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Hawkhill Wood

Back to GD Avenue / GD Drive HedgerowOn to plantation below Hawkhill
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Neighbourhood Nature Area sign. Summer

This is another old, plantation woodland. Most of the woodland here lies on the slopes to the north, south and east, with a grassy clearing in the middle of the wood.

The first thing to note is that, on a clear day, there is a brilliant view from here, over the Forth, to Fife.

Starting from the ‘Neighbourhood Nature Area’ sign that was put up by GreenScheme (see picture), this walk follows the paths anti-clockwise round the hill. So from here, follow the path to the left, up the hill.

In spring (early-mid May) this path goes through the pretty white flowers of Few-Flowered Leek. Their onion smell can be detected from metres away! This plant is often muddled up with Wild Garlic, because it looks similar and has the same smell. However, Few-flowered Leek has thinner leaves, and the white flowers are droopy, with fewer of them than on Wild Garlic. They are both members of the Lily family and can be used in cooking, making an excellent mild substitute for garlic! The leaves can also be added to salads. 

Up the hill a little, are Wild Raspberry canes on the right hand side, with large, leafy grasses between them.

Further up the path (before the steps) there is an area with many tree stumps in it. In summer, this area is full of leafy plants and you can't see the stumps! These are the stumps of Wych Elm trees. They will have been cut down due to Dutch Elm Disease. These stumps are still alive, and are producing shoots. Other trees in this area are Sycamore and Oak, with leaf litter and rotting twigs beneath them (good for minibeasts). Also, there are many tree stumps with bracket fungi growing on them. Bracket fungi grow on both living and dead wood. Unlike toadstools, they are hard to the touch (and sometimes look like hooves). They can survive for many, many years.

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Bracket fungus on rotting tree trunk

Back on the path, just before the steps, look out for a large patch of Lesser Celandine on the left-hand side, in the spring. You will see its glossy, ‘kidney-shaped’ leaves and starry yellow flowers in April/May. Following the path up the steps, there is another small path, to a trench on the right-hand side. This is absolutely full of Few-flowered Leek in spring. Smell those onions! 

On the main path, to the left, is a Broom bush. This is very like Gorse, without the fierce jaggy thorns. It has similar yellow flowers and pea-like seed pods, which dry out and pop open in the heat of the summer, flinging its seeds out as far as possible. See if you can hear them ‘popping’, or even watch them doing this.

Gorse in flower

Past this Broom bush, the path leads us into a clearing, with very short grass between Hawthorn, Gorse and more Broom bushes. Here, on a warm day in spring or summer, you can smell the coconut smell of the yellow Gorse flowers. (You’d be forgiven for thinking it was sun-tan lotion!) 

Gorse is also known as Whin. It flowers all year round and supports many insects, including Bumble Bees. It is very nutritious and was once used to feed cattle and horses - the young leaves were grazed in the spring and, in winter, the jaggy bushes were cut, crushed and used as animal feed when other food was scarce.

The short grass is due to rabbit grazing. The plants here don’t have a chance to grow very big! There is a lot of Wild Strawberry here (try to find the 3-piece leaves) and Daisies. From here, the path follows the Hawthorn boundary of the wood to a view over an Urban Forest plantation. There is a lot of Ivy along here, on the ground and up into the trees and there’s a rock-face on the right-hand side—remains of the old quarry that once existed here. At this point, above the rock face, is a patch of Japanese Knotweed. This is yet another introduction to this country, which is doing very well. It appears in summer - looking a bit like reddish bamboo, but with larger leaves. Another thorn in a conservationist’s side!

Through the Hawthorn tunnel, mosses seem to be the only ground plants that can survive this amount of shade. Past the paved path on the left-hand side, there’s rubble and stone on the right, a large Rose bush on the left and then the path leads up to a small Yew tree. To the right of this tree, the path goes through more Wych Elm, some young Ash trees and comes out of the tree canopy, meeting another path beside a large Crab Apple tree.

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Horsetails hiding in grass - spring

From here, if you take the left fork for a few steps, you’ll pass Common Reed and Horsetail plants, which both grow in boggy soil. These particular Horsetails are probably Common Horsetail (Equisetum arvense).

