The End Of Summer Gathering

This also happened to be the hottest September day in the UK in 105 years, in Edinburgh it was a humid 23 degrees! Most of us arrived after a busy day, a bit sweaty and tired. We all expressed our gladness to be in the cool shade and tranquility of our little woods after such a day, and we soon relaxed.

We had amazing sweet potato and coconut soup made by Stacey, tea made by Espe using the kelly kettle, and Tunnocks teacakes, Norman played his guitar throughout the evening, Eoghan supplied his poem An Ode to Westburn Woods in the form of a ‘participatory’ performance, Elma, Pat and Allan sketched, I (Pam) installed an exhibition of photos of the Explorers of Westburn Woods 2021 activities so far, and Tiki and Emily both contributed lots to the evening but deserve a special mention for carrying the chairs back to WHALE Arts.

Thank you to everyone who has joined in exploring Westburn Woods this year!

Throughout the rest of 2021 there will be more exploration and conservation in the woods organised by Espe from Edinburgh and Lothian Greenspaces Trust with Prospect Housing. Get in touch if you are interested to join:

Sitting & Sketching

Drawing in Westburn Woods with tea, inspired by Japanese Forest Bathing which is the practice of spending time in nature to improve wellbeing. We took our time sketching and made sure to notice our surroundings as much as possible – the different greens of the leaves, what was under our feet, how the air felt, all the sounds and more. We experimented with different techniques and materials. Glad that the forecast rain didn’t appear, though Espe was ready to make us a shelter if it had!

Westburn Woods This Summer

In 2021, from Explorers of Westburn Woods…dads and kids photography, sitting and sketching for adults, discoing and doodling for families and drumming in the woods for families. Finally we will have an end of summer gathering, plenty time to dust off your entertaining or best audience-ing skills.

And two activities from Edinburgh and Lothians Greenspaces Trust…bushcraft and art.

Come explore!

Westburn Woods Chapters

Six short chapters that share some of the ideas, experiences and knowledge from the last year exploring the woods together. They are a limited edition with just a hundred sets printed at WHALE Art Pod Press using risograph.

If you live near here or are connected to Westerhailes in some way and would like a set then please get in touch. A set will be posted to you at no cost. Email:


Things To Do

Ideas of things to do in Westburn Woods. Some have been done already and some perhaps haven’t….

Indian dancing

Have a birthday party

Cook on a fire

In winter, drink hot chocolate


Walk a dog

Climb a tree

Make sausage sizzles

Have a BBQ

Find the oldest tree

Find the youngest tree

Japanese Forest Bathing (Shinrin-yoku)

Hang a home made bird feeder on a branch

Meet friends

Play until dark


Make a map

Discover facts

Create an adventure trail

Create a nature trail


Build jumps for bicycles

Make a mountain bike trail throughout the woods

Forage for food

Observe nature

Notice the seasons change

See what happens to leaves

Read a book alone

Tell stories to others

Pick up litter


Play hidytig

Pick litter

Learn about trees

Shelter from the rain

Have your lunch

Collect leaves

Look up

Look down

Sit on the stone bench


Take photographs

Make a film

Write a poem

Make an art installation

WhatsApp friends

Learn conservation skills

Film the foxes at night

Find your cat

Tell tree related jokes

Perform a play

Hold a live music gig

Start a nature log


Wild Food In Westburn Woods

A season by season guide to what food can be foraged in Westburn Woods. It was made after a group of us visited the woods to see what might be there with Amy from Hipsters and Hobos and locals who already know quite a lot about foraging. Based on the days findings Amy has created a list, which is here with photos taken by me in Westburn Woods throughout 2020.

Spring (March through to May)

Cleavers (sticky willy)

One of the earliest plants to come up in spring, look out for cleaver shoots amongst the grass. When very small these can be added to salads. As they grow, add a small handful of cleavers to smoothies for a fresh burst of flavour and nutrients. Like many wild plants they are high in vitamin C. In addition to this they can help enhance the lymphatic system, which in turn can improve your immune system.

Rosebay Willowherb

The red/green shoots of rosebay willoherb appear in mid-spring and should be harvested before the leaves are fully open. To do this cut the willoherb rather than pull it out by the root as it will regrow, providing food for later in the year. It is often spoken about as the asparagus of the woods, and you can easily prepare it for cooking by washing and scraping off the very outside of the stalks. The very young leaves are a lovely spinach substitute, however, they become very fibrous as they age and so only edible in spring. Either steamed or cooked gently in some butter with salt, these make a lovely side vegetable for different meals. As well as vitamin C, rosebay willowherb is also a good source of protein and carotene.


