Suffolk walk: The Warrener's Walk, Mildenhall
PUBLISHED: 00:16 27 January 2011 | UPDATED: 20:33 20 February 2013
David Falk, of Discover Suffolk, goes back in time in Mildenhall Woods to learn about the history of rabbit-harvesting in the county's beautiful Brecks
David Falk, of Discover Suffolk, goes back in time in Mildenhall Woods to learn about the history of rabbit-harvesting in the countys beautiful Brecks
If you go out in the woods today, youre sure of a big surprise. Well, if you head out on the Warreners Walk expecting the place to be teaming with rabbits, you will be.
Skittish squirrels hop about the plantations here by the score. You might spot a roe deer grazing along the edge of the wide, woodland rides. But today, there is simply not a bunny in sight unless youve brought the binoculars to look beyond the wood and the trees, and out further a-Breckland-field from the woodland edge.
Like countless other commercial warren sites now lost to time, this sandy area near Mildenhall has only the memory of centuries of rabbit-harvesting to hold on to. In an ironic twist of fate, the wooded site was bought by the Forestry Commission in 1934 and the local rabbit population with a penchant for tasty tree seedlings and fresh young bark turned from a productive friend into a pesky foe.
So whats the carrot then? Although the open access site at Lakenheath Warren may be more true to the past in landscape terms, The Warreners Walk, with its informative trail tales strategically placed around the two mile route is a great all-season family amble with a real variety of scenery, very special birdlife and some fascinating stories to tell.
Start by following the way-marked path which lead through deciduous woodland, opening out on to a wide grassy drove. A friendly warrener from the Middle Ages greets you with tales of coneys and his duties to the Abbey of St Edmundsbury, pointing up the hill to the ruins of his flint-built lodge where his catch hung before being transported to London for meat and fur.
On one side, pale trunks of silver birch, spindly beech branches, sweet chestnuts and the occasional oak soon give way to the new pine plantation; on the other, gorse scrub falls away with the sandy soil at a Site of Special Scientific Interest, where in the 1980s archaeologists found the earliest evidence of human activity in the whole of Britain.
Bear left by the lodge, heading into the forest and passing the last few snowberries amidst the wintery chills. The cold light dissects the straightest managed pines into ordered lines on the left, contrasting with the leaning rabble of hunched Scots pines on the right. A Victorian warrener-cum-gamekeeper explains a thing or two close to the Deer Lawn clearing before a right then left turn leads through a young plantation, punctuated by telegraph poles on one side and would-be, growing poles on the other.
George, the 17th century trapper, shares his secrets at the T-junction where you turn left along Rabbit Bank and, a quarter of a mile and a century later, Thomas the warren-banker points out the earthworks and explains the hard graft behind them. All along this stretch, a thick wall of cypress faces out on to open Brecks farmland and across to rabbit-grazed turf slopes, where you might just spot white, fluffy tell-tail signs.
A left turn leaves the open landscape behind and heads down the widest ride of the whole woodland, back towards the car park. Along here, Rex Witta from the Forestry Commission will stop you in your tracks to bring you up to date and relate how the old warren site now has a new lease of life.
THE FINER DETAIL
Top tip: Be sure to bring your binoculars: the dense plantations are home to coal tits and Britains tiniest bird, the goldcrest.
For more information: Download a colour copy of the Warreners Walk leaflet from Suffolk County Councils official countryside website, www.discoversuffolk.org.uk
How to get there: From the A1101 Bury St Edmunds to Mildenhall road, or A11 from Newmarket, pick up the A1065 north towards Brandon at the Mildenhall roundabout. Take the first turning on the right signed for the Waste Recycling Centre. The site is situated about half a mile down this road on the left hand side.
Park up and go: There is a small car park at the entrance to the site.
Distance: 1.9 miles
Refreshments: Pop in for tea and bacon roll from John and Nigel at the famous bright and never too breezy, Walkers Snacks, on the A0165 (just up from the Mildenhall roundabout). Or, head a little further to Elveden Estates food hall with its tasty treats and relaxed, award-winning restaurant.
Terrain: Wide droves with short grass make for mainly firm walking and plenty of room to walk full family abreast. Generally buggy friendly.
Useful additional map: OS Explorer No. 226
Convenient conveniences: Alongside the wide lay-by/woodland car park next to Walkers Caf, on the A0165 (just up from the Mildenhall roundabout).
Public transport: Call 0871 1200 2233 or visit www.suffolkonboard.com