Who is aware of the National Forest? If you’re not familiar with it, here’s a bit of a spiel taken from the National Forest website:
“Over twenty years ago, visionary leaders made the decision to create a new, large, forested area in England, to show all the many benefits that come from woodland near where people live and work. The area in the Midlands which came to be known as The National Forest was chosen in part because the woodland cover was very low (about 6%). There was also a great need for regeneration after the end of mining and, importantly, incredible public support for the idea.
Since then, the 200 square miles of The National Forest have been transformed through the planting of millions of trees (8m by October 2012) and the creation of many other valuable habitats.“
Mick and I live within the National Forest. When we first moved here, thirteen years ago, the ‘forest’ comprised some fenced off areas full of what looked awfully like dead twigs and information signs about ‘National Forest Tender Scheme Winners’. Of course, those twigs weren’t dead and over the last decade we’ve seen them grow into recognisable trees (including crab apples, apples, pears and cherries, if you know where to look).
Theoretically, it’s a fantastic resource to have so close to hand as through many (maybe even most; possibly all) of the plantations, permissive paths have been created. The problem is a lack of information about where these plantations are and where those paths lie.
I knew that there were routes through one local lump of trees purely because I’d seen the marker posts from public footpaths and had gone to explore, but it wasn’t until I devised a lengthy ‘quiet lanes’ route during mud season in 2013 that I came to appreciate quite how many little plantations are dotted around and that there’s far more access than I appreciated. So, I contacted the National Forest organisation and asked whether there was any information available as to where the plantations and permissive routes lay. “No” they said*.
So, I’m still on a journey of discovery. In 2013 I discovered a handful of routes and a lovely pond on the land directly opposite our old house. We lived in that house for 6 years and I walked the same local RoWs over and over again with no idea that there was any access, never mind a whole network of permissive paths, through the infant trees across the road (the two access points to that area are not helpful; I often get in by jumping over a fence at a gap in a hedge, right by the old house). I now walk that area regularly and a couple of months ago I discovered another path over there; I’m sure there are more I’m yet to tread.
Yesterday, in a different area (using another permissive path I only found last year), I found the path I had intended to take cut off but brambles and nettles, and noticed that I was stood next to a stile into a plantation, so I took it and went on another little adventure, resisting all temptation to look at a map and try and work out where it was taking me. And that was when it hit me that those infant trees are now really looking like proper woodland, and how nice it is that an area of fields has been transformed into something really quite pleasant to walk through:
I hope that snap conveys how pleasant a walk this is!
(*I can’t help thinking that the first sentence of the quotation I’ve included from the National Forest website would be better fulfilled if people actually knew where these forests were and what access was available…)