The UK’s woodlands are one of its biggest natural assets, providing homes for a wide variety of flora and fauna and a lot of pleasure for the rest of us. ‘Our woodlands are an important part of our historic landscapes, rich in wildlife and archaeology, varied and beautiful,’ comments Kate Ashbrook, General Secretary of the Open Spaces Society. ‘As you walk or ride through the woods you can see the evidence of past activity there; woodlands were once crucial to people's survival.’ And it’s not just the natural bounty provided by forests that makes them count; it’s the enjoyment to be had from taking a stroll under the pines or along the river bank. From the craggy pines and capercaillies of Loch Ard to the spectacular views at Coed Dolifor, here’s our round up of the best UK woodland walks.
Where: North Yorkshire
Why it’s great: The Ingleton Falls might not be the biggest but they are strikingly beautiful and are located in the middle of an ancient broadleaf wood. The site, packed with rare plants and flowers, has also been designated a site of special scientific interest by English Nature. Taking in a breathtakingly lovely series of glens, woodland and waterfalls, the 4.5km Ingleton Falls trail is one of Britain’s oldest – it opened in 1885 – and loveliest.
Cost: £5 for adults, £2 for children
Find out more: www.ingletonwaterfallstrail.co.uk
Why it’s great: Perched on a hillside overlooking the River Wye, the wood has panoramic views of the Wye Valley and an unusual mixture of deciduous, evergreen and exotic tree species. Since being taken over by The Woodland Trust, it has been allowed to develop naturally into predominantly oak woodland, paving the way for the return of ancient woodland flora, including oxlips and bluebells. There are plenty of easy-access footpaths and the famous Wye Valley Walk runs close by.
Find out more: www.woodlandtrust.org.uk
Grizedale Forest Park
Where: The Lake District
Why it’s great: Famous for its idiosyncratic collection of stone and wood sculptures by artists such as Andy Goldsworthy, David Nash and Sally Matthews, the Grizedale Forest Park has become a magnet for serious hikers, thanks in part to the arduous Silurian Way. Taking in almost 10 miles of woodland scenery, the route includes some steep climbs and spectacular views.
Cost: Free, although there is a parking charge
Find out more: www.forestry.gov.uk/grizedalehome
The New Forest
Why it’s great: Home to more than just trees, the New Forest is one of the UK’s most ecologically important sites and contains flora and fauna unique to the area, including the New Forest cicada – Britain’s only native cicada species. The forest is also home to the New Forest Pony, as well as European polecats, otters, all three British snake species and a profusion of birds, including the red kite.
Find out more: www.thenewforest.co.uk
Wandlebury Country Park
Why it’s great: Located in Cambridgeshire's wonderfully named Gog Magog Hills, the Wandlebury Country Park is home to 110 acres of mixed ancient woodland and chalk grassland. There is also the remains of a pre-Roman Iron Age hill fort to walk around, and eight miles of sign-posted trails to enjoy.
Find out more: www.cambridgeppf.org
Loch Ard Forest
Where: Strathyre, Scotland
Why it’s great: Part of the Queen Elizabeth Forest Park, the Loch Ard Forest takes in rolling lowland to the south and craggy mountains in the north. Home to a diverse selection of native fauna, you’ll find red squirrels in its trees and the rare capercaillie (similar to grouse) down below. There are 16 miles of trails running through the forest and around Loch Ard itself, plus a sculpture trail featuring the work of local artist, Rob Mullholland.
Find out more: www.explore-callander.com/queen_elizabeth_forest_park.htm
Twenty Acre Wood
Why it’s great: A rare, urban wood, Twenty Acre is located on the edge of Warrington New Town in Cheshire and has a wide variety of native tree species, including oak, sycamore, silver birch and horse chestnut. There are also plenty of rhododendron bushes which provide a spectacular splash of colour during May and June.
Find out more: www.woodlandtrust.org.uk
Why it’s great: Run by the National Trust, the Ashridge woods cover 2,000 acres on the northern side of the Chiltern Hills. Largely made up of native broadleaf species, Ashridge is home to the rare Frithsden beeches – some of the UK’s oldest and most important trees. They’ve also made their mark on the silver screen as the Forbidden Forest in the Harry Potter films.
Find out more: www.nationaltrust.org.uk/main/w-ashridge
Why it’s great: One of the best ancient sweet chestnut woods in the country, Stour is especially lovely in the autumn when the gold and red autumn leaves are falling and chestnuts can be picked up from the ground and taken home. In summer, it’s filled with butterflies including the endangered White Admiral.
Find out more: www.wildessex.net/sites/Stour Wood.htm
Belvoir Forest Park
Why it’s great: An unusual setting in the centre of Belfast and a plethora of bird species have made Belvoir Forest Park one of the UK’s best city forests. The RSPB has a hide from which you can see rare birds such as the treecreeper and great tit, as well as the more common robin and blue tit. The forest is also one of the last places in Northern Ireland where you can see the red squirrel.
Find out more: www.rspb.org.uk
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