In autumn, Bedford Purlieus is ablaze with colour. The nature reserve is the most ecologically diverse wood in Britain with species including beech, birch and field maple.
Bedford Purlieus is part of the royal forest of Rockingham, a former medieval hunting forest that is now a patchwork of ancient woodlands, open agricultural land and stone-built villages. The region is at the centre of the Forestry Commission’s Ancient Woodland Project, which works to restore native woodland to ancient forests.
1. Birds from Spain
Walk through the attractive stone village of Apethorpe. Apethorpe Hall is a grand 15th-century country house currently being restored by English Heritage. You’ll also pass the ancient town stocks before reaching a bridge over the Willow Brook. Look overhead during your walk – formerly almost extinct in Britain, red kites were introduced to Rockingham Forest eight years ago from Spain. More than 400 of the majestic birds of prey thrive here.
Spot red kites overhead ©Getty
2. Beyond the farm
Just after the bridge turn left on a bridleway through Bushrubs Wood (don’t turn left again after a few hundred metres – that’s the return route).
When you pass fields and an old farm, follow the grassy path straight ahead into the woods of Morton Sale. Go left, over a stone bridge with an overgrown derelict railway line beneath. It once connected the villages between Rutland and Peterborough. On reaching a clearing known as Jack’s Green, continue to the right of the house, until a road.
3. Orchid hunt
Turn right then immediately left down a narrow bridleway, which leads into Bedford Purlieus. On reaching the entrance to Leedsgate Farm, turn right and walk to the eastern perimeter of the reserve. Just before the T-junction here, turn left along a narrower path leading west. This attractive path is lined with wild flowers and follows the course of a little brook. Ancient woodland sites typically contain around 260 plant species: Bedford Purlieus has 484, with fly orchid, twayblade and herb paris among the rarities. Listen out for woodpeckers and warblers. Unique geology is the cause of the reserve’s biodiversity.
The fly orchid is just one of 484 plant species to inhabit Bedford Purlieus ©Getty
At the end of the path turn right. Walk past a hide to the end and turn left to reach the official entrance to Bedford Purlieus.
Listen out for greater spotted woodpeckers in the trees ©Getty
4. Back to the bridge
Take the footpath opposite the entrance, which leads across fields to a road. Turn right then shortly left, through a gate on to a bridleway. The path winds around disused Kings Cliffe Airfield buildings to reach an open field. From here, follow the bridleway signs across several fields and under a well hidden old railway bridge until you reach Apethorpe’s bridge once again.
Mainly good paths through woodland and across fields. Can be muddy.
HOW TO GET THERE:
BY CAR: Apethorpe is near the A1/A47 intersection, 10 miles south of Stamford and 15 miles west of Peterborough. Park in the village car park, next to the King’s Head.
BY PUBLIC TRANSPORT: Peterborough is easy to reach by train and Peterborough’s Bus Station is across the road from its train station. Stagecoach service 23 runs between bay 15 of Peterborough Bus Station and the King’s Head at Apethorpe.
Ordnance Survey Explorer Map 234.
Grid ref: TL 025 955
The Haycock Hotel London Road, Wansford, Peterborough PE8 6JA
Call 01780 782223
Rutland Water, open all year for outdoor pursuits. For the car park fee call Rutland Water Visitor Centre.
Call 01780 686800