Planted by man, and fashioned by nature - the wonder of Thetford Forest
PUBLISHED: 14:31 16 December 2017
Wild in Anglia: Nigel Pickover continues his look at the region’s nature attractions with a visit to Thetford Forest.
Blessed are we in England’s far east.
While we don’t have mountains, we do enjoy both rugged and sandy coastlines, delightful rivers large and small, and intriguing wetlands, including the Norfolk and Suffolk broads.
We have a benign, sunny, climate, much-loved market and county towns, and villages where community life still shines bright.
To add a topping to our East Anglian cake, we have wildlife that can only be imagined in other areas - yet are pleasantly close to major cities, or far enough away, depending on point of view.
In mentioning Norfolk and Suffolk we have another treasured asset, to the south of the former and north of the latter.
It’s called Thetford Forest and it has the power to take your breath away.
My latest Wild in Anglia foray took me there on a crisp, sunny, December day free from those chastening winds.
Fingers of mist ghosting into marshy hollows reminded it was approaching midwinter and not to be deceived by warmth in the declining sun.
This vast place is truly magical and, appropriately, the spell again took hold on the very second I arrived.
For there, atop a copse made up of Scots pines, was a small group of rare birds, picked out against a chalk blue sky.
They were parrot crossbills, rare visitors to our shores from colder places and themselves had attracted rare visitors to our forest from across the country.
I managed to avoid excitement-driven camera wobble as I took pictures alongside a few dozen others who had arrived thanks to social media ‘news flashes’ and not by chance as I had.
As I left the birds and bird watchers, to find the peace and solitude this place is famous for, the nearby Little Ouse and its deep, clear, waters was welcoming balm.
Otters had been fishing, rooting up clumps of weed as they chased plump roach and barbel. Paths ran this way and that into long shadows and a bridge took me over the waters which flow along the county line.
Borders don’t matter in the UK’s largest man-made forest landscape, where you can lose yourself in some 47,000 acres.
This is another East Anglian success story which should be celebrated by the country as a whole.
It is ably managed by the Forestry Commission, working in tandem with the Friends of Thetford Forest, led by redoubtable chairman Anne Mason.
Here you can find your own magic, deep peace and wild places with access points at many places.
Yet it still remains a working forest, with both timber production and tourism very important to the local economy.
This forest is indeed a friend to many and I suspect both workers and supporters alike think of it as I do like a friend.
Its vast scale means you can be on its southern boundary in double-quick time from Bury St Edmunds.
Here the King’s Forest portion reminds us that part of it was planted to create a hunting haven for the horse-riding monarchs of yesteryear.
It’s just a few minutes from Thetford or Brandon - under an hour from Ipswich, even faster from Norwich using the A11 dual carriageway.
You can take your dog for a walk in many places if you, as owner, act in a responsible manner.
Myriad paths hold the promise of beautiful vistas but you can walk many a mile without bumping into anyone.
You can marvel at tall pines or broadleaf trees - soaking up forest smells or you can swiftly clock up the miles, watching for deer and birds of prey, including the rare and secretive goshawk.
Others which swoop through secret treelines in the evening are nightjars, in days of yore named goatsuckers. And there are many other species of rare flora and fauna.
Yet be warned this isn’t always a quiet place - the distant rumble of a train on the Norwich to Ely line, and the roar of an F-15 leaving RAF Lakenheath reminded me the 21st century isn’t very far away.
On this trip I enjoyed the King’s Forest where a tunnel of golden yellow showed giant oak trees, ash, sycamore and chestnuts hadn’t yet yielded their leaves to wind and frost.
Thetford Forest has many marked walks but you can find your own routes so easily.
Walks and parking areas, promoted by the commission and the forest friends group, are at King’s Forest, Barton Mills, High Ash, Two Mile Bottom, Mildenhall, West Stow, Hockham, Santon Downham and Lynford Stag.
This Breckland wonderland, linked as one and further planted for the nation after the First World War, was a triumph of forward thinking by our forefathers.
Then, it provided a strategic reserve of timber and much-needed employment.
Today it provides joy unlimited and I shall return to those trees very soon.
www.fotf.org.uk (you can do volunteering work for the inspiring group)