Celebrating the Ancient Broadleaf Woodlands of North Hampshire

It’s well known that walking quietly amongst trees and observing nature can help both adults and children de-stress and boost health and well being in a natural way; in Japan they call this forest bathing or shinrin yoku.

We are fortunate to have some fabulous woods near Whitchurch, crisscrossed by Public Rights of Way and this is a perfect time of year to get out there, enjoy the peace, take in the autumn colours and celebrate our amazing trees.

Whitchurch WaW decided against organising a small guided walk, preferring to encourage as many local residents as possible to explore the three very different areas of woodland close to town with their own household bubbles. Children’s activity sheets were made available courtesy of the Woodland Trust and links provided to downloadable trail maps.

Bradley Woods is a small pocket of ancient broadleaf woodland found on a sheltered chalk slope in the North Wessex Downs Area of Outstanding natural Beauty just 2 miles north of Whitchurch. The wood is predominantly made up of Beech, Birch, Oak, Ash and Hazel and is a particular favourite in the spring when the woodland floor is a carpet of bluebells.
http://whitchurchwalks.net/wp-content/uploads/2020/05/Bradley-Wood.pdf

A little to the SW of Whitchurch is Harewood Forest, the largest area of ancient natural woodland within Hampshire, after the New Forest; it provides an excellent woodland habitat for wildlife and is home to a large native deer population. A series of paths crisscross the forest including the Test Way long distance trail. https://documents.hants.gov.uk/countryside/walks/WherwellHarewoodtrail.pdf

Blackwood Forest managed by Forestry England, offers a different experience. This mixed woodland of broadleaf and coniferous trees with its extensive trails, information boards and opportunities for den building and tree climbing makes this a particularly popular wood with children. Ash Dieback has been a particular problem in North Hampshire and you can see evidence of the clearance work being undertaken in the forest to manage this. https://www.forestryengland.uk/blackwood-forest

Remember, “The best time to plant a tree was 20 years ago. The second best time is now.” – Support National Tree Week and plant a tree near you.

Pointing the Way for Walkers in Cheddar

A new fingerpost has been installed at the bottom of the Gorge near the caves to help visitors better discover and navigate Cheddar Gorge and the surrounding countryside of Cheddar and the Mendip Hills Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty (AONB) .
The junction is a key location for walkers,  it is located in the heart of the Gorge where the circular Gorge Walk and long-distance Mendip Way both drop into the village. The lack of signage had long been confusing for some visitors wishing to explore the stunning countryside and take advantage of the fantastic views offered along both routes.
With the support of Sedgemoor District Council and Somerset County Council, Cheddar Walking and the Mendip Hills AONB Unit have teamed up to fund the new oak fingerpost, which is located at the junction of the B3135 Gorge road and Cufic Lane.
Cheddar Walking is a local group that promotes Cheddar as a walker-friendly destination under the Walkers are Welcome scheme, offering a number of walking routes of varying grades, starting from the village centre.
Huw Robson, Chairperson for Cheddar Walking said:
“This fingerpost fills a small but significant gap in the way-marking of some of the iconic walks in the Cheddar area. Many visitors in the lower gorge get confused about where to go to pick up the circular Gorge Walk and the West Mendip Way, and now this is clearly and attractively signed. Cheddar Walking is delighted to have worked with the Mendip Hills AONB on this project and we look forward to continuing to collaborate on initiatives to improve and promote walking in the area”.
Tim Haselden, Development Officer for the Mendip Hills AONB, said:
“We’re really pleased to have been able to help Cheddar Walking achieve this project, which forms part of a wider approach to provide a better and more sustainable visitor experience, helping people connect with nature and promoting Cheddar as the outdoor capital of the South West“.
The Mendip Way is a 50 miles (80km) long-distance trail that takes in all of the special qualities of the Mendip Hills. The West and East Mendip Ways connect Weston-super-Mare, via Cheddar and Wells to Frome. The West Mendip Way is largely in the Mendip Hills AONB and starts near the Bristol Channel at Uphill and climbs the Mendip Hills escarpment onto the Mendip plateau through Cheddar Gorge and down to Wells.
The Gorge Walk is a 3.5 mile (5.5km) circular route around the top of both sides of Cheddar Gorge taking in amazing views and a variety of wonderful wildlife and important habitats.
For more information, please visit https://cheddarwalking.org.uk/

Fallen oak

As National Tree Week approaches (28th November to 6th December), Otley Walkers are Welcome are mourning the loss of a vintage oak tree (Quercus robur) that has stood at the side of an ancient hollow way from Clifton for as long as anyone knows.

