A bluebell walk in the woods
The air is crisp and fresh. I walk with my footsteps crunching the woodland floor beneath me. The breeze blows softly through the trees. I feel so cut off from the hustle and bustle of modern life. No sound interrupts my thoughts except birds singing above and wind whistling through the leaves. I feel serene, happy. On entering the woods, the sounds from outside stop. It is so peaceful. I walk quietly under the archway, a gatehouse, nearly demolished, but this one stony archway remains. It is a lovely entrance to the wood, standing alone, beautiful and romantic.
Imagine a pleasant walk through a sea of shimmering bluebells carpeting the woodland floor. The undergrowth is rich with wildlife and nature. This is Badby Woods in May and June. The woods are famous for their bluebells. However walking in these woods is beautiful any time of year. The woods are both inviting and interesting historically. These ancient woodlands include mighty native oak and ash trees, continuing a 750 year history of woodland cover. This poses the question: if trees could talk, what stories would they tell of the past?
A poacher’s paradise
The past is a fascinating place, particularly where this woodland is concerned. Badby Woods has a long history of hunting and poaching throughout the centuries. In 1246 Henry III oversaw the creation of a deer park at Badby Woods for hunting and food. The King also granted the rare privilege of “free warren” on this land to the Abbott of Evesham – giving him permission to hunt and eat the game of the wood. But others were hungry too…
Although the act of poaching was strictly forbidden, many medieval peasants had no choice. The life of a poacher was dangerous but often necessary for survival. They were out in the dark, hiding from view, skulking in the woods, creeping around in the shadows, to hunt deer and rabbits in order to feed themselves, their families, and sometimes members of the village. The punishment however was strict as the poor had no rights to these animals. The power to hunt as they saw fit remained with royalty and the aristocracy for hundreds of years.
Remnants and memories
To be walking in these woods inspires a feeling of being lost in time. The arched gateway built from local stone is still standing and provides a magnificent entrance to the wood. To walk through this late eighteenth century gateway is like stepping through a time travel portal – magical. The impressive stone arch is now a grade II listed building – it is incredible to think of all the local people treading the same route into the woods, month on month and year after year – be they landed gentry, poachers lurking in the undergrowth, farm workers and artisans from the Fawsley Estate, or locals simply walking in the woods for pleasure.
Remnants of the embankments and ditches can also be seen today. These were constructed to contain the deer, and once included a wooden park or boundary ‘pale’. These simple but highly effective ditch and bank boundaries to the east of the village and are amongst the best preserved in the county. This paints a fascinating picture of how the thirteenth century deer park might have looked.
Come take a look
Badby Woods is a protected wildlife area, and includes a Site of Special Scientific Interest (SSSI). Ancient woodland habitat of this kind has declined significantly throughout Northamptonshire and is now highly unusual in the county. Badby Woods is so special, it has even appeared in the top 10 of the best 100 woods and forests for history in the UK! (ref: Guardian Survey 2011).