Castle Howard, Historic House North Yorkshire
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Into The Woods
By Maria Ellis  //  Tue 16th May 2017
Woodland, Estate, Walking
Woods
One of the perks of working in the Forestry department at Castle Howard is that, every now and again, I’m allowed to slip away and escape into the woods and with over 2000 acres of woodland, it’s more than enough to get lost in!
It’s these dappled groves – full of wildlife, secrets of the past and the potential for adventure - that are my favourite part of the estate and there’s no better way to spend an afternoon than exploring the woods and getting closer to nature and last weekend that’s exactly what I did. So pull on your boots and come with me as I take you on a guided tour of one of my favourite walks – a circular ramble along the winding footpaths of Fryton wood.

Bluebells

Our starting point in this journey is a convenient little car park at the end of Fryton Lane near Slingsby. Turn off the B1257 and park here (unless you are a really keen walker or fancy a pint in the pub first in which case feel free to walk from Slingsby village taking the footpath across the fields). As you enter the woodland take the path immediately on your right and continue down here. As you walk along the woodland edge, you’ll be able to glimpse magnificent views stretching out over fields and farmland to your right; a haze of yellows, browns and greens. Whether it’s the distant views you’ll be admiring though is another matter because at this time of year, the woodland is aglow with colourful wildflowers. Swathes of bluebells and forget-me-nots form a soft blue carpet dotted here and there with the vivid pink of red campion. Further out towards the sunny fields, cow parsley waves gently in the breeze whilst deeper into the wood wild garlic, with its white pom-pom flowers, can still be found in shady patches. Look closer to the path and you’ll find the little violet towers of self-heal, named for its long history of medicinal use, and the greater stitchwort with its pure white petals and many yellow anthers, it’s a more delicate and elegant version of the daisy. Don’t keep your eyes just on the ground though otherwise you’ll miss the flit and flutter of birds above your head as they dash from branch to branch looking for food to satisfy their hungry young. You’ll hear the mellow warble of the blackbird and the instantly recognisable chatter of the chiffchaff as you stroll along the path.

Timber stack  Signpost

Once you’ve been rambling for roughly 1km you’ll come to a fork in the path with a large stack of timber to your right – a reminder of the active industry that takes place in these woods. Leave the open woodland and turn left, down towards Hollin Hill. As you start to descend deeper into the woods, the surroundings seem to change. Giant conifers dwarf you on either side, becoming so tightly packed next to each other that their needles almost touch and no matter how you squint, you cannot see more than several feet either side of the track before branches and darkness shroud your vision. Somewhere in amongst the mass of trees on your left is a tumuli, an ancient burial mound and the birds seem a lot quieter here as if respectful of this resting place. The woods really do feel old in these parts and you might glimpse a crumbling wooden sign post, now illegible and leaning tiredly against a tree or small stack of timber, long forgotten and covered in moss as if reclaimed by nature. Roll one of these aside and you’ll find all sorts of creepy crawlies underneath. Be careful to watch your step though as thick roots twist and turn under your feet and as you reach the bottom, the sandy path turns surprisingly boggy in patches fooling unwary ramblers (I almost lost a boot here!)

Once you have found your way to the bottom of the hill, round the corner and take the bridge over the stream. You’ll see a rather beautiful, solitary silver birch on your left with brackets of horse-shoe fungus clinging to its trunk. Follow the track up out of the woods and into the light again. Keep the farm on your right and take the footpath that slopes gently up over the land and across the fields. When you reach a good height make sure you turn back and look at the woods you just came from, they’re an incredible tapestry of different greens from rich, forest green to fresh, vibrant lime. This is a great spot to stop and we sat on the side of the track with a thermos flask and watched as a buzzard flapped past, two crows in hot pursuit and a tiny light aircraft did loop-the-loops above us.

Field Path

Once refreshed, carry on along the track until you see a path heading back into the woods on your left. Take the second path you see like this and scramble up the steep slope back into the woods. Pass through the hordes of wild garlic until you reach the edge of the woodland once again. The bluebells here are phenomenal and the views out towards Slingsby are a real high point. Take them in before continuing along the path and returning to your car. This walk took us roughly 1.5 hours (although we had a rather slow dog in tow) but there are so many twisting footpaths to choose from, you can make it as long or as short as you like.

Bluebells

If you enjoyed this guided walk, make sure to put 25th May in your diary as our Head Forester, Nick Cooke, will be guiding Castle Howard Friends and Annual Pass Holders on a special walking tour of Pretty Wood. Starting from the village of Welburn, walk into Pretty Wood and head off the beaten track to discover the rich flora and fauna of Castle Howard woodlands and the largest tree on the Estate. See the What’s on page for more information. Until then, keep rambling!
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