Ashridge ancient trees walk
This route guides you through some of the woodland closest to the visitor centre and, by introducing you to some of our oldest residents, gives you the chance to see these well frequented areas in a new way.
A gentle walk through the woodlands
The walk can be done in two sections both beginning and ending at the visitor centre. The section that take is points 1-6 is approximately 0.8 miles (1.3km) and the section from point 6 back to the visitor centre is approximately 1.2 miles (1.9km).
Ashridge Estate visitor centre, grid ref: SP978125
This walk begins at our visitor centre. Facing the building, take the path to your left around the outside of the car park. At the corner of the car park you will find a wooden gate. Follow the well-surfaced path behind the gate as indicated by a bridleway sign. Continue to follow this path as it skirts around the outside of Meadley’s Meadow until you reach the far end.
A textbook beech tree
There is a very fine beech on Monument Green which boasts a perfectly domed canopy. It shows just how lovely a beech tree can be when given the space to grow. In contrast there is also an oddly shaped old oak inside the visitor centre fence which has had sections of its crown removed for the safety of our visitors.
When you reach the bottom of the meadow you have a choice. You can continue around the edge of the meadow and pick up the walk at point 5 or take the longer route by turning into the woods following a rough track. As you walk into the woods the track will soon open out, and you will find yourself with an area of sweet chestnut coppice to the left and piles of dead wood to your right. We leave deadwood and trees like this around the estate as they provide important habitats for animals and insects: owls and other smaller birds such as nuthatches and blue tits nest in rot holes, whilst woodpeckers excavate their own holes in rotten branches high in the canopy; bats roost in cracks in the bark or other vertical splits and crevices; and rotting wood is essential for many specialist insects including some which are internationally recognised as endangered species. Once you've had a look to see if you can see any interesting creatures in the deadwood continue along this path until you come to a crossroads.
Clinging to life
Before leaving the edge of the meadow look out for an ancient oak to the left of the path. Although this tree looks dead, if you look up in spring or summer you will see its foliage amongst the canopy. In this area there are also some ancient hawthorns and a holly engraved with Second World War graffiti. If you have the time, see if you can find them.
This crossroads is Five Cross Rides. 'Rides' are the wide paths which crisscross the area and which would have historically been the routes taken by the Bridgewaters as they travelled around their estate. This cross road is the junction for at least five rides, but if you look at the layout you might expect a sixth. Standing with you back to the path from which you've come take the path immediately to your right which passes between avenue of trees. Keep your eye out for a large Wellingtonia to your right, a large evergreen coniferous tree. This tree is particularly identifiable because of its beautiful bark.
As you walk down the path lookout for a number of soft wood trees which form part of the original park planting. These trees were planted when this area was much more open than it is today so they would have been visible from a distance. One of the best examples of this planting is the Wellingtonia other examples of which can also be seen closer to Ashridge House (some these were the first to be planted in the UK during the 19th century).
Just beyond the Wellingtonia turn right down a rough track into the woods. Follow this path as it weaves between the trees and veers right. This area has some giant sweet chestnuts which have been allowed to mature. They were planted for timber but the conditions have not been right for them and they are not good enough quality to be sold so they have been allowed to grow on. Continuing along this path you will soon begin to see the meadow through the trees. Walk towards the meadow.
Lookout for a well ordered area of woodland to your left.This is a beech coppice planted shortly after we took over the estate c.1926/27. The size of these trunks should give you an idea of the age of some of the other beech trees you will see on this walk.
At the junction with the path at the edge of the meadow ignore the style ahead and follow the well surfaced path left around the outside of the meadow. When you come to a T-junction with another major path, beside a sign post for the mobility vehicles, turn right towards the visitor centre. When you arrive at the visitor centre you could break your walk with some refreshments at the café.
When we think about trees we tend to look up at their leaves, but don't forget to look down too. Along this path there are two old beeches either side of the path, one of which has beautiful roots.
Cross Monument Green and onto Duncombe Terrace which is a flat and well made path that goes into the woods beside the monument. After a few yards you will pass by a large map showing cycle roots. This first part of the path has some quite open sections most of which have been caused by the loss of a veteran tree. See how many trees are now competing to fill the space previously occupied by one. Continue down the path and over a low footbridge. After approximately 550yd (500m) you will pass an enclosed barrow on your left. This feature has been fenced to protect the trees on top and archaeology from further damage.
There are number of fallen giants either side of the path. Shortly after the bridge on the right is a particularly notable example known as 'Candleabra tree' (so called because of its shape). This polarded tree is thought to be a marker used by drovers travelling the hollow way or drove road beside the tree. When the common on which you stand was clearer this tree would have been identifiable for some distance and could be used to provide directions from the valley onto the ridge.
Just before you reach the shooting lodge turn right onto a grassy path known as Delly’s Ride. Before we took over the estate, workers were sometimes given areas to maintain as a form of pension. This particular ride was maintained by Walter Dell who kept the grass and surrounding shrubs well-manicured. Follow Delly’s Ride, keeping right where the path is less distinct, until the track forks. This section can be particularly muddy in the winter.
Victorian shooting lodge
This wooden building, known by local children as the 'witches house', is a replica of a Victorian shooting lodge. The original lodge burnt down in the 1980s but it had been used for a variety of activities including picnics for guests of the Brownlow family and Scout groups.
When the track forks keep right skirting the line of large evergreen Laurel bushes until a path appears on your right between two tree boxes.
More park planting
Just after the fork there are a number of soft woods mixed into the trees on your right including Weymouth Pines and Douglas Firs these would have been visible from the house when they were planted.
Turn right between the two trees protected wooden boxes and bear right when the path forks a little way on. Continue forward on this wide path, ignoring a track to the left labelled ‘5’ by an orienteering post, until you come to a shallow ditch.
When you reach the ditch look to your left and you will see an ancient boundary oak. The boundary marked by this tree and ditch is also marked by a number of other ancient trees including a massive ash which you would find if you followed the ditch to your left.
Cross the ditch and continue ahead until you come to a T-junction. Turn left and follow the path through a clearing ignoring paths to the left and right. When the path becomes enclosed again you will come to an old crab apple tree. Pass this tree and continue on the path until you come to a spot where five paths meet.
At the junction of five paths you will see two paths straight ahead. Take the left of these and continue along the path until you come to a large group of beech trees (one has been carved into many times over the years).
Size doesn't matter
Along this section you will see a number of unusually old birches to your left. Notice how small they are compared to the old beeches and oaks. For a comparison there are a number of beeches in a group a little further along the path (one of which is heavily graffitied). These were planted as a group at a time when the landscape was more open and they could have been seen from Ashridge House. There are several groups like this in the woodlands here at Ashridge. As you continue the walk lookout for a similar group of oak trees.
Just beyond the beeches turn right down a narrow path which passes through a group of oaks.
The path will soon open into a clearing with a great oak stump from which you take the right hand path. Follow this path straight across a crossroads, pass a pond on your left and a second on your right to return to Monument Drive and the visitor centre.
Oaks of many ages
In the clearing take some time to explore as there are a range oaks of different ages on display including a felled giant oak, mature trees and the new self-seeders.
Ashridge Estate visitor centre, grid ref: SP978125
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