A winter wander around Witley and Milford Commons
Follow the pink trail markers to enjoy the calm and tranquillity of Witley and Milford Commons. This gentle stroll along dry sandy paths wends its way through a variety of different habitats across the two commons. There are lots of things to see and do as you stroll. This route goes clockwise from the Webb Road car park, although you can also have fun following the markers in the opposite direction!
Grid reference SU934406. Post code GU8 5QA
From the car park, walk back towards the road and take the path to your right signposted Witley Outdoor Learning Centre. The path goes through woodland of Scots Pine. At the forked junction, take the path bearing off to the left through the woods signposted to the Witley Centre. You will come to an open area, walk around to the left hand side and then straight ahead following the pink signs.
What will you find on your walk?
Look at the posts (both sides) with carvings of animals, insects, birds, reptiles, which can be found on the Commons. Make a note of what you can identify and then see what you can find during your walk.
At the Witley Centre the path turns to the right and continues through mixed woodland. Follow the path marked by the pink signs and at the T-junction turn to your left. You will notice that the woodland on your right thins out. There is a lot of young birch here with some conifers.
Notice the bank that runs alongside the path on your right hand side. In ancient times such banks marked the boundary of managed woodland. Here we have an area of coppiced sweet chestnut. Sweet chestnut is a hard wood and is used for fence posts. Coppicing means the trunks of the tree are cut to ground level to produce more stems.
As you turn left you will see how the environment changes. The area to your right is now full of young birch and conifers. This is part of the heathland and the ground is rather boggy. At the T junction turn left, leaving the Nature Trail going off to the right. At about 120 yards you turn right. You are at the edge of the woodland here with more birch and young oak. The ground to your left slopes upwards and is full of bracken and trees and is a great place for hide and seek. Listen out for woodland birds, such nuthatch, woodpeckers or tiny firecrest.
The ancient pond
Keep an eye out to see if you can spot the ancient pond to your right off the path. Care is needed to get close to the pond, since the ground is marshy. This pond was used for watering the cattle who grazed the common in the past. Now it's a haven for dragonflies, damselflies, birds and insects.
At the next junction follow the trail marker up the slope. You then turn right along a bridlepath with conifers and heather on your left hand side. At the bottom area there is an area of grasses and a junction where you again turn left to climb up to the ridge. Here you are at one of the highest points of the common and you have a great view across the heathland. Follow the path to the right along the ridge.
The path descends slightly. Around here you will find some large dead trees which are wonderful for climbing over, and it's also a great place for fungi. Carry on along the path, crossing a bridle path and then going through quite thick woodland with lots of hazel and birch and oak. At the Junction the path goes to the right.
The path comes to a wide open area. On your right side is a fenced off area. This is the parade ground used by soldiers in both WW1 and WW2. You can see how it is very flat and the soil is compacted. All those marching boots ! Take a minute to imagine what it was like and create a picture in your mind. From here the path goes back into woodland away from the parade ground. It dinks to the left and then right and then left again to come out on a long straight bridle path - possibly an old military track.
Wilfred Owen, one of the leading poets of World War One was based for a short time at Witley en route to the front line. His experience in the trenches defined his distinctive style - frank and powerful. Tragically he was killed one week before the armistice was declared and his poetry only achieved public recognition after his death.
This is lovely straight stretch of lane to stroll along. You will come to a cross roads with Webb Street. To continue the hike turn left and then right to enter Milford Common. The land here is flatter with some open areas. Keep a look out for the trees covered in wonderful lichen. You may also see the red berries on hawthorns and wild roses are a valuable food source for birds in winter
Lichen is an unusual combination of fungi and algae. There are thousands of different types and some of them are among the oldest living organisms. They are intolerant of pollution, so their presence indicates you're breathing fresh and clean air.
You will come to a junction with a bridle path. Take the path bearing right at 2 o’clock going up a small slope through woodland. At the top is a lovely view across Milford Common. Turn right at the cross roads down the slope. On your left hand side is a mass of gorse which flowers through most of the year.
At the bottom of the slope is a cross roads with a lovely sandstone memorial commemorating the Canadian soldiers who were based here in WW1 and WW2. You carry on straight ahead from here and continue to follow the pink markers. The path wends its way through bushy areas and open spaces. You will bear to the left across a large open area, before passing again through open woodland.
Regenerating the heather
You will see some areas where there are signs of burned or cleared vegetation. Witley and Milford Commons used to be heathland covered in heather - highly valuable to insets and bees. Much of England's heathland has disappeared and so we're working to regenerate the heather here.
As you come out of the woodland follow the markers taking a sharp right and then left to go past the baseball ground on your right hand side. Follow the path here back to the car park.
The baseball pitch
Just across from the car park is a flat open area known as the baseball ground. Rumour has it that Babe Ruth, the famous baseball player from Boston played here. The area was also used by soldiers from multiple nationalities for other games and sports as well.
Grid reference SU934406. Post code GU8 5QA
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