed in and question!! Yes, we have a bit of a bumpy road ahead, and I feel old ways are crumbling, and we are desperately trying to regain our roots, realising what is important. Nature helps us to be grounded, as I feel so much uncertainty tinged with fear, we can stay in our heads and we need to ground. The Way of the Buzzard has so many of us desperate to reconnect. Thank you so much for you and Jason's hardwork, this is helping so many of us. Lots of Love and thank you xx

  14. Beautifully written from the heart Nicola. Changing times for the whole world. A slowing of everything, time to think & realize what we will loose if we carry on the way we are going. We need to re set the balance of nature & human activities. Find our wild & otherworldly side. We live on this planet with Nature, we should work with it, listen to it, observe it, it is the only way to survive, we are all here together to survive & enjoy each other.
    Beautiful pictures Jason.
    I woke early morning, couldn't sleep & read your Wild Edges with the Cornish Wind Howling from the Sea through the large Trees which surround my garden. Very wild indeed!

  15. Thank you for this beautiful piece of writing ,and the information about the Lynx ! I didn't know this and am excited! You're perspective gives me hope ?

  16. A very interesting and thought-provoking blog as usual, Nicola with beautiful photos from Jason also. I didn’t know anything about lynx having lived in England in times past and that it may get reintroduced in the fairly near future. I visited Kielder forest many years’ ago but all I really remember, apart from the trees, was how cold it was that day! I share your concerns about the coming winter too and I have been putting together ideas to help keep me occupied and hopefully sane during the dark times. I will largely be hibernating to try and keep myself safe from C19 and other illnesses. The Mystery School is definitely one wonderful strand of my strategy and I am very grateful for all that you and Jason have done in building an amazing community of like-minded people through The Way of the Buzzard, people searching for a better way to live, knowing that we can no longer carry on as we have been doing and depleting our Mother’s resources. May you continue to bring us knowledge of the old ways. Blessings to you both.

    1. Thank you for your kind words Jill, we are very lucky to be in the position to create a space for such a lovely community here. Most nourishing. It is really good to be on this journey and adventure together with you.

  17. I so enjoyed reading this, what wonderful, inspiring words and lots of food for thought. I loved learning about how the lynx hunts, just like my moggies! I think Tiger is one of my spirit animals so I'd be delighted if one of his smaller cousins came back to our land

  18. This is a truly inspiring blog post Nicola. I’m feeling like I’m descending into the dark too. Hope is what keeps me going.

    Here’s to the return of the Lynx and the Light!

  19. I was fortunate enough to have taken part in the last Summer Solstice retreat at Tom’s farm. It is indeed a very special place. I came to the retreat open minded but sceptical about the real value of just holding the bones of an extinct predator that had roamed this land many years ago. I could see so many problems in the world- how on earth could holding a bone be a positive action to take in response? In the end, doing just that turned out to be the single most important action I have taken in the last few years. It was a lynx bone that I ended up holding. I didn’t want a lynx bone. I wanted a bear or a lion. I didn’t know much about lynx. But lynx claimed me. I ended up spending a year or more looking through the eyes of the lynx. I learned a lot. I began to see the value in quiet listening, in patient observation, in stillness, in waiting for the right moment, conserving my energy until it is the moment to leap. And that is where I feel we still are on our planet. Great forces are still shifting, moving into new alignments. The time is not yet come to spring. We have to be patient for a while longer. Listen carefully, pay attention. Wait. We are going into the darkness again as the wheel of the year turns. Some seeds lie dormant for years before conditions are right to burst forth. So it must be with ourselves. It is not a cop out. It is far from easy. We are going to feel uncomfortable, hungry, thirsty and restless, probably many times over, before this is done. There will be lots of distractions, lots of movement that is just the wind in the trees, shadows in the grasses. We need to maintain a special kind of awareness, one that is wide in its field, that takes in the edges, that keeps a wide focus. The old stories tell us time and time again that the answers will not come from the Centre, from court, from Government. The answers will come limping and twisted from the wild edges of the forest riding a goat and waving a tattered flag. It will be worth waiting for!

    1. Oh my Andy. This is the most inspiring piece of writing I have read for a long time. Thank you! It has totally set me up for the winter. I am going to print it out and put it up by my desk, maybe even tattoo it onto my eyelids. Inspired!

      It is fascainting how we are given the animals we need in this work, rather than the animals we want. I am really enthused that you gave it a go and bowled over by the impact that Lynx bone had for you. Thank you so much for sharing this here.

  20. Thank you Nicola
    Wild sounds like the way forward as it’s feeling a bit scary out there in society just now – since lockdown, more and more I feel anxiety rising when in busy noisy populated areas and yet strangely at peace in the wild quiet spaces.
    As we go into the darker time of the year I know where I am drawn to go during the bit of light that there is, and very much
    Love the idea of reintroducing the Lynx, and reintroducing the light.
    Much love to you both

  21. What a great piece to read. I totally agree with return of some of these wild animals back where they belong. Yes they belong. Nature introduced them for a reason, man thought he knew better—we see the results. Now perhaps Nature is fighting back.
    By education and a will to learn we can once again live in harmony with such animals.
    The Lynx is beautiful as are many other such animals. They have a special place within this eco structure, so lets bring them home.

  22. As I read I could feel a stirring within me a gentle butterfly flutter that grew and changed to a feeling of hope and positively Thank you Nicola you have an inspiring way of writing ✍ and Jason's photos are beautiful Thank you both ?

  23. I love the parallel between the return of the LynxundefinedLyn and the return of the light, bith the light of spring and the light at the end of the ling covid tunnel.

    Walk in wildness

  24. A very thoughtful article. I too would welcome some lost species being reintroduced to these Isles. I live in Norfolk and very much enjoy the open land and skies. I hope to see more of the country in the next few years, Covid permitting. I very much like the idea of a wild twin. And hope to find mine soon.

    1. Thank you Andrew, I can recommend Dr Martn Shaws book Courting the Wild twin. I haven’t been to Norfolk but I have ancestral lines back there on both my mother and fathers side. I will visit one day 🙂

  25. Interesting stuff, and yes, I think by spring equinox we will have a much clearer picture of the lie of the land, who our real friends and enimies are.
    Who knows, perhaps the True King will emerge from the Forest.

  26. Thoroughly enjoyed reading your blog on Wild Edges full of information and inspiration so thank you. The wild twin aspect that you talk about is something that fascinates me. I have since as far back as I can remember always thought this was so and continue to believe. For the first time i have seen my beliefs written down by another person so thank you it has gladdened my heart.

    I am new to Way of the Buzzard and look forward to learning much more.

    Blessed be

    1. Hello Sue, I am so pleased you have found another reference to your thoughts about The Wild Twin. I think you will love Dr Martin Shaws book Courting the Wild Twin. He talks of two European fairy tales about the idea that we each have a wild twin. So pleased to be on this adventure with you!

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