Ancient tree walks
When it comes to ancient trees, the UK comes top of the European chart and this winter our very own Ancient Tree Adviser, Brian Muelaner, has picked ten of his favourite places to see these 'cathedrals of the natural world'.
Walking with ancient trees can give you a real sense of history and of lifetimes encountered by these leafy guardians through the centuries.
They're also great for spotting wildlife, from bugs and fungi to bats and birds. So escape the hustle and bustle and come and discover these magnificent trees, with any of the downloadable walks below.
Cadbury generously support ancient tree work of the National Trust.
Calke Abbey, Derbyshire
Calke is possibly the National Trust’s best place to see ancient trees, as they can be found across the parkland. This is the only known Trust property which has two oak trees which are one thousand years old, and also a lime tree that is slowly making its way across the landscape as the branches make contact with the ground.
Croft Castle, Herefordshire
A spectacular castle where you feel you’ve stepped back into a landscape more akin to Tudor times, with gnarly old trees covering the parkland. Look out for the Quarry oak, one of only a handful of thousand-year-old trees in Trust ownership. There is also the fantastic old, twisted sweet chestnut avenue which looks like it’s been there for a thousand years; it is believed that the trees derive from nuts salvaged from a shipwrecked Spanish Armada boat a mere 400 years ago.
Dunham Massey, Cheshire
The magnificent deer park has stunning ancient beech and oak trees throughout. Look closely at one of the old beech stumps and you’ll see some brickwork; many years ago it was thought beneficial for a tree’s health to try to close up cavities in its trunk with either bricks or concrete. Luckily, this practice was stopped thirty or so years ago and it is now recognised that decay in the trunk of an ancient tree is not necessarily harmful, it may actually be beneficial to the tree.
Fountains Abbey & Studley Royal Water Gardens, Yorkshire
Studley Royal has some exquisite ancient trees, one of the best is the wild cherry, which unfortunately shed much if its crown last year, but is still an amazingly monstrous cherry. There are also some quirky oaks with windows cut into their hollow trunks; it’s not known precisely when or indeed why these were created, but the end result is quite enchanting.
Hatfield Forest, Essex
Hatfield is the only intact Royal Hunting Forest in Europe, dating back to the Norman kings. The property has countless ancient pollarded hornbeam trees, as well as oak, ash, beech and field maple. There are also some very old hornbeam coppice stools within the woodlands. Coppiced trees produced tool handles, firewood and wattle for timber-framed wattle and daub houses.
Horner Wood is an extensive ancient wood pasture. Over the past century the area slowly became a woodland, but in recent years the Trust has been removing competition from the old pollarded trees; trees which repeatedly had their tops removed above the reach of browsing cattle and deer every few years. The material was then used for firewood, tools or was stored for winter fodder. You will also see many examples of recent pollarding to oak trees within the woodland.
There are many fine ancient oaks and sweet chestnuts in the park, but it’s a couple of the lesser species which are of particular interest. One of my favourites is an ancient hawthorn which had a decayed hollow trunk into which a birch seed fell, sprouted and took root.
Petworth, W Sussex
Petworth has an array of extremely characterful ancient sweet chestnut trees, some of which clearly show signs of having been struck by lightning. There are also some ancient lime trees in the park. These very old trees have had extensive decay to their trunks creating totally hollow shells, with only strands of the original trunks remaining. However, these trees may go on to live for several hundred more years in this fragile state.