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