The sun was shining and it’s still disturbingly warm despite it now being a third of the way through November. So we decided to head out and explore a local nature reserve, our favourite pastime. It surprises me that there are still so many nature reserves near where we live that we still haven’t visited. Every time I check the Wildlife Trust map I uncover another gem to explore.
Pulling up on the side of the road we stop to investigate. There are no clear signs that there is a reserve here except for a hint from the bridlepath arrow pointing out a small sheep paddock and what appears to be a small copse of trees behind it. It looks nondescript, nothing special. But as soon as we stepped into the shadow of trees at the entrance to the woodland, a deep long tunnel of yellow greets us. A smile creeps onto my lips and I feel everything melting away. I love being in the woods.
These woods truly felt ancient and mystical. A carpet of bright yellow leaves intermingling with some brown and orange greeted us. The autumn layer was so thick it was difficult to make out the path at times. Not that we always stayed on the path, striking trees and patches of fungi often beckoned us to step away. This ground layer seemed to almost be growing before our eyes as showers of yellow leaves rained down around us. This woodland is made up of mostly hazel coppice, silver birch and oak trees, all of which yield yellow leaves in autumn.
The woodland in this reserve is sandwiched between two quarries. One that it is still active apart from the large pools of water that have been created. The edge of the wood where we walked overlooked this unnatural valley cut from the earth. We saw gulls and tufted ducks on the water. And beyond that was a pair of fallow deer grazing in the sunshine.
As the path lead us back into the depths of the trees, there was a patch of dark orange and red on the ground amongst the yellow. An area where beech trees have taken over. Huge mature beech trees towered above us as we were drawn into their territory, off the beaten path. I love beech trees, especially in autumn.
The path we followed led us away from the main woodland crossing over to the other edge joining a straight open path. This overlooked a steep incline where it was clear the quarry had been dug out. It’s now covered in trees. We reached a gate that took us into the old quarry where it flattened out. It was this part of the reserve that took my breath away, despite no longer being in ancient woodland. A sea of silver birch was reclaiming the disused land. There were open glades ringed by yellow birch, some tall and well established and many still saplings, providing bushels of colour.
In the open section of glade where the ground was covered with moss and short grasses we encountered a herd of black sheep. The Wildlife Trust here use them to manage the area for wildlife. The contrast of their black wool against the yellow was stunning.
As we explored this unusual and beautiful place, the yellow birches gave way to more established trees and shrubs full of berries. A small flock of birds whizzed past us, I suspect they were fieldfares and redwings but they were too quick to see. Though one bird showed me its speckled belly (must have been a redwing) after it did a double take in mid air, switching direction at the last second not expecting me to be stood there behind a tree!
I followed a tiny chirping bird flitting through the bare branches and realised it was a gold crest! It settled and began preening, either not bothered by our staring or it believed it was well hidden. I also spotted the rose pink of a bullfinch amongst tall brambles. Red kites swooped overhead, a common sight in this part of the country.
It seems every time I visit a new nature reserve I add it to my mental ‘favourites list’. Last weekend it was the stunning Knettishall Heath in Suffolk and now it’s Old Sulehay, near Peterborough. But this place is truly remarkable in autumn. It reminded me that despite our vanishing nature, the UK still harbours magical sights. We don’t have to travel across the world to see nature in all its glory. I felt like I was walking through another world where trees flout the rules and all flourish in bright yellow.