The lane was used in the middle ages to lead animals into a wood for grazing and to market at Otley. There used to be an ancient forest that separated the village of Clifton from Otley. This oak and its nearby partner are beside an old wall bordering a field reclaimed from the wood and was probably an acorn seedling long ago.

The tree has always seemed stunted compared to its partner and has been deteriorating over the years.  The partner oak is still looking good but appears to bare the scars of a past lightening strike.  Unfortunately, the Otley group doubt whether the tree will be replaced.

The path to Clifton is one of the most used by walkers to go up into North Yorkshire, and by dog walkers and people out for Sunday afternoon stroll, so these trees were basically a familiar landmark to all of us.  “An old acquaintance gone”, remarked Otley Chairman, Jur Keesen. A piece of history disappeared.   

Enjoy the Beauty of a Woodland Walk to Celebrate National Tree Week

Given the current Covid restrictions Middleton-in-Teesdale Walkers Are Welcome has decided, rather than organising a guided walk, to mark The Tree Council’s National Tree Week by adding an additional woodland walk to their website so that people can still enjoy the beauty of a woodland walk this week or any other. The walk, ‘King’s Walk and Snaisgill Loop’ is a gentle 2.7-mile chance to explore the beautiful Hudeshope Woods in Middleton-in-Teesdale. This is an area of mixed woodland largely made up of Beech, Ash, Sycamore, Oak, Scots Pines, and Larch and at various times of the year of an array of wildflowers such as celandines, dog’s mercury, ransoms, orchids, water avens, and primroses. In addition birds such as ring ouzels, tree creepers, dippers and heron can often be seen. A full description of the route and a downloadable gpx file can be found at https://www.teesdalechallengewalks.net/kings-walk–snaisgill-loop.html .

Walkers, Cattle and Dogs

Otley Walkers are Welcome report  “Finally, some sensible, and potentially life saving, guidance for walkers with dogs around cattle. A sign found near Otley, West Yorkshire.”

Halloween in Meltham

This weekend, families braved the wet and windy weather and enjoyed family friendly walks around Meltham and through their adopted local park, the Pleasure Grounds.
The trails were devised by local mum, Gemma, as a safe alternative to the usual trick or treat!

Trees Also Suffer From Disease

Bingley Walkers are Welcome hasn’t organised any walks during these strange times. However, they have encouraged individuals and families to explore the many walks in the Bingley area, and the greatly increased traffic on www.bingleywalkersarewelcome.org.uk confirms that many have been using their  website for ideas.

Susan Hart of  Bingley   says “28th November to 6th December is National Tree Week and it is a reminder to many of us in Bingley that it is not only humans who are affected by disease.

The St Ives Estate near Bingley was always well-known for its splendid rhododendrons. Sadly, a few years ago many were found to carry ‘phytophthora ramorum’ a contagious fungal disease. This does not appear to harm the rhododendrons but the disease had spread into the larch trees in Betty’s Wood on the Estate, and as a result, all the larches had to be felled and removed.

The area has now been replanted with a variety of trees including cherry blossom, rowan, crab apple, alder, and buckthorn. Bradford Council also collected acorns from the 19th-century oak trees elsewhere on the estate which have also been planted to help to replace the lost trees. Devastating disease not only affects humans, but woodlands can also suffer.

As you can see Betty’s Wood is showing early positive signs of regaining its former splendour.

We too will overcome the Coronavirus and recommence our monthly walks when safe to do so. The welfare of our walk leaders and supporters is paramount.”

Bus Shelters get Smart

Kirkby Stephen WaW saw their scruffy bus shelters and thought about how many people drive through the town or even visit without knowing what was in the nearby countryside just out of sight, so they hit upon a plan to add photograph laminations and get local businesses to not only sponsor them but benefit from the advertising.

What with the weather earlier in the year and COVID-19, it has taken a while to bring this project to fruition, but the beautiful views have now been added and are being admired. The bus shelters are also looking so much smarter and well cared for. All they need now is some additional buses.

New Inclusive routes in Bradfield and Stocksbridge

Bradfield and Stocksbridge Walkers are Welcome groups have created a new set of eight ‘Inclusive Route’ descriptions which can be freely downloaded. Covering both river valleys and moorland edge, the routes are designed to be inclusive for all, highlight many attractions, and provide information specific to the requirements of those in the community who may otherwise experience disadvantage in terms of access to the outdoors.

