An introduction to a new forest taking shape in Leicestershire.
Distance 4 miles (6.4km)
Minimum time 1hr 45min
Ascent/gradient 130ft (40m)
Level of difficulty Easy
Paths Woodland and field tracks, some may be slippery if wet
Landscape Mixed woodland and landscaped parks
Suggested map aqua3 OS Explorer 245 The National Forest
Start/finish SK 329141
Dog friendliness Good throughout, but careful on roads
Parking Oakthorpe picnic area, Ashby Road (off B586 at Donisthorpe)
Public toilets None on route (nearest in Ashby de la Zouch)
1 From the car park walk along the surfaced track as far as the site of the former colliery. Only the capped pitheads give any indication that this pleasant rural spot was once an industrial hub. Go left and follow the unmade path through the trees and veer left to reach the lake. On the far side leave the gravel track and walk along the open, grassy northern shore. Ignore the public footpath off to the left and continue beyond the water and along the left-hand side of a newly planted area.
2 About 100yds (91m) before you reach the gate to the lane, turn right. Walk past the notice board (explaining that the local Royal British Legion has created this new grove as an area of remembrance) and along a gravel path into the woods. On the far side go straight out along a wide grassy ride (not right, beside the woods), then in 50yds (46m) branch first right. Ignoring a fork to the left, continue to the end and turn left on to another grassy track. At the top of this go right, along a narrow path between gorse and bracken that opens out into the long and straight Pastures Lane.
3 At the very far end of Pastures Lane, cross Measham Road and walk along New Steet. Turn right at the end, opposite the Holly Bush pub, and then branch off ahead/right down Canal Street. At the turning bay at the end turn right on a public footpath along the bottom of a rough field. Half way across go through the gate on the left for a path through the trees into Saltersford Valley Picnic Area. (If this path is too overgrown, continue to the gate and path at the far corner of the field and turn left here.) Go left on to the main path for the easy loop of the woodland and lakes.
4 When you have completed the short circuit and reached the main picnic area by the notice board go right and, at the circular car park, continue out on to Measham Road. Cross over to the pavement and turn right then, just past the 30mph sign, turn left for a public footpath across two fields. In the second, veer half right to join a bumpy and overgrown farm lane past Lowlands Farm. This is, in fact, the former Ashby Canal, long since filled in. The path keeps to the left of a small lake, with hawthorn trees in-between, and although narrow continues through patchy vegetation. After the second stile turn left to return to the capped pitheads and the path back to the car park.
5 Just to the west of Oakthorpe the trackbed of the Ashby and Nuneaton Joint Railway has been transformed into the Ashby Woulds Heritage Trail. This runs north via the former Donisthorpe Colliery (now being converted into a woodland park) and the preserved Moira Furnace, built in 1806 for iron-making and now a fascinating visitor attraction. It ends close to the Conkers Discovery Centre, near Moira (follow the signs on the trail or road)!
The National Forest covers around 200 square miles (518sq km) of Leicestershire, Staffordshire and Derbyshire, and since its inception in the early 1990s over 4 million of the projected 30 million new trees have already been planted. Of course this is a long-term project, so don't expect a continuous swathe of woodland across the East Midlands for some time! The ambitious plan is aiming to blend pockets of ancient woodland, like Charnwood and Needwood, with new broadleaved (60 per cent) and coniferous (40 per cent) plantations. Many of the new sites in North West Leicestershire, like here at Willesley and Saltersford, are former coal mines that were abandoned after flooding, but the ensuing subsidence has since created artificial lakes or 'flashes', and large-scale reclamation projects have helped nature recolonise these former industrial zones.
Willesley Wood is centred on what was once Oakthorpe Colliery and is now owned by the Woodland Trust. Since 1991, when it became one of the first National Forest planting sites, over 75,000 trees and shrubs have been planted. Altogether the Woodland Trust owns 17 separate woods in the National Forest, most of which have been newly created in areas previously devoid of extensive tree cover.
This is where you can learn much more about the National Forest. The huge site includes interactive exhibits, craft workshops and outdoor woodland trails and assault courses. If your children still have surplus energy left after the walk, let them go bonkers at Conkers!
The National Forest 'adopt a tree' scheme invites people to adopt a newly planted tree. In return you are invited to the planting event, receive an 'adopters pack' and an annual update on the growth and development of your woodland, plus details on sightings of animals, insects and plants seen there. For more information pick up a leaflet at Conkers Discovery Centre.
For local pubs try the Masons Arms on the crossroads at Donisthorpe and the Holly Bush at Oakthorpe. The tea rooms at Moira Furnace and the café/restaurant at Conkers Discovery Centre are both family-friendly. For a wider choice visit Ashby de la Zouch, 2½ miles (4km) away.