Lovely and crunchy underfoot in Suffolk
PUBLISHED: 16:36 26 January 2011 | UPDATED: 20:33 20 February 2013
David Falk, countryside manager at Suffolk County Council, dons his thermals to go metaphorically ferretting about the warrens and heathlands near Mildenhall – some of Suffolk's most prized open access land
David Falk, countryside manager at Suffolk County Council, dons his thermals to go metaphorically ferretting about the warrens and heathlands near Mildenhall some of Suffolks most prized open access land
When it comes to the Brecks, everything seems out in the open. Once out of the shelter of towns, villages or woodland, the very soil is laid bare; almost every fieldscape is windswept, overgrazed or somehow exposed. The eye is drawn along processions of hunchbacked pines which stoop in strange pilgrimage across the huge expanses of haunting, time-honoured landscapes. For a place so very open, the Suffolk Brecklands harbour an overwhelming hoard of wild and wonderful secrets.
Crunch across the frosted grasslands of Foxhole Heath in the crisp bright blueness of a winters day and all will be revealed. An immense and mossy area just off the B1112 between historic Icklingham and Mildenhall, the undulating open access land is pitted by burrows, prickling with pockets of thick gorse and, boasting a slightly higher site than most of the surrounding landscape, affords some most inspiring views of the ancient Iceni tribe homelands.
Open to explore and enjoy as an annual treat from November to the end of February, its the sort of place that dreams of historic ages past are made of. For a few moments, forget the winter sniffles and chilly feet, leave the nose-twitching and foot-stamping to the indigenous rabbit population and enter a wild, timeless world of seasonal sunshine and calm.
Theres a rugged earthiness about the dark, sandy bunkers and grassy tufts of the heath; something mysterious about the coral-like lichens which vie with the severe January frost carpet in places. Then theres the occasional scattering of animal bones, picked clean and so very white against the redness of the frozen, yet somehow still crumbling soil.
Here in seasons past and present, rabbits have scrabbled and scooped, bobbed their tails and bolted and, amidst the scraggy, scratchy fingers of gorse and strange bumps and clumps, elusive sheep have sometime worn a net of narrow, criss-crossing tracks.
There are no footpaths, only wild tracks. No rights of way, just the right of passage to go anywhere that the heath chooses to take you; a strange, almost extra-terrestrial freedom to experience on todays busy planet, where deep, dark holes lead down into hidden, warm worlds below and the thinnest, most exhilarating of cold, cold skies stretch out to infinity above.
Theres nothing like the piercing cry of the sharp-beaked green woodpecker to wake you wildly from your dreams as it dive-bombs and doodlebugs from tree to scrawny tree. Around here though, the Eagles might give the unsuspecting a bit of a surprise too.
Foxhole Heath is only a flints throw away from the Lakenheath airbase, home to the 48th Tactical Fighter Wing, its F-15C Eagle fleet and visiting world class craft. Like super-sized birds with the brightest beady eyes, they do have a habit of gliding up silently from behind, or on a more overcast day, announcing their presence with the noise of ripping a cloud or two.
Whichever way you look at them or not for that matter they do make for an impressive, if less than natural, countryside spectacle.
Meanwhile, back with the bunnies, Foxhole Heath suddenly seems less appropriately named. Home at times no doubt to fox cubs as well as grazing sheep, passing deer, tiny gorse-sheltering tits and brazen magpies, its the rabbit which is in evidence everywhere here from fluffy tails to tell-tale trails and links us back again to the areas rich past.
A look at the local map shows how the coney used to be king in these parts. Even today, the size of the atmospheric open access site, Lakenheath Warren, is formidable; yet in its heyday it covered over 2,300 acres with a stock of 7,200 rabbits.
The lapin normand for want of a better title started digging itself a place in British history when William did his conquering. The two-mile Warreners Walk trail around Mildenhall Woods, an old warren site now given over to woodland and conservation, offers a great family-friendly insight into the local history of rabbiting through the ages. Here, there are the remains of a warreners lodge and evidence of historic earthworks or banking to protect the one-time warren from poachers.
If you fancy a few more Breckland haunts, then the ancient area around Icklingham is certainly the place to be. Why not track down Deadmans Grave reputedly the burial place of an executed highwayman who still seeks revenge for his lack of Christian burial Icklingham Plains, close to Anglo-Saxon burial mounds or the magical tree-lined Berners Heath.
Suffolk County Councils official countryside website www.discoversuffolk.org.uk advises on parking and location, but make sure you have a trusty OS Explorer map to hand as many of the open access sites are really quite hidden secrets.
Its a question of access
Whats the history behind Open Access land?
Under the Countryside and Rights of Way Act 2000, the public were given the freedom to access designated land without having to stay on paths, enabling more opportunity to walk, run, explore and watch wildlife in the countryside. The new rights, for which people had been campaigning for over 100 years, came into effect in 2005.
How can the land be open when access is only for part of the year?
The designation opens up sites which were previously unavailable to the public. Restricted access helps protect ground nesting birds and wildlife during the peak breeding season.
Can I take my dog to open access sites?
Dogs are welcome, but please follow the guidelines given on the signage at site. Its also worth remembering that many open access sites are not enclosed in any way.
Where else can I find open access sites in Suffolk?
Youll find all Suffolks open access sites including map references and guidance on how to get there, plus a great range of countryside walks, detailed on Suffolk County Councils official countryside website : www.discoversuffolk.org.uk