Tuesday, 20 April 2021

Through The Woods

We're off for a woodland walk today, but not just any old ramble through the trees; we're following the National Nature Reserves Trail through Broxbourne Woods. And it was a rather misty start to our day once again.

We'll be passing through several blocks of ancient woodland, known variously as Wormley Wood, Emanuel Pollards, Bencroft Wood, Old Grove, Westfield Grove and so on. Surprisingly perhaps we're not far from London, just a little over three miles from the M25 motorway. What's more we're even closer to the built up Lea Valley, though you'd never guess it on such a quiet, still morning as this.

The heavily-used paths suggest that there must be a lot of people here at some time, but all we encountered all morning were a group of four runners, a woman with a dog and a solitary bird-watcher.

And that was not just because it was a dull morning, for the sun soon pierced the mist and it developed into a cloudless Spring day.

We left the woodland from time to time to cross fields or follow tracks across grazing land. In fact if I just push my way through the hawthorn and brambles.....

....There you are, what did I tell you! Parts of this trail are just about impossible to follow on a map, which sometimes shows paths where there are no paths, and conversely no paths where you're supposed to go, so it's just as well that it's all clearly waymarked with little arrows.

Many of the trees here are Hornbeams, a real tough customer of a tree whose wood is so hard to work that it was reserved for just a few important jobs, like making the hubs of cartwheels or the blocks for carpentry planes. At this time of year though it is sending forth delicate lime-green leaves that look wonderful when they catch the sunlight. 

It's also the time of year for Wood Anemones. I love their simple white flowers which are set against their rich and complex foliage.

Wood anemone  Anemone nemorosa

"Sun-loving, gentle, a mark of the old. Wood anemone is one of the first spring blooms, arriving to take in the light through the leafless canopy in broadleaf woodland. Look for them in old and ancient woodland that suits their slow growth".

That's what the Woodland Trust has to say about them.

But it's no good getting all soppy and poetic - we have hills to climb! That's about as much of a hill as we'll find on this walk.

There seems to be a lot more birdsong than actual birds in the branches today. Most of the birdlife is made up of Blue Tits, Great Tits, Robins and Wrens - pretty little things each one, but easily viewable in the garden most days of the year. But Chiffchaffs are also tirelessly belting out their two-note refrain and now and again, if you're really attentive, the Blackcap is singing snatches of his liquid melody.

Some smart new grass is also springing up in some of the glades.

And here's my first Orange Tip butterfly of the year. They are also fond of the sunnier spots. 

After the Great Fire of London in 1666 there was a tax placed on coal to raise revenue to pay for the rebuilding of the churches of the City. At that time all the coal was transported by ship and unloaded at the docks, making it relatively simple to collect the tax. But two hundred years later more and more coal began to be brought in by road, canal and rail. A ring of posts was erected around the area to delineate where tax was payable. Mostly these were on major routes into the capital, but, for reasons unknown, there was also one erected on this minor byway, where it stands to this day.

We're nearing the end of our circuit now, but still with enough energy to make diversions to photograph muddy little ponds.

Take care.


  1. It's impossible not to get soppy and poetic when walking through a forest of beautiful trees John, it's all that fresh oxygenated air they produce, goes straight to the head 😉 Another lovely walk, am imagining the birdsong 💜

  2. The mist adds such a lovely touch to things. Those cows are precious.

  3. I often wonder what cows are thinking when they stand like that looking at us (if they are able to think). That's a beautiful orange tip too.

  4. Such a beautiful walk that was! Thanks!

  5. Looking forward to sunnier walks here soon. Another lovely place you brought us along with you. :)

  6. Thanks for a beautiful and informative walk, I enjoyed it.

  7. The fifth photo is gorgeous. That new green is my favourite green of the year. Have to love the cow and calf too.

  8. A beautiful walk there, John. I love the transition from the foggy view to that beautiful sunlit blue sky day. That Orange-Tip butterfly is quite a lovely sign of spring.

  9. Now that looks like a fascinating walk in the woods! What does make an "ancient" woodland in the UK?

    1. Any woodland that has been in existence since 1600. That doesn't mean that the actual trees are that old as they've been harvested for timber and fuel over the years, sometimes felling whole trees, but more often than not by carrying out coppicing and pollarding (methods of taking poles but leaving the roots and part of the trunk in place to grow up again). More importantly the associated wildflowers and fungi are left undisturbed - that's very important as you can easily plant more trees but it takes far longer to replace the rest of the woodland structure. Before 1600 it would have been very unusual to plant an area of trees; there was so much original growth forest available that it made no sense to plant trees. So any ancient woodland is likely to have been there since trees recolonised the land after the last ice-age.

  10. Thank you, once again, for a lovely walk.

  11. Wonderful walk. Orange Tip is a very striking butterfly. These ancient coppiced woodlands are wonders of nature.

  12. I love woodland especially at the budding time. How beautiful the Hornbeam trees are ! The sight of lacy delicate leaves glinting in the sunlight is perfectly lovely. White Wood Anemone set against green leaves is refreshing to see.



  13. A most enjoyable walk, and I'm so happy to see early spring wildflowers there. I know they are abundant in my woods, but I'm not quite up to woodland walks yet...so hope to see the summer blooms at least.

  14. You have a beautiful hiking trip. These photos tell a big story.

  15. You know so much about a lot of things! Your explanations help me enjoy your lovely photos even more!

  16. Hi John - such an interesting post ... especially that coal tax 'post' ... you're more advanced than us ... and we had one of those days ... when the fog rolled in from the sea - shrouding us in the middle of the day. Delightful to see your photos ... especially the wood anemones and greening of the trees ... thanks - Hilary

  17. Again, I cannot pick a favorite...can't even pick a least favorite. That looks like a wonderful place to walk. And interesting what an ancient wood is...in your answer to The Furry Gnome.

  18. The Orange Tip butterfly is just exquisite, like a jewel! Interesting story about the purpose of the tax on coal.

  19. Aww what a beautiful hike here with you!Love that misty first photo and also the wood anemone..Here they have just streched out..I see that Linerle too!!that means summer is near yiippi!!

    Wish you all good and stay safe!

  20. The Wood Anemone is beautiful. I too love the pretty shades of green that awaken this time of year. This was such a lovely walk. Thank you for sharing. You have a wonderful day, hugs, Edna B.

  21. About a 14 minute drive from my house is a hiking trail where I can see the largest ironwood tree in Ontario... it is a hophornbeam.... very dense hard wood, used for making axe handles etc.
    Love those little wood anenomes.
    Fascinating about the coal tax posts, never heard of that before.

  22. What a lovely walk we've taken with you! I love the pictures of the path wending its way through your woods. The coal tax posts were very interesting.


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