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Autumn in the woods

Misty mornings, an earthy smell in the air and muddy boots are what I envisage when I think of Autumn.

Its subtle but towards the end of August the season started to change and the golden glow of summer began ebbing away. As the colder months approach greens give way to a kaleidoscope of reds, yellows and browns.

Autumn is a magical time to explore the countryside and our family are always drawn to the woods. Woodland provides endless things to do with children and I would like to share some of our favourite things to do, what to look out for and places to visit near to Belper.

Nature spotting

A single oak tree can produce 90,000 acorns a year providing an important food source for many animals. You’ll hear squirrels crashing about in the canopy dropping acorn shells and leaping from branch to branch. Watch and you’ll see them busily collecting and burying acorns. While you’re listening you might hear the distinctive squawk of jays. They are also collecting acorns to keep them fed during the winter. Acorns often have the tell-tale signs of who’s been eating them. Squirrels like to crack them open while wood mice nibble a hole in the top. You may also notice the spikey cases of sweet chestnut with there white downy insides encasing

three shiny chestnuts. Tricky to get out but they are delicious roasted on the fire. You'll just need to beat the squirrels too them!

Misty and frosty days are perfect to admire spider webs in the long grass, looking like they have been strung with a thousand glass beads. If you look closely you might see a resident spider or a fly that has been wrapped up for their next meal.

In the damp months at the start of autumn you should be able to find an abundance of mushrooms. Children find mushrooms fascinating. I always explain it’s difficult to tell which ones are poisonous. A safe way to investigate mushrooms without touching them is by poking them with a stick.

Get creative

At this time of year there are no end things to collect; leaves of all colours, nuts, berries and seed heads all go in to our bucket. You should easily find ash and sycamore keys. These are the seeds I remember throwing in to the air as a child and watching helicopter back to the ground. We save our collection for a rainy afternoon and make a collage or Christmas cards. If you bring a stick home treasures can be hung from it to make a mobile or window hanging.

A journey stick or crown will keep you on the move. Wrap a piece of double-sided tape around a stick or onto a strip of card to make a crown. Put on the things you find to remind you of where you have been and see how many different colours you can find.

Fun and games

The humble stick can be many things and is the essential companion for exploring, watch your child’s imagination run wild. Sticks can be used to drum on trees, ridden like a horse or thrown like a spear. Throwing is a powerful urge important for developing strength, coordination and even skills like learning to write. We throw into open spaces, away from anyone so no one comes to harm.

As winter draws closer and the leaves begin to fall, a favourite game and a great way to keep warm is trying to catch a falling leaf. See if you can, it’s harder than you think and it will have you giggling as you leap around trying.

Children play differently when they are in wild places. Woodlands open a whole world to explore and fire imaginations. To be lost in play free of adult intervention is becoming increasingly rare. Try stepping off the path, standing back and following their lead to see things in a different light.

Woodlands to visit

Belper Parks Nature reserve is a hidden gem in the centre of the town with a stream for pooh sticks, good climbing trees and meadows. Most paths are suitable for pushchairs but can get muddy after rain.

Shining Cliff Woods has a lovely pond and stream to paddle in. There are several places to park to give you a range of walks. The paths are uneven and often muddy so pushchairs are not recommended.

Bow wood was once pasture, see if you can spot the stone gate posts as you walk up the path. A short walk can be extended by exploring the adjacent Coumbs Wood. Uneven paths make this wood unsuitable for pushchairs.

Oxhayes Wood is uphill at the start but rewards you with a downhill meander back. Paddle in the stream and explore the disused quarries. The first part straight up from the parking area is pushchair friendly, although it will be muddy after rain. At the half way point the

path becomes narrow and uneven so if you

have a pushchair come back the way you came.