 Horsetails are very primitive plants with jointed, hollow stems, which reproduce by spores (so do fungi, ferns, and mosses). 

Hundreds of millions of years ago, they made up a large group of plants. Some of these were the size of trees and grew in forests. These forests have now turned into coal. 

Nowadays, only the smaller kinds of Equisetum exist. They have a lot of silica in them, which makes them very tough plants. It is their toughness that led to their use as pot-scourers many years ago, although they have also been eaten as vegetables and used medicinally by humans since Roman times. All Horsetails are poisonous to livestock, and are therefore unwelcome in pasture fields.

Turning round, and back along the path, there are some young Scots Pine trees on the left-hand side amongst larger Alder, Broom, Hawthorn and Ash. This path gets extremely muddy in autumn / winter.

Finally, we come to the clearing in the middle of the wood. This has extremely short grass (grazed by rabbits) in it, with mosses and other plants with very small leaves. These include Silverweed, Common Mouse Ear, Wood Avens, Ragwort, Ribwort and Broad-leaved Plantain, White Clover, Creeping Buttercup, Thistles and Yarrow. Around this grazed area are taller shrubs of Wild Raspberry, Brambles, Hogweed, Broad-leaved Dock, Rosebay Willowherb, and Teasel. 

Pipistrelle bats have been seen in this area. These bats are very small. They come out at night time and feed on small flying insects - so no need to worry about them attacking humans! See the game Bat and Moth to find out how they catch their prey!


What to look out for and when
(in each season start off on left-hand path from Hawkhill sign)

Spring Summer Autumn Winter
Small, white flowers and onion smell of Few-Flowered Leek

Glossy leaves and yellow starry flowers of Lesser Celandine

White Hawthorn flowers

Green carpets of Ivy on either side of path

Carpet of moss all over path and sides

Good time to look for minibeasts

Red fruit of Wild Raspberries 

Small, pink, delicate flowers of Broad-leaved Willowherb, with oval leaves.

Different shapes and textures of tree leaves

Furry, brown seed pods on evergreen Broom and Gorse (Gorse pods protected by thorns) 

Small, white flowers of Wild Strawberry on ground

Red Rowan berries stand out when looking over new trees towards Craigmillar Castle

Delicate leaves and small, pink flowers of Herb Robert at this viewpoint

Butterflies on flowers

Horsetails in boggy areas

Purple Creeping Thistles, some with downy seed heads

Green cones on Alder trees beside Scots Pines 

Clearing: pink Rosebay Willowherb round edge, Silverweed in middle and yellow flowers of Black Medick all over.

Purple Teasel flowers

Bats at dusk

Brambles fruiting beside Hawkhill sign

Rabbit holes all over wood

Small, dark pink flowers of Hedge Woundwort (right of path going up hill towards steps)

Bright red Hawthorn berries

Herb Robert still flowering


Bright red berries of Rowan trees 

Purple and yellow Michaelmas Daisies still out

Spiky Teasel seed heads on long stalks next to clearing 

Maple and Sycamore leaves very different colours now. Maple: yellows / oranges / reds. Sycamore: darker yellows / browns with red stalks and more crispy texture.

Lots ripe, red, smooth Rose hips on rose bushes (no leaves now)

Bright, red and shiny berries of Guelder Rose  – next to path near clearing, towards main entrance.

Can see birds and rabbits much easier now, as less leaves.

Yellow flowers of Gorse 

Great views over to Craigmillar Castle.

Small Yew tree – dark green - standing out amongst surrounding brown

Ivy flowers and berries

Bracket fungi on tree-trunks and logs

Ground hard and frozen – crunchy as walk

Amazing skies at this time of year

Plants all bare, except Bramble, Scots Pine, Broom, Ivy, Moss, Ferns, some Stinging Nettles

Alder cones now dark and very obvious

Clumps of 'keys' on Ash trees.

Rosehips turning black

Guelder Rose berries still bright red and lush, near clearing

Up to the top of Hawkhill Wood!

Go explore for yourself!