7 cool and shady woodland walks in Norfolk

Woodland walks on Mousehold Heath. Picture: Danielle Booden

Woodland walks on Mousehold Heath. Picture: Danielle Booden - Credit: Archant 2021

As the Mercury climbed earlier this week, we were urged by the government to stay safe indoors. Now temperatures have dipped, it's the perfect opportunity to get back into nature, cooling off in one of Norfolk's forests or woodlands.

At Lynford Arboretum there are walking trails, picnic tables (just don’t bring a barbecue), lakes and thousands upon thousands of wonderful trees. They were planted in the 1940s by the Forestry Commission, which still owns the arboretum - open to the public for free, every day, cared for by volunteers from the Friends of Thetford Forest.   

Many of the specimen trees are helpfully labelled and there are information boards dotted around the impressive avenues and glades. There are trails ideal for wheelchairs and pushchairs, longer walks and even a dog-agility course.  

An art trail runs through Lynford Arboretum

An art trail runs through Lynford Arboretum - Credit: Lynford Arboretum

The pretty parkland might also help safeguard the forests of the future. For 50 years the students of the Forestry England training school at Lynford Hall (now a hotel) undertook trial plantings of trees for commercial forestry.  

Now Forestry England is carrying out more trial plantings at Lynford – the most easterly and driest of its nine arboreta. Trees are an important weapon in the battle against climate change and the saplings being planted at Lynford now, grown from seeds collected around the world, might eventually not only shade us from the sun but also help counter the climate disaster. 

The arboretum is the country’s third largest individual collection of trees and experts are monitoring trees for health and growth and also looking out for pests and diseases. 

Alongside the science and nature there is art at Lynford too. The Art of Trees is an exhibition telling the story of trees and tree conservation, and runs until March   

Walkers on Victory V linked beech avenues at Felbrigg Hall, Gardens and Estate

Walkers on Victory V linked beech avenues at Felbrigg Hall, Gardens and Estate - Credit: National Trust Images - Rob Coleman

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Felbrigg, near Cromer, has several forest trails, including a fascinating 2.5 mile walk passing its medieval church (a cool haven on a hot day), a lake, an ice house (which stayed chilly enough to store straw-packed ice through the summer), oak trees dating back five centuries and a poignant V shaped avenue of beech trees. The Victory V Avenue was planted in 1946 by the last squire of Felbrigg, Robert Wyndham Ketton-Cremer, in memory of his RAF flying officer brother Richard, killed during the Second World War. The beautiful trees commemorate both Richard and VE day.  

The National Trust now runs Felbrigg Hall, near Cromer, where its parkland with miles of waymarked walks is open daily from dawn to dusk. There is also a beautiful stately home and gardens, open Saturday to Wednesday.  

Patrick Barkham in Foxley Wood, Patrick is the new president of the Norfolk Wildlife Trust

- Credit: Sonya Duncan

Foxley Wood, near Reepham, is Norfolk’s largest ancient woodland. Mentioned in the Domesday Book it is now a Norfolk Wildlife Trust nature reserve – and home to hundreds of species of wildflowers, birds and insects. There are greater butterfly orchids and great spotted woodpecker, silver-washed fritillary butterflies and tawny owls. There are also shaded paths through the trees, some lined with frothy white meadowsweet flowers through the summer. 

This is also the best time of year to see white admiral butterflies at Foxley. The woods are free to visit but are closed for essential works every Thursday. 

Prettily named Honeypot Wood, west of Dereham, is another Norfolk Wildlife Trust reserve. The land here is thought to have been covered in trees since the end of the last ice age. Take shelter from the sweltering sun here and imagine towering icy glaciers, and swirling blizzards of drifting snow.   

Today, in midsummer, any white you might glimpse in the woodland could be the Greater Butterfly Orchid, which can be up to 60cm tall in July, but does not flower every year. 

The Burlingham Woodland Walks at North Burlingham. Picture: Denise Bradley

The Burlingham Woodland Walks at North Burlingham - Credit: Denise Bradley

Tiny North Burlingham, between Norwich and Acle, has some of the loveliest woodland walks in the county. Paths wind through Burlingham Woods - a landscape of stitched-together ancient woodland, orchards full of local fruit trees and many sections of newer planting.  

Follow a sculpture trail and find two sundials  where the woodland opens into lighter glades.  

The free woodland walks across land owned by Norfolk County Council, link North Burlingham, South Walsham, Lingwood, Hemblington and Acle with paths for walkers, cyclists, horse-riders and people with pushchairs, wheelchairs and mobility scooters 

Mousehold Heath stretched from Norwich to South Walsham in Tudor times. The last remnants of the ancient heathland, where Robert Kett and his thousands of followers camped before their final doomed battle, were given to Norwich City Council in 1880. 

People once grazed their animals on the heath and foraged for winter fuel, but gradually it became more forested and today is a patchwork of woodland and more open land covered with heather and gorse. There are lots of shaded paths and picnic spots as well as more organised fun including  

The largest local nature reserve in Norwich is home to wildlife including lizards, butterflies and woodpeckers and is managed by the Mousehold Heath Conservators, established in 1884 to look after the heath. 

As well as woodland walks there is a pitch and putt course - and a programme of free wildlife sessions including a butterfly walk on August 12 and, for anyone keen to get out in the cool of the evening, a moth walk on Thursday August 25 with the chance to join a warden using a light trap to catch, record and release the nocturnal insects.  

Tyrrels Wood, near Pulham Market, is an ancient woodland known as Boscus de Grischave back in in 1251. The Norwich to Diss long-distance path Boudicca’s Way runs through the wood, which is  looked after by the Woodland Trust, the UK’s largest woodland conservation charity. 

The Woodland Trust is celebrating its 50th anniversary this year and Tyrrels Wood is one of more than 1,000 woods it cares for across the country. Nationally it has planted 55 million trees and helped restore many ancient woodlands by reintroducing native trees, as well as protecting threatened woods creating entire new forests.