One of the most popular places for a country walk is our local woodland or forest. Whether it is in a large tract of forest in upland Britain or a small urban wood within the city limits, walking amongst the tranquillity of the trees, and picking up the sights and sounds of the birds, the insects and the breeze is energising and rejuvenating. The UK is not a heavily wooded country, however. Amongst the countries of Europe only the Netherlands and Ireland have a smaller percentage of their land area covered by forest (c10%), which is a great contrast to the forested nations of for example Scandinavia, where nearly 65% of the land is forested. So we have to make good use of what we have.
Of course, woodlands can be large or small. The largest forest area in the UK is the Galloway Forest Park in Dumfries and Galloway in south west Scotland. It covers an area of 772 square kilometres, which is larger than ten of the UK’s historic counties in themselves! There are several hundred kilometres of walking trails through the park, and three main visitor centres, including the main centre at Kirroughtree just south east of Newton Stewart (Grid Reference NX45306464). In England the largest forest is Kielder Forest in Northumberland, which covers an area of 610 square kilometres A good starting point for a visit here is the Tower Knowe Visitor Centre beside Kielder Water, 15km west of Bellingham (Grid Reference NY69838683).
At the other extreme, the smallest ‘woodland’ nature reserve in the UK is to be found in Norfolk. The Norfolk Wildlife Trust’s Hethel Old Thorn reserve lies about 10km south west of Norwich, next to the parish church in the village of Hethel. The reserve consists of a single tree, an ancient hawthorn dating back to the Middle Ages, and the whole reserve is only 0.025ha (25 square metres) in size. Whether a single tree counts as ‘woodland’ might of course be open to debate, but the site clearly provides an interesting place to visit whether you are looking to tick off a county record location or a national one (Grid Reference TG17100509).
Nearer to home every county has its own largest tract of woodland to explore, and many of the largest areas are also open to the public for access (although it’s important to check access rules on any woodlands you plan to explore). In the more rural counties they may be quite large forested areas. The Wyre Forest, lying between Bridgnorth and Kidderminster, for example, reaches into both Shropshire and Worcestershire and is the largest woodland in both counties. Covering a total area of 2634ha it is one of the largest ancient woodlands in the UK, and is managed for forestry and extensive recreational use by the Forestry Commission (Grid Reference SO74407840)
In contrast, the metropolitan county record woodlands may be much smaller. Greater Manchester, for example, stretches on to the western slopes of the Pennines, but although there are forested areas in this part of the county the largest area of woodland is in the west, straddling the boundary of Salford and Wigan Metropolitan Boroughs. Botany Bay Wood is 3km south of Boothstown, and covers an area of 105ha. Its intriguing name reflects its history – it was planted on the moss heathland of Chat Moss to mark the discovery of Australia by Captain Cook in 1780, which makes it a comparatively young area of woodland! (Grid Reference SJ72909840). Greater London’s largest woodland area lies in the north east of the urban area. Ruislip Woods, in the Borough of Hillingdon cover 305ha of mainly oak and hornbeam trees, and are an important outdoor recreation area in west London. The woods were declared London’s first National Nature Reserve in 1997 (Grid Reference TQ08008960). In the West Midlands, the largest area of woodland is found in Sutton Park, which lies in Sutton Coldfield in the City of Birmingham. Sutton Park is the largest urban park in Europe, covering 900ha, of which 253ha is woodland. This is all ancient woodland, too, which means it has been in existence for at least 300 years (Grid Reference SP10309800).
So, whether you live in the country or within the city there are woodland areas to explore and enjoy. Where is the largest woodland in your own home county?
The Must Get Out More Question !
The Greenwich Meridian marks the line from which all longitudes are measured on the Earth’s surface. It is officially “0 degrees”. Which counties have the northernmost and southernmost land points of the Greenwich Meridian in the UK?
The Answer to the Last Question
Where is the highest pub in the UK?
The highest pub in the UK is The Tan Hill Inn, in the Yorkshire Dales of North Yorkshire, which stands at 527m (1730’) above sea level (Grid Reference NY89750670) on the minor road from Keld to Brough. One of the reasons for its popularity is its position exactly on the line of the Pennine Way long distance footpath
The Record Locations
You can use the Grid References provided to locate record locations on a map at www.streetmap.co.uk