Path through green woodland
History,  London,  Sunday Stills

Ruislip Woods: ancient woodland in suburbia

When the Domesday Book was written, in 1086, what is now the pleasant London suburb of Ruislip was known as Rislepe, ‘leaping place on the river where rushes grow’. The book also tells us that it had more pigs than human inhabitants. These pigs roamed the extensive woodlands; and Ruislip Woods remain to this day, although smaller than they once were.

Information board
Sign about the Domesday Book in Ruislip Library

Ruislip still has at its heart the ancient village at its heart that was mentioned in the Domesday Book. The village grew up around the 13th century parish church dedicated to St Martin. The barns belonging to the former Manor Farm, just to the north of the church, still stand.

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Ruislip is also the town where I grew up, and where my parents continued to live until old age and ill health necessitated a move away for the last few years of their lives. So it’s a place I know very well indeed.

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Large dark wood barn
The Great Barn, with the Little Barn (now a library) beyond

Ruislip Woods

Ruislip may be largely a built-up area today, but a significant vestige of its rural roots remains in that large tract of woodland to its north. This is the largest block of ancient semi-natural woodland in Greater London and is important enough to have been designated a National Nature Reserve.

These woods are what remains of the ancient woodland after land was cleared for settlement and crops in medieval times. They consist of four separate woods: Park Wood, Copse Wood, Mad Bess Wood and Bayhurst Wood. The woods were mentioned in the Domesday Book of 1086, when they provided foraging for pigs and timber for building and firewood. Later, timber from these woods was used in the construction of the Tower of London in 1339, Windsor Castle in 1344, the Palace of Westminster in 1346 and the manor of the Black Prince in Kennington. They were coppiced on rotation throughout the years with the timber sold to local tanneries. By the time King’s College took ownership of the manor, after it was confiscated from the Abbey, the woods were let for sport, with pheasants kept for shooting.

Today the woods are crisscrossed with footpaths and bridleways, and many locals (and some from further afield) enjoy walking and riding here. There is a large variety of tree, plant and animal species. The most common trees are hornbeam, oak and beech; in particular, the mixture of hornbeam and beech in Bayhurst Wood is considered unusual.

For Terri’s Sunday Stills theme of leaves and trees I want to share some photos of these ancient woods. As will be immediately obvious, they were taken on two separate visits; one a few years ago at the height of summer and the other last November. Both were to Park Wood, the area closest to where I used to live and arguably the least ‘wild’ of the four areas.

Summer in the woods

Although they look quiet in my photos, these woods are a popular leisure area for local people. They walk their dogs; take the children to play and discover nature; and even ride horses on the bridleways.

A November walk

For Jo’s Monday walk this week, let me take you on a late autumn stroll through these woods. Some trees are bare by now, others still have colourful leaves lingering. But there are far more leaves on the ground than there are on the branches. They don’t crunch underfoot on this slightly damp day; instead it feels at times as if we are walking on a deep-pile carpet! Oh, and I’m sure we’ll find some fungi and lichen too along the way.

I lived in Ruislip from 1959-1974 and again from 1977-1981, but visit only rarely these days

39 Comments

  • Eunice

    Very interesting that some of the timber from these woods was used in the construction of some of London’s historical buildings, and i like the idea of pigs roaming round freely 🙂

  • rkrontheroad

    A lovely walk in the woods. I’m sure it’s especially meaningful for you, having grown up there. How nice to share your personal history with the history of this place.

  • wetanddustyroads

    I was wondering how you pronounce ‘Ruislip’ (but then saw in the comments … now, I have to re-read your post with the correct pronunciation 😉). How amazing are those trees – love the wonderful green trees, but then … those autumn colours are splendid!

    • Sarah Wilkie

      Thank you 😀 I should perhaps have included pronunciation information in the text. Having lived there from when I was four I forget that not everyone grew up knowing how to say ‘Rye-slip’ 😆

  • thehungrytravellers.blog

    Now this is an area of London that I really don’t know at all – Richmond Park yes, but not Ruislip. Apart from the fact that all my friends and family back in the Midlands pronounce it “Rooslip”! Autumn walks have a character all of their own, don’t they – normally colder than this but always enjoyable, as long as you don’t forget that it gets dark early…

    • Sarah Wilkie

      I don’t think anyone would know Ruislip unless they lived there or knew people who did. But it’s most definitely pronounced RYE-SLIP 😆 Yes, I love a walk at this time of year, providing it’s not raining! That one last year was during a period of semi-lockdown when options were limited but we were bored with our immediate area. So we drove over there to glance at my parents’ old house (still being cared for, thankfully!) and enjoy a woodland walk as a change from the parks we normally walk in around Ealing.

  • Rose

    This post gives the feel of a fairy tale, your images, and connections of the timber from these woods being used in construction of the Tower of London, Windsor Castle, the Palace of Westminster, and the manor of the Black Prince. The Domesday Book sent me on an internet search to learn more.

    • Sarah Wilkie

      Thanks so much Rose 😀 English kids learn about the Domesday Book as an important part of our historical records, as it was the first census of its kind and tells us so much about that period in the story of many of our towns and villages. I hope you enjoyed your search!

  • maristravels

    And I’m much older than both of you! I loved this post Sarah, and had no idea that parts of Ruislip had a connection to he Domesday book that could still be seen today. Your pictures of the trees are gorgeous and i especially liked the contrast between summer and autumn.

      • maristravels

        Actually, local history is all around and although it’s easy to research it’s time-consuming). I’ve done a lot in my area and it never fails to fascinate. The only problem is getting too bogged down in it, a very easy thing to happen, and you have to be careful not to become a bore! Believe me, I’ve suffered enough from them through my own researches. It will be interesting to read your further posts on this subject.

        • Sarah Wilkie

          You’re right Mari 🙂 Working in the local library for some years (the one in the background of my barn photo above) I learned loads about the area because we had a good local history collection and also a user who was an acknowledged expert on Ruislip’s history and had written one of the best books on the subject – of which I have a copy 🙂

  • Anonymous

    These woods are lovely. As a child I adored to be in the woods, it really fed into my imagination. I would “find” little glens, mighty streams …complete with vines for swinging.

  • Terri Webster Schrandt

    Oh my Sarah, I just love these old woods! I can’t imagine this being around since 1086 (or before). How amazing you lived here for a time and these woods have not been turned into a shopping mall, as is so sadly popular in the US. Love the fresh green trees and leaves as well as the Autumn images.

    • Sarah Wilkie

      Thank you Jo 😊 Luckily back in the 1930s when this area was first built up (due to the expansion of rail links to central London), they had the foresight to protect a ring of green around the capital, the Green Belt, and these woods are part of that. In more recent times there have been some (controversial) encroachments on Green Belt land but I believe/hope that these are too historic to be seriously threatened, now that we seem to appreciate both history and trees more than ever before 😀

  • margaret21

    Unlike Jo, I’m a fan of woodland – deciduous woodland anyway – and these trees seem to be a real asset in what must feel pretty much like outer London these days.

    • Sarah Wilkie

      Thanks Margaret 🙂 Yes, Ruislip is very much on the outer fringes of London – too far out for me to want to live there personally but I can see its appeal. You have the Tube connection to the centre but also easy access to open spaces like this.

  • restlessjo

    I much prefer open spaces to woodland, Sarah, but there is an undeniable beauty to these woods. That lovely curtain of fresh green trailing down and the rusts and autumn mists. Thanks so much for sharing!

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