I’ve started running again and apart from the health benefits, the best thing is that it’s taken me back into Middleton Woods. I love Miggy Woods and the whole park for many reasons.
The woods are a fantastic place for peace and tranquility. Even with the other walkers and cyclists there is plenty of room for everyone and most of the time the only sounds are the birdsong and maybe the wind whistling through the trees. I’m not a naturalist, but I’ve definitely heard a woodpecker and I’m told there are owls too. Once I was running on one the many minor paths and came face to face with a fox in the early morning. The fox paused and looked at me, I stopped and looked at the fox, not more than 10m away. A split second later the fox darted off into the undergrowth and I continued by run. Magical.
April and May are when the bluebells come up and provide a carpet of blue under the trees. I love to watch them growing in the green through February and March, racing ahead of the buds on the trees as winter moves into spring. I love the fact that they flower and then are gone once the leaves unfurl and put the ground into shade – it’s all perfectly timed. Don’t you just love evolution?
The woods are ancient. I’ve been told that they formed part of the northern end of the giant Sherwood Forest of the middle ages. There’s loads of history and signs of human activity – a Norman ditch which marked the boundary between the manors of Middleton and Beeston runs from the top of the steep path up from South Leeds Golf Club clubhouse. There are many collapsed bell pits – signs of early coal mining. Middleton Colliery lay just outside the woods and was served by the Middleton Railway – “the world’s oldest working railway”. The site of the coal owners house is now a rose garden.
Trams used to run through the park, I’m not sure of the route, but I’ve noticed wooden sleepers peaking out from under the long path that runs up from just above the equestrian centre on the Beeston side of the woods.
Middleton Park benefits from a wonderful Friends group who organise activities in the park from May to October. My favourite is the annual Shakespeare performance by Oddsocks Theatre Company. This is great family fun – a sort of pantomime interpretation of the Bard. All done in the open air (near the lake) on a summer’s evening, with tea and buns on sale at the interval – bring your own chair, or a blanket to sit on!
I hear the park has won lottery funding to make improvements. This is great news as parks and woodland need managing, but I do hope they don’t tidy up the wilder parts of the woods too much.