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Medical professionals have long advocated that a healthy body can lead to a healthy mind, but there’s really no need to enrol in a fancy gym or shell out for an expensive rowing machine when a regular wander in the woodland can be just the right prescription!

That healing feeling

It’s a secret that the Japanese have known for many years and they’ve even given it a name – shinrin yoku, literally meaning ‘taking in the forest atmosphere’ or ‘forest bathing’. Shinrin yoku has been a cornerstone of preventative healthcare and healing in Japanese medicine since it was recognised in the 1980s, and now western civilisations are also awakening to its powers. With science proving that a regular walk in the woods can improve everything from stress levels and blood pressure to sleep patterns and immunity, it might be a good idea to make a regular date with the Heart of England Forest.

With the woodland offering a freely available healing environment, and spring fast approaching, there’s never been a better time to come and explore some of our self-guided woodland walks. Click the link for full details of each waymarked route.

Seek out a springtime treat

Of course, around every corner in the Forest there’s a potential surprise waiting. Wildlife and flowers quietly peek and then burst into life as the weather warms. Woodland wanderers will have a multitude of opportunities to espy nature’s springtime marvels on any one of the Heart of England Forest’s waymarked walks. Here’s a quick lowdown of the options so far.

The ever-popular Family Trail offers an easy 1.5 mile walk from Barton Car Park and takes in both new and ancient woodland. Pathways through young trees are lined with flowering shrubs, wandering through gnarled old woods and eventually leading to the riverside – a perfect place to tarry awhile and become entranced by the soothing passage of the clear waters.

Further north, the Coughton and Spernal Estate walk takes in hedgerows soon to be groaning with blackthorn and hawthorn blossom, along with attendant insects intent on taking advantage of the available nectar and pollen. There are plenty of new plantings to take in, along with evidence of hazel coppicing on this easy six-mile ramble. For those seeking a shorter walk in the area, College Wood offers a gentle 1.4-mile stroll from the church car park and takes in a seasonal pond which should be teeming with wildlife, along with the chance to see the venerable veteran pear tree in flower.  The keen-eyed may spot freshwater mussel shells as they pass over a stream, or even spot a pair of boxing brown hares, a skylark, or a great spotted woodpecker!

Back down by our HQ, the Coxmere Wood trail offers another flat and easy wander, with flowering hedgerow shrubs in evidence at this time of year. A small pond gives the chance to spot frogs, toads or one of the 36 UK species of dragonflies, while mature oak and ash trees add some distinct gravitas. One of the favourite areas of our founder, Felix Dennis, Giddings Woodhas been partly given over to grassland habitat in a deliberate attempt to encourage the local owl population – look out for the owl boxes, and see what you can spot as they come out to hunt the small prey lurking in the glades.

Finally, Haydon Way Wood is a riot of colour in later spring, particularly the wildflower meadow planted near the start of the walk. Resplendent with birdsfoot trefoil, knapweed, yarrow, corn cockle, vetches and many others, it is guaranteed to set the walker off with a smile as they wonder at this heart-warming spectacle. Further on atop Windmill Hill is a panoramic view of the growing Forest, along with a riverside path where there’s always the chance of spotting a cheery kingfisher at work.

The Heart of England Forest offers such a wealth of environments in which to replenish the spirit and heal the soul, engaging every one of the senses and placing the visitor at the very ‘heart’ of nature. Come and see for yourself!

Strike out into the Heart of England Forest this spring and feel the health benefits for yourself. It’s easy to download our waymarked routes, each with their own little handy hints about what to look out for. There’s a walk for all ages and abilities, so pack a picnic, bring the family (and the family pooch!) and refresh the parts other activities can’t reach. Best of all, it’s free!