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Salcey Forest Woodpecker Trail (slightly extended)

As it was such a beautiful day on Sunday, I decided to walk the Woodpecker Trail in Salcey Forest – a 6 (ish) mile walk that circles the whole forest.

Salcey Forest is a remnant of a medieval royal hunting forest situated near the village of Hartwell in Northamptonshire, between Northampton and Milton Keynes.

The walk was less of a training walk for the Offa’s Dyke 4 MS challenge and more a chance to give the dog a nice long walk. That said I tried to keep up a good pace to build up some stamina on what is a fairly unchallenging walk. I also wanted to play around more with Viewranger – especially with the integration with my phone’s camera (most of these photos were taken on my N95 phone via Viewranger).

Walk Summary

Date 28th March 2009
Length 6.5 miles
Time Taken 2 hours
Average Speed 3.2 mph
Max Height 461ft
Min Height 360ft
Height Gain 276ft

Download the Salcey Forest Woodpecker Trail’s GPS data exported from Viewranger (you can use this GPS utility to convert the data for use with your GPS unit)

Walk Details

There are three main areas of the forest you walk through: the southern area (trapped between the road that joins the B526, and the road to Hartwell), the popular area (the area around the cafe, main car park and walkway), and the northern area (to the north and east of Salcey Lawn).

The Southern Area

This is by the far my favourite part of the forest – there is a free car park, large enough for horse boxes, with direct access onto the Woodpecker Trail, the cycle and horse routes.

The Woodpecker Trail quickly leaves the cycle and horse route and disappears into the forest. Most of the trail in this section follows fairly narrow (and sometimes muddy) tracks which meander through the forest with small bridges crossing over tiny streams.

On such a glorious day – it was brilliant to hear the sound of woodpeckers tapping away (presumably where the path gets it’s name?) and the call of birds of prey above (I just about spotted one, but lack the knowledge to identify it – it sounded like an eagle but probably wasn’t!). There was also plenty of squirrels, rabbits and a surprising number of bees, especially bumble bees!

One of the great things about this part of the forest is that it is quiet – I only came across a horse rider, a family of walkers, and a pair of cylists!

As the trail came out onto a larger track (about here on an OS map) which is the scene of carnage after logging activites last year, I found a small path to follow through Organ’s Hill that brings you out onto the cycle path and you have to cut back down a footpath to rejoin the trail – this slightly extends the official trail but is worth it to avoid the ruts created by the loggers!

Eventually the Woodpecker Trail joins the cycle path for a short while ready to cross the road and enter the next area of the forest.

The Popular Area

The Forestry Commission have undertaken a large amount of work over the years – improving the car park, building a cafe, developing the cycle and horse routes and making some of the paths accessible to wheelchairs and pushchairs. All good stuff – however recently they received funding to build a treetop walk.

To me the treetop walk is a gimmick – it is in an unexciting part of the forest which lacks the charm found elsewhere. To reach the treetop walk, I think you are supposed to follow the short Elephant Trail (although it is not far off the other two trails), however as it isn’t well signposted, most visitors walk straight up a main track completely missing the chance to enjoy other areas of the forest, which is a real shame.

There is no doubt the treetop walk is popular, and on a nice weekend or a bank holiday, this part of the forest is absolutely heaving with people, but for every family looking for woodlice under stones, you have another family telling off their children for getting dirt on their white trainers. This popularity has also lead to something else I struggle to agree with – forest car park charges.

Each to their own I guess – irrespective of what you think about the treetop walk, the Woodpecker Trail joins the other trails and goes right through this popular area. On quiet days don’t forget to pop into the Forest Cafe for a cup of tea and a bite to eat!

This is my least favourite area of the forest and I am always grateful to leave the treetop walk behind me as the Woodpecker Trail heads into the northern area of the forest.

The Northern Area

To be honest I don’t really have much to say about this area of the forest. With a couple of exceptions, the Woodpecker Trail mainly follows either the horse route or the cycle route through this area. Although you are mainly following gravel paths through the forst, this area is nice enough – in some ways it reminded me of some of the forest areas on Cannock Chase.

There are couple of sections of the route where the trail leaves the gravel paths and heads down some rarely trod tracks – again the forest feels tranquil and quiet with the noice and hustle of the popular area a distant memory.

Finally the Woodpecker Trail rejoins the cycle and horse routes, crosses the road again and you end up back at the car park.

Conclusion

I can definately recommend the Woodpecker trail for anyone that wants to enjoy all the different parts of Salcey Forest. It is, despite being busy in the middle, a real nice forest walk. Definately bring walking boots, as it can get muddy, and you are walking on some of the quieter non-gravel paths in the forest. I would also recommend starting the walk in the free car park – you can then stop for lunch at the cafe halfway around!

I would to hear your views on Salcey Forest, especially on the treetop walk and the parking charges – so please leave your comments!

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