West Calder Woods Walk  

Article in the Konect Directory, Calders edition, June 2010

Karen Murray, in the company of some friends, enjoyed a woodland dog walk near West Calder.

Most of us love a walk in the woods, from dog walkers to young and old alike and around a mile outside West Calder there are two such lovely woodland areas. The Hermand Beech and Birch Woods are lovely shaded areas and make for the ideal short walk or string the two together with a stroll out from West Calder and you have a good hearty walk.

Heading up the B7008 toward Harburn you come to a crossroads. On the left is the Beech Wood and turning right you’ll find the Birch Wood Nature reserve, where you will also find a small car park about 400m along the road on the left.  If you are walking from West Calder, you will come to the entrance to the Beech Wood first, just before the crossroads on the left.  As you enter the wood, you are at once in peaceful surroundings with great views over to the left across the fields. 

Classified in the Ancient Woodland inventory as ‘long established woodland of plantation origin’, the wood was originally planted in the late 18th century.  As is the way of things, much of the original beech has since been removed. There is now a mix of species including silver birch, sycamore, rowan, common alder, ash and horse chestnut.  There isn’t a lot of variety of flora, but if you pick the right time of year, such as now, you’ll see wood sorrel, small bright patches of the beautiful primrose, the delightful spring bluebells and then areas of honeysuckle, dogrose where it is not so sheltered and you might be lucky enough to spot some patches of blaeberry in the north west of the wood. 

We also delighted in the delicate wild violets at the entrance to the wood.

Hermand Beech Wood is relatively small, and you can either walk straight through from the north west entrance and out the other side exiting onto the unclassified road from Bellsquarry, or do a loop (500m) and come out where you started. Much of the walk is along boardwalk, always a great persuader to get the children out and about and you can encourage them further by getting them to spot squirrels, birds and minibeasts.

If you exit on the Bellsquarry road, then turn right and keep walking through the crossroads and continue along the road until you reach the car park on the left for Hermand Birchwood (SSSI) Nature Reserve, managed by the Scottish Wildlife Trust. (If you have walked the loop, turn left, then right at the crossroads).

Now you can head into the Birch Wood nature reserve and enjoy a second woodland walk. We had a our faithful hound with us on a relatively mild day and while she did enjoy the first wood, the second gave her more freedom and her owner the unfortunate task of bathing her as she particularly enjoyed a swim in the very mucky burns that criss-cross the reserve. Once again much of this walk is along boardwalks, which might be slippery when wet so take care. They do not however, go the whole way round so you will find that sturdy footwear is required as there will be muddy patches and while a map at the entrance guides you around the wood, there are several side paths that you might want to wander off on so try not to loose your sense of direction.

This woodland reserve consists primarily of birch woodland over peat with some areas of open heath and grassland to the north of the site. It has been designated a SSSI for its birch woodland – a rare habitat in West Lothian and when you find yourself under the leafy canopy of a large spreading birch, home to a number of squirrels, you are bound to appreciate its beauty.

If you are a bird watcher you might be able to name the many that flit and swoop past you as you walk along and from around now through to August you can see the ferns and mosses at their best along with some lovely orchids.

We made two different loops in the forest, making for two very different walks. The first followed the path you will find on the map, the second followed a similar route but along narrower paths in the interior of the wood, and this second afforded the shade of the beautiful spreading birch so probably worth the extra mud on the boots! Apparently the Birch Wood also makes for a great night time spooky walk – it is said to be haunted - but do bring a torch so you don’t loose your footing.

The beauty of these walks is that you can visit again and again and make the walk as long or as short as you like. Just 30 minutes walking a day can make a dramatic difference to your health and wellbeing and a walk in a wood is the perfect way to get those 30 minutes in.  

If you don’t feel comfortable heading out on a walk alone, you could try joining one of the walking groups in the area.  The West Calder Walking Group meets every Thursday at 12.30pm (T: 01506 871773) and the Polbeth Walking Group meets on Sundays at 1.15pm (T: Carina 07887 488557 or E: rodandcarina@aol.com). 

West Lothian Walking Week in September is also a great way of finding out new walks you maybe hadn’t discovered before and of enjoying guided walks throughout the whole West Lothian Area.  Call 01506 775626 for more information.  And finally, remember when you are outdoors that you need to look after the environment you are in. In Scotland everyone has a right to walk almost anywhere as long as you are responsible. If you want to know the rules, visit  www.outdooraccess-scotland.com

 © Lothian Publications Ltd 2014