Prehen Ancient Woodland

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Prehen Ancient Wood covers a mere 22 acres (the size of a big field), a remnant of the great forest which once covered the banks of the Foyle and far beyond. Today it is hidden behind the suburban fringes on the outskirts of Derry / Londonderry. You might suppose that twentieth century urbanisation brought it to this state – but the great loss occurred much earlier, driven by the demand for timber and the desire for new fertile agricultural land.

Prehen wood survived into the twentieth century by being part of the estate of Prehen House. After this was broken up, the wood almost fell prey to felling, but was saved by a public outcry in the 1920’s  – an early environmental awakening. Prehen then is a kind of Muir Woods for this part of the world – a small beginning that still has a long way to go!

TYPE Suburban roads and woodland circular walk
DISTANCE 1.4 miles / 2.2 km
SURFACES Roadside pavement followed by generally well made forest path – central section on rougher earth paths with exposed roots etc.
HEIGHT GAIN / LOSS 275 feet climb (starting from Prehen Road)
HAZARDS
  • unguarded disused quarry edge
  • some rougher sections of paths

Getting There

Public transport is definitely an option with the starting point described below just over a mile from the train station. For anyone who hasn’t sampled the Castlerock to Derry great railway journey (as enthused about by Michael Palin), this is your chance to make that good. If you travel on a Sunday a ‘Rail tracker’ day roaming ticket is currently (June 2018) good value:

Adult Child Family & Friends (up to 2 Adults & 4 Children)
£7.50 £3.75 £22

From the train station follow the river upstream past the double-deck Craigavon Bridge and then continue along the A5 Strabane Road (or Sustrans Route 93 along the River) to Prehen Playing Fields / Everglades Hotel and the Prehen Road turn off.

If you come by car there is no car park associated with the wood. There is no parking possible near entrance A (wheel clamping in force) and the main entrance B is a cul-de-sac with street parking only. I suggest the best option is to park on the straight section of Prehen Road and walk from there.

The Route

Image based on a Native American petroglyph near Saint George, Utah, United States of America

If you look at the map you will see that the orange route line is not a circle – it is actually a spiral. The main reason for this is that to mark the whole route would be confusing with orange lines and arrows everywhere. The second reason is that a spiral is a very good way to approach a small dense area like this. The idea is that you first visit the edges with the bigger clear paths and gradually slow down and tune in to the woods – this takes time. A fast walker could fly around the Prehen boundary Red Route and notice very little. I suggest by the time you have almost completed the outer loop, you will have slowed down, cleared your head and you’re ready for the section on small dirt paths into the heart of the forest where you are also most likely to see Red Squirrels and other wildlife. Even if you don’t see the squirrels – there is a Badger guaranteed at the end!

Starting on the Prehen Road – head away from the Everglades Hotel and turn left into Prehen Park and climb the steep hill past the Hazelwood turning until you come to an access road turning left toward the forest.

At June 2018 there was no signage here except the developers hoarding for ‘Prehen Woods’

Turn left here and continue around the corner for 100m. As you pass an emphatic ‘No Parking / Clamping’ sign in a lay-by on your left, you come to the entry point on your right where a rough path climbs up to a WELCOME sign!

Turn left here onto the Red trail and follow the recently repaired stone chip path along the edge of the wood. The path now climbs gently and crosses a series of recently constructed stone bridges over shallow ditches.

New stonework and chippings sit well in the old wood

The forest floor here is classic old woodland with Bluebells, Wild Garlic and Wood Anemone  in profusion. Their flowering spectacle only lasts for a couple of weeks around May when spring really kicks in and light and warmth are available. Flowering has to occur before the deciduous leaf canopy closes over bringing the woodland semi-twilight of late spring and summer. The later visitor can enjoy many other plants such as Red Campion which can thrive in the lower light.

Continue to follow the Red trail ignoring the tempting Yellow trail and other smaller paths branching right towards the heart of the forest. The path now levels and you pass the first of a series of woodland animals sculpted into tree trunks, in this case a hedgehog. Shortly afterwards the path touches the forest edge by a short piece of rather incongruous ranch fence and you can see out to a pastoral city view.

Fields, hedges, ranks of terraced housing, two Cathedrals and distant Donegal hills – the view seems almost timeless

The path follows the forest edge sharp right and the trees seem to become older and stranger.

Look carefully, just by the fox, and there are signs of recent-past human activity in the tree canopy!

Follow the Red trail on past its junction with the Yellow to the squirrel which sits just inside the main wood entrance where there is a Woodland Trust information board – worth a look.

Continue a short distance downhill until the path splits – the left option goes towards the light and the second viewpoint of the walk – the Quarry’s edge – please take care.

What is remarkable here is that the ‘wood’ below you in the foreground is actually the floor of a large quarry, now being rapidly reclaimed by the trees, solely by natural processes.

Continue on, rejoin the main Red trail and at the next waymark post – turn right, apparently on the ‘Black’ trail.

There really isn’t a third waymarked trail along made paths – this option is into the maze of small paths which twist and turn through the heart of the wood. This is a good place to really slow down – to walk quietly and watch carefully. I have marked paths here with the green small dash and you should be able to follow them OK, but if you do find an extra turning, don’t panic – you will just find yourself popping out at a different point on the red or yellow trail.

Beside the path – more evidence of recent human presence and creativity – but what it is – a chair, a hide, a shrine?

Bear left at the first junction and right at the second – this will bring you back out of the Yellow trail, with the Badger just to your right.

Continue clockwise and you should soon join the Red trail and meet the Squirrel again as the path drops down past the quarry to the post with the black arrow.

This time continue straight ahead until you come to a new flight of stone steps with cherry pole handrail – The Woodland Trust does this so well!

 

No ‘stairway to heaven’ boardwalk required here!

Shortly after this you meet the Butterfly and keep your eyes open for the remains of a high-perched tree house above.

You now come back to the Woodland Trust Welcome board where we came in and you can just retrace your steps to suburbia and your origin of departure.

Route Map to Download and Print (PDF)

External links

Related Walks