When I was a child, during the first week in May, we would take the ferry from Fleetwood to Over Wyre. We would walk through the town and down a little side street to ‘Bluebell Woods’. There we would marvel at the carpet of blue as far as you could see. Now I don’t know if bluebell woods was the official name of the woodland or if that was just what my mum called it, but bluebells have always hailed the middle of spring for me.
Duncliffe woods is owned by the Woodland Trust and sits just on the outskirts of Shaftesbury in the middle of the Blackmore Vale. It covers nearly 300 acres in total and is mostly broadleaf trees with a handful of small-leaved lime coppice stools which, according to the Woodland Trust website, are reported to be the oldest living things in Dorset. What is a coppice stool? coppicing is an ancient practice used in woodland management which includes felling on a 5-25 year program which then allows new growth (coppice) from the remaining stumps. Many broad leaf trees regenerate from cut stumps by coppice and sadly it is a declining practice, even though it’s an efficient method of managing woodland. A coppice stool therefore is the stump left behind when the tree is felled where the coppice will grow for the next batch of wood.
The woodland itself is renowned for it’s bluebell display during the late spring months, did you know that around HALF of the worlds population of bluebells grow in the UK? its no wonder the sight of blue carpets in woodland is synonymous with our landscape identity. The bluebells are out much earlier in the South West and as I write in the last week of April they are in full bloom.
The car parking area for the site is free, but small, I estimate it possibly holds 20-25 cars in total and during busy periods is absolutely full, with people parking along the local lanes in order to visit. The spring display of bluebells is one of these times and you will find social media such as Instagram full to brimming with beautiful photos.
I have lived at the back of these woods now for almost a year, and it is one of my favourite places to visit. I have seen all seasons and can honestly say that it holds beauty at any time of the year. In case you hadn’t guessed from all my gushing, I am a BIG tree fan, there is something intrinsically relaxing for me to be around trees, bizarre really given that I grew up by the sea, maybe I was a tree nymph in a previous life?
There are a great deal of walks throughout the site and the maps are well located and the trails well signposted. Be warned, there are some rather steep climbs if you venture onto some of the walks as the peak itself is approximately 210 meters above sea level. The views from up here can be limited with only a couple of spots to stand and see the vale itself, and this is due in main to the fact that the woodland extends right up to the peak. However, there are views to be had and you will be well rewarded for your exertion.
The trails, whilst well established, are not paved in any manner, not even bark or hoggin and as such can get very boggy during the wetter months. This is not helped by the fact that some of the main routes which criss cross the site are also bridleways so will get churned up by horse hooves and metal shoes. I have personally gone up to my ankle in mud, which on a day, when I was feeling particularly emotionally fragile made me cry! you laugh now, but it was deadly serious at the time. So if you are considering a visit in the autumn or winter I would definitely recommend walking boots or wellies, or if you are very trendy your Dubarry Galways.
During the summer you will need bug spray, as I found out during my first summer. I regularly use the woods as a running route and on sunny evenings I can walk from my house, over the fields and be running through woodland within 5 minutes. However, as I discovered one evening, much to my itchy distress, amongst all the wonderful wildlife there are a few biting critters ready to take a few drops of blood if you pass their way. Wildlife is another reason to visit, I will regularly spot deer in the fields surrounding, their white tails flashing as they bound away from you. That also prompts me to warn you of ticks, be careful when you walk and check your dogs if you walk with them, I have found one in the past on my persons, a gruesome discovery and one which makes you squirm in disgust. The cacophony of song birds, punctuated by woodpecker hammering and dove cooing is unbelievable and during the early morning or early evening reaches crescendo point. During the summer months there are a number of butterflies which happily flit through the woodlands which proves what an important ecosystem this piece of woodland is.
There are plenty of benches throughout and if you feel the need to rest weary legs or just take in the scenery and fresh air, feel free to avail yourself of one. The Woodland Trust is a charity and receives no funding of any description for the work that they do. In order to preserve beautiful places such as Duncliffe they rely on membership payments and donations. It is a testament to their dedication that this is such a well managed wood, it could be better managed, but with the limited funding they do a great job.
As you would expect, everyone you meet has a cheery “hello” which makes the experience much the more pleasant. Or there can be days and routes you can take where you will see not one soul, which is great if you are searching for some head space. All in all its free and its beautiful and one of my favourite local places. Let me know if you take a visit.