For­est Green

Head east for a feast of ev­er­green and lush sum­mer broadleaf in Forestry Com­mis­sion Eng­land’s Thet­ford For­est.

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HIGH LODGE is a mag­i­cal place,” says Owen Man­son, Trails Ranger for Forestry Com­mis­sion Eng­land. “It’s right in the heart of Thet­ford For­est and the Breck­land For­est Site of Spe­cial Sci­en­tific In­ter­est. It has a unique feel and some re­ally rare wildlife.”

Thet­ford is the largest low­land pine for­est in Bri­tain, grow­ing across 18,730 hectares of Nor­folk and Suf­folk in an area of sandy soils and dry skies known as the Brecks. Cor­si­can and Scots pines, Dou­glas firs and larches are plen­ti­ful, in­ter­spersed with ar­eas of broadleaf wood­land and open heath to cre­ate a patch­work of habi­tats that sup­ports a host of wildlife.

“My favourite walk links the Fir Trail with the Beech Trail,” says Owen. “It takes you through all of the dif­fer­ent habi­tats around High Lodge and even on the busiest days it’s quiet. There are shady beech trees to pic­nic un­der halfway round.”

Both the Fir Trail and the Beech Trail are three miles long, and they are de­signed so you can link them to­gether for a six-mile walk through the for­est. They’re just two of the way­marked walk­ing routes that wind into the woods around High Lodge, where you can also take a trip into the tree­tops at GoApe or tuck into cof­fee and cake at the café. The Pine Trail, way­marked with white posts, takes a mile-long route on sur­faced paths amongst the gi­ant pines. The mile-long Na­ture Trail, signed with brown posts, leads to a wildlife hide where you can look for birds, but­ter­flies or one of the four species of deer that live in Thet­ford. You can also test your map-read­ing skills by walk­ing one of the per­ma­nent ori­en­teer­ing routes or cre­ate your own trail through the for­est – the tracks and ar­eas of wood­land are num­bered to help you nav­i­gate.

Work is also un­der­way on a new three-mile Her­itage Trail, with fund­ing from the Her­itage Lot­tery Fund, which will ex­plore the rich his­tory of the for­est around High Lodge. Here you’ll dis­cover fascinating tales of Ne­olithic flint-

work­ing, Bronze Age burial sites, me­dieval rab­bit farm­ing, royal hunt­ing expeditions in the 17th cen­tury, gun­flint pro­duc­tion dur­ing the Napoleonic Wars, and labour camps in the 1930s. The trail is due to open fully in spring 2019 with lis­ten­ing posts, shel­ters and benches where you can stop to take in the land­scape and its sto­ries, but you can al­ready walk the route.

The Forestry Com­mis­sion plays a cru­cial role in that his­tory. Thet­ford was one of the first ar­eas bought by the Forestry Com­mis­sion in 1919, soon af­ter it was es­tab­lished to en­sure that Bri­tain would never face a wartime tim­ber shortage again. Large scale conifer plant­ing fol­lowed, cre­at­ing a habi­tat beloved by cross­bills and goshawks. As those trees have been har­vested, the felled ar­eas and new growth have cre­ated ideal habi­tats for rare wood­larks and night­jars (see panel to right). Like Owen says, walk here and you’ll dis­cover a mag­i­cal place.

Thet­ford War­ren Lodge dates back to about 1400. Built as a refuge for game­keep­ers from armed poach­ers, it was later used by war­ren­ers har­vest­ing rab­bits in the area. Above:

Fol­low one of the many walk­ing trails into the for­est from High Lodge. Be­low:

WALK HERE: Turn to Walk 12 in this is­sue for your six-mile route through Thet­ford For­est.

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