Our top parklands
Visit one of our parklands and enjoy the space to roam while keeping your eyes peeled for interesting parkland features in the ancient trees.
The park at Lanhydrock has gone through many changes, slowly evolving into what we now see and love. Some of the oldest trees are remnants from when the land was owned by St Petroc’s Priory in Bodmin to produce food for the monks. Shortly after the dissolution of the monasteries it became a deer park, then going through many changes over the centuries, but thankfully the old and ancient trees were kept and new trees added to produce the fine landscape we now see.
The old trees are covered in rare lichens which grow particularly well in the south west due to the damp conditions and clean air. They are also host to rare bat species, this is the best property in Cornwall for bats, with 13 of the 17 British species recorded here.
The magnificent double beech avenue leading away from the gatehouse actually started life as a single avenue of sycamore trees to commemorate the Parliamentarian’s victory in the civil war. In the early 19th century it was then converted to a double beech avenue, but a few remnant sycamore trees remain in the inner two rows.
The park at Petworth House is full of magnificent ancient oak, lime and sweet chestnut trees with remarkable stories. There is one lime tree that’s totally hollow and reduced to just a few living fragments of its former glory, but the footprint of the original tree is still visible to see just how massive it was in former years. This is a natural process and the tree is still quite healthy, but much reduced in size. Then there’s a walking grey poplar near the parkland wall with a decayed trunk that’s lost its rigidity and has slowly bent down by gravity to touch the ground. At this point it is putting down roots to form another tree, and in this way it is slowly walking across the park.
The park is also home to a fine array of wonderful old sweet chestnuts, with big fat trunks and rather small crowns. These ancient trees are many hundreds of years old, living archaeology helping us to interpret and visualise our historic pastoral landscape. Scenes like this are quite unique to Britain which contains around 60% of all the ancient trees in northern Europe.
Once you step inside Osterley Park you enter a tranquil refuge from the noise, traffic and crowds of London, a truly magical experience. The park has some stunning trees to refresh your soul. To get the most out of a visit here one must really explore the park to find the ancient oaks with massive trunks covered in burrs that tumble to the ground like a frozen cascade. There’s a wonderful old cork oak, which has been fenced off to protect it from too many trampling feet - a fine example of the trees that provide us with the corks for our wine.
On a sunny summer day hundreds of people sit picnicking, with children playing beneath the vast crowned old oaks for shade. There are also some unusual trees such as the Cockspur hawthorn which is laden with bright red berries in autumn.
Hatfield Forest is renowned as the last remaining example of a medieval hunting forest in Europe with all of the elements intact: coppicing, pollarding, grazing, deer management and a rabbit warren. After royal ownership it went into private hands in the 1600s, culminating with forest ownership coming under one family in the early 1700s. The Houblons were responsible for commissioning Capability Brown to produce landscape plans for the Lake area. In1923 Hatfield was bequeathed to the Trust.
The trees here are ancient pollards, trees which have had the branches removed at around eight feet to supply fodder for stock, fuel for baking bread or wood for tool making. This was done on a regular cycle of 10 to 20 years and carried on for many centuries. This allowed deer, cattle and sheep to graze beneath the trees, keeping the young re-growth out of their reach. This agricultural system produced ancient trees of phenomenal biological importance creating habitats for rare species of lichens, heartwood decaying fungi and deadwood invertebrates feeding on the decaying wood.
If you look inside the hollow trees you may see how the tree has produced aerial roots which then allowed the tree to reabsorb the nutrients which had been stored within its heartwood for centuries and made available through the decaying process. It is literally feeding on itself.
The parkland at Croft Castle is one of the jewels in the Trust’s crown, it has a breathtaking array of wonderful and very old trees scattered across the parkland. One particularly special tree is the Quarry Oak which was just starting its life when William the Conqueror invaded Britain. It’s remarkable to think of all that has happened in the world during the life of this tree and that for centuries it provided the estate with valuable firewood and material building from its crown.
This is an ancient pollard, the branches having been repeatedly cut above the height of the grazing animals beneath. There are large numbers of ancient oak pollards scattered throughout the park, which extended all the way up the slopes to the iron- age hill fort on the edge of the estate.
Croft also has a remarkable old sweet chestnut avenue which is said to date back to the Spanish Armada. It is said that chestnuts were gathered from a ship-wrecked Spanish galleon and were planted in the formation of the Spanish fleet. In the neighbouring meadow there’s a fine collection of ancient English oaks which were reputedly planted in the formation of the British fleet, all done to commemorate the victory over the Spanish. Whether or not this is factual is somewhat irrelevant, as together they now form an impressive collection of stunning trees.
