Garston Wood; Sixpenny's Secret
The village of Sixpenny Handley in Dorset is a bit of a hidden gem. It’s a small village situated in the stunning Cranborne Chase, where it is surrounded by huge expanses of arable fields, and wooded areas.
It’s probably best known for its brewery and having, arguably, one of the most extensive village shops in the area (seriously, it’s like an Aladdin’s cave of groceries – it’s awesome) but the picturesque scenery brimming with wildlife shouldn’t be overlooked.
Just outside the village itself, on the road to Bowerchalke, is a shining example of the natural beauty that this hidden location has to offer; Garston Wood Nature Reserve.
This magical little place is a reserve owned and managed by the RSPB and their team of volunteers. I’ve had plenty of visit where I’ve witnessed a hardworking bunch busying themselves away with the task of coppicing trees or clearing scrub to create more space for nature.
Garston wood is an ancient woodland home to an abundance of flora and fauna, attracted by the varying environments within the reserve. Following the well-marked trails around the site you can travelling from ancient oak wood, with gnarled trees garnished in ivy, to thick scrub which then leads to magical open rides.
You may find yourself face to face with one of the fallow deer that haunt the area (although there is lots of deer fencing to keep them from damaging new plants and flowers), or perhaps you will be enchanted by the carpet of bluebells that appear in the spring. So much makes its home here, that every visit brings something new.
I recently headed over for an afternoon walk and managed to tick off a few wildlife encounters, including one rather unexpected one.
Armed with my trusty welly’s (the tracks can get a bit muddy) I headed up the main path from the car park onto the marked trail.
It always takes me a little bit of time to adjust, I have to go from a head full of travelling and noise to a more tuned in space, so I always stop a lot when I first head out. This allows me to really listen and get into a space where I can properly look at an environment (head over to my old blog to find out what I’m talking about).
It didn’t take me long before I was able to pick out all sorts of noises, and very quickly my eyes began to notice movement: the rustle of trees or the flick of a wing.
As the comforting smell of moss, mud and all things green filled my nostrils my attention was caught by a very quiet whistling sound in the scrub next to me. Goldcrests. These tiny mice like birds were chasing each other through a bramble bush, their crowns flashing yellow in the sun.
I stood and watched them for a while, until I heard another familiar noise, this time from further up in the trees. Lots of little delicate sneezes falling down the ivy clad branches to my ears. Garston wood boasts a small gathering of marsh tits, they like the old woodlands and can often be heard sneezing their way through the branches above. I was pleased to catch a glimpse of this precious little creature – my first one this year and a good one to add to #my200birdyear.
The trees were alive with birds, it seemed as if they were shimmering as little wings flit about their business; building nests here and chasing off rivals there.
Heading further along the muddy ride I made out the tracks of other creatures, elusive animals that lived hidden lives deeper in the woods. There were the five toed tracks of a badger, squelched firmly into the mud like a wax seal, what looked like the diamond shape of a fox print and a wayward pheasant. With my eyes down to the floor I also caught sight of the bevvy of snowdrops that decorated the woodland around me.
It’s hard to miss these milky white flowers, with thick green stalks that do such a good job of freshen up the forest floor after a dull, muddy winter. Combine that sight with the fresh wind and the ringing of bird song through the woods, it seemed as though nature was spring-cleaning
Whilst admiring the floral view a rustle came from the trees behind me. Footsteps pattering across the floor like rain on dry leaves. A knee-high flash of brown caught my eye.
My first thought was a rogue dog, gone AWOL from its owner, but that couldn’t have been the case. Mine was the only car in the small car park, and although dogs are allowed on the reserve they must be kept on leads.
I crouched down and manoeuvred myself to get a clearer view of the crowded forest floor in front of me. There, amidst a tangle of deadwood was the culprit.
A muntjac deer.
Never had I seen one in the wild like this. I’ve only ever seen them briefly at the roadside panicking in their search for cover. I had never found myself face to face with one before, in a staring contest.
Although they aren’t native to this country, for me it was a real treat to see one up close. It’s stunning tawny colour, with two black stripes along the forehead shone beautifully in the dappled light. A fairy deer. With a flash of a tail, white enough to rival the snowdrops it was gone. Lolloping off into the safety of the trees.
It’s always a pleasure to spend time in these woods with all their secrets. Sometimes Garston is generous enough to share those secrets with you, other times it leaves you little hints to keep you guessing.
But next time you’re in the area, and you’ve visited the well-stocked Handley shop, make sure you stop off at the woods. Who knows what you will find?