Wood YOU buy a private paradise? Meet the Britons who are snapping up areas of woodland to frolic outdoors with their family after spending months inside during lockdown
Should you go down to the woods today, you may see a buying frenzy to rival the housing boom.
For Britons are snapping up woodland, with estate agents reporting prices up by 25 per cent in a year and plots typically receiving more than 50 enquiries.
It’s easy to see why. After 15 months largely in lockdown, more of us are craving the open spaces reminiscent of our childhood – and owners say they’re easier to maintain than a garden.
Here, four of them tell SADIE NICHOLAS about the ups, downs and magic of having a private patch of woodland.
Our woodland has even got a hot tub!
Jane Hawkes, 45, is a consumer expert and author of the Lady Janey blog (ladyjaney.co.uk) She lives near the Forest of Dean, Gloucestershire, with her husband and their labradoodle Barney. She says:
Spring is my favourite time of year in our two-acre wood. After the greys and browns of winter, there are new green leaves and the most spectacular carpet of bluebells.
It’s impossible not to feel happy, even on the most stressful days, and it’s a world away from our old life near Gatwick airport in West Sussex. Fed up of the sound of planes and traffic, in 2007 we bought a two-bedroom cottage with a third of an acre of garden in Gloucestershire as a renovation project.
Jane Hawkes, 45, is a consumer expert and author of the Lady Janey blog (ladyjaney.co.uk) She lives near the Forest of Dean, Gloucestershire, with her husband and their labradoodle Barney
In 2015, the chap who owned the woodland surrounding our land died and we decided to buy a chunk of it for just under £10,000. We saw it as a chance to raise the value of our property, and my husband always says everyone should have their own piece of woodland to retreat to. Now I understand why.
It’s the most beautiful space to wander through, although it’s not as tranquil as people imagine! On the contrary, it’s a hive of activity with roe deer and muntjac barking, birds in the trees and foxes, pheasants, badgers and hedgehogs rustling around.
Those noises are why I’ve never set foot in the woods at night, it would be too creepy!
Trees include oak, sycamore and birch, and one less common copper beech. Depending on the season, it’s also full of daffodils, ivy, wild garlic, holly and, of course, bluebells.
We have a wood-fired hot tub, where the woodland joins our garden, but it’s a labour of love as it has to be stoked all day so that we can use it in the evening.
Thankfully, our wood is low maintenance and largely takes care of itself. Even from inside the house, looking at our woodland while I work makes me smile.
Helena Douch, 72, is a retired start-up business adviser and lives near Chesterfield, Derbyshire, with her husband Colin, a retired IT consultant. They have three sons in their 40s and eight grandchildren aged two to 16. She says:
At this time of year, it’s magical to walk into our woods in the morning as the sunlight illuminates the bluebells.
A month ago, the ground was carpeted with wood anemones, and as they died the bluebells emerged.
Helena Douch, 72, is a retired start-up business adviser and lives near Chesterfield, Derbyshire, with her husband Colin, a retired IT consultant. They have three sons in their 40s and eight grandchildren aged two to 16
There are wrens, jays and blue tits darting around, as well as squirrels.
When our grandchildren visit, they gravitate to our woodland, which is two thirds of an acre and borders the back garden. It’s wonderful listening to them playing. From the house I can see the den they built in Easter, when they were first allowed to visit again.
This has been our family home since 1977, although we didn’t buy the woodland until years later. Back then, there was a public footpath behind our 30 m-long garden, so we had people walking past, nosing into our house.
When we discovered the Forestry Commission, which owned the woodland, was selling the lot, we and five neighbours bought a chunk each. We also got permission to move the original footpath well away from our house.
It’s now extremely private and, other than planting a bit of fragrant wild garlic, we’ve kept it natural.
During the first lockdown my husband and I would take lunch into the woods and eat it while watching the heron swoop into the pond. Colin also used that time to craft a bug hotel from wooden pallets. And our sons put up a zipwire for the grandchildren.
