Whenever the mind feels fuzzy with too much screen exposure, late nights or just the hectic pace of life and the body heavier with too much indulgence and inactivity I find the perfect cure lies in a walk in the woods. It literally brings you back to earth and makes you appreciate the beauty of our natural world. The clear oxygenated air, the fragrance of the trees, the silence and the beauty of a forest is one of the great collective wonders of life – if only we stopped often enough to appreciate it. A walk in the one of the great cathedrals of nature always regales you with a sense of perspective and an appreciation for the bigger picture as well as gratitude for our wonderful environment.
We are particularly blessed in the Cotswolds for the sheer variety and beauty of our woodland: two of the Forestry Commission’s arboreta – Westonbirt and Batsford – and the wondrous Savernake forest are all on our doorstep. There are few worthier destinations for the woodland walker than Westonbirt Arboretum, just outside Tetbury. It is divided into two parts: the old arboretum, an amazing collection of international renown of trees and shrubs from all over the globe, and Silkwood, a lovely hillside covered by indigenous woodland.
The old arboretum is for those who appreciate the beauty and variety of the plant world – who take pleasure in recognizing a sweet chestnut from a horse chestnut, an oak from an acer, a yew from a pine. You can walk along the seasonal paths of the arboretum, dazzled by the fiery reds, yellows and oranges of the acers in the autumn, by the floral explosion of the azaleas in the spring, enjoying the cool shade of the leafy London planes in the summer, but if you catch the arboretum in the winter snow you are in for a true fairytale experience. If you are a dog walker, Silkwood is the part of the arboretum where you can enjoy a great scenic walk while your canine companion can feel like he is really stretching his legs.
Whatever the season, I always feel like a kid discovering a magical place in the arboretum, a kind of Alice in wonderland. There is a special suspended atmosphere that puts us humans back where we truly belong, as part of nature’s rich tapestry. I have been a member of the arboretum for almost two decades, my kids have been going for walks there since they were babes in arms; it has helped them appreciate the value of nature and its soothing, uplifting effect.
Once you have paid your dues and reacquainted yourself with nature and topped yourself up on the ozone-enriched air, what a great treat to have that warming hot chocolate, coffee or tea in the lovely wooden cafe. In the summer you can sit out on the wooden deck and enjoy the warming sunshine too. And no visit is complete without a visit to the delightful gift shop, with a great selection of quality wooden ornaments, kids toys, stationery, sweets and biscuits, gifts and outdoor clothing.
If you find yourself thinking that the same collection of trees might get a bit samey after a few visits, the arboretum plays host to a variety of events that always have something to offer, from large-scale events like Enchanted Forest in winter, when the arboretum is lit up into a Christmas fairyland, to smaller activities such as workshops and guided walks.
If you can start a new healthy habit for the new year, there’s nothing I’d recommend more than becoming a member of this wonderful establishment. It is a modest investment (£38), for a year’s worth of blissful walks – good for both the mind and the body. What’s more, this membership doesn’t only get you into Westonbirt, it gets you in to the smaller but no less enchanting Batsford Arboretum and many others besides. For more information, visit https://www.forestry.gov.uk/westonbirt