A Little Off Base: See the full range of the forest at Thetford
RAF MILDENHALL — Some pronounce it “foliage.” Others say “foilage.” But regardless of how they say it, anyone from an area of the States that experiences a full-blown autumn knows how nice it is to watch the leaves change colors on the trees.
Well, autumn is here in East Anglia, and there is no better place to watch the leaves turn or participate in other fall activities than Thetford Forest Park.
Located within 20 minutes of Lakenheath and Mildenhall, Thetford Forest offers an array of nature-based options for those who want to walk their dog, take a scenic bike ride or just kill a Sunday afternoon with their spouse and rambunctious kids.
Thetford, named a national park by the U.K. Forestry Commission in 1990, is almost like a handful of autonomous parks. While a lush mixture of pines and leaf-bearing trees populate the entire grounds, the forest offers about 10 different points of access, with each entry offering different things to do.
From there, visitors can romp through endless trails, rent and ride horses, hunt for delicious — and nonpoisonous — wild mushrooms or let their kids loose on a host of playgrounds and interactive sites throughout the forest. Best among these would have to be the squirrel maze, which can be found after entering the forest through the High Lodge entrance. The maze, shaped like a pine cone, is a set of winding paths that take walkers through some beautiful pine forest. At the end is a mammoth wooden red squirrel play structure for the kids. But by the time they decipher the maze, they might be too tuckered out to get on the 20-foot-tall contraption.
The forest also is full of wildlife. There are observation spots for the forest’s numerous deer species as well as an area near the high lodge site where massive amounts of bats hibernate for the winter.
If you’ve never been, autumn might just be the best time to check out the forest. There are guided mushroom hunt, as well as mountain biking trails that range from the flat and easy to the more extreme.
For those who want to test their military training, the park offers an orienteering activity. Participants can grab a map and compass from the visitor center and work their way to predetermined spots throughout the woods.
There are also numerous lodges on site that sell snacks and have toilets. The lodges also host private parties.
Winter will be here soon, and while Thetford Forest Park still will be open, enjoying nature gets a bit trickier when rain is blowing horizontally and it’s cold as all get out. So in the coming weeks, while there’s still time, check out this patch of woods so close to base. The diversity of options at the park is surpassed only by the diversity of Mother Nature herself.
Getting there ...Thetford Forest Park is on the border of Norfolk and Suffolk counties in the heart of Breckland in East Anglia.
While there are about 10 access points to Thetford Forest Park, most can be reached within a 20-minute drive from RAFs Mildenhall or Lakenheath along the A11.
For a specific rundown of how the park can occupy your idle Sunday afternoon, log on to: www.forestry.gov.uk/thetfordForestpark.