Forestry Com­mis­sion fo­cus: Whin­lat­ter

Walk among the wooded peaks of Eng­land’s only moun­tain for­est at Forestry Com­mis­sion Eng­land’s Whin­lat­ter.

Country Walking Magazine (UK) - - Contents -

Walk among the wooded peaks of Eng­land’s only moun­tain for­est.

UP IN THE north of the Lake Dis­trict Na­tional Park, west of Keswick and close to Bassen­th­waite Lake, a mag­i­cal for­est climbs the fells. 1,200 hectares of ever­green Sitka spruce and de­cid­u­ous Euro­pean larch rise to over 1,500 feet, topped with breath­tak­ing views across Cum­bria’s dales and moun­tains. Streams tum­ble down the wooded slopes, froth­ing over mossy boul­ders, and al­lur­ing paths lead you into the shad­owy beauty of this moun­tain for­est.

Whin­lat­ter was one of the first sites bought by the newly formed Forestry Com­mis­sion in 1919 and some of the trees you’ll see are from the ini­tial plant­ings in 1920. To­day, broadleaf species are be­ing grown be­side the streams and in con­ser­va­tion ar­eas, but this is still very much a conifer wood­land and a sanc­tu­ary for one of Bri­tain’s favourite an­i­mals: the red squir­rel. Lucky walk­ers might glimpse their tufted ears and bouf­fant tails as they race along the branches (see panel right).

Look too for cross­bills flit­ting in groups through the tree­tops. These birds are per­fectly adapted to the for­est, with a bill that’s crossed at the tip – hence the name – to get small seeds from conifer cones. Siskins rel­ish the seeds too and these ac­ro­batic yel­low and black finches will some­times hang up­side down as they for­age, while coal tits and other small birds ap­pear fre­quently at the feed­ers by the vis­i­tor cen­tre.

A walk through the for­est is alive with sound, from bird­song to the drum­ming of great spot­ted wood­peck­ers to nuthatches crack­ing at nuts they’ve first wedged in the bark of a tree trunk. A sud­den hush or a switch to alarm calls may mean a bird of prey is nearby. Buz­zards and spar­rowhawks are the most com­mon species here, but kestrels and mer­lin can be seen too, and the for­est is home to the Lake Dis­trict Os­prey Project which pro­tects one of Bri­tain’s rarest rap­tors (see panel right).

Three way­marked walk­ing trails start from the vis­i­tor cen­tre, where you’ll also find a café, shop, Wild­play trail and a GoApe ad­ven­ture up in the canopy.

The pop­u­lar Two Gills Trail has spectacular views and its red mark­ers largely fol­low the for­est road net­work, mak­ing its 1 ¾ miles straight­for­ward to ne­go­ti­ate. The Comb Beck Trail is the same length, but it winds through glades and be­side streams on more rugged paths signed in blue. On the sec­tion by Comb Gill, look out for an an­cient sheep­fold and a dis­used dam: this was once a source of power for the mines deep in the moun­tain be­low.

The Seat How Sum­mit Trail is the long­est and the steep­est of the routes,

“On a clear day you can see the moun­tain ranges of Skid­daw and Helvel­lyn, and down to the bright re­flec­tions of Der­went­wa­ter and Bassen­th­waite Lake.”

a 3 ½ mile cir­cu­lar walk way­marked in green that climbs up through the trees and heather moor­land to panora­mas across the conifer tops. On a clear day you can see the moun­tain ranges of Skid­daw and Helvel­lyn, and down to the bright re­flec­tions of Der­went­wa­ter and Bassen­th­waite Lake.

The trio of paths in­ter­link so you can walk one, or mix and match to ex­plore fur­ther. For even more of a chal­lenge, you can fol­low num­bered junc­tion mark­ers up through the conifers and out onto the open fells above on a 5-mile cir­cuit to the sum­mits of Lord’s Seat and Barf, the lat­ter fa­mous for the white­washed rock on its flank known as the Bishop of Barf. Or you can ex­plore the south­ern part of Whin­lat­ter as you climb up to the sum­mit of Grisedale Pike at 2593 feet above sea level, with ex­ten­sive views across the full sweep of this moun­tain for­est.

WALK HERE: Turn to Walk 14 in this is­sue for a route to Seat How Sum­mit.

Be­low: A per­fect spot for a pic­nic in Whin­lat­ter For­est.

Left: Look for brickred male cross­bills in the trees; the fe­males have a greener hue.

Top: Up high in the moun­tain for­est with a panorama across the tree­tops to the Vale of Keswick, with the Helvel­lyn range ris­ing beyond. Above: Im­mersed in the cool and shad­owy depths of Whin­lat­ter For­est.

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