Autumn highlights on Headley Heath

Headley Heath offers a wide variety of different environments across its huge area. Ridges, valleys, slopes, heathland, woodland and ponds all reflect different aspects of the season. Its a place that rewards multiple visits whether you are walking, cycling or on horseback.

Walk

Headley Heath is a plac where you can really stretch your legs. Try the Headley Heath circuit or the Headley Heath and White Hill trail. Both are 4 miles and if you want something longer there's the 8 mile Box Hill hike.

Do a bit of foraging

Blackberries - the ultimate autumn fruit - can be found in many of the hedges and scrubland across the heath. Look out also for sweet chestnut trees - the ground around them with be littered with the spikey bright green nut cases. These are the nuts to roast at Christmas time, but they can also added to stuffings for meat, or the sprouts and parsnips. If you wish to be more adventurous then blitz them to make flour for baking cakes and crumbles. There are also a lot of hazel trees here - but you will have to quick or lucky to beat the squirrels. Hazels can be eaten raw or taken home to roast.

Watch, and listen, for autumn birds

Autumn is a period when many birds become active again and as the leaves fall, they’re easier to spot. As you stroll along the paths see what you can find:

  • Buzzards. You can often hear the cat-lie cries of buzzards far above you as they soar in the sky
  • Kestrels. Easily identified as it hovers above the fields hunting small mammals
  • Woodland birds such fast flying jays, often seen as a bight flash with a hint of blue as it dashes through the trees collecting acorns for the winter. The drumming of spotted woodpeckers in woods is unmistakeable. The chuckling ‘yaffle’ of a green woodpecker is also notable. They like to hunt for ants on grass, and will fly off when disturbed.
  • Owls. With the light falling earlier in the afternoon, you may catch some of the owls coming out to hunt. Look for the eerie whiteness of a barn owl, the chunky little owl or hear the haunting t’whit-t’woo of tawny owls. 
  • Winter visitors. As the season progresses and the temperature drops you may be lucky to see some of our regular winter visitors in the woods and open areas - bramblings, fieldfares and redwings. Look out for the dandy waxwings perching high, chomping greedily on rowan berries or hawthorns.

Autumn colour

Savour the reds, russets and golds of autumn as you stroll along the paths. The oaks, beeches and silver birch provide a glorious backdrop of gold especially in late afternoon. Others, such as hawthorn and wild maple will be showing off their fiery red leaves.  Don’t forget the berries either - bright red hawthorn, guelder rose (look like glace cherries), dark luscious elderberries and glittering rowan.

Fly a kite

Autumn often brings with it stronger breezes. The high ridge by the pyramids on the path from the car path, is an ideal spot for  flying kites. You may be starting with a plastic bag wrapped around bamboo sticks or you may have a super-dooper stunt kite,  but the breeze will probably give it lift. Do make sure you are well out of everyone’s way though.

Go on a fungi photography safari

The woodland areas across the heath are marvellous for hunting fungi and lichens. Their shapes and colour make great images as they nestle into the surroundings. Sometimes they can be spotted sprouting up underneath trees, and other times you can spot them on the dead wood of a fallen tree, or pushing up in the grassland areas. Many fungi species respond to rain, so when there’s been shower, grab your boots, your camera and a guide book and see what you can capture.

Some of the most colourful fungi can be found amongst the leaf litter or on decaying wood in the broadleaf woodland - oaks, beeches, ash. Look out for yellow chicken in the woods, white candle snuff fungus, scarlet elfcap, blood red beefsteak fungus and black lumps of King Alfred’s cakes, looking like pieces of coal. 

Play among the trees

There are plenty of leafy playgrounds  around the heath, including the discovery zone near the car park, so you can get the family stuck into these activities:

  • Climb a tree. Scramble up and see how far you can go!
  • Collect fruits - nuts, acorns, berries. See how many you can collect and identify. Score extra points for the rare items - juniper berries, alder cones, wild cherry, yew berries. No matter how tasty they look, don’t eat unless you are sure they are safe. Some can cause an upset tummy.
  • Measure the  girth. Put your arms around the trunk and see how big it is. How many family  members have to join in to reach all around? Which is the fattest tree in the wood?
  • Hunt for bugs. Examine the bark and see what creepy-crawlies are there?  What sort of tree has the greatest variety? 
  • Bark rubbing. Take some paper and some crayons. Hold the paper onto the bark and rub to reveal the pattern. Which tree makes the most interesting pattern?
  • Last but not least. Go kick some autumn leaves! It’s the ultimate feel good, mood-lifting stress buster!