Walks at Montacute House
There’s plenty to explore beyond the boundaries of Montacute House and garden with three waymarked trails through the Tudor parkland, round Ladies’ Wallk and up to St Michael’s Tower. The walks range from 1.8 to 3.3km and take in uneven pathways and sometimes steeper hills.
The beauty of the parkland at Montacute stems from the dozens of mature veteran trees that stand in impressive glory all year. These include sweet chestnut, London plane and oak where bats, birds, and many different insects live. The highlight, however, is the magnificent Lime Avenue that runs through the centre of the parkland.
For the young, or young at heart, you will find swings on some of these trees. We do move them around to keep you on your toes and to preserve the trees.
Cows and sheep are often present in the parkland to help manage the sward for invertebrates and wildflowers. Fallen dead wood is often left to lie where it is to provide habitat for saprophytic beetles.
The woodland to the north is called Mill Copse and the Welhams brook slowly weaves its way through the trees. It was once a site of a medieval mill, and the footings and mill pond remain today. If you are quiet it is here that you may see dippers, a bird usually associated with fast moving river streams.
As the Welhams brook breaks out of the woodland you can view two flood attenuation ponds, which were created to help ‘slow the flow’ and are the home of many dragonfly species.
Hornhay Orchard, on the north west side of the house and garden, is home to mature fruit trees and some newly planted cider trees that were part of the Tidnor collection.
Ladies’ Walk is a mature woodland dominated by beech trees that offer scenic views of Montacute village.
In spring, you can listen to bird song and admire carpets of bluebells. During the summer, one of the viewpoint benches is ideal for quiet contemplation. In the autumn and winter months, the woodland becomes a rusty brown as the beech leaves turn and fall.
Return via the Old Deer Park, once a medieval enclosure part of the Abbey Grounds. Sheep often graze the pasture and the stream running through it is a withy bed, where the willows were once managed for basket making.
St Michael's Hill
Montacute village got its name from this hill, originally called ‘Mons Acutus’ (sharp hill in Latin). The Normans built a motte-and-bailey castle on top, with a chapel dedicated to St Michael. All that remains today are the footings, on which the Phelips family built a tower in the 18th century, but the name lingers on.
From the village recreation ground the path follows a gradual climb through the grassland to the woodland edge at the base of the monument. From here the path rises sharply to the summit where the reward is 360⁰ views across the Somerset countryside.
The woodland around the base of the hill is dominated by sweet chestnut and ash. The plateau between the woodland and the summit is managed for wildflowers and occasionally grazed by cattle or sheep.