Walk in a wood and your troubles fade away … seems true for me. Sadly, living on the edge of the fens there aren’t many sizeable woods around here and Thetford Forest (our nearest) is mostly a conifer mono-culture, which isn’t the same thing at all. However, over the past few years I have been discovering and visiting a number of smaller sanctuaries of a few hectares in dimension. Mostly they get mentioned at bluebell time, but this week I felt keen to visit a beech grove, large enough to get total immersion in those warm russet hues at least. So I did a search and discovered a local nature reserve I’ve not been to before. It is called Beechwoods (promising) is close to Wandlebury Ring, which I love and have written about previously.
Beechwoods* covers an area of 5 hectares and consists of two adjacent, rectangular plantations. The eastern plot was planted in the 1840s and is of mature beech. The western plot was planted by local people in 1992 and is an area of broad-leaved trees chosen to provide complementary habitats to the older wood.
So I visited yesterday, on a grey, drizzly day and nevertheless was cheered to have made the effort. Many of the leaves are now on the ground, but look at that coppery glow.
From what I’ve read, the mature woodland was struck quite badly by the catastrophic storm of 1986, which brought down trees in a number of areas. These giants were felled and replanted, but saplings are also making the most of the thin canopy near these gaps.
Elsewhere, the dense canopy allows very little in the way of understory to develop and this is what creates that dramatic, architectural feel to beech woods.
I discovered that it is lethal to walk while admiring the vaulted ‘roof’, because rippling across the floor are thick, knobbly surface roots.
Looking up this is what I saw: the remaining leaves were wet and beautifully translucent, like amber.
Similar to the beech plantation at Fox Covert near Royston, helleborines are known to thrive here on the thin, chalky soils beneath the trees. In November they are long gone, but looking down at the beech mast covered the roots, there is a whole world of fungi bursting into fruit now.
Management of dead wood is sensitive and practical. If you look carefully at this fallen trunk for instance, you will see that it has been transform into a seat. Useful for a stop to enjoy the woody atmosphere.
The path loops back lower down the slope and, being protected, these trees retain more of their leaves, adding to that cosy, blanketing feeling.
Just as I was about to exit the woods I spotted a green man:
Cute, isn’t he? So I left with a smile on my face!
*Beechwoods is looked after by The Wildlife Trust