Autumnal Woodland Walk at Stoneywell
The 11 acres of ancient woodland abutting the garden at Stoneywell form part of the Ulverscroft Valley Site of Special Scientific Interest (SSSI) and are consequently recognised as one of the best wildlife sites in Leicestershire. Over 200 plant species have been recorded, some rare in the county, and there are an abundance of mammals, insects and birds of note too. And yet, on an autumn day, you can take a walk around the woods and feel like the only person to have even trodden this forest floor.
Stoneywell Woods is a fine example of an ancient oak woodland within the Charnwood Forest Natural Area. Existing long before medieval times, it is one of the few ancient semi-natural woodlands in the area that has been relatively undisturbed. Today, that sense of solitude remains, with each turn of the meandering path seemingly taking you deeper into a world untouched by time.
A walk through the woods at Stoneywell is one best discovered and, as such, is largely free of maps and signs. A full trip around the circular route lasts approximately half an hour, while a sneaky shortcut can halve the route and take you directly back to the cottage.
As you explore, you will encounter many of the dominant trees, including sessile and penduculate oaks with silver birch on the higher, drier slopes and ash, alder, aspen and willow in the wetter areas. The shrub layer is characterised by holly, rowan, hawthorn, honeysuckle and hazel. However, trees and shrubs not native to the Charnwood area such as poplar, sweet chestnut, various conifers, sycamore and rhododendrons have become naturalised as a result of planting in the past, and often offer a shot of colour amongst the orangey hues of the autumnal leaves.
As the leaves rustle in the wind, you could be excused for thinking that you were all alone. But listen carefully, and you might hear the sounds of muntjac deer and foxes hiding in the undergrowth. There is a healthy population of badgers in Stoneywell Woods, too, as well as woodland birds including woodcocks and woodpeckers. There's even a carving of a long-ago fallen tree branch, affectionately known as Lester Lizard.
Of course, no autumnal walk would be the same without a mug of something delicious afterwards! Just a short walk back through the garden will take you to the tea-room, in what was once the old laundry room, where you can relax with a pot of tea or indulge yourself in a hot chocolate with all the trimmings.
Immerse yourself in Stoneywell Woods and have a listen in the video below.