In spring, shafts of sunlight stream through fresh green leaves. The woods are carpeted with wild garlic, lesser celandines and wood anemones and the top of Billy Bank is especially good for bluebells. Spring is a time for wandering through the woods popping out into warm sunshine on the meadows. Watch for sand martins prospecting for nest sites on the riverbank and listen for the ‘peep’ of a passing kingfisher. The woodlands are alive with bird song, migrant birds return in April and May, chiffchaff, blackcap, willow and garden warblers. Spotted flycatchers enjoy Calfhall Wood and pied flycatchers can be found in Hag Wood.
On a warm summer’s day the riverside meadows are the place to be. The meadows hum with insect life and the River Swale glides lazily past. This is prime picnicking country, bring a rug, find a grassy spot and settle down for a lazy afternoon. If it gets too hot take a gentle stroll along the riverside in Calfhall Woods, no climbs of note, plenty of dappled shade and only the river to keep you company. In late summer the open grass banks east of Calfhall Woods are blue with devil’s bit scabious; red admiral, small tortoiseshell and coma butterflies all enjoy this late source of nectar. There are also plenty of blackberries and sloes across the site, enough to satiate the keenest forager.
In autumn the woods are a rich mosaic of autumn colour, the russet orange of beech trees, the warm browns of oak, the yellows of lime, ash, wych elm and hazel. Fungi of every shape, colour and size push through the leaf litter and cling to dead wood. Autumn is best appreciated with one of several circular walks through Calfhall Woods, or a longer loop out to Hag Wood, but remember to see if your route includes all 230 of Hudswell steps, enough to break a sweat on the coldest of days! For a longer woodland stroll, or if you are walking from Richmond, why not include Billy Bank and the south side of Round Howe, a delightful secluded spot surrounded by wooded hillside?
On a cold winter’s morning search for ice crystals etched on leaves in the frost pockets behind Round Howe. Limestone crags slowly emerge from the woods as most trees lose their leaves; only yew and holly dot the woodland with glossy evergreen leaves. Paths are usually muddy so it’s worth taking care on steeper ground and wellies are often a good idea. Without leaves it is often easier to see small woodland birds; look out for tree creepers, nuthatches, woodpeckers and gold crests. As dusk falls roe deer are often seen emerging from the shadows; the woods echo with the sound of the river and the “caw” of jackdaws circling above their winter roost. If a winter warmer is required a walk through the woods to the George and Dragon in Hudswell may just do the trick.