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Ravenshill Reserve

Discover a 'mover and shaker' who changed her life and realised a dream.

Distance 2.7 miles (4.4km)

Minimum time 1hr 30min

Ascent/gradient 475ft (145m)

Level of difficulty Medium

Paths Firm or muddy tracks, meadows, some very short but steep, slippery sections, very little road, 8 stiles

Landscape Woodlands and rolling green fields

Suggested map aqua3 OS Explorer 204 Worcester & Droitwich Spa

Start/finish SO 739539

Dog friendliness On leads near livestock, off leads in wooded areas (on leads in Nature Reserve, Walk 24)

Parking Ravenshill Woodland Reserve (donation)

Public toilets At start

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1 Walk towards Lulsley for roughly 150yds (137m). Turn left on a green track beside Hill Orchard's private drive. Soon in woods, go 500yds (457m) or so, joining another track beside some wire enclosures. When a stile and nearby gate lead into a field on the right, go just 20yds (18m) further. Now go up to the left on a path (you may spot a yellow band on a branch). In 120yds (110m) climb a rustic stile to turn partially right. Note well this point, where a path joins obliquely from the left, since you'll be returning this way - the junction is easily missed! Go on for 100yds (91m) to a driveway. Walk for 30yds (27m) away from the house, to follow the sign, 'bridleway', down to the right. Soon, at a line of incongruous laurel bushes, reach the tree-lined Worcestershire Way.

2 Turn right. After 650yds (594m) go through a gate. Peel left, hugging the trees but not going under them. A narrow gap would lead into a second meadow but on the right is a fenced area, guarded by a sinewy field maple. Climb the waymarked stile beside the padlocked gate. After another gate ascend diagonally right, veering left as it levels. Maintain this line through metal gates across fields, then a wooden gate into woodland. Eventually The Steps comes into view. Reach the road by descending beside a paddock fence, then through more gates, including a red one.

3 Turn left. Beyond Threshers Barn and Wain House is Crews Court. Here, beside a fingerpost, ascend some wooden steps to a stile that welcomes you with 'Beware butting sheep'. Go ahead, crossing this private garden, to a paddock. Go ahead but slightly right, to a padlocked seven-bar metal gate; climb over this. Now move 20yds (18m) right to find your path up - here is the proper stile, rendered obsolete by the new fence across its line to the garden gate. Go up quite steeply - perhaps using hands for the last bit up the earthbank, otherwise find a less steep part. Now at the ridge, don't fall off the unexpectedly wobbly stile here.

4 Turn left. After about 275yds (251m) fork down to the left, not invitingly ahead. At the road cross it before turning right to walk round the bend. Turn left along the driveway of The Crest, then move left for the Worcestershire Way again. Follow this to Point 2, then retrace your steps.

You might think that all you need do to set up a woodland reserve is to acquire some land, buy some trees, and persuade some people to help you plant them. It isn't quite as easy as that, a fact attested by the story of Ravenshill Woodland Reserve. Having opted for early retirement from her high-street-name directorship in 1966, Elizabeth Barling set out to do something innovative and completely different. She did have the advantage of starting out with 94 inherited acres (38ha), negotiating the purchase of a little more to round the acreage up to 100 (40ha). However, conservation is a modern concept - most of the land, once ancient woodland, had been stripped of mature trees in 1929, when national stocks of timber were still recovering from the First World War. In 1966 it was a disorderly mass of spindly, regenerated, mixed native species.

The best part of a year was spent living on a houseboat while taking an MSc in Recreation Management at Loughborough University before implementing her ideas. The greatest setback was the loss of her house in the woods, reduced to a large pile of ashes. Ironically, all this destruction occurred one evening while the owner was in Worcester Cathedral enjoying a performance of Haydn's Creation.

Look at the suggested map carefully and you will see the word 'Ravenhill' several times, but only once are the birds in the plural, at Ravenshill Wood. In some ways this is an error, but it is not of the Ordnance Survey's making. A bronze name plate had been ordered, and a rogue 's' had appeared on it; this was pointed out to Miss Barling but she decided to keep the distinction. Later, Ordnance Survey fieldworkers re-mapping the area were shown that 'Ravenshill' was indeed the correct spelling. The information building is rustic and a little ramshackle, but has wall-to-wall wildlife displays, and empathetically invites you to borrow wellington boots (various sizes available) free of charge. Establishing Ravenshill Woodland Reserve was certainly a labour of love. The full story is set down in her book, Birth of a Nature Reserve, published in 1982. She was recognised with an MBE in 1978 for her services to conservation. Happily, the present owners and the Worcestershire Wildlife Trust have carried forward her philosophy into the reserve's present-day management. Elizabeth Barling's legacy is there, waiting for you to enjoy it.

The reserve is open daily from April to October and at weekends only from November to March. The distance given in the information panel does not include walking the ½ mile (800m) red trail or 1½ mile (2.4km) blue trail in the reserve itself.

Where to eat and drink

Just ½ mile (800m) north of the start is the Fox and Hounds in Lulsley, with an enclosed beer garden. Alfrick's post office and stores, in a prime location at the village crossroads, is a vibrant place, generously supplied with fruit. At Knightwick is the Talbot.

What to look for

The reservoir opposite Ravenshill Woodland Reserve was dug in 1977. Along Leigh Brook the Worcestershire Wildlife Trust has built suitable holts (otter houses). You'll need patience (and perhaps a sleeping bag) to catch sight of an otter. Nearby Lower Tundridge Farm is a timber-framed building with mullioned and transomed windows. Built in the early 17th century, it was one of the last of its kind, before brick structures became the norm.

While you're there

Alfrick's Church of St Mary Magdalene is not of extreme architectural interest, it's merely extremely pretty - mixed stone facing, a wooden bell tower, and original sandstone window casings. Inside are exposed roof beams and much stained-glass of Dutch origin. The Brockhampton Estate draws crowds to its 14th-century, moated manor house and timber-framed gatehouse. Gardeners will appreciate the modest 2½ acres (1ha) of largely formal grounds at The Garden at The Bannut at Bringsty.

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