Manor Holding was built of reclaimed oak in the late 17th century for the steward of the…
Wyre Forest is shared between Shropshire and Worcestershire, with Dowles Brook forming the county boundary. It was once a royal hunting forest, but the placename Kingswood is the only obvious reminder of that today. In the days of the Norman kings, the forest stretched from Worcester to Bridgnorth. It's considerably smaller today, and partially afforested with alien conifers, but it remains one of the largest and finest semi-natural woodlands in the country.
The Mighty Oak
Despite the conifers, there is still lots of broadleaved woodland, including species such as beech, silver birch, rowan, holly and hazel. But English oak is overwhelmingly dominant. There are two types of English oak - common (also known as pedunculate) and sessile (sometimes called durmast). Common oak usually dominates in the Midlands, but not in Wyre Forest, where the sessile oak is king. The underlying coal measures mean that much of the forest soil is acidic, the preferred habitat of the sessile oak.
English oak supports more wildlife than any other British tree, including an impressive 284 insect species. For centuries local people were also dependent on oak, which provided timber for houses, ships, pit props, fencing and other uses. Small timber was used by broom makers and basket weavers, and also served as firewood. Oak twigs were bound together in bundles and used to make tracks suitable for horse-drawn carts, while oak bark, rich in tannin, was used for curing leather. The forest is dotted with hamlets, such as Buttonoak, which grew out of woodland clearings known as assarts, where squatters settled illegally to make a living as basket weavers, broom makers or charcoal burners.
Walk here in autumn and you will see squirrels and jays everywhere, busily burying acorns. Some will be retrieved in due course, but those forgotten will germinate in spring to launch a new generation of oak trees. Unless, that is, the saplings are eaten by deer. Fallow deer are very common in Wyre. Go quietly, with your dog on a lead, and you should see some.
Walk through a gate on to a forest road and immediately turn right on a footpath ('WBRA' waymarker) into Earnwood Copse. Keep straight on at all junctions, eventually joining a sunken path not far from the edge of the forest. Fork left to pass under an overhanging yew tree and continue downhill.
The path meets what looks like a firebreak but is actually the route of the Elan Valley pipeline, bringing Welsh water to Birmingham. Turn right and cross a footbridge in the trees to the right of the pipeline. Walk up a bank into arable fields and then head uphill, keeping just left of the hedge. At the end of the second field, turn left and go through a hedge gap, soon recrossing the hedge at a waymarked gate. A stile in a field-corner leads to a dark leafy tunnel, then a clear track, which passes a restored and extended cottage.
Soon you reach a T-junction at the edge of the forest. Go a few paces left then swing right on a path past a barrier. Keep straight on at all junctions, descending steadily through Brand Wood.
At the bottom, just above Dowles Brook, swing left on the main track. Follow this for 1.25 miles (2km), with Wimperhill Wood on your left.
Turn left on another bridleway, which crosses a narrow marshy area, then climbs through scrub and young woodland. It's waymarked and easily followed. Cross a forest road, keep straight on, then turn right at the next waymarked cross-tracks (post inconspicuous on the left) before swinging left and down to a bridge. The bridleway now climbs along the rim of a valley.
Reaching a more open area, turn sharp left (still on the bridleway). Here birch and other natives are regenerating fast following clear felling of the conifers that grew here. You're approaching Longdon Orchard now, a conservation area where your dog must be under strict control. At a T-junction go left, into conifers; the track immediately swings right again. Follow it to a waymarked junction where the bridleway goes right.
Keep right at another fork, then turn right when you meet the Elan Valley pipeline again. Soon turn left on a good track, National Cycle Network Route 45, then very shortly follow it, forking right. Follow it to the edge of the forest near Buttonoak, then turn left just before the road to return to Earnwood Copse.
Woodland and field paths, popular with horses and bikes
Mostly broadleaved woodland, with some conifers
On lead in Longdon Orchard and on path to Kingswood
OS Explorer 218 Wyre Forest & Kidderminster
Forestry Commission car park at Earnwood Copse, on south side of B4194, west of Buttonoak
None on route
WALKING IN SAFETY
Read our tips to look after yourself and the environment when following this walk.
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About the area
Perhaps nowhere else in England will you find a county so deeply rural and with so much variety as Shropshire. Choose a clear day, climb to the top of The Wrekin, and look down on that ‘land of lost content’ so wistfully evoked by A E Housman. Peer through your binoculars and trace the course of Britain’s longest river as the Severn sweeps through the county, from the Breidden Hills to Wyre Forest, slicing Shropshire in two. To the north is a patchwork of dairy fields, hedgerows, copses and crops, broken at intervals by rugged sandstone ridges such as Grinshill or Nesscliffe, and dissected by a complex network of canals.
Spilling over the border into neighbouring Cheshire and North Wales is the unique meres and mosses country, with serenely smooth lakes glinting silver, interspersed with russet-tinged expanses of alder-fringed peat bog, where only the cry of the curlew disturbs the silence. South of the Severn lies the Shropshire Hills AONB. It’s only when you walk Wenlock Edge that you fully discover what a magical place it is – glorious woods and unexpectedly steep slopes plunge to innumerable secret valleys, meadows, streams and farmhouses, all tucked away, invisible from the outside world.
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