One of the earliest flowers to bloom in the woods, primrose is a very good edible. It is not very abundant though so you should collect mindfully. The leaves taste somewhat like a green cabbage and are a superb addition to stir-frys, however can be a little bitter and therefore not very nice raw or in large amounts. The flowers are edible and sweet and can make a lovely syrup or wine. It is important to note that if all the flowers are harvested it is an early food source for pollinators and will have an ecological impact. Likewise, as common primrose is not an overly common plant it is important to let it seed. Collecting seeds and scattering (even in your garden!) can help this plant recover from past over harvesting.


The woods are full of hawthorn trees, easily identifiable by their distinctive leaves. The edible young leaves were once called ‘bread and cheese’ although they taste much more nutty than bready. These are a lovely addition to salads or cooked dishes and are plentiful in the woodland. Full of antioxidants the tree is also a good source of some of the B vitamins and vitamin C.


We can all identify the common stinging nettle, and the good news is that the woods are full of them. Nettles are a delicious wild food that taste very similar to spinach. The best time to harvest them for food is in the spring before they flower. You only want to use the nettle tops (first 4 leaves or so) as otherwise they can be bitter/fibrous. They make a lovely soup, or can work in other meals just as you might use spinach. If you want to remove the sting, simply pop into a bowl and pour boiling water over them and leave for one minute.


Common hogweed shoots are one of the best wild edibles in the woodland. Jam packed with nutrients it is high in vitamin C, potassium and protein. The shoots should be harvested before the leaves open out and cooked over a low heat in butter for 10 – 15 minutes. Caution is advised as the carrot family does contain poisonous/toxic members and you need to be sure not to confuse it with giant hogweed. Be careful when harvesting in the sun as the sap can cause blistering – gloves are recommended.

Few Flowered Leek

Few flowered leek is one of the earliest spring edibles, look out for it from early March. It is great for beginner foragers as the smell, of garlic and onion, is the give away. Unlike the broad leaves of wild garlic it is much more slender, resembling a miniature leek. It can resemble snowdrop leaves, however, crushing one between the fingers will release the garlic smell. These can be eaten raw or cooked. In late spring the small white flowers, which give the plant its name, bloom. These make a wonderful garnish, as do the green seeds that they produce. Notably few flowered leek is an invasive species that outcompetes the native wild garlic, and so harvesting for food can have a beneficial impact on the environment.

Wild Garlic

Often confused with few flowered leek, wild garlic has much broader leaves and tends to grow later on in spring. Although young shoots can be found as early as January, it is more widely available from late March to early April. Unlike bulb garlic, wild garlic should be added only for the last two minutes of cooking or it becomes grassy. As uprooting plants is illegal and can be damaging to the ecosystem you should not use the bulbs of wild garlic. When harvesting care should be taken to collect one leaf at a time, as the poisonous lords and ladies can grow in the same habitat.

Summer (June through to August)


In the woods and the surrounding area you will come across different species of rose. All species have edible petals, which make beautiful additions to summer salads or garnishes for cakes and puddings. They also dry really easily and store well for fragrant herbal teas. Roses provide nourishment for bees and other pollinators so it’s important to harvest carefully, which will also allow the fruit to develop. By only taking a few petals off each flower this means the bees will still be able to see them and feed.

Pineapple Weed

Pineapple weed grows close to the ground on the entrance to the woodland. It is a type of chamomile and the flowers appear to have no petals (they are actually very small). When crushed between your fingers it gives a strong smell of pineapple. It is a lovely herb to cook with in sweet dishes, such as flapjack, or even try adding it to pizza. As well as making a deliciously fruity tea it provides the same herbal properties as chamomile – aiding sleep, anxiety and calming the stomach. An all round soother!

Cleavers (sticky willy)

Moving into Summer cleavers start to become too tough to eat. We can still use them to bring flavour to the kitchen however. Several strands popped into water and left in the fridge overnight will give a refreshing cucumber flavoured drink. Ideal on a warm day.


