Just a short way from the busy A46, this ancient woodland feels as if it’s in its own world, miles away from anywhere. Its hidden valley, gently babbling stream, moss covered oak trees, bird song and tranquility make it an ideal place to forget about the cares of the world. It feels ancient as if it’s been here since time began.
The valley is old – and I mean mindblowingly old. It was carved out during the Ice Age by a stream flowing beneath the ice sheets which covered all of this region. Once the Ice Age had finished and all of the ice had melted, trees and plants moved in and covered the area, creating woodlands like Midger Wood.
In May, most of the the woodland floor is carpeted with wild garlic, though there are plenty of other flowers demanding their share of attention. Rare flowers – Herb Paris, Green Hellebore and Lily-of-the-valley – can be found if you know what you’re looking for and have time to hunt around for them. Pendulous sedge grows alongside the main entrance into the wood (the grass-like plant with fluffy seed heads hanging down), golden-leaved opposite saxifrage grows alongside the brook, spurge laurel and wood spurge are growing all above the wild garlic whilst violets hide amongst it, and patches of bluebells are dotted about the place.
In the middle of the wood is an open glade called Elizabeth’s Glade after a volunteer who helped to look after the wood for many years. There’s a wooden seat in the middle of it where you can relax and watch for butterflies feeding on the wildflowers that grow here in the open sunlight.
The wood’s special inhabitant, which you won’t see as it lives in the treetops, is the dormouse – Midger Wood is one of Stroud district’s best sites for this cute animal made famous as the sleepy character at the Mad Hatter’s Tea Party in the book, Alice in Wonderland. So you won’t be surprised to learn this place is classed as a site of special scientific interest and also a nature reserve looked after by Gloucestershire Wildlife Trust.
The top layer of rock underneath the woodland is fuller’s earth – the stuff used in cat litter trays. This soaks up water very well so slumps every now and then, giving the valley sides their lumpy appearance. Underneath that is limestone which shows as rounded humps, called tufa, in the brook – this is basically limescale which settles out of the water (the same as in kettles) covering other stones and plants on the bed of the stream.
Midger wood is a great place for families with young children to visit as the Kilcott Brook, which runs along the woodland bottom, is only a couple of inches deep. There are two little ‘beaches’: pebbly areas where children could easily paddle in the stream and one even has a bench next to it so parents could grab a bit of rest whilst keeping an eye on them. Perfect! Especially if you’ve taken a flask of tea and some biscuits with you (may not be quite the place for the hipflask…). Although the paths are uphill in places, they’re wide and easy to follow thanks to footpath signs, and the route only takes about an hour at strolling pace – so there shouldn’t be too much complaining from the kids in tow!
When to visit: the wild garlic is in full flower during the mid-two weeks of May, earlier if spring has been warm and later if it’s been cold.
Location: the wood is next to the minor road leading from the A46 to the village of Hillesley, about 7 miles south of Nailsworth.
Terrain: the wood is on the sides of a valley and, although it’s a tiny valley, this means the paths are still up and down. The slope up to the top of the wood is quite steep but they’re wide paths with a soil surface. The paths lower down are often muddy so wear strong outdoor shoes (or wellies if you want to splash in the brook). There aren’t any steps or stiles to negotiate. A circular route beginning and ending at the main entrance to the wood has been marked with round-shaped footpath signs which have a white background and most have a red arrow on pointing the way (some were red once but have faded).
How much time to allow: if you walk the route marked with the footpath signs at a gentle pace, it should take about an hour.
Facilities: There aren’t any toilets or refreshments at the wood but the village of Hillesley further down the road has a good pub.
Directions: from Nailsworth, drive south along the A46 over the cross-roads with traffic lights and about two or three miles further on, there’s a right turn signposted to Hillersley. Turn off here and about a mile further down the road is a small, surfaced layby with enough room for about 4 cars. Park here and then walk a short way down the road (continuing towards Hillesley), there’s a green public footpath sign on a tall post on your right. Follow this sign, across the brook and uphill a few yards to reach the formal entrance to the wood.
Walk route: the route is shown by small, round footpath signs with a white background and a red arrow pointing the way – though some of the arrows have faded to become white coloured. From the notice board at the wood’s entrance, keep walking straight ahead. After a while, the path forks – take the left hand path (following the signpost). A little further on, the path splits again – take the left hand path to reach Elizabeth’s glade or the left hand one to continue walking. When there’s another fork in the path, take the right hand one to walk along the top end of the wood. At another split, take the right path to go downhill to the brook. Here there are some tree stumps in the water which could be fun for kids to play on. Turn left and walk a few feet to reach a dam of tufa in the water plus a little ‘beach’ which is a good play spot for children to paddle in the stream. Otherwise, turn right to walk along the brook and after a couple of minutes, you’ll reach the bench next to the brook. Carry straight on and then turn left at the junction of paths to return to the main entrance. Carry on past the noticeboard, cross the brook (there is a small, wooden bridge) and then turn left when you reach the road to return to your car.