It’s not what you expect in a forest. A huge brass key, the sort you would use to wind up a mechanical toy, is sticking out of the side of a tree. There’s no one near and the temptation is overwhelming; I turn it with a satisfying “click” before, unexpectedly, soft chimes rise from the forest floor, creating a countermelody to a song thrush in the canopy.
I always struggle with humans messing with landscape. I can’t help but feel nature is best, and best enjoyed, in a raw state. But occasionally we get it right. And Grizedale Forest is one such occasion.
The heart of the southern lakes is not water or mountain as you might expect, but sprawling woodland, a mix of pine and broad-leaves, between Windermere and Coniston. I am tackling one of its more strenuous tracks, the Silurian Way, as it twists and turns through a startling density of trees. Through the foliage, I glimpse a herd of deer in an adjoining field of buttercups. It takes a second before I realise they are sculptures.
Grizedale is home to the largest collection of site-specific environment art in the UK, which means the sculpture extends beyond the muscular beech trunks or colourful walls of dense evergreen. Andy Goldsworthy’s works sidewind up a patch of clearing: a giant white stile surprises from the trees; a vast red fox runs by a log pile.
After being led a wonderful 10 miles by the helpful green posts along the track, I come around to the hand of man in this forest. Back at the visitor centre, groups of people are helmeting up. Thrill-seekers enjoy an embarrassment of riches here too. The mountain biking trails are some of the best in the country and there is the ubiquitous forest adventure, “Go Ape”, wired through the canopy. Whatever you want from your woodland adventure, Grizedale is likely to offer it.
* Grizedale Forest (Ambleside, LA22 0QJ) is signposted from nearby Hawkshead village (2.8 miles) and easily walkable from the lovely village of Satterthwaite (1.2 miles). From the south by road, it is signed from the A590 at Haverthwaite. Windermere station is 10 miles away, with trains running regularly from Leeds, Edinburgh, Sheffield and Manchester via Transpennine Express (08457 000125; tpexpress.co.uk). Reward your tired limbs by staying at the stunning Linthwaite House (015394 88600; linthwaite.com), where doubles start from £180 per night including breakfast. Dinner in its beautiful restaurant is also highly recommended. For a budget trip, camping is available by the forest for £7 per night (Grizedale Camping Site)