My canal side walk to Century Wood

Henry David Thoreau famously borrowed an axe in 1845 and went to the woods to build himself a cabin. Well in the spring of 2024, I went to the woods to cut myself a walking stick, and began my journey from my home at the north edge of Cheshire, to Century Wood in Shropshire. A walk of over 78 miles over five days, mostly along the canal towpaths.

Normally the journey is 80 minutes in the car. Listening to a couple of podcast episodes maybe, or some music. But since about 2018 I started planning to walk there, because I only feel I really know where places are relative to each other by walking. For me, walking answers the question “But how far is it really?” Plus I realised I could use the canal towpaths for most of the distance and so it would be a lovely walk through the countryside from town to town, without miles of slogging through muddy fields or walking busy roads.

(I’ve also made the text and photos of this blog available as a video.)

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Clearing rides video

Here is my first new video about the wood for quite a while, about clearing one of the rides back in October 2022.

This video shows reopening one of the woodland tracks in Century Wood in Shropshire that had become overgrown. Woodland tracks were called rides if they were open enough to ride a horse along them. At Century Wood the network of rides provides a way of getting around on foot or with the tractor without trampling lots of ground flora. The sunlight is able to get in and encourage grass to grow and we get a wider variety of plants on the edges than if there was just deep shade from the trees. But, the rides are an artificial, human intervention, and the wood is always trying to reclaim them. Left alone, the trees drop branches, nettles and brambles grow, and bushes and then new trees start to get established, and the ride will disappear. There is a stretch of one of the rides which I neglected for the past few years, and in this video I reopen it. 

Woodland planning reform

I’ve written about the practicalities of woodland planning over the years and created an extensive guide to the legal situation on the Century Wood website. But here I’m going to present a “shopping list” of what changes I’d like to see.

There is a lot of emphasis on woodland creation at the moment. The benefits of woodland that are promoted include “boosting wildlife, providing shelter for livestock, preventing soil erosion, reducing flooding, providing timber, supporting the economy, and improving mental health and wellbeing.” Those benefits rely on appropriate management, including human interventions which replace the actions of species we removed in the past.

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Wet woodland

This has been a week of flooding in Shropshire and much of the rest of the country. At Century Wood, the water levels have been higher as they usually are in winter, and our seasonal ponds where the water table breaks through the surface, are back.

Here are two contrasting photos of one of the boundary ditches: on the left, to show the depth of the ditch, here it is empty during the drought year of 2011 when I believe water was diverted for irrigation; and almost overflowing this week. That fallen log is the standing tree with the fork in the 2011 photo.

There is normally a foot or two of water in that ditch all year round. This next photo is of another drainage ditch which is normally dry but fills up and then starts flowing when there are floods. A bit back from the ditch is a dead tree with orange fruiting bodies from the fungi consuming the rotting timber inside. The fungus is something like Velvet Shank.

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