Confession: I once got lost on a group walk. I got left behind. Instead of concern from my friends, when I did get back to the pub, I was laughed at. No wonder then, that I have never felt confident going out walking with my daughter. Out in the wilds, with no other people in sight, I might get lost, I might stumble into a field with a bull. Orin fact we might see people, who would laugh at our amateur walking gear. What if, what if. Oh the shame! So, we hardly went out at all.
Then a couple of years back a friend who walks twice daily as a dog owner introduced me to Letah Wood, a short drive away from our town. Here, there is a linear, clearly marked footpath that runs the length of the woods. The path is ¾ mile long then you turn round and come back again. It’s 2 miles from home. In short, what’s to be scared of?
Those woods have become one of my favourite places. It’s full of towering oaks, silver birch and beech trees. There is a stream running through it, just the right depth for paddling. After a winter storm, there is plenty of material for den building. In early spring the ground is white with snow drops, then cream with wild daffodils and then white again with garlic. In May the sunlight does that magical thing of illuminating the fresh leaves, as it’s said in German, “Maeinscheine”.
I’ve seen deer, heard woodpeckers and can see definite sign of badgers. In June we pick wild raspberries then strawberries and then by late August blackberries, which we’re still picking in October. In Autumn the warm muted browns and yellows of the leaves belie the temperature as cold air sinks to the forest floor and hangs there, heavy with mist. We’ve got to know the farmer at the top of the wood, and the small holder at the other side who we buy eggs from.
And what’s more it was never busy. It was my place to go.
One evening I listened open mouthed as “my woods” were mentioned on a Radio 4 feature. I actually said out loud, “hey, that’s my wood, I don’t want everyone messing it up!” Yep, even in my role in Natural England's Connecting People with Nature Programme - I know, dreadful of me! What’s more, that evening was no ordinary evening, it was 23rd March 2020. Lockdown. So everybody did come to my wood! Next time we went there, it was packed. We didn’t go back for a few months. But when we did, something had happened......
A work party had been in. Some of the felled trees were left in situ over the stream as new bridges. Where there was a boggy bit in the middle of the woods, a board walk had been built over the top. Some coppicing had been done, new bird boxes and some owl boxes had been put up. In other words, new visitors brought new love and new nature to the woods.
The work in the woods revealed that there was in fact more than one footpath and the new bridges connected them up. We grew more adventurous, found that there was a whole other area of the wood up over the bank above the stream. And then I got really brave, I bought an OS map. I know how pathetic it sounds, but when I mentioned it to colleagues at OS, they said, it’s really common for people to feel that reticent. We just need that initial bit of confidence. On the map I was able to plot a walking route to the woods, so now we can leave the car at home. We’re now expanding our repertoire. I’ve linked up two short walks mainly on roads in town, with a route up above it into another woods that I never knew was there, meaning a town walk is now a town and country walk, that just happens to end at the ice cream shop.
I don’t think I will be alone in this kind of journey. Wanting to be adventurous but feeling scared to do it and then when we do, we want to feel like we are the only ones. But more people enjoying nature is more people caring for nature, I’ve donated to the works in the woods. Without that first trip to the woods and all those that followed, I can honestly say that I would not have built up the resilience to get through the covid-19 restrictions.
Nature really is for everyone and to prove I believe it, I’m sharing my secret woods with you. Which is not really secret at all, it’s a Woodland Trust site, it’s meant to be visited and enjoyed. So, if you ever find yourself n Northumberland, go to Letah Woods and remember to follow the Countryside Code.
Adelle Rowe is Head of Programme for Natural England’s Connecting People with Nature programme, one of four delivery programmes. Natural England’s aim is to enable everyone to be able to be able to connect with nature for the benefits it brings to our daily lives, health and well-being.
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