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Get out and enjoy Norfolk’s woodlands this weekend

PUBLISHED: 09:00 28 October 2011 | UPDATED: 22:33 28 October 2011

Fairhaven Woodland and Water Gardens at South Walsham.

Display of Candelabra Primulas in full bloom


Picture: James Bass

Fairhaven Woodland and Water Gardens at South Walsham. Display of Candelabra Primulas in full bloom Picture: James Bass

Archant Norfolk Photographic © 2011

As autumnal colours creep into our woodlands and the trees begin their preparation for winter, revealing a stunning array of hues, it’s time to visit one of Norfolk’s incredible woods or forests. STACIA BRIGGS finds the perfect woodland to visit with your family.

It’s a spectacular natural display, best enjoyed in the last of the autumnal sunshine.

Norfolk’s palette is stunning at any time of year, with our expansive skies and coastline, but in the autumn it is our woodland that takes centre stage with its blaze of seasonal glory.

From the gold, silver and scarlet of turning maples, the yellow of lime leaves, the striking dash of crimson from the cherry tree to the russet-coloured bracken punctuated with bright haw berries and rosehips, there is treasure to be found if you go down to the woods today.

The different chemicals in leaves control the colours we see: during the summer, the leaves are packed with chlorophyll, which transforms sunlight into sugars and turns the leaves green, while the advent of winter sees other chemicals taking over, with carotenoids and anthocyanins turning the leaves yellow, red and gold.

In Victorian times, ‘colour parties’ were held in woodland, where families would gather to celebrate the autumnal canopy of seasonal russets, browns, reds and yellows.

Whether you fancy a relaxed ramble with children through the paths that thread their way through woodland or a high-octane adventure in a forest, a quick trip to a wood just out of town or a cycle ride past some of the county’s oldest trees, there’s a stretch of woodland to enchant everyone.

Take young children to Fairhaven Garden Trust, School Road, South Walsham, 01603 270449.

A unique mix of ancient woodland, more recent plantings, a network of dyke systems and a large private broad, Fairhaven is a wonderful place to introduce children to the magic of woodland.

With magnificent autumnal colours in late October and early November, there are 131 acres of woodland to explore, home to a huge range of birds and some of Norfolk’s rarer residents, such as the otter, the swallowtail butterfly and the Norfolk hawker dragonfly.

There’s a trail for children – easily navigated by those using pushchairs – boat trips, a tearoom and the chance to buy plants. Particularly magical is the magnificent 950-year-old King Oak tree, found growing proudly next to ancient oaks, beech and native trees.

Fairhaven Garden Trust is open daily (except Christmas Day). Admission costs £5.50 for adults (conces-sions £5), children £3 and dogs (must be on leads) 25p. Visit fairhavengarden.co.uk.

Take adventurous teenagers to Thetford Forest, various Breckland sites and High Lodge, Brandon.

For the perfect way to burn off the excess energy that teenagers and older children appear to have, take them to Thetford Forest, an incredible stretch of pine, heathland and broad-leaved trees.

Within the forest is the ancient flint mine, Grimes Graves, which was extensively worked between 3000BC and 1900BC. The almost lunar landscape left by the excavations stretches for 96 acres and includes more than 400 shafts, some more than 40 feet deep.

Wildlife abounds in the woods and, if you’re lucky, you can spot rabbits, hares, deer and many types of birds. If you’re lucky, you may spot a woodlark, crossbill or goshawk.

With nationally-acclaimed cycling tracks, there’s a trail to suit every level of experience – although you might want to make sure you’re fairly accomplished before you try the black trail with the rather ominous sounding The Beast section!

The Roman Road walking trail leads all the way to the Norfolk coast, while other activities in the forest include paintballing and the British Siberian Husky Racing Association’s races, held during the winter.

Enjoy a gentle stroll through Burlingham Woods, near Acle.
(You can park opposite St Andrew’s Church, which is reached by a short track off the main road through the village).

A lovely, atmospheric blend of mature woodland and more recent plantings, this wood has easily navigable, colour-coded walks of one, two and three miles. Owned by Norfolk County Council, sensitive woodland management has kept brambles and non-native trees to a minimum while maintaining a wonderfully wild feel. Sense the history when your trail takes you through and around land associated with the late Georgian Burlingham Hall which was demolished last century.

Pack an autumn picnic for Holt Country Park, off the B1149. Open daily.

A peaceful, beautiful wood which extends to almost 100 acres and boasts a wonderful canopy of Scots pine, oak and silver birch trees under which to enjoy an autumnal feast – who said picnics were just for summer?

If you fancy working off the calories you’ve eaten, try the orienteering course. For those who would prefer a more gentle after-picnic walk, look out for the carved totem pole and stile, play area for children and the viewing tower.

There is a visitor centre, toilets and routes which are wheelchair and pushchair friendly.

If you’re in Norwich, try Whitlingham Country Park at Trowse. A lovely place to unwind and enjoy a walk, a bicycle ride or a little time in one of the city’s green lungs, you can also spend time wandering through the woodland. There are some beautiful mature trees to be found if you venture away from the water. Mousehold Heath in Norwich is also a great place to explore and offers one of the best views of the city from its lofty vantage point.

Enjoy the peace and quiet at Foxley Wood, 10 miles south-east of Fakenham, off the A1067 Norwich to Fakenham road. For more details visit norfolkwildlife-trust.org.uk.

The county’s largest ancient woodland, Foxley Wood is mentioned in the Domesday Book, which notes that it was large enough for 300 swine – and very possibly a hunting ground of kings.

After careful coppicing, the wood boasts a collection of hazel, ash, field maple and lime trees which have, in the past, been used for fuel, wattle fencing, thatching and building work.

The wide tracks, known as rides, that criss-cross the wood were developed to allow timber to be removed easily but are now home to a huge variety of flowers and plants.

A wonderful place to recharge your batteries, Foxley is a magical wood at any time of year, and glorious during the autumn months.

Horrible History fans will love Wayland Wood, a mile south-east of Watton.

A survivor of the great forest that once covered much of England, Wayland Wood is said to date back to the last Ice Age up to 20,000 years ago.

The wood is also home to the Babes in the Wood legend, first published in Norwich in 1595 by Thomas Millington and later in ballad form as Children of the Wood, published in 1640.

The story tells of a wicked uncle who wanted to do away with his orphaned nephew and niece and so he hired some local villains with instructions to abduct the infants, take them into nearby woodland and murder them. But one of the assassins had an attack of conscience and killed his companion rather than the children.

The children wandered deep into the wood and their bodies were found, covered in leaves by robins. Their ghosts are said to walk the woods to this day.

On a far more cheerful note, Wayland Wood is a beautiful proliferation of hazel, oak, ash, hornbeam and bird cherry and a wide variety of birds breed in the wood, including the lesser-spotted woodpecker and the nuthatch.

Look out for the pingos, a series of 300 shallow pools created during the Ice Age. Another remnant of the Ice Age is Honeypot Wood, three miles west of Dereham. The honey in question actually refers to a medieval sewage site, or ‘honey pit’!

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