A walk in the woods
PUBLISHED: 12:46 03 November 2015 | UPDATED: 12:46 03 November 2015
David Falk, manager of Suffolk County Council’s Brandon Country Park, heads to the very heart of Suffolk for a walk in Bradfield Woods, one of Britain’s finest ancient woodlands
I’m looking at a blackened red teapot standing on a wooden work bench. A cloth bag decorated with a green and blue logo and the words Suffolk Wildlife Trust lies draped over the bench.
Behind, a corral of more wooden benches encircles a pair of charcoal wood burners. Curls of wood shavings litter the ground. The area is partly covered by a corrugated iron roof held up by wooden posts between wattle walls of willow, all bound together by cobwebs and wire mesh.
This is what greets you at Bradfield Woods – an immediate sense of a wood that is very much alive and in use. Indeed, the wood has been continuously managed since the 13th century, and today produces hedging binders, hazel pea sticks and rustic ash poles for the public to buy.
Bradfield Woods is one of many Suffolk Wildlife Trust reserves and a jewel in a crown of ancient woodlands. It boasts highlights throughout the year from colourful spring flowers, to summer days full of butterflies, to autumnal shows of fungi and crab apples. A series of coloured trails guide you around the 180 acre mixed woodland and today, in early autumn, I’ve picked the 2.5 mile red trail to explore.
The trail starts at the recently built visitor centre. The lights are off when I arrive, but information adorns the outside walls and I learn that now is a good time for pink-flowering spindle, foraging badgers and blackberry loving dormice. A sightings board offers insights into what’s about. A fun wooden woodpecker on a string knocks when pulled. And a boot scraper, placed by steps on to decking, confirms this is a cared for and well-loved place.
The red trail starts along a wide gravel track lined by coppiced hazel that emerges as straight poles like upended wigwam frames. Recent rains have left ankle high puddles and the imprints of walking boots, animal tracks and vehicle wheels mould patches of mud.
Beside the trail hang the ruby red berries of hawthorn, the deep purple sloes of blackthorn and clusters of lime green fruit of crab apple trees. Fallen apples scent the air with sweet cider. I notice just off the track, wrapped in tree branches, is a wooden sculpture – a series of wooden planks, planed from a trunk and held together by wire, stand upright like the pages of a thin, tall book. A page contains an author’s musing on the inspiration of walking. How apt I think to myself, as I inscribe my own thoughts into my notebook.
At a picnic table the red trail turns right and enters a narrow wet-grass path. I shuffle in cool shade beside a narrow channel. Mud squelches under my black wellington boots. Above me, a squirrel shakes the limbs of a hazel tree, robbing it of its last few nuts. The familiar sounds of the countryside fill the air and the more stationary I am, the more animated the wood becomes. I stop.
The wood cushions the sounds of the modern world and I listen to nature: wood pigeons clap, aspen leaves whisper, bird songs pip, insects buzz, and up high a woodpecker knocks a rhythmic beat: the orchestra never changes but the composition is new every time.
At my feet there is movement and I’m shocked to see a common shrew. It has beautiful soft brown fur and a distinctive pointed nose. It dives into undergrowth, rummages around, pops out again, shakes leaves as it dashes, all the time oblivious to my presence. I feel like I’ve entered nature’s world, just another piece of wildlife’s jigsaw. It’s a magic moment.
The red trail leads into an area appropriately signed Butterfly Glade and without disappointment I see a comma, a red admiral and a silver washed fritillary. I later learn that the wood is a haven for the rare fritillary. As I watch a speckled wood posing on a bramble a tawny owl belts out a hoot. This I did not expect, and I stand dead still again, searching, waiting for a glimpse, but nothing appears.
The trail sinks into a winding path hemmed in by brambles. I walk past ash trees, the signs of dieback all too evident, and admire fly agaric, the most perfect of all fungi. They cluster beside a silver birch – deadly scarlet caps and cream coloured spots floating on a sea of pea-green moss.
The woods are divided into sections and the trail leads through Hannah’s Close into Cottage Fell, and then Pear Tree Fell towards Hewitts Meadow. At the southern end of the wood there are views across open fields of sugarbeet. A pair of buzzards flies past, mewing at each other as they circle and soar.
The red trail right angles back into the woods. Sunlight illuminates the way forward past strands of spindle with their delicate closed bells of pale pink berries. Red markers guide me past tidy piles of sawn logs that fill the air with the smell of cut wood. The track is firm as it returns to where I started and I’m pleased to find the visitor centre now open. I walk in.
Inside I find a volunteer. We chat about the day’s sightings. She tells me of rare species, including the fritillary, seasonal changes, the continuous use of the woodland, how volunteers built the centre and the teaching of traditional skills. As I walk back to my car I’m left in no doubt that this is a very much alive and well-used wood.
Bradfield Woods have been managed since 1250, producing coppiced hazel, firewood and charcoal. Today the woods offer a magical world where you can escape the modern world and immerse yourself in the sounds of nature. This is one of Britain’s best ancient woodlands, a real find and pure joy at any time of year.
Bradfield Woods can be visited throughout the year. Seasonal highlights include spring flowers such as early-purple orchids, summer butterflies including the rare silver-washed fritillary, and the autumnal smell of fallen crab apples.