I was on my way to somewhere else with a couple of hours to kill, and the closest place on the map was Cardinham Woods, about three miles north-east of Bodmin. This was not a spot that had been on my list to visit in Cornwall – a plantation, lots of created trails – it didn’t seem, on paper, to have enough wildlife interest for me to make it a priority for a visit. How wrong was I, and how glad that I made the effort to go there!
For one thing, while this Forestry Commission-owned wood does include plenty of plantation trees (mainly the stately larch), there is a great deal of mixed woodland and understorey vegetation there as well. I spotted hazel, beech, ivy, oak, honeysuckle and bramble. Birdsong was constant, and a Jay, a Blackbird and a Thrush all came down from the trees to see me, while woodland plants were growing within a camera-lens distance of the path – the fresh green leaves and pretty white flowers of Wood Sorrel, Bluebells (not as advanced here as further west in Cornwall), the delicate winged flowers of Yellow Archangel, young Bilberry, Common Dog-violets, Foxgloves still green with the promise of their luscious flowers not yet delivered…all this, and ferns and moss and lichens in abundance…
The Woods here are very popular with cyclists, walkers and horseriders alike, and the paths were easy to follow and clearly signed. There are four walking routes: I took the Callywith Wood Walk, which circles an area where a long-term dormouse conservation project is being undertaken.
After a few minutes, I largely had the path to myself, although there were occasional flashes of cyclists whizzing by on a parallel trail. The way is fairly gentle, but climbs through the trees, both the rows of larch and the more untidy mixed woodland that sits alongside it. A small but busy river winds alongside the track for a while, chattering and splashing along.
Most of my childhood holidays were spent in Scotland, and I remember many a walk through mountainside conifer plantations. They are often scorned for their regimented rows and lack of variety in structure and height, but I thought then, and I was reminded in Cardinham, that they do have their own strange, wistful charm. The wind has a quality of constantly rushing though the trees as if it is come from some wilder time and place and has found itself lost in this far-off wood.
And every so often a gap through the tall upright trunks opens to a glimpse of a wider horizon. Cardinham was no different, with its views towards Bodmin and down the Cardinham Valley.
There are many different ways for all sorts of folk to enjoy a day out at Cardinham Woods. There are miles of walking and cycling trails, bridle paths, a picnic area, a play area for the children, and a great place to eat – the Woods Cafe – where I had a welcome cup of coffee and large slice of home-made carrot cake at the end of my tramp through the woods. It’s fairly easy to find – from the A30 turn east down the A38 towards Liskeard and from a few hundred metres further on follow the brown tourist signs to the woods. There is also a large and relatively inexpensive car park.
As I left, the car park was busier than when I arrived, but beyond the laughing children, happy dogs and chattering people, I could still hear the sound of the birdsong, and beyond that again, the same wind, still searching through the trees.