You may have visited Dalby Forest to use the fantastic picnic areas, cycle the mountain bike trails, swing through the trees at Go Ape or watch your children run riot in the play areas. The forest is becoming more and more popular and, at times, can be extremely busy. The beauty of visiting Dalby Forest is that you can easily escape the crowds if you know where to go. In fact, if you want to, within a few minute’s walk or drive from the Visitor’s Centre on a busy Bank Holiday weekend, you can find yourself completely alone. Alone, that is, except for the local wildlife. Here are five wildlife experiences which can be found within the forest.
1.Jerry Noddle Trail
This is a cracking little trail beginning from the car park at the Bickley, northern edge of the forest. Just short of three miles long, the trail traverses a predominantly flat route through the forest out to a viewpoint that has fabulous views across the Langdale Valley. It can be muddy, in places, after prolonged rain at any time of the year so I don’t advise it wearing high heels or flip flops but, nevertheless, it’s an easy enough stroll.
Listen out for Cuckoos from April. There’s nothing like standing at the Jerry Noddle viewpoint listening to the melodic sounds of a bird that has migrated from as far afield as central Africa. They are difficult to see but you may be lucky and spot it atop a tree or bush out in the open below you or flying across the track in front of you.
Crossbills love it on this trail. With plenty of huge pinecones sitting high and proud in the trees, these colourful, chunky birds can be seen tree surfing, attacking the pinecones with quite some force! Look out for a felled area on the left before you get to the viewpoint. This amphitheatre has some old tree trunks still standing. Get your bins focussed on these trees. Greater Spotted Woodpeckers wedge pinecones into the nooks and crannies of these trunks and yes, Crossbills can’t resist them!
Raptor viewpoint in Wykeham Forest, just short of 2.5 miles away as the crow flies, regularly brings in reports of Honey Buzzards, Goshawks and other exciting riches such as the occasional migrating Osprey or Black Kite. The Jerry Noddle viewpoint overlooks the same valley so it makes sense that, whatever has been seen from the Raptor viewpoint riding the thermals and using the valley to pass through, may also be seen from Jerry Noddle. Keep your eyes peeled.
2. Yellow Route
Take the ‘Yellow Route’ from the visitor centre. This takes you up above the village of Low Dalby overlooking the Dalby Dale itself. The important word here is ‘up’. Yes, it’s a steepish climb initially but once at the top of the ten minute haul, it is flat with a downhill stretch to look forward to.
Along the flat, straight stretch of path at the top of the hill, Goldcrests and Wrens play peek-a-boo from the ground cover whilst Crossbills (yes, those cheeky chappies and chapesses again!) sit watching you from high up in the trees.
In the warmer months, brambles are plentiful whilst in Autumn, fungi, some as big as dinner plates, dot the path verges.
Don’t forget to look through the beech woods…foxes and Roe Deer regularly wonder what you are up to and watch from a safe distance.
Watch out for feathers. Sparrowhawk plucking posts are common round here so if you are lucky, you’ll catch sight of one preparing dinner.
It is on the downhill stretch that overlooks Flaxdale where, in winter, you can see flocks of finches perched on low trees below. Goldfinches and Bullfinches particularly love it here.
Siskins also patrol the forest in huge flocks. You can usually hear their intense chattering before you see them. Make sure you check the seed heads of ground vegetation as well as the trees. I’ve lost count of the number of award winning photos I’ve missed out on because I made the error of looking up not down!
3. Dalby Beck
This will be busy in Summer but I’ve included Dalby Beck because it’s easily accessible from the main car park, has multi-user walkways and yet, is still rich in wildlife.
There are several ways to observe the beck below Low Dalby village.
Take the kids on the Stickman/Gruffalo trail, run or walk the 3k Park Run held every Saturday, follow the paths that hug each side of the beck or just stand and play pooh sticks on one of its bridges. Whichever you choose to do, watch out for Dippers bobbing up and down on rocks or the fast streaking iridescent blue flash of a Kingfisher. Have a look into the beck itself and you’ll see what the Kingfisher is after….small fish will dart away to hide in the shadows.
A Grey Heron is usually present and in Spring, the odd pair of Mallards use the beck and any flood water in the dale to nest.
All year round, Kestrels hover above the sheep in the fields using the power lines as perches.
Buzzards have fun here and patrol the valley. Listen for their characteristic ‘mew’ sound and then watch them as they rise up until only a pinprick in the sky.
4. Deep Dale
If butterflies, moths and flora are more your thing, head out to Deep Dale. A short (2 miles) but hilly trail (the hill will be on the way back up to the car park), the walk is worth the effort to visit Deep Dale meadow.
Here can be seen an array of butterflies, such as the Small Pearl Bordered Fitillary, Brown Argus and Common Blue and moths such as Chimney Sweepers.
I would advise you to leave plenty of time to explore the plants in the meadow. Twayblades are amongst my favourites here.
Look out for the small stuff such as the Red-Necked Footman then head over to the small ponds to catch sight of common lizards, damselflies and exciting flying things such as the Gold-banded Dragonfly.
A favourite area for climbers, this is a National Trust site accessed from a car park in the forest. It is well worth the visit to see the heavily eroded rock giving rise to names such as the Pepperpot. Easily scrambled up but please take care, they can be really slippery. For that reason, the local Scarborough & Ryedale Mountain Rescue Team know the Bridestones only too well. Don’t be their next call out!
Nestled within the cracks of the rocks themselves are several varieties of fern. Mingling with the vast expanse of heather are plants such as Bilberry and Common Cow-wheat and across the valley (or Bridestone Griff – great name!), Cottongrass.
Take the well-defined path up to the rocks and follow it round, dropping over the beck and following the path over Needle Point (sounds difficult but the name is grander that the reality!) into the valley of Dove Dale. Its a short route but as there is so much to see, it will take a while!
As you pass the rocks themselves, Yellowhammers watch you, cautious but singing their little hearts out. Linnets, tits, finches and pipits perch in the trees dotting the valley slopes. Watch out for fleeting glimpses of exciting species such as Hen Harrier across the moor.
Take care along the path as Roe Deer cross the valley regularly through the undergrowth and can be spooked. If you’re upwind and quiet, they will calmly oblige by stopping, watching you from afar.
As you drop back down into Dove Dale itself, the air in summer is full of Chiffchaffs chiffchaffing and warblers warbling. A sound that can’t possibly fail to make you smile.
The dale itself is beautiful in autumn, full of rich russet browns and yellows. Worth the walk at this time of year even if the wildlife hasn’t been particularly kind to you that day.
Looking down into Dove Dale
So there you have it….a whistlestop tour of great wildlife encounters to be had in Dalby Forest. All trail information can be obtained from the Forestry Commission, Dalby Forest website or from the Visitor’s Centre in Dalby. Visit The National Trust website for information on The Bridestones. There is also a board at the site showing path routes. As always, take suitable clothing, footwear, food and drink. Mobile phones don’t always work in remote areas and Dalby’s no different…don’t rely them!! But most of all, don’t forget your binoculars…get out there and enjoy some unforgettabubble moments!