Winter adventures 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.
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.
Watch, and listen, for winter birds
Winter is a period when many birds become active as they hunt for food and, with the bare branches, they’re easier to spot. As you stroll along the paths see what you can find:
- Buzzards. You can often hear the cat-like 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 they dash 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.
Go on a winter foliage photographic safari
Woodlands have a particular magic in the winter. The bare branches of trees reveal the skeletal shape and the low sun can light up corners and reveal brillant colours in the landscape.
- Winter colour. Look out for the bright reds of berries - holly, rosehips, guelder rose. Dogwood is a small shrub that has red stems that can shine in winter sunshine. In January and February you may find snowdrops poking through, burnished hazel catkins appearing and even the bright yellow of gorse flowers blooming.
- Foliage shapes. The wispy strands of lichen can be found on old trees and are a sign of pure air. Also keep an eye out for wild clematis seed heads - known as Old Man's Beard for the way they cover undergrowth. Holly and ivy provide some green contrast to bare branches.
- Colourful fungi can still 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. Check out our special fungi guide.
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?
Have a winter solstice picnic and look to the stars
The clear skies over Headley Heath make it a fantastic place for star-gazing. The short days of winter mean you can look at the stars at a reasonable time. Bring your binoculars or a telescope and see what heavenly mysteries you can find.
Experience the magic of watching the winter solstice sunrise or sunset. There are a number seats across the heath facing the south-west so you can find your special spot. A garden kneeler or blanket will make the seats comfortable to sit on and avoid bum-numbness.
Picnics are not just for summer! Bring a hot drink - hot chocolate, soup, maybe mulled wine for the adults. Warm food can be wrapped in silver foil - a super way to use up Christmas leftovers - sausage rolls, bacon rolls, jacket potatoes, and of course Christmas cake or mince pies to finish.
And if there's snow.....
If you wish to simply enjoy the tranquil magic of a white winter wonderland then there are plenty of paths to wander along and enjoy the snow on the branches.
If you want to be more active there are lots of open areas for snowball fights and building snowmen. Dean valley is a great place for sledging and tobogganing.