Clapham Park Wood

Clapham Park Woods

Clapham Park Wood stands on a hill of chalky boulder clay overlooking north-west Bedford. An area of ancient woodland, part of this land has now been restored to woodland and a new parkland created. Altogether, there are over 90 acres of woods and parkland to explore using the network of waymarked paths.

How To Get There By Public Transport

BY BUS – Telephone Bedfordshire Bus Information Line : 01234 228337, 8.30am – 5pm open 5 days a week or Travel Line 0870 6082608.
BY TRAIN – For timetable information, please telephone National Rail Enquiries 08457 484950
Click here for the National Rail Enquiries website

How To Get There By Car

Bedford is easily accessible from the M1 via the A421 or from the A1 via the A603. Hawk Drive can be accessed from the B660 (Kimbolton Road) from Bedford.

Start/Finish Point

From Bedford. A suggested circular walk is to use the entrance off the Hawk Drive track. Meander through the new woodland – the path takes a gentle curve up the hillside – to the ancient wood. Follow the main ride, incorporating a walk along the wood edge if you wish. A public footpath links the ancient woodland to the new parkland, crossing a field with widely spaced lime, oak and horse chestnut trees. Return to Hawk Drive using the track, or take the footpath through the new parkland to explore the wet woodland and the variety of habitats within Park Wood Nature Reserve.

From Clapham. Walking from Green Lane take the private road on the right, where the road forks at the top of the hill. Beyond the Lodge, footpaths lead to the woods and parkland.

Access/General Information

Surface Types: You will walk across surface types ranging from hard and firm with no stones larger than 5mm, to hard but variable surfaces with loose, variable sized stones, to grass or uncultivated earth paths with ruts or mud.
Linear Gradient: There are gradients of between 1:10-1:13 and of between 1:14-1:17.
Cross Falls: None recorded.
Width Restriction: There are no restrictions less than 1000mm.
Steps: None recorded.
Barriers: There are 6 kissing gates with a restriction of less than 1000mm, 2 kissing gates with a restriction of between 1000-1500mm and one 2-step stile..
Refreshments: None recorded.
Public Toilets: None recorded.
Picnic Tables: None recorded.
Seats: There are 2 seats in Park Wood Nature Reserve.

Points of Interest

1 The Ancient Clapham Park Wood is 29 acres (12 ha) and is composed mainly of ash, with some oak and field maple together with areas of hazel coppice. It is a ‘demonstration woodland’ where a variety of management practices can be seen.

2 The New Woodland was planted in 1998 with around 26,000 native broadleaved trees and shrubs. A number are within ‘tree shelters’ to demonstrate if these achieve better growth. The main aim is to provide an amenity woodland. Oak, ash and hornbeam are the main trees, with hazel, dogwood and guelder rose forming the shrub layer.

3 The Parkland or ‘Wood Pasture’ recreates a traditional system which combines timber production with grazing land or the use of the grass for hay. Parkland is a rare but highly valued wildlife habitat. Hornbeam, oak and ash are the main trees planted. Eventually some trees will be removed to allow specimen trees to mature.

4 Wet Woodland This contains a marshy area of wildlife interest. The species planted here are alder and willow.

5 ‘Park Wood’ Local Nature Reserve was land originally intended for allotments. Some planting took place using surplus trees from the Parks Department, but most of the trees and bushes have colonised naturally. The grassland has an abundance of garden and wildflowers, making it a rich habitat for butterflies. Many birds are attracted here, including migrant warblers. The site was declared a LNR in 1997 and is looked after by local residents and used by local schools. A community orchard, with local varieties of apples and pears, is being established.


Clapham Park Wood was noted for its butterflies – in fact, in the 1850s the Rev. Charles Abbott of Oakley discovered the chequered skipper here, a butterfly new to Britain. After the war, coppice areas became neglected and rides overgrown – much of the flower-rich grassy areas required by butterflies and other insects was lost. However, recent management work has greatly benefited the ground flora. Coppice cycles have been reintroduced and paths widened, practices which allow more sunlight through to the woodland floor.

Bluebells are a feature in the spring. On dry banks, look out for primroses and dog’s mercury. Most noticeable in the wet areas is pendulous sledge; meadowsweet and figwort can also be found. Rarities include broad-leaved helleborine and herb paris.

The shrubs which grow in the lighter conditions along the rides and at the wood edge are important for wildlife, providing food and shelter. Look out for honeysuckle, wild privet, guelder rose, sallow, as well as the hazel used for coppice.

Around fifty bird species have been recorded, many benefiting from the parkland habitat. All three species of British woodpecker can be seen – or heard – and other birds of interest are the nightingale, sparrowhawk and tawny owl.

The tracks of muntjac deer can often be seen on the rides. Although attractive, they are considered a pest as they damage coppice regrowth.


Evidence for Iron Age occupation has been found at Clapham Park Wood. There are also remains of medieval ridge and furrow cultivation which shows as wave like undulations on the ground today.

In 1279, a survey recorded that John le Brun held “one Ancient Park”, a deer park providing venison for the Lord of the Manor. The name “Park” survived long after this use ended. The evidence of medieval cultivation suggests that some parts were farmed. The 1839 Tithe Map shows that part was planted as a fir plantation.

The wood was then owned by the Earl of Ashburnham. In 1862 part of his estate was sold to James Howard, founder of the Britannia Ironworks, who, over the next decade, reorganised the property on advanced lines. Model farm buildings were provided and irregular hedgerows replaced by straight boundaries to make the fields a suitable shape for demonstrating the new Howard steam ploughs.

In 1872, Clapham House was built for Howard, designed by the architect John Usher, who specialised in “Victorian Gothic”. Clapham Park contains many examples of his peculiar style. A carriage ride was laid out and a landscaped park established with a broad avenue providing a vista north-west from the house. The boundaries of the wood were straightened and tracks formed to turn it into a pleasure ground.

Over the years ownership has changed. The wood suffered large scale felling during the Second World War and subsequent neglect. In 1974, Bedfordshire County Council bought the wood to safeguard its future.


The new woodlands have been established as a partnership between Bedfordshire County Council, Cranfield University and the Forestry Authority, with funding from the European Commission.