Sherwood ForestIt was getting dark. I was having trouble seeing the faint sliver of path as I fumbled my way along it, overshadowed by the tall pines of the forest. I could just make out the silhouettes of the trees surrounding me, black against the dark inky blue of the sky, the slightest sliver of daylight still visible on the horizon.

Soon, very soon, it would be gone and I would have real difficulty finding my way. I stomped along the track as fast as my aching muscles would allow, hoping that this was finally the path that would lead to where I had parked my car, several hours before.

If it didn’t, I was hopelessly lost.

As a part of my decision to walk somewhere different each month, I had dug out John Merrill’s long walks in Nottinghamshire and selected a 14 ½ mile route round the middle area of Sherwood Forest. Once a vast woodland stretching from Mansfield to the very edges of Nottingham City, this once proud forest has now been reduced to a few much sparser areas, although it is still possible to get a sense of its former grandeur by walking miles of woodland tracks.

Although the walk starts in Edwinstowe, I decided to start it further south, parking on a road at the food of the Forest Pines woodland. As I walked along the track towards Eakring, the sunlight filtered through the trees, gently muting the late autumn colours. I faced a 1 ½ mile walk along the road to the village; this was the worst part of the walk as it was quite busy, with much of the traffic being very reluctant to give a walker a little room or even to slow down.

Autumn colours

Autumn colours

It was a relief to reach Eakring and follow the Robin Hood Way over fields, then a farm track through the Old Stables buildings and Rufford golf course. My way was blocked by a metal barrier, and as I approached, I saw a rather inviting green button on it with a note instructing walkers to press for pedestrian access. I pressed it. Nothing happened for a second or two, then there was a whirring noise and the banner withdrew a few feet, just enough for a walker to slip through. As I turned and watched, it smoothly slid back into place. ‘Cool’ I thought, and was almost tempted to press the button again but thought I may be being watched so decided to move on.

Descending to Rufford

Descending to Rufford

The sun had disappeared and it was feeling quite chilly. I had brought my flask with me for a bit of luxury, and after a coffee stop in the pretty and exclusive village of Rufford I skirted the Center Parcs holiday complex before gently climbing a track towards a belt of woodland known as Broadoak Stand.

Edwinstowe

Edwinstowe

As I descended towards Edwinstowe the sun came back out and I decided to take the half mile extension which involved entering the village by way of fields and a bridle path by the river. I could see the brooding green and gold expanse of Sherwood Forest, my next objective, as I plodded through Edwinstowe, and after a brief stop to look at the craft shops near the forest car park I headed right into it.

Sherwood Forest in Autumn

Sherwood Forest in Autumn

Sherwood ForestJohn Merrill recommends a short detour to the Major Oak, an ancient oak tree with a hollow trunk, rumoured to be the meeting place of Robin Hood and his Merry Men. Access is now restricted by a fence, but I remember being able to stand inside the trunk when I was a kid. Propped up with supports, it is still impressive, with its thick girth and sprawling branches clad in leaves of yellow and gold.

The Major Oak

The Major Oak

I retraced my steps to the bridleway I was to follow along the edge of the wood to a junction of tracks. Things soon started to go pear shaped when it dawned on me that I was heading deeper into the trees instead. I came to a junction and followed what I thought should have been my path, but instead of meeting a road I met another junction of tracks and it was very clear that I was not where I should be. It is very hard map reading in a forest- there are no definite landmarks for orientation and new tracks seem to be created all the time. Although I did find my way mainly by trusting my instincts, I had lost a great deal of time and was beginning to lose the daylight.

As I walked through the village of Clipstone I realised I was racing the sunset; I didn’t have far to go but as I had already got lost in one wood I was concerned about the prospect of crossing South Pines forest to reach my car just as it was getting dark.

The first problem I encountered was that since John Merrill had walked this way, the main car park had been extended and altered so his instructions from this point on were pretty much useless. Not to worry, I thought, I can easily pick up one of the marked trails through the wood, and confidently set off into the dusk.

Magnificent sunset!

Magnificent sunset!

After witnessing a most glorious sunset, it occurred to me that I hadn’t seen a trail marker for ages. Never mind, I thought, I’ll just keep walking.

And walking.

I had no idea which direction the car was and there was nothing to help me orientate myself. Finally, after much stomping and cursing, I reached the boundary of Center Parcs, and reasoned that as the A614 should run the other side of it, if I chose a track running roughly parallel it would eventually meet Eakring Road and my car.

Funnily enough I wasn’t scared, just concerned that I would soon no longer be able to see where I was walking, and cursed myself for not bringing my head torch. The dark shape of a deer bounded across the road in front of me and I could hear rabbits scrabbling away at my approach- I was almost enjoying myself as it felt as though the dark woodland was my own special place with no other humans in it.

Eventually I saw a car’s headlights and realised that I had reached a road… but was it the one I wanted? As I scrambled along it I thought I recognised landmarks from earlier… or was it just wishful thinking? As I passed a house liberally lit up with Christmas lights I could make out a silver shape at the side of the road just beyond… I’m glad there was nobody else around as they would have been treated to the sight of me hugging my car!

It’s amazing how a new experience can lead to an epic adventure! Lessons learnt? Take a head torch, oh- and learn to navigate through woods!

Be Sociable, Share!

Tagged with:

Filed under: EnglandEuropeTrainingTrekking

Like this post? Subscribe to my RSS feed and get loads more!