As Alfred Wainwright said, “There’s no such thing as bad weather, only unsuitable clothing”.
With the right shoes, hat, waterproofs and a few layers, the beautiful Bedfordshire countryside is perfect whatever the season and whatever the forecast may throw at us.
Bedford is right in the heart of the Forest of Marston Vale, so there are plenty of woodland walks to explore on our doorstep.
The team at the Forest Centre have suggested three walks that take you though woodland and countryside. There’s something for all abilities and some great advice on what wildlife you can spot while you’re walking.
Plus, if you’re tackling the 10 mile walk, they’ve suggested a couple of pubs (the Chequers in Millbrook, and the Cross Keys near Buttons Ramsey Wood – on the outskirts of Wootton) where you can reward yourself for your endeavours.
The Forest of Marston Vale is a community forest, covering 61 square miles between Bedford and Milton Keynes.
When it was first conceived in the early 1990s, tree cover was seriously low at only 3% (a third of the national average of the time), as the area was previously home to the massive Stewartby Brickworks and a number of landfill sites.
The Forest of Marston Vale is here to bring that up to 30% tree cover, transforming the landscape and making it a thriving place to live, work and play. As of 2017, they have achieved 15%, but still have a way to go. There’s another 5 million trees to plant, and they need our help! You can find out how to donate, volunteer or get involved in community tree planting at their website.
3 miles: Marston Thrift Ancient Woodland Walk
An interesting walk centred on the ancient woodland of Marston Thrift. The route follows both existing Rights of Way and permissive paths within the woodland and across the countryside to the village of Cranfield. Marston Thrift is situated on the clay soil of the ridge and the paths can become very boggy during winter months. It is strongly advised that if the route is used during these months appropriate clothing and sturdy footwear are worn.
The Marston Thrift car park is situated at Marston Moretaine Wood End, which is off the A421, approximately 4 miles north-east of junction 13 of the M1. Limited car parking is also available in Cranfield.
Marston Thrift is a beautiful patch of ancient woodland, which may still be home to the rare black hairstreak butterfly. You can also find ground flora associated with ancient woodlands, including yellow archangel, wood anemone and meadowsweet.
The red route on the map is the one to follow – 5 miles all around the Country Park, with views of the wetlands, lakes and woods. Maps are available from Reception, or there’s a map board on the side of the building if people want to take a photo of that, and there are regular signposts around the route, so you can’t get lost!
Lots and lots of amazing bird life to spot at this time of year, including water rail, kingfisher, sparrowhawk, shovler, fieldfare, redwing, siskin and tawny owl (or *birds* as I call them).
10 miles: A Longer Walk to Blow the Cobwebs Away
This route takes you through small villages and hamlets to the Community Woodlands known as Gateway Woods. The walk then returns via Wootton to the Forest Centre for welcome refreshments!
This circular walks starts and finishes at the Forest Centre at Marston Moretaine.
Walk Route: Marston Moretaine, Wootton, Shelton, Upper Shelton.
There are reintroduced elm trees in the Gateway Woods. These are part of a countrywide Elm Project, which looks at whether reintroduced elms can thrive, and if they can, can they become part of our landscape once again. Keep an eye out for them as you follow the woodland trails and rides, they have information posts near them, telling you a bit more about the project.
Owls can often be seen hunting over the fields surrounding the Gateway Woods at dawn or dusk, so you might be lucky enough to see one if you are there then.