Wonderful winter at Witley and Milford Commons
The dryish sandy soil of Witley and Milford Commons makes it an ideal place to explore in winter. There are marked routes to follow, or you can simply go where you fancy and enjoy the woods, grasslands and heathland areas. On selected days in December, you can even harvest your own Christmas tree. Here are some of our favourite ways to enjoy this special place this season.
Whether you wish to run, jog, power walk or simply slow down and stroll mindfully, the paths and tracks offer a variety of outdoor environments and views. Follow the pink trail markers to go round the Heathland Hike covering both commons and covers a full three miles, but feel free to take a short cut if you prefer. Pick up a leaflet at the information board in the car park.
The woods on Witley Common are fantastic leafy playgrounds in their own right. Do some den building, but also 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 you can find. What sort of tree has the most in number?
- Bark rubbing. Take some paper and crayons. Hold the paper onto the bark and rub to reveal the pattern. Which tree makes the most interesting pattern?
Watch and listen for winter birds
Many birds become more active at this time of year, and as the leaves fall, they’re easier to spot. As you stroll 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 a small bird that hovers above the fields as it hunts for small mammals
- Jays. A fast flying bird, often seen as a bight flash with a hint of blue as it dashes through the trees collecting acorns for the winter
- Woodpeckers. 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. as the light drops 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 across the commons have their particular magic in the winter. The bare branches of trees reveal the skeletal shape. 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 Milford Common in particular. 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.
Hide and seek
The open woodlands of Witley and Milford Commons are great places to play hide and seek. Lots of bracken, undergowth and fallen trees to hide behind. This is a great way to burn off some excess energy
A winter picnic
Picnics are not just for summer! There are picnic tables and logs to sit on by the Witley centre building. A garden kneeler or blanket will make the seats comfortable to sit on. 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.