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Ranger's Walk of the Month: April in Westonbirt Arboretum

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Ben Oliver at Westonbirt This month: Ben Oliver at Westonbirt Arboretum describes a walk around peaceful corners of Silk Wood to enjoy the springtime colour.

There are many wonderful walks for all abilities at Westonbirt Arboretum, but as I spend most of my working life in the main areas, when I’m off-duty I like to head to the less frequented areas. Even on the busiest days these forgotten corners can provide peace and beauty enough to recharge the soul.

I start by walking past the entrance to the Stihl Treetop Walkway, avoiding its heady delights this time, and head down the slope to the start of Willesley Drive. Taking the path left into the Sand Earth, my route then hugs the edge of Silk Wood and turns from grass ride into a woodland track. This woodland area is glorious in spring – full of birdsong and a riot of colour thanks to a carpet of native wildflowers; primrose, lesser celandine, wood anemone and bluebells. The area is an example of native, traditionally managed woodland that predates the creation of the arboretum and its many ornamental specimens. This is the ancient heart of Silk Wood.

Wood anemones at Westonbirt

In spring the wood anemones can be absolutely stunning. They are among the earliest woodland wildflowers. In a good year they create a carpet of white stars across areas of Silk Wood that is every bit as fine as the sea of bluebells that comes later. They really are cheerful – the flowers turn their heads to follow the sun! Wood anemones are surprisingly slow to spread (I’ve read six feet in a hundred years!) as it spreads through roots rather than the spread of its seed. As such, it is a good indicator of ancient woodlands.

Eventually the woodland path comes to Green Lane, moving on to hard paths through ornamental planting. I cross over Willesley to Broad Drive then turn right onto The Link. You can still see remnant oaks that allude to the fact it was also once native woodland, but today it houses a magnificent collection of maples. Although we tend to think of maples in autumn, many can be surprisingly colourful in spring, particularly when contrasted against the cool bluebells underneath.

Maples in Westonbirt

My route then turns left again into the open Cherry Glade. For a couple of weeks in April and May Cherry Glade is filled with the most exquisite cherry blossom. Cherry Glade is a family favourite – especially for picnics. Our daughter loves blossom, indeed flowers in general. When she was smaller she particularly liked it when the petals fell – she thought it was like snow. We had to watch her closely as she had a habit of giving the wind a helping hand by vigorously shaking each branch…

Cherry Broad Drive


"she liked it when the petals fell – she thought it was like snow"

 

 

Our original cherry collection was donated to us by the Sir Harold Hillier Gardens and today provides a real spectacle of colour and form. Flowers of different varieties can have from five to over a hundred petals. Most are darker in bud, becoming paler as the petals expand and mature; although weather conditions can also affect flower colour. You need to be prepared to drop everything, as they are very short lived. Still, if you don’t quite catch them this year you have the perfect excuse to come back next year!

My route then joins Barn Walk, turning right past the Silk Wood Barn. The barn was constructed in 2009 using oaks felled as part of our coppice restoration programme. The final stretch of my walk takes me onto Waste Drive – once a trackway used by locals to get to common land known as ‘the waste’. Finally, it ends with a short uphill walk back across the Downs for a well-earned coffee!

Last updated: 27th March 2018

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England's Woods and Forests are cared for by Forest Enterprise England, an agency of the Forestry Commission.