I have known the woods around Shining Cliff hostel (Ambergate in Derbyshire) in many seasons. From the overpowering rush of bluebells and spring flowers to the melancholic crisp chill of autumn, Shining Cliff woods cast a spell over you.
They rise up from the River Derwent, hogging the hillside and, from below, hiding the wood’s varied riches with a covering of leaves. There are broad, well tramped pathways winding throughout. I have a picture in front of me of myself and my two children walking three abreast on these paths, all scarves and smiling cheeks. You might climb up to the cliffs themselves – some of which overhang the hostel with gnarled trees thrusting their roots into fissures – where there are caves and craggy rocks to climb. Your path might take you past the ponds, pretty big ponds, almost a small lake. On a summer day, I have known adults and children alike plunge into the water for its coolness. You might happen upon the famous Betty Kenney tree, an ancient yew which once marked the home of the Kenneys – a family of charcoal burners who lived here in huts and tents while working the woods. They had 8 children, one of whom is buried in the tree’s roots and, legend has it, spawned the ‘Rock a bye baby’ rhyme. This tradition is maintained today by the Grith Fyrd Pioneers who maintain a working presence in the wood, a friendly wood-smoke smelling community of conservation workers.
I have many friends who view Shining Cliff Wood as a particularly magical place, its rich tapestry of varied habitat in 100-acres of mature woodland allowing you to lose yourself. You can book out the whole of the Shining Cliff Hostel, with its 20 beds and communal dining kitchen. Come on a warm day and sit out on the deck overlooking the gorgeous woodland or come on a winter day and light a fire under the cliffs.