Horner Wood ancient trees walk
Holnicote Estate, Selworthy, Minehead, Somerset TA24 8TJRoute details and mapDownload as a print friendly PDF
Explore this extensive ancient wood pasture where you will see ancient oak pollards, an impressive oak tree over 500 years old, as well as a variety of wildlife that makes their home amongst these magnificent trees.
- Bus stop
Start: Aller Combe meadow parking area, grid ref: SS895431
Begin the walk at the parking area at Aller Combe meadow. This is a popular picnic spot on the East Water. As you leave the meadow, take a closer look at lungwort rare lichen on an ash tree opposite the parking space.
Horner Wood was once an open, heavily tree covered landscape used to produce wood for fuel, winter fodder for stock and wood for hand tools. It was also grazed or used for hunting deer.
Turn right, following the road for 55 yards (50m) downstream. The muddy hollows on the right are deer wallows, where the stags come in the early morning to attend to their personal appearance. Continue down the road for another 218 yards (200m), passing another deer wallow. On the left, in the woods, are ancient oak pollards. Up among a jumble of rocks on the left is another magnificent oak pollard.
The woods contain several ancient oak pollards (a pollard is a tree which regularly has its branches cut back to encourage a dense head of foliage), and the dead trunk of a former pollard, known as a hulk, immensely valuable in their own right for wildlife. These trees are at least 400 years old. In the past, this part of Horner Wood would have been wood pasture.
Turn left off the road at a wooden barrier. Follow the track, then take a left fork away from the river after about 55 yards (50m). Walk steeply uphill passing under a large maiden oak festooned with tree ferns. (A maiden is a term for a tree that has not been pollarded.) In spring and early summer listen out for wood warblers, later on you may see pied flycatchers.
Emerge from the woodland onto open heathland, known as Cloutsham Ball ('ball' is a local name for a hill). Now turn right, where the paths cross at a wooden bench. Keep a look out for red deer and Exmoor ponies. You will notice lots of grassy ant hills at this point of the walk. These show that it used to be open heath land here, but as the number of sheep grazing has declined so the heath land is beginning to turn to woodland.
After about 218 yards (200m) you will see a faint path on the left leading up to some scree, or bare rocks on the slopes above you. Turn up here and follow it for about 27 yards (25m). Up on your left you will notice an oak tree, known as the General. This is a good spot for adders too, so take care where you tread.
At first sight, this oak tree doesn't look particularly impressive, but as you get closer you realise its enormous girth and ancient, gnarled branches and bark. This amazing tree is well over 500 years old. The General is a classic example of a veteran tree, with dead branches and splits, fungi, hollows and rotten wood providing a rare and specialist environment for a host of species, all rare in their own right.
Now, retrace your steps back to the main path, turn left and continue on your walk, heading back into the woods. On either side of the path are more oak pollards, perhaps once cut for making charcoal. You will reach a sign-post on the bridleway to Cloutsham, turn left toward Cloutsham and walk uphill with the Horner valley below you on your right. Keep to the main footpath (do not fork left on to the bridleway), passing through a grove of ancient oak trees and dead hulks. Pass a pollard on your left with a mountain ash growing in it.
Keep an eye out for tree shelters with oak saplings growing in them. These have been grown from the acorns collected from these hoary trees. With luck, and protection from the deer, these will be the veteran trees of the future.
At the next T junction, turn left. Look back at breathtaking views out over Porlock Bay and Hurlestone Point. Carry on until you reach a blue-topped post, turn right out over the moor land and at the next junction keep right passing a large Monterey Pine on the way.
The Monterey pine is a fine example of exotic trees that were planted here in the 19th century. These pines are native to California, but are grown widely in many parts of the world as an exotic species.
When you get back to the cross paths at the wooden bench, turn right and follow the path back down to the road. When you reach the road, turn right back to Aller Combe meadow.
End: Aller Combe meadow parking area, grid ref: SS895431
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- Trail: Walking
- Grade: Easy
- Distance: 2 miles (3.2km)
- Time: 1 hour
- OS Map: Landranger 181, Explorer OL9
Some steep sections at the start, otherwise easy walking on good paths. Walking boots advised. Dogs welcome.
- How to get here:
By foot: The Coleridge Way and The Macmillan Way both pass through the estate
By bike: A39 Minehead to Porlock cuts through the estate. This is a fairly busy A road
By bus: Quantock 300 Minehead to Lynmouth daily, alight Holnicote or Allerford. Quantock 39 Minehead to Porlock, Mon to Fri, alight Allerford or Selworthy
By train: Minehead 5 miles (8km). West Somerset Railway, Bishops Lydeard to Minehead, then take Quantock 39 Minehead to Porlock, Mon to Fri, alight Allerford or Selworthy
By car: A39 Minehead to Porlock, 4 miles (6.4km) west of Minehead and 1 mile (1.6km) east of Porlock
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