Every November it’s become a family tradition to have burgers and sparklers around a bonfire we build in a clearing and, pre-Covid, camp in tents.
Of all the trees, there’s one special redwood, which we’ve grown from a cutting brought back from a trip to California for our 40th anniversary. Redwoods typically grow to 220 ft, though it’s only reached 7 ft so far!
Although it sounds like a big job to own a wood, it has been quite straightforward. Colin looks for unsafe branches and we hire a tree surgeon to deal with any safety issues. It’s the most wonderful playground for our family.
My copse is an escape from the urban jungle
Kelly Innes, 44, is a full-time mum and lives near Westerham, Kent, with her husband Steve, 46, a lawyer, and their daughters aged 13 and 11. She says:
We moved here eight years ago from a semi in London in search of a more rural way of life. When we viewed our four-bedroom cottage it was the Aga in the kitchen that won me over, while the option to buy the surrounding nine acres of woodland was the clincher for Steve.
At the weekend he disappears into the woods at sunrise with our dog, Hester, and stays out until dinner.
He never hears his phone ring when he’s busy sawing and chopping, so I now call him in for tea by ringing a large handheld bell.
Kelly Innes, 44, is a full-time mum and lives near Westerham, Kent, with her husband Steve, 46, a lawyer, and their daughters aged 13 and 11
Although our woodland is low maintenance, Steve opts to do a lot of hard work to it, not least planting 175 trees because, over time, we lose some of the existing ones to disease or powerful gales.
The woodland is full of ash, chestnut, oak, beech, birch, pine and cherry trees and there’s one horse chestnut that’s 400 years old.
When we first moved here our girls were terrified of the wood, but now they’re happy to yomp off with their friends to check on our pygmy goats who live in there.
In the beginning, owning such a huge area of woodland felt daunting. But now it’s simply part of our home and Steve finds it a terrific way to unwind after working all week in London.
Personally, I love the sense of tranquillity of living in a secluded spot surrounded by woodland and the closer connection to nature it has given to us all.
Perfect spot to teach old and young
Rachel Kellett, 63, is a forest school facilitator (kindaforestschools.com) and a member of the East Anglian Coppice Network. She lives with her partner in Holton, Suffolk. She says:
A month after I bought my 5.5 acre wood for £47,000 at auction, I paid the balance and took a bottle of champagne and my dog to the woodland. There, I sat wondering where this adventure would take me.
Six years on, I now share my woodland with local children and elders as a forest school.
Living in India for ten years definitely influenced my decision to buy my own wood. Little did I know how sought after they had become until I lost out on bids for two others before I bought Kallwood.
Rachel Kellett, 63, is a forest school facilitator (kindaforestschools.com) and a member of the East Anglian Coppice Network. She lives with her partner in Holton, Suffolk
It was planted with oak and hazel trees in 1900 for utility purposes: the oaks were good for building boats and houses, while the fast-growing hazels were suited for firewood, thatching and making utensils.
Known as coppicing, cutting trees at the base and allowing them to regrow to provide a sustainable supply of timber, the technique was lost after World War II.
I reintroduced it to my woodland four years ago and it’s increased the biodiversity. Now, in the coppiced areas there’s spurge laurel, daphne and early spotted orchids.
I learned much about woodland from two local experts, Paul Jackson and Graham Norgate, and built a log cabin in the woods using 12 dead oaks.
Intent on sharing my woodland, initially I thought about hosting yoga classes, but then a forest school asked to use it.
I loved what I saw and then trained as a forest school facilitator. On Mondays we have a parent and toddler group, and on Tuesdays and Wednesdays school age children. Recently, I’ve also started hosting elderly people as they find the wood relaxing.
When the woodland is empty, I wander down from my house 50 yards up the road and love to sit on the steps of my cabin with my two dogs contemplating life and how lucky I am.
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