Westburn Woods are home to two species of plantain – narrow and broad leaf. These are healing herbs that work wonders for the skin, particularly for bites and stings. Not only do they soothe the skin but also the stomach, when made into a tea. As they are a powerful herb you should not ingest if you take the medication omeprazole, as they stop each other from working. Plantain is a very tough plant and so generally doesn’t make the best food. However, if you take broadleaf plantain & give it a light coating of salt and oil, it makes the best vegetable crisps. Pop in a very hot oven for no more than five minutes for a crunchy snack.

Autumn (September through November)


In Autumn the rose will fruit and produce rosehips. These are super high in vitamin C and great to prepare us for Winter. Also known as itchy-coos, rosehips contain seeds covered in tiny hairs. These are an irritant and not only can they cause skin rashes but also irritate the stomach. To use rosehips keep them whole. Dried out they will keep for a very long time and make really lovely winter teas. Otherwise you can stew them up and pass through a very fine jelly bag. This will catch all of the hairs. Once you have done this use the liquid to make jelly or syrups.

Rosebay Willowherb

During early Autumn the rosebay willowherb will be in full flower. These bright purple flowers make a lovely tea or even a dye for clothing. This is also the point of the year that you can collect the leaves for tea. They are easy to strip by running your hand down the plant stem. Once this is done, give them a good wash, pop into a plastic bang and give them a good bash with a rolling pin. Leave overnight. The next day you want to cut them up and then dry – either laid out on the windowsill or in a very cool oven. Once dry all the way through you will have a wonderfully earthy and nutritious tea for the cold Autumnal evenings.

Nettle Seed

After nettles flower they are no longer good to eat. Wait until mid to late Autumn to see the fat, disk-like seeds hanging low on the branches. These are absolutely worth collecting as they are delicious! They pack an energy punch and are really good for fatigue or burn out. You do need to be a little careful though, as more than 30g a day can prevent you from sleeping. Try to add to cereals, protein balls or smoothies.


During mid-Autumn the hawthorn trees produce their fruit, haws. These are bright red and look a little like tiny apples. Haws, like the hawthorn leaves in Spring, are really nutritious and plentiful. As well as making lovely jelly or fruit leathers you can use them to make ketchup. Haws don’t drop from the tree and can often be found right through the winter.


A very useful plant it is not only the bramble berries that are edible. Look out for these from late Summer to early Autumn – the perfect fruit to collect with children. In spring the young leaves can be collected for tea, high in antioxidants and also an antiseptic, ideal defense for spring colds. Before the bramble leaves bud the flexible stems can be collected and de-thorned to use for weaving. Traditionally used for dying in Scotland the leaves can produce blacks and greys, the roots and orange and the berries greys, blues and purple.


Winter (December through February)


It is always a good idea to follow the woods through the seasons. Come Winter, our common hogweed has completed its growing season, leaving sun-dried seeds on old stalks. This is the perfect time to collect them, a warming wild spice, with flavours of orange, clove and coriander. Ground up it is a lovely addition to baking, aromatic rice pudding and even porridge. For a real treat try it in spiced hot chocolate with a little nutmeg.

Tried and tested delicious Hogweed Seed Cake recipe made and shared by Fabien:

Jelly Ear Fungus

Westburn Woods don’t have a huge range of fungi but, as the weather cools, you should begin to find jelly ears on Elder trees. Mushroom foraging can seem scary to beginners but these really distinctive fungi are a great starting point – there isn’t another that looks like a human ear! Known as black fungus in Asian cookery they are great dried out and added to ramen. Alternatively you can rehydrate them in any sauce or stock and they will take on that flavour. Try rehydrating in fruit juices for a low-sugar sweet treat.

Kevin’s blog post about Jelly Ear Fungus:


Beech trees or hedges don’t drop their leaves until late in the Winter or early Spring – unless there is a strong wind. Dried out by the sun, these are easy to find, ready made tea. Tasting like an earthy black tea this is a great way to forage extra nutrients even in the coldest Winter. Take a handful and crush into boiling water and allow to infuse for about ten minutes.

Sources for more information:


Fabien, Tor, Louize and I had a day with nature educator Liz Corke. Learning and sharing our own knowledge about what nature is in Westburn Woods. We focussed mainly on trees and animals that we have all seen. The list of animals is at the end after the photos.

Animals we have seen:

Field mice




Grey squirrel





Domestic cat

Black bird

Nearby: Sparrowhawks

Stories from the woods

An afternoon of readings live streamed from Westburn Woods on Facebook, suggested and read by our community, including WHALE Arts and Wester Hailes Library.

