Ancient tree walks
When it comes to ancient trees, the UK comes top of the European chart and 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.
Calke Abbey is possibly one of our best place to see ancient trees, as they can be found across the parkland. This is the only known property with two oak trees which are a 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.
At Croft Castle 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 our care. There is also the fantastic old, twisted sweet chestnut avenue which looks like it’s been there for a thousand years; its believed that the trees derive from nuts salvaged from a shipwrecked Spanish Armada boat a mere 400 years ago.
A tranquil landscape of islands, woodland and historic ruins, Crom lies on the shores of Upper Lough Erne in County Fermanagh and is one of the UK’s most important nature reserves. It has the largest area of oak woodland in Northern Ireland and is home to the oldest yew trees in Ireland.
There are nearly 300 ancient trees at Dinefwr, half of which can be found in the deer park. You’ll be hard pressed to find anywhere else in Wales that has so many ancient trees, one of the main reasons why it’s such a haven for wildlife. The parkland was designated a National Nature Reserve in 2007.
Dunham Massey's 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 Garden has some exquisite ancient trees, one of the best is the wild cherry, which unfortunately shed much if its crown, 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 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 on the Holnicote Estate is an extensive ancient wood pasture. Over the past century the area slowly became a woodland, but in recent years we have 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 at Killerton, but it’s a couple of the lesser species which are of particular interest. One of our favourites is an ancient hawthorn which had a decayed hollow trunk into which a birch seed fell, sprouted and took root.
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.