Ancient tree walks

When it comes to ancient trees, the UK comes top of the European chart and our ancient tree adviser 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.

Ticknall lime avenue at Calke Abbey, Derbyshire
Ancient trees and roaming deer National Trust Images / Mike Williams

Calke Abbey trail 

Calke Abbey in Derbyshire, is possibly one of our best places 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.

The Spanish Chestnut Avenue at Croft Castle, Herefordshire
Visit Croft Castle, Herefordshire, to see this avenue of pollarded sweet chestnuts National Trust Images / Robert Morris

Croft Castle trail 

At Croft Castle in Herefordshire 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.

Lough Erne at Crom, Co Fermanagh, Northern Ireland
Lough Erne at Crom, Co Fermanagh, Northern Ireland National Trust Images / John Millar

Crom trail 

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.

Hollowed out tree trunks at Dinefwr, Carmarthenshire, South Wales
Hollowed out tree trunks at Dinefwr, Carmarthenshire, South Wales National Trust Images / David Noton

Dinefwr trail 

There are nearly 300 ancient trees at Dinefwr in Carmerthenshire, 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.

An ancient oak tree in the grounds of Dunham Massey
An ancient oak tree welcomes you to the park National Trust / Katie Clayton

Dunham Massey trail 

Dunham Massey's magnificent deer park in Cheshire 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.

Autumn colour and frost in Studley Royal water garden
The water garden is the main reason we're a World Heritage Site Andrew Butler

Fountains Abbey & Studley Royal trail 

Fountains Abbey & Studley Royal Water Garden in Yorkshire has some exquisite ancient trees, one of the best is the wild cherry, which unfortunately shed much of 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.

ancient oak tree and autumn foiliage at Hatfield Forest, Essex
An ancient oak tree against a backdrop of autumn foiliage National Trust/Stephen Robson

Hatfield Forest trail 

Hatfield Forest in Essex 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.

An ancient oak tree in Horner Wood on the Holnicote Estate, Somerset
Step back in time and walk amongst ancient oaks National Trust Images

Holnicote Estate trail 

Horner Wood on the Holnicote Estate in Somerset 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.

Ancient Oak tree at Killerton
Explore Killerton's ancient trees National Trust Images / Stephen Robson

Killerton trail 

There are many fine ancient oaks and sweet chestnuts in the park at Killerton in Devon, 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 House and Park deer in autumn
Deer in the parkland at Petworth, West Sussex National Trust / Chris Lacey

Petworth trail 

Petworth in West Sussex, 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.

Beech trees in woodland at Alderley Edge, Cheshire
Ancient beech trees in woodland at Alderley Edge, Cheshire National Trust Images / Robert Morris

Ancient trees introduction 

Let us introduce you to the world of these amazing trees before you visit.