Calke Abbey provides us with a rare opportunity to see an historic landscape which has been incorporated into a parkland - some of the trees date back to the time well before the original Abbey was built in the 12th century.
The ‘Old Man of Calke’ is estimated to be 1200 years old and nearby is another young oak, a mere 900 years old. Trees like these are remnants of ancient wood pastures, areas of grassland scattered with old open grown pollarded trees which supplied firewood, winter fodder for stock and material for an array of tools.
If you explore the parkland you might find one of the very best ‘walking trees’. It’s an ancient small leafed lime that has a gigantic low branch that’s been pulled down to the ground by gravity at which point it has put down new roots and formed a new 20 year old tree. On another side of the mother tree there’s a massive cavity the same shape and size as the other limb, if you then look away from the mother tree you might notice another 40 year old lime tree. On it’s lower trunk you will notice a belly button where the umbilical cord connected it to its mother. Over time the connecting limb has died and decayed, letting go of its young offspring. In this way this lime tree is slowly walking across the landscape.
Dunham Massey has all the elements of a great medieval deer park; fine avenues, wonderful vistas, stunning old trees, short grassland, rough grassland with bracken and scrub and lots of deer. Although the parkland we see has been designed, many of the ancient elements were incorporated into the design creating layers of history going back a thousand years.
Walking through the park you’ll see many dead trees and trees with lots of dead branches and hollow trunks. These trees are going through a natural process. It is said that oaks grow for three hundred years, rest for three hundred years and slowly die for another three hundred years. The decay of heartwood in old trees is now thought to be beneficial for the tree. Fungi decay the wood allowing the tree to reabsorb nutrients which have been stored there for hundreds of years.
The ruined abbey at Fountains Abbey is a magnificent and evocative structure and what better setting than beside the grounds of Studley Royal, a medieval deer park. Little wonder why it was declared Yorkshire’s first World Heritage Site. The architectural grandeur of the abbey ruins can be matched by the natural architecture of the ancient trees within the park, but you really need to leave the main drive and explore the trees up close.
Just off the drive leading up towards the privately owned house, which was in fact the old stable block, you’ll see a wild cherry tree that is the biggest you are likely to find anywhere, although sadly it lost most of its crown several years ago, but still retains its lower living branches. The scale of trees is hard to appreciate from a distance, they require close examination to fully appreciate their scale.
Throughout the parkland there are fine examples of very old sweet chestnut trees which have some of the most exquisite patterned bark. As this species of tree gets old it produces very rough ridged bark of an infinite variety of designs; herring bone, crisscross and diagonal stripes are regular themes.
The parkland at Crom lie beside the shores of Upper Loch Erne, a very ancient landscape which includes the ruins of the Old Castle. Very near to the castle two of Ireland's most ancient yew trees sit on earth mounds opposite one another believed to be up to 800 years old. One is female and the other male and each displays quite different form. The male is quite erect and upright while the female shows a desire to grow more horizontally which allows it to layer repeatedly. At each point that the female’s branches make contact with the ground the limb throws down roots forming a new tree, an excellent strategy for long-term survival.
Further along the shores of Upper Loch Erne there’s an area of wood pasture with some very fine open grown oaks with broad low crowns. These trees had been pollarded in the past, but not for about a hundred years over which time they have put on these magnificent crowns.
Dinefwr parkland, a National Nature Reserve, is an extremely old landscape incorporating an ancient wood pasture and deer park dating back to the dark ages. This long continuity of tree management is reflected in the incredible richness of the flora and fauna found in association with the old trees. To walk through the ancient trees is to step back a thousand years to glimpse what much of the countryside would have looked like at this time. Deer and the rare White Park cattle grazing beneath broad and sturdy oaks, all managed to produce valuable material for everyday needs.
What is most striking is the amount of deadwood, both standing and lying that litters the site, which takes us back to a time even before the dark ages when the land was covered in what is referred to as the ‘Wild Wood’, once thought to be a dark and impenetrable woodland. Most experts now believe that large portions of the wild wood were very similar in character to the wood pastures at Dinefwr, the open areas maintained by wild herbivores such as Aurochs, the ancestor to our domestic cattle. These beasts would produce an open landscape with scattered individual trees that much like a wood pasture, with the dead and dying trees left to decay in situ.