With funding from the Heritage Fund through the Sheffield Lakeland Partnership, the information provided gives details about the terrain, such as gradients and camber, surfaces and seating; this together with a route map, location of accessible toilets and refreshments, and information about places and points of interest along the way.

The routes also describe the heritage of the locality and provide information about their historical context. Examples include background to the 1864 Dale Dyke disaster in the Loxley Valley, and the story of the redevelopment of Fox Valley in Stocksbridge

Kathy Wedell, who together with her son Isaac surveyed the routes and produced the descriptions, said “Speaking as the parent of a teenager who uses a wheelchair, for Isaac to be able to get out into the wilds means everything. When just to go down the road to the local shop involves knowing in advance where the dropped kerbs are and hoping nobody has parked across them, to be able to escape to somewhere wild and beautiful is profoundly liberating. To get a wider view, a distant horizon, to breathe the air, be in nature, hear the quietness – it’s crucial for us all, but especially for people living with conditions that mean access is not a given. To be wild, and to be included – that is soul food.
When going anywhere with Isaac I’ve always had to visit the route ahead of time or risk disappointment/exclusion; there is a huge need not just for accessible wild places but also for detailed route descriptions like these, so people like us can be confident just to head out and enjoy them!”

The image is of Kathy together with son Isaac (and guide dog Elsie) at Damflask Reservoir, Bradfield, Sheffield.

There are many miles of public footpaths, bridleways, green lanes and trails in the Sheffield area; however few appear to be accessible to those using wheelchairs or mobility scooters, parents with buggies or those with mobility impairment who find gates and stiles difficult to negotiate. In providing these new inclusive routes Walkers are Welcome has gone some way to overcoming such obstacles.

Inclusive routes

Inclusive routes

Walk the Way – The Times Are a-Changin

In 1963, a talented young man called Bob declared that ‘The Times They Are a-Changin’ but I don’t think that even Mr. Dylan could have envisaged the events of this year and the impact that Covid-19 has had, and will continue to have, on our lives. This tiny virus has changed the way we live our lives, changed our work practices, and changed our social interaction (not forgetting the constantly changing guidelines). On top of the pandemic come the effects of climate change on our environment and the uncertainty of the impact of Brexit on our economy. Dire times ahead are the forecast of the many pundits, and yet, in the midst of adversity, there is always a glimmer of hope.
Although many businesses are struggling to keep alive, many will fail. Indeed, some have already done so. Countless will be in the leisure industry. Airlines, hotels, travel companies are amongst some of those most badly hit, but with so many people unable or unwilling to travel abroad, the fashion for UK holidays is in the ascendant. Herein flickers that glimmer! Many people are discovering the beauty of “…this sceptred isle”: the soaring mountains; the rolling verdant meadows and woodland walks; the languorous canals and babbling brooks; the friendly faces in cosy inns; the homely B&Bs with laden tables; “…this other Eden.”
Our local tourism industry has seen a belated summer boom; probably not since the Kinder Trespass in 1932 has walking as a recreational pastime been so popular. But the great British public is all thronging to the places that everyone knows, such as Lake Windermere, Snowdon, and The New Forest, whilst across the British Isles lie hidden gems, awaiting the adventurers, the dreamers, and the seekers of solitude. Places that are eager to welcome walkers from near and far. This could lead to the rejuvenation of small rural communities, whilst simultaneously easing the burden being placed on already worn footpaths and over-stretched honey-pot destinations.
Perhaps this surge in walking and UK holidays could lead to a new beginning. Perhaps, if these new walkers discover the beauty of our countryside, they will find the motivation to demand better protection for our natural heritage, which is under constant threat from urban creep, industrialisation, and a lack of funding. Perhaps too, they will learn to cherish the network of Public Rights of Way, born out of the Kinder Trespass, that gives the public access to the natural wonders that surround us and that is the envy of other countries. Perhaps (finally), just like experienced walkers, they will discover that inner peace that comes from losing oneself in our beautiful countryside.
So, for those seeking places with something different to offer, somewhere “far from the madding crowd”, visit the Walkers are Welcome website to discover these jewels in an emerald crown. And perhaps we can all help to fan that glimmer of hope into a bright new future for our countryside – a future of physical & mental well-being and economic stability. To paraphrase another talented man called William…
“… this sceptred isle…
This fortress built by Nature for herself
Against infection and the hand of Covid”

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