This week it was time for our first annual visit to checkout the snowdrops at Dimminsdale and we were lucky enough to have a bit of brilliant sunshine to do it in.
If you love snowdrops (and who doesn't?) and haven't visited Dimminsdale Nature Reserve then I strongly urge you to go. There is something about turning the corner at the top of the hill to be greeted by a blanket of snowdrops nestled within this woodland setting that is really magical. You think you've seen them and then you continue up the path and keep discovering more - small clumps nestled under the rocks and swathes in little hillside clearings, they just keep coming.
If you know where to look (there is a wonderful sheltered spot just by some mossy rocks close to the pathway) you can usually see the first buds from around New Year, or even Christmas. After that it is simply a matter of time as the display slowly builds up, usually reaching a peak around the end of January/early February.
We usually visit several times over the snowdrop season - often between Christmas and New Year for that first glimpse that brightens us up during the dark days of midwinter, again during January to check on progress and then once or twice during February to wonder at the full glory of these magical little flowers.
It's often hard to know what to expect mid January - will there be much out, or will we still be searching for those early signs? Well I'm happy to report that we were well rewarded when we went this week - walking clockwise round the site from the entrance onto the road the clearing near the top of the hillside was a mass of snowdrops in full bloom. Further along the path there were quite a few more out but I'd say that they main area (just above where the path from Staunton Harold enters the reserve) will probably be another two or three weeks.
It was quiet when we went - we met just two other couples both of whom appeared to be out on rambles rather than just visiting for the snowdrops. You can be sure that as the weeks progress this will change - the number of visitors steadily increases as more snowdrops come out and at peak times you can pretty much guarantee to meet with quite a few visitors as you walk the circular path around past the laundry pool and up over the hill. First timers often ask 'Where will I find the snowdrops?' - the answer to which is just follow the path around, there is no way you will miss them! The doubt is caused by the fact that the displays are all along the top of the hillside and most people come into the reserve via the roadside entrance which is on the opposite side, at the bottom of the hill. As the path is circular it really doesn't matter which way round you follow it - you'll find them either way. If you do come in from Staunton Harold, via the National Forest Way, turn right as soon as you enter the reserve and you'll go straight up to what is usually the largest area at the height of the season.
For those who want to combine their snowdrop fix with a good walk you'll find a lovely circular walk in Walks for all in the Heart of the Forest which combines seeing the snowdrops with a walk over the Staunton Ridgeway - the walk starts and finishes by the Ferrers Centre at Staunton Harold so you can combine it with some refreshments, and perhaps a browse of the craft shops and garden centre, afterwards too.
The photo at the top of the page was taken this week, the one below is the main display fully out, taken a couple of years ago. You'll find directions to get to Dimminsdale by clicking here. The circular path around the reserve is steep in places and can be slippery - if you want to see the snowdrops but avoid the steep path then access is easier if you walk down the driveway from Staunton Harold and come into the reserve via the National Forest Way.
This world that we live in is hectic and one of the best things about getting out for a walk is feeling that busyness and stress fall away as we reconnect with the living world. Sometimes it's good to take some time out to just sit and be - it's amazing how your mind can work through things when it's given time and space. Places where you can 'just be' become very precious. I have a couple of such places within the National Forest - one of them is in under the great old oak within our own piece of woodland. A magic spot and one which I feel privileged to be guardian of - nature changes this space with the seasons and over time but it is a constant in my life,
My other special place however is within a site that belongs to someone else - Feanedock Wood in the Ashby Woulds. It's a very quiet spot normally but 2018 is going to be a big year for Feanedock Wood. People will be coming - lots of people. Changes will be made - big changes, I think. It's scary, I'm struggling with it. It is for a good reason (I think), but it's still scary!
So why is this place special and what is happening to it?
Way back in 2009 at the National Forest Wood Fair there was something called the 'One Oak Project'. It demonstrated how many different things can be made from just one oak tree and one of the beautiful articles made was a bench - the One Oak Bench. After the event this bench found a home within Feanedock Wood and I came across it while walking the dogs one day. It's tucked away under the trees and in the summer the vegetation grows up, it seems hidden and forgotten. Find it brought back happy memories - a sunny day at Beacon Hill discovering green woodworkers and basket weaving, browsing old tools and generally enjoying all things 'woodly'. Discovering the bench in such a wonderful, quiet, spot made it seem like it had been put there especially for me to visit whenever I wanted to relive those memories and visit it I have - many times over the years.
The National Forest Wood Fair ceased to be a while ago and for the last few years we've not really had any kind of event to celebrate the wonders of our forest but that's where the change comes in. On the 6th/7th/8th July 2018 there is to be a new event - Timber, a 3 day festival which is a joint venture between the National Forest Company and Wild Rumpus (a social enterprise specialising in producing large scale outdoor family events) - and it's all happening at Feanedock Wood. Now a 3 day festival celebrating the forest sounds fantastic so I was excited when I heard, but what of the One Oak Bench? Well I'm told that it is staying where it is so I guess I won't lose it, I'll just have to learn to share maybe.
Feanedock Wood will see changes I am sure to enable it to host such an event. We visited between Christmas and New Year and it was already evident that the meadow area was looking a lot more 'manicured' than usual for this time of year while the path through the older woodland seemed wider and a small clearing had been made part way along. Being more managed did mean that the paths were easier to walk on, it remained lovely and we still had the place to ourselves. It'll be interesting to see what the coming months bring in terms of changes to Feanedock - parking and access will have to be sorted I am sure and I wonder if that will bring long term benefits in terms of accessibility and paths?
What will Timber be like as a festival? The idea is certainly exciting and it will hopefully mean that more people get to enjoy the National Forest - I'll certainly be watching out for more news of the event and to see what happens at Feanedock over months ahead.
There is, I guess, a kind of poetry in the One Oak Bench, which was born out of an event, once again finding itself surrounded by people enjoying themselves and discovering the forest.
I just can't resist a footpath sign. The lure of that little arrow just says 'explore me' and sooner or later I just have to find out where it goes. Happily the National Forest is just full of paths. Public footpaths, permissive paths, tracks, trails and long distance paths - we've got the lot!