If you go down to the woods today

Winter woodland walks

Winter brings unexpected beauty, unique wildlife and genuine wonder to our forested glades, as Paul Miles discovers...

Glen Affric

Notable roots: Often billed as the most beautiful glen in Scotland, the National Nature Reserve of Glen Affric is home to one of the largest surviving areas of Caledonian Forest in Scotland. Red squirrels scurry between branches and ospreys soar overhead; old, twisted ‘granny pines’ frame fabulous views of lochs, burns and Munros. Britain’s most remote youth hostel, Alltbeithe, stands alone at the top of the glen, 13km/8 miles from the nearest road, but it’s closed in winter.

Wintry routes: There are many signed walks of varying lengths and difficulty within the glen, such as an 18km/11-mile circular walk around Loch Affric. Dog Falls plus Coire Loch combines two easy waymarked trails into one of about 6km/4 miles. You trek through some beautiful pine forest by a whisky-coloured river (where you may see otters) to view the falls, tumbling through a narrow gorge. Don’t miss the white waymarked detour to the viewpoint across Loch Beinn a’ Mheadhoin and the Affric Munros.

Further info: www.forestry.gov.uk 

Speyside Way

Notable roots: Woods of a different sort cheer the heart of many in Speyside: oaks from far and wide turned into barrels in which whisky is aged. At Tomintoul, the highest village in the Highlands, the Tomintoul distillery on the Glenlivet Estate is open year-round for free tours and tastings by appointment (✆ 01807 590274). After a winter’s walk, warm away winter blues with a wee dram. For living woods, meanwhile, Drumin Wood is a fine example of native Caledonian Forest that is also host to the rare and delicate twinflower.

Wintry routes: The 105km/65-mile Speyside Way follows the River Spey from coast to mountains, passing through forests on the way. A 25km/15-mile spur crosses picturesque hills to Tomintoul, from where the waymarked West Avonside Path, a 6km/4-mile route following the River Avon (detailed in a new walking guide produced by the Glenlivet Estate), passes through pretty birch woodlands. Another route that starts and ends at the Glenlivet distillery (unfortunately closed in winter) is the 6km/3½-mile George Smith Smugglers’ Trail, which passes through Drumin Wood and takes in Drumin Castle and the River Livet.

Further info:

Bwlch Nant yr Arian

Notable roots: As soon as you arrive at the visitors’ centre, with its bleached-wood walls and living roof, you know that Bwlch Nant yr Arian is a special place. Learning that the name means ‘mountain pass of the silver stream’ merely confirms it. In the Cambrian Mountains, just 16km/10 miles from Aberystwyth, this Forestry Commission woodland of Corsican pine, larch and Sitka spruce was, in the 17th century, busy with lead mining. The old shafts and seams of the lead mines, which were abandoned in the early 20th century, are now roosts for hibernating bats, while rare mosses and ferns grow in lead-rich soil. Overhead, red kites fly gracefully.

Wintry routes: The 29km/18-mile Mal Evans Way passes through Bwlch Nant yr Arian on its way from Borth to Devil’s Bridge. Otherwise, from the visitors’ centre, a 5km/3-mile ridgetop trail is worth the steep climbs and descents for its sweeping views across sparsely populated Ceredigion. And it’s all especially beautiful on a snowy winter’s day.

Further info: www.forestry.gov.uk/bwlchnantyrarian

Winter woodland walks

New Forest

Notable roots: We have William I to thank for the New Forest. After his conquering, he created this hunting forest in around 1079. Less than half of the 566 square km/219 square-mile National Park is wooded and many other important ecosystems thrive here, including the largest area of lowland heath in the UK. With its long history of commoners’ rights still practised today – as the freely grazing cattle, ponies and pigs show – the forest harks back to medieval times.

Wintry routes: There are 235km/146 miles of rights of way in the New Forest and more cosy pubs than you can shake a stick at. In Fritham, the award-winning Royal Oak – famed for its food, real ales and crackling log fires – is deservedly popular. Lunch or dinner here would be more than enough fuel for a gentle 8km/5-mile circular route, kicking up fallen leaves in adjacent ancient woodland and on through heath and plantation. Watch out for fallow deer.

Further info: www.new-forest-national-park.com/fritham-walk.html

Brede High Woods

Notable roots: In the High Weald Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty, this 262-hectare woodland, just 10km/6 miles from Hastings, thrums with rare insects in many different habitats. Professional naturalists visit to study beetles, spiders and moths, while a community archaeological project is underway to unearth the woodland’s history of saw-milling, charcoal-making and iron-smelting. The root of the word ‘High’ in the name of the woodland comes from it being enclosed – by banks and ditches – not its elevation.

Wintry routes: The 51km/32-mile 1066 Country Walk passes a short distance to the south of Brede High Woods, connected by footpaths to the woodland, while the Sussex Border Path passes to the north. Within Brede Highs Woods itself are 16km/10 miles of rights of way.

Further info: www.woodlandtrust.org.uk/ourwoods