The Woodlands Trust
Very difficult parking, though on a return trip I’d still aim for Belle Vue Country House and park on their lane until I am advised of a better alternative.
As the third car to a small layby that would take 2 ½ cars I wound myself down the lane by the main road and had to double back. A footpath alongside Belle Vue takes you into the woods. Here following your nose rather than a map can have you tacking tracks across and between private land and fields with footpath access only to parks and gardens brutally excluding outsiders with high fences, signage and barbed wire.
For the fifth or sixth time I have failed to do what I promised myself: check details on the Woodland Trust website for exact details of where to go once on foot. The printed ‘Explorer Guide’ gives the most basic of information that gets you to the vicinity of the wood.
I was inclined to follow my feet and my senses so was soon off track around mixed woods, down paths, over streams and into agricultural land. Had it been raining I may have doubled back earlier, but I had the morning to myself and time to kill. I let serendipity take over.
I would have preferred a circular walk so pressed on regardless even when Google Maps pointed out that I was a long way off course for the Woodland Trust wood I had been aiming for. I found the ‘Keep Off, Keep Out, F*** Off signs oppressive. This was heightened by the sound of barking hounds in what turned out to be large, distance kennels. That and people having fun over that fence by the ornamental lake that you could just about spot.
I had to stand on a busy road realising this would be a dangerous and unpleasant way back to my starting point so I doubled back. At least the walk back was quite a bit quicker and this time I got myself into Williams Wood – all for taking a right turn rather than a left.
This is indeed ‘part of a much larger woodland’ – once part of the grounds of Stonewick. It is the diversity here that appeals, with quite different local landscapes from the pools around the deeply ravined streams, pools and swamp onto higher planted ground with meadows and formal planting of trees themselves around the edges of a few private dwellings with large gardens or paddocks.
The large trunks that came down on 16th October 1987 make fascinating features: how the tree recovers into a set of trunks creating dense cover.
I am becoming familiar with the Woodland Trust bridge and signage – subtle and robust, with spots where a dedication has been left after a bequest or donation has been made to support the work.
It is a cliché to say a photograph does not do justice to the scale, depth or contrasts in the landscape here. Let alone what you hear and smell. I love to breathe in the wood, to listen to the drizzle of leaves falling and the trickle of a stream. Sadly, road traffic and jet are never far away – Gatwick is close enough and the A23 / M23 is within earshot too.
I’d love to know what these huge, flat sand-bag-like mattresses are. My untrained eye thinks it is to limit the swamping of ground where a few 200 year old trees stand – the soft ground would quickly contribute to their being felled by the next storm.
Onwards into avenues of older, tall, broad and improbable trees – the kind of woodscape that so deserves protecting however small the stand.
Where the public are bared, or the wood opens up the uneducated may think this is destructive; it takes a useful information board such as this to put you straight. It can also excuse the sound of two-stroke chainsaws and other machinery.
More on Williams’s Wood from the Woodland Trust >https://www.woodlandtrust.org.uk/media/47129/4595-williams-wood.pdf
I also invest, belatedly, in a set of Ordnance Survey Maps. I haven’t the energy to turn what should be a 1 hour to 90 minute slow exploration of a wood into a 3 hour trek across open fields.