Saturday, 15th April 2006
Lying a distance of ten miles south of Settle, in what used to be the old West Riding of Yorkshire but now residing within Lancashire, is Gisburn Forest.
Gisburn Forest is an immense area of woodland adjacent to the northern shore of Stocks Reservoir and is jointly run by the Forestry Commission and North West Water. Most of the forest is composed of conifer trees, maintained for commercial purposes. However, closer to the reservoir, large areas are now being cleared to allow for the replanting of mixed deciduous woodland.
Several car parks within the woodland allow access for picnickers, walkers and cyclists. However, they are not overcrowded, as there are no amenities of the type usually associated with touristy areas. The many paths and tracks leading off from the car parks also allow one to quickly escape and soon there is not another soul in sight.
Our route initially ran along the northern shore of the reservoir before climbing up into the woodland. The conifer trees make for dense woodland and there is little light filtering down within them. However, the tracks between the trees are broad and, today, were gloriously sunlit. The fact that they are often muddy is not surprising, since the whole area serves to drain the surrounding hills and supply the reservoir with a constant flow of water.
After about two miles, a grassy area adjacent to a fast flowing stream, rather quaintly known as Bottoms Beck, was reached. The temptation to pause and savour the area was too great and we spent an enjoyable half hour or so sitting on the bank of the stream, the enjoyment supplemented as always with a sandwich and a flask of tea.
It was here that we enjoyed hearing the loud laughing call of the Green Woodpecker, followed rapidly by some drumming on a nearby tree. That said, I do wonder whether the laughing call and the drumming came from the same bird, as, whilst the laughing call was definitely that of the Green Woodpecker, it is my understanding that it is the Spotted Woodpeckers that drum. Perhaps both were in evidence?
Bird life was certainly in abundance and our entire walk was accompanied by the constant singing of a variety of woodland birds high up in the treetops. Chaffinches were definitely about, as were various tits, pheasants, crows and, from the nearby farm known as Hesbert Hall, a cockerel. The fast flowing water of Bottoms Beck was an attraction for other bird life and, as we sat, we were treated to the sight of a dipper flying swiftly up stream.
Further on, we delighted to come across two Roe Deer. The smaller of our native deer, being only two feet tall, they are normally very timid. However, these were seemingly untroubled by our presence and continued feeding amidst the ferns and scrub, with just the occasional glance in our direction.
The final track back to the car park gave up one further surprise in the form of a Natterjack toad, which I would have unsuspectingly trodden on but for its sudden evasive leap at the last moment!
Overall, the area offers much enjoyment and a pleasant change from the harder landscape of the dales. I have no doubt that it will not be long before we return.