Reading list:

Tidy by Emily Gravett, read by Laura from Wester Hailes Library

The Lost Spells by Robert Macfarlane read by Laura and Mel from Wester Hailes Library

Leaf by Niggle by J. R. R. Tolkien, read by Andrew Cross

The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe by C. S. Lewis, read by Michael

Overstory by Richard Powers, reviewed by Pam

Shirin-yoku: The art of Japanese Forest Bathing by Yoshifumi Miyazaki, reviewed by Pam

The Gruffalo by Julian Donaldson, read by Louize

The Story of My Life by Helen Keller review and reflection by Verity, read by Holly from Edinburgh Art Festival

Walden or Life in the Woods by Henry David Thoreau review and reflection by Verity, read by Holly from Edinburgh Art Festival

The Oak and the Reed fable by Jean de La Fontaine suggested by Fabien, read by Holly from Edinburgh Art Festival

I Saw in Louisiana a Live-Oak Growin poem by Walt Whitman suggested by Pat, read by Holly from Edinburgh Art Festival

An ode to Westburn Woods poem by Eoghan Howard from Hailesland, read by Pam

Silhouettes poem by Pat from Hailesland, read by Pam

Natures Conversation! poem by Emily Violet Stevenson from Murrayburn, read by Pam

The Tiger Who Came to Tea by Judith Kerr, read by Louize

Other suggestions for books to read in the woods:

Mr Pink-Whistle by Enid Blyton, suggested by Laura

Mogg by Judith Kerr, suggested by Rebecca

Little Red Riding Hood, Hanzel and Gretal, Goldilocks, The Faraway Tree, Narnia, Pooh Bears Hundred Acre Wood all suggested by Sarah-Jane


On our most recent litter picking trip to the woods we were delighted and amazed to see that the bigger items of litter – the trolly, bin bags, furniture, piles of glass etc had been removed recently. We thought it had been cleared by the council or Prospect Housing. Until, just by chance, Michael and I (Pam) got chatting with Tor in Westburn Woods and he told us that he had been the one to remove the rubbish (Prospect Housing have taken it away to be disposed of).

As a result, the woods are at present looking and feeling just like a woods should in autumn, where the first thing you might notice is the changing colour of the leaves, the appearance of berries and the ground plants dying back, rather than the presence of large amounts of litter.

We recorded a conversation with Tor while we picked glass from the soil together. He spoke about some difficulties he came across in his task of clearing up the woods and he shared ideas on what might help prevent people littering here in the future.

You can listen to it here on Soundcloud:

Litter Pick in June 2019 by Rebecca Green

Last June Napier University approached WHALE Arts asking to volunteer with the organization. We had just started a project in Westburn Woods and I suggested we do a litter pick there. A couple of weeks later eight of us took to the woods with bags and litter pickers.

We congregated at the stone Westburn bench to plan how we would tackle the job and then took off into the woods rummaging for litter.

It wasn’t an ideal time of year for a litter pick, the woods were beautifully overgrown, lush green leaves everywhere, so you had to look closely for rubbish in the undergrowth. Flashes of crisp packets, colorful beer cans, bits and pieces of clothing, a sock, bits of wood, an old kitchen cabinet, cardboard packaging. Some items were thrown and some were placed. We came across an old shopping trolley weighted down with bricks. It took four of us to drag it out of the dip and up onto the road for collection.

The team left and I waited on my own on the roadside with 16 bags of rubbish. The Prospect Housing van came and picked it all up.

I went back into the woods for a walk. I stood in the dip and looked up at the trees. It’s a wild place, many different species, some you can see, some you can only hear. 

The Edinburgh Tree Map

Another video by 7 Kingdoms Wester Hailes. Marion is showing how to use the Edinburgh Tree Map. There are lots of trees! You can choose to see trees by type and see information about the species by clicking on the dot.

The trees of Westburn Woods don’t seem to appear on the site. Our wee woods seem to be a bit of a secret.

Baberton Quarry

In this video made by 7 Kingdoms Wester Hailes, Marion Preez shows how to use National Library of Scotland online maps to explore Wester Hailes. You can pick an area and choose different historical maps to look at from the 1800s, layered over a satellite image of the area you choose. In the video she shows that Westburn Woods was at one point Baberton Quarry, a sandstone quarry. This explains why there are different levels in the woods and large rocks. Perhaps the origins of the river that Jim mentioned yesterday can be seen too.

