56.60 ha (139.86 acres)

Grid reference:


Map reference:

Explorer 245
OS Landranger 128

Set in the heart of the National Forest, Willesley Wood is a jewel of a wood. Millions of trees have been planted during the creation of the National Forest and some believe the very first tree went into the ground at Willesley Wood. That was nearly half a century ago and the wood is now a fascinating mosaic of maturing woodland, flower meadow and wetland; and home to a vast range of flora and fauna.

Please note that swimming is NOT permitted in Thortit Lake. It is not a safe bathing environment and can cause significant wildlife disturbance. Thank you for your cooperation. 


  • Parking nearby
  • Public access
  • Spring flowers
  • Grassland
  • Broadleaved woodland

How to get to Willesley Wood

Willesley Wood is set in rolling countryside about 3km (1.9 miles) from the Leicestershire market town of Ashby de la Zouch and close to the village of Donisthorpe.

From the centre of Ashby de la Zouch, take the Ashby Road towards Measham and turn right just before Willesley Park Golf Club. Continue past the crossroads for 0.4km (0.25 miles) to the entrance of Oakthorpe Colliery picnic site, which is signposted. Alternatively, turn left at the first crossroads and park near the first gate on the right.

Burton-on-Trent station is approximately 16km (10 miles) from Ashby de la Zouch.

Visit National Rail for more information.

The nearest bus stop is 1km (0.6 miles) from Willesley Wood at the village of Donisthorpe.

Visit Traveline for more information.

Facilities and access

There are a number of ways into Willesley Wood: two points of access along Donisthorpe Road; five from Willesley Woodside, which forms the eastern boundary; also from Oakthorpe Colliery Picnic Site on Ashby Road; and from Pasture Lane, which is on the wood’s western boundary.

Around 8km (5 miles) of managed footpaths give access to all parts of Willesley. They are mostly mown grass and do sometimes become muddy in wet weather. Stick to the paths, especially if you have young children with you, as steep-sided drainage ditches flow into the lake from the east and the south-east.

An all-abilities footpath makes a small circuit of the western end of the wood. There are a number of benches along the way that offer good views of Thortit Lake. The path can be accessed from Oakthorpe Colliery Picnic Site.

Parking is available at the nearby Oakthorpe Colliery picnic site, which has a surfaced carpark. Alternatively, you can park at the first gate before the woodland entrance.

The nearest public toilets are at Derby Road, Ashby de la Zouch. They have disabled facilities that can be accessed with a RADAR key.

Dedication bench at Watkins Wood

Dedicate at this wood

This wood is one of more than 50 across the UK where it's possible to dedicate trees, benches or larger areas of woodland. Mark a special occasion or celebrate the life of a loved one with a meaningful gesture that lasts. 

Choose a dedication

Wildlife and habitats


Willesley Wood is positively teeming with wildlife. The varied habitats mean you can spot a wide range of species, from butterflies in the grassland, to water birds in the wetland.

Look out for:

Trees, plants and fungi

The rich and varied broadleaf woodland of Willesley Wood is an ideal place to spot a wide range of native tree species, including the locally declining black poplar which grows well in boggy ground, such as Willesley Wood’s areas of wet woodland.

Look out for:


The varied habitats at Willesley Wood are what make this such a special wood.


History of Willesley Wood

Mining at Willesley Wood

Mining is recorded on or near the site from at least the early Middle Ages, but it is possible that there were mine shafts on the site from very early times. The woodland was exploited for raw material in this industry and was managed to produce pit-props and charcoal.

By the end of the 17th century, the landscape was most likely heathland with woodlands cleared to continue mining. Maps from the 18th and 19th centuries show no woodland in the area.

Major expansion of the Leicestershire coalfield continued from the middle of the 18th century until the end of the 19th century. By then, the coalfield’s heyday had run its course. Oakthorpe Colliery, a deep mine on the western boundary of Willesley Wood, closed in 1885.
The rest of the area’s deep mines closed in the middle of the 20th century and the Ashby Canal, which passed very near to Willesley, was abandoned in the 1960s.

Credit: Andrew Tryner / WTML

Willesley Hall

To the east of today’s Willesley Wood is Willesley Lake, which was created in the 18th century when Willesley Hall Estate was landscaped by the wealthy Hastings family.

The hall has been demolished, but the parkland at the eastern end of the wood is a remnant of that great estate, which stretched to the outskirts of Ashby. Other parts of the Hastings’ parkland are now occupied by the Willesley Park golf course.

Modern history

Maps show the development of woodland in Willesley’s marshy area up to 1923. The evidence suggests that what is now Willesley Wood was originally farmland (mainly pasture), with hedgerows and wayside trees, and some heathland with gorse and plantation woodland.

Willesley Wood was one of the first woodlands created during the development phase of the National Forest. In 1991, it was chosen for the ceremonial planting of the project’s first tree by Michael Heseltine, who was then the Secretary of State for Environment.

Things to do in Willesley Wood

Early purple orchid with blurred background

A lasting legacy

This wood is just one of many to have been protected by gifts in wills, securing it for generations to come. Your legacy gift could also make a real difference to woods, trees and wildlife.

Learn what your gift could mean


Willesley Wood Management Plan

PDF  (331 KB)