International Day of Forests
“The clearest way into the Universe is through a forest wilderness.”
What is the difference between forests and woodland? It seems not much, actually. Woods and forests describe a natural area full of trees. Woods are smaller with less density of trees than forests, it’s as simple as that.
Forests, woods, trees cover a third of the earth’s land mass. The International Day of Forests was created to raise awareness of the importance of forests to people, environmental sustainability and food security.
Even though the UK is the second least wooded country in Europe, it is increasing. UK woodland now covers 3.17 million hectares and is at its highest level its been since 1780!
Some of the Largest Forests In The UK
We are extremely lucky to have some wonderful forests, ancient woodland and woods to visit in the UK.
Some of the largest forests in the UK are;
- Galloway Forest ~ Dumfries & Galloway, Scotland (the only Dark Sky Park in the UK)
- Kielder Forest ~ Northumberland, England (recognised as a Dark Sky Discovery Site)
- New Forest ~ Hampshire, England
- Dornoch Forest ~ Sutherland, Scotland
- Argyll Forest ~ Argyll, Scotland
- Queen Elizabeth Forest ~ Stirling, Scotland
- Thetford Forest ~ Norfolk/Suffolk, England
- Affric Forest ~ Invernesshire, Scotland
- Tay Forest ~ Perthshire, Scotland
- Glengarry Forest ~ Invernesshire, Scotland
Out of this list, we have only visited two of these forests, but we’ve been to many more around the UK!
I love the woods because they are, sometimes magical, sometimes spooky, sometimes wet and muddy, sometimes cool, sometimes frosty but always beautiful. With spring on the way and Easter holidays, now is a great time to get out and discover your nearest wood or forest dog walk.
Even though we live in London, we are lucky to have quite a few woods very close to us which are great walks for the dogs, our favourite is an ancient woodland, Oxleas Woods, in South London, it has a great cafe and is very dog friendly.
Two of our favourite forests are The Forest of Dean in Gloucestershire and The New Forest in Hampshire.
The Forest of Dean
We’ve spent two very happy holidays in The Forest of Dean, with the dogs, which is located to the western part of the county of Gloucestershire. This area is famously known for the River Wye, Symonds Yat, spectacular scenery and views whatever time of the year you visit.
The Forest of Dean and the surrounding area is very dog friendly. Whilst on holiday we enjoyed cycling, walking, dog-friendly pubs and exploring the Forest.
There is a lot to do in The Forest of Dean, as well as being dog friendly, it caters for families too.
Whilst we were there, we cycled along the family cycle trail with the dogs following us! They love it and get very excited when they see the bikes, they don’t like to be left at home! The family cycle trail is perfect for all levels and away from traffic. For the more adventurous mountain bikers there are downhill forest tracks with dedicated off-road area. You don’t even need to take your own bikes, you can hire them, everyone is helpful and friendly.
A great place to start your forest adventure is the Beechenhurst Visitor Centre. It lies in the centre of the Forest with a climbing tower, children’s play area, sculpture trial, cafe and shop to explore.
Whilst hubby was off doing some ‘serious’ mountain biking, the dogs and I headed off to the Sculpture Trail, with a plan for us all to meet up at the Beechenhurst cafe for some lunch.
The Sculpture Trail is a beautiful walk around the Forest, searching for 16 sculptures, it’s free to enter and dogs are allowed too. Once we were well into the forest, I let the dogs off lead and they loved it.
Since I’m quite a methodical person, I decided to start searching for the first sculpture and head round the trail looking for them in numerical order and see how many I could visit in the couple of hours we had. Even though I had a map, I still managed to get lost and it took me ages to find the first sculpture! It was only when I turned the map over that I saw there was a picture of each sculpture! Doh! that definitely made things much easier for the rest of the walk!
I think I managed to see 7 of the 16 sculptures, some I loved, some, I didn’t quite get and some felt very calming but all in all, I enjoyed a peaceful, serene walk with the dogs around the Forest. Of course, they loved it too, Sandy went hopping off into the woods exploring and Barney stopped, sniffed and peed on every tree he could reach!
I would love to go back to see the rest of the sculptures, I think this is a great way to get families out and exploring the woods and nature, there’s even a special children’s trial with lots things to see and find.
Without a shadow of doubt there are some spectacular walks in this area. Woodland walks, riverside walks, you can even do a walk where you cross from England into Wales!
For us, one of our favourite walks is the one to Symonds Yat, from where we were staying. Not least because there is a cafe at the end and the most dramatic view, it will take your breath away (although don’t look down if you suffer from vertigo, like me!) you feel like you are on top of the world!
Of course, the dogs loved the walk, off lead in the forest and most of the time we felt like we were the only ones on the walk.
However, there is one thing you need to be aware of and very careful around, especially if you have dogs. The Forest of Dean is home to wild boar. Whilst we didn’t see any on our walks, the evidence of the rucking the ground is everywhere when you are walking. If your dogs don’t have great recall, then it would be better to keep them on lead as there have been incidents of dogs being attacked and, although less so, people. We went in May and October, there was remarkably less evidence of wild boar whilst we were walking in May but in October you could really see the damage they created, searching for roots to eat, everywhere we walked. Sticking to the trails rather than heading into the dense undergrowth is the most sensible course of action when walking in the Forest.
The Forest of Dean website recommends the following should you encounter wild boar:
- Do not approach them – if possible leave the area by the same route you approached by, or make a detour giving the animals a wide berth
- If you have a dog off its lead, call the dog to heel and put the lead on it immediately
- If your dog chases a boar, stay at a safe distance and continue to call the dog back – do not approach the boar or interfere
Whenever you are out walking with dogs in the countryside, with or without dogs, you should follow the countryside code to stay safe and leave the countryside as you found it for others to enjoy.
The New Forest
The New Forest ponies are one of The New Forest’s main attractions, they are one of the indigenous horse breeds in the UK. They roam freely through the open heath and woodland, in fact it is largely their grazing which maintains the open character of the Forest.
The New Forest is in Hampshire and only 90 minutes by train from London! It is a great holiday location but also an easy weekend getaway, from London for some fresh air. We have spent a couple of holidays in this peaceful, idyllic heathland, ancient woodland, moorlands, cliff top walks and the beach!
We have enjoyed cycling, walking the dogs, pub lunches and walks through magical woodland down to the beach. Perfect to wear out the dogs and work up an appetite.
The New Forest is very dog-friendly, however it is well-known as a high tick area (you can find out about ticks in my blog post, click here). Both dogs have picked up one or two ticks whilst we were walking in the heathland.
Love Our Forests
When we are planning getaways or holidays with the dogs, in the UK, one of the things we look for are great walks in magical, ancient forests because we never tire of finding new routes or going back to our favourite woodland trails.
Spending time and being physically active in nature promotes well-being and health. Nature helps us recover from the effects of stress and forget our everyday worries, it is being used to help PTSD suffers. It also lifts our moods, helping people suffering from depression. The effects are manifested in lower blood pressure and a stabilised heart rate. So what are you waiting for? Get out there and hug a tree!
Do you have a favourite forest or wood? Let us know, we’d love to hear about them.