by Hilary Hoyle
During 2022, some of the Friends of Fineshade organised 16 guided walks to 'lesser-known parts of the forest'. We were aware that there were many parts of the wider forest that were as interesting and attractive as Fineshade Woods, but not as popular. We asked people who lived or worked nearby to lead the walks so that they could share their passion and enthusiasm for the area. Here Hilary Hoyle describes some of the walks that she attended.
Brought up in rural North Yorkshire, Hilary has always enjoyed the countryside and wildlife. Now living in Oundle, since she retired she has found lots of ways to enjoy the countryside here. She volunteers for the local Wildlife Trust on weekly work parties at Old Sulehay, is a member of a U3A birding group and the local RSPB group, and does bird surveys for the British Trust for Ornithology.
I arrived at Hazel and Thoroughsale Wood in Corby on a very chilly, but bright January morning having heard about a series of ‘Winter Walks’ in lesser-known areas of Rockingham Forest organised by the Friends of Fineshade, and wondering if I’d put on enough layers to keep warm!
Led by Rebecca Jenkins, the Woodlands Manager for North Northants Council, the walk was very enjoyable and turned out to be surprising in several ways. Firstly, having lived in Corby in the 1980’s, I had no idea there was Ancient Woodland within the town – apparently it’s the UK’s largest area of AW in an urban setting. Secondly we learned that it is cherished by the residents of Corby and managed by a passionate group of over 100 volunteers, the Friends of Thoroughsale and Hazel Wood. Finally, since 2014, the wood has had the coveted Green Flag Award, recognising its excellence as a green recreational area and its high environmental standards.
Since that first walk in January my husband and I have been on six more. The winter walks have morphed into spring, summer and autumn walks as the year progressed and have proved increasingly popular. Some of them have been in areas of Rockingham Forest which are not open to the general public, such as Collyweston Great Wood and Easton Hornstocks National Nature Reserves which are managed by Natural England. These walks, led by Natural England’s Tim Sutton introduced us to ancient lime woodland, to the historical use of lime trees in the making of rope, to a wide range of wildlife and to some of the history of Rockingham Forest.
There have also been two fascinating visits to Hugh Ross and Carolyn Church’s business at Rawhaw Wood near Pipewell. Hugh and Caroline coppice the 30 acres of Ancient Woodland where they now live, producing a range of products from their hazel woodland such as pea and bean sticks, rustic furniture and charcoal https://hazelwoodlandproducts.uk. I’m still not sure how we managed to come away with a bag of their traditionally made charcoal for a barbecue we don’t possess! Perhaps it was because we found the process of charcoal-making and the whole visit so enthralling.
During a memorable morning in May we were taken around another National Nature Reserve, Bedford Purlieus, by the effervescent Brian Laney, one the County’s Plant Recorders. Some very exciting finds included the strange Birds Nest Orchid and the four broad, oval leaves of Herb-Paris, neither of which I had seen before. We were delighted by the wonderful variety of flowers that can be found in a relatively small area if one walks slowly enough and takes the time to look.
This slow-walking method also applied to the October walk in Collyweston Great Wood looking for fungi. This time we were led by John Haughton, a fungus enthusiast and volunteer for the Corby Woodland project. Two hours spent walking just a few hundred metres produced 19 species with fantastical common names ranging from ‘Jelly Ears’, through ‘Witch’s Butter’ to ‘Turkey Tail’ and ‘Dryad’s Saddle’ and some species even our guide could not name.
On one of the early walks we were led by Charles Tomalin on an instructive and entertaining trip around Kings Cliffe’s wildlife sites, following the map on the Transition Kingscliffe website. It was so motivating to see what a lot of brilliant habitat creation can be carried out by a group of local people like this. The permissive path along the disused railway line and Millennium Wood are shown here and were particularly impressive.
As well as the very knowledgeable guides leading the walks, many of the walkers were well informed and contributed their own experience too. The walk to the Fineshade Assarts was a good example. One of the group was able to share her memories of visiting the now vanished Assarts Farm with her grandfather whilst doing his delivery rounds. Her memories of this and other earlier family memories are on the Friends of Fineshade website.
The Rockingham Forest Vision programme of guided walks has given me another excellent reason to be outdoors enjoying the natural world, learning more about it and how to help protect it. The aim of the walks is to widen the public knowledge and understanding of how these wonderful fragments of the ancient Rockingham Forest can be linked together for the benefit of the natural world and of us too. More walks are planned, look out for them on the events page of this website. A word of warning though: places are limited and they are booked up fast!
I really hope to see you on some of the coming ones - discovering more of Rockingham Forest.