Lots of fun exploring Edinburgh……

Screen shots of a satellite image of Westburn Woods overlaid with a map of the area published in 1893:

My story about the woods, by Louize

During the summer time, two years ago, I was in the WHALE gardening group with my mum and various other people and we done a huge clear out in the woods – doing garden maintenance, dog poop picking, litter picking, learning about different plants and trees and we also done berry picking. Once we all finished we ended with a barbecue and a chat and a look around the garden to see what we had done.

Another time we were down at the bit before the woods we made and planter out of wood and went down every few weeks to maintain the planter and water the plants with watering cans which we filled up at the WHALE ARTS centre and took down to the planter that we made.

The things we could do in the future are:

  • sing songs and make your own stick weaving or instrument out of things you find in the wood
  • story telling in the woods
  • a day where the staff community and groups from WHALE do a litter pick in the woods to keep it looking nice
  • barbecues and sausage sizzle
  • den making, tree rubbing with crayons and card or paper
  • we could also do facebook lives or instagram lives to keep the social media active by showing people barbecue safety in the woods or what you could make in the woods.
  • make a bird feeder day or a day with your families where there is different activities going on in the woods
  • fundraisers such as camp outs or fitness sessions in the woods to make people more aware of the WHALE ARTS centre and to raise money for WHALE groups or things that could happen in WHALE or resources for the groups


Jim on Westburn Woods

Sometimes I see smoke coming out of them. My grandsons play in the woods, there’s 4 of them, the oldest is 14. They live in a flat which is like a box. They come here because we have the garden and the trampoline. I haven’t seen them in ten weeks but they are coming tomorrow.

I lived here when the Westburn flats were here. I live over there and my back window used to look out to Heriot Watt. You could see right up to the field.

There used to be a stream that ran down from Westburn Park, where the Scot Mid is. Just over there. (where Jim is pointing) My son is 40 now, when we was younger he played in the stream and fell in, he was pulled out by his uncle. He played in the woods as well, we would be dragging them out at 7 on a Saturday night!

Jim – Westburn

In June Bloom

Thanks to lockdown my walk to the woods is now through a grassy meadow. On this dreich day the woods are full of colour and life – blooming ground plants, full green leaves on the trees, insects and bird sound. Because everything is wet and shiny I noticed some things that I hadn’t before like the leaf shaped top of the concrete bench and some huge rocks. The fire pit and the bike jumps at the east side are surrounded by grass. Bike tracks in the mud, a pile of wood waiting to dry and some new litter show that people have been going to the woods.

Words on Woods

Looking for Words on Woods 

Recently people in Wester Hailes have been sharing memories, poems and stories about woods. Would anyone else like to share or produce something? It doesn’t have to be about Westburn Woods, it could be about other woods, trees, leaves, bugs, birds, walking in woods, climbing trees as a child or as an adult, making a fire in woods, or anything related to woods. Your memory, poem or story could be added to the blog, to a wee printed zine to share with others, and maybe some of us can meet to read them in the woods together after lockdown. 

Looking for 5 more people to read a poem

We are making a video of a poem written by Eoghan Howard, called an Ode to Westburn Woods and are looking for people to record themselves (sound only) reading the poem. The video will show images and have music in the background. Would anyone in your household be willing to read the poem?  

We’re looking for one person from Westburn, Clovenstone, Dumbryden, Hailesland and Harvester neighbourhoods. We already have someone from Calders and Murrayburn.  

No previous experience necessary! Get in touch if you might be willing and if you have any questions.

The poem is here:

Nature’s Conversation! A poem by Emily Violet Stevenson

The relentless wind batters the tree

Forcing it to bend in all directions

It’s petals from white flowers break free

Leaving pure confetti with intentions.

They are bound for anywhere the wind blows

They land on roads and gardens some way off

They rest along avenues where gates are closed

They fall into the flowing river, landing soft.

They travel on the updraft flying free

Swooping down to trees among the woods

They say ‘hello’ to other fallen leaves

They fly by birds that feast upon the fruits.

They wander on through rain on high

Rush over hills and pregnant reservoirs

They slap wet grazers in the eye

They travel lands to meet new messengers.

They whisper words to distant trees

Convey secrets in nature’s dominance

They’re passing on life’s mysteries

And forever will they be in confidence.

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