Calke Park ancient trees walk
Discover some of the oldest trees in Europe as these ancient inhabitants of Calke parkland unfold to tell their stories.
Look out for fungi, toads, birds and insects in the woodland habitat
On this walk, you’ll learn about the trees’ place within the park and the creatures that live alongside them.
Calke Abbey main car park, grid ref: SK367226
Begin at the western end of the main car park by the picnic tables. Take the stone path, walk through a gate and remain on the upper path to reach steps that lead down to the ponds. This path is lined with horse chestnuts (Aesculus hippocastanum) and old hawthorns (Crataegus monogyna), giving a diverse range of invertebrates. The dead horse chestnut trees provide a valuable habitat for beetles and insects. The dead trees have been topped for safety and any removed branches left on the floor as habitat piles.
Calke has some of the oldest trees in Europe providing an island habitat for species that have survived since the last Ice Age. This rare habitat is found in ancient parkland with open structured woodland. The area around the trees is grazed and this benefits wildlife including grassland flowers and fungi. The ancient trees support a huge diversity of rare fungi, such as the oak polypore, and the 'hen of the woods', which only grows on deciduous trees. Look out for fungi from September onwards, when they are at their peak.
Hawthorn flowers grow here in dense, sweet smelling clusters, encouraging invertebrates to take advantage of the early nectar feast.
Insects and birds
Calke is Britain's 10th best site for invertebrates living on deadwood, and hosts more than 350 types of beetle, including the wasp beetle, which mimics wasps to avoid being preyed upon. Plenty of woodland birds breed here and its sometimes possible to see rarer examples such as the spotted fly catcher, which can be sighted around the park during the summer months. In the winter however, our regulars include birds such as this nuthatch.
Before passing through the stile, to the right are the remains of what was reported in the Derby Mercury to be the largest small-leaved lime (Tilia cordata) in the country, with a circumference of 72 feet (22m).
Carry straight on past the ponds, which are lined with common alders (Alnus glutinosa) - a typical waterside species.
Fork right uphill to the Fisherman's car park. At the top is an old pendunculate oak (Quercus robur) referred to as the dragon tree. As you walk past this old dead oak tree try to imagine that the branches are shaped like a big dragon with holes acting as eyes. Also of interest is the silver birch growing from the top. Their tiny winged seeds spread in profusion and are quick to colonise any new area.
Follow the path as it veers off to the right and through a kissing gate. Soon you come across the 'Old Man of Calke' on the left. It still produces acorns and is fenced to protect the roots from over-trampling.
Old Man of Calke
When Calke became a National Nature Reserve in 2006, a competition was launched to name its oldest tree. Now known as the Old Man of Calke, this ancient oak is more than 1,000 years old, but still continues to grows healthily.
Sweet chestnut trees (Castanea saviva) - recognisable by their latticed bark, originally formed a pathway up to Lady Catherine's Bower - an 18th-century summerhouse. Look out for a giant redwood, a tall conifer, set back on the right.
Continue along the path keeping the grassland on the left. Eventually as you enter denser woodland you will see several beech and oak trees on the left. These are remnants of avenues planted in 1712 across the park, which were designed to align with the axis of the house. On the right a dead tree displays much woodpecker damage.
At the end of this path you will reach the deer enclosure. Turn right to another gate. Beech and hornbeam (Carpinus betulus) grown in the enclosure. These trees are easily confused, but the beech (Fagus sylvatica) has the smoother bark. In autumn both provide a magnificent yellow and orange glow. The name hornbeam comes from the structure of the wood which is very slow growing, making it dense and hard, like horn.
Pass through the gate and follow the path around the pond, take the steps on the left leading to the main car park.
Common toads use one of the ponds in the park to breed but can often been seen under damp undergrowth. Look out for them during the warmer months.
Calke Abbey main car park, grid ref: SK367226
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