Autumnal red walk at Calke Abbey
Take in the beautiful sights and sounds of the Calke Abbey Estate as the park comes alive with the vibrant reds of autumn.
Around 80 fallow deer and 25 red deer live in Calke Abbey’s deer park and autumn is the perfect time to see these enchanting creatures. As the red deer sheds its summer coat it turns its distinctive red colour, which is highlighted as the sun shines through the trees.
Calke Abbey car park, grid ref: SK366226
Make your way to the gate opposite the coach park and enter the field. Turn left walking across the open field. Cross the road and continue.
You will reach a light-coloured gravel path. Look to your left and admire the view of the mansion. From the path head past the tree nicknamed the 'screaming tree' and uphill towards the copse of trees.
This is the original drive to Calke and is the route that people would have taken in their carriages. Imagine that you are visiting the mansion for the first time and reflect on this impressive view.
You will find yourself within a circular copse of trees surrounding a red-brick building, which is an 18th-century deer shelter.
The Calke Abbey building team has recently preserved this 18th-century, red-brick building to prevent it deteriorating further. It was built to entice deer into the open parkland. The family could then observe them from the comfort of the house. Two hundred years later, red and fallow deer were re-introduced to Calke as an enclosed herd.
Retrace your steps out of the copse and turn right heading towards the wooden fence - follow the path which runs parallel to the fence and meets with the gravel carriageway. Turn left on the carriageway path and follow until you reach a white gate on your left.
Turn right following the boundary wall past the oak trees until you reach the entrance road to the estate. Continue to the left following the boundary wall. Look to your right and you will see a large example of a copper beech tree (Fagus sylvatica f. purpurea), which in early season will be a deep red colour changing to orangey-reds in later season. Continue past the second, smaller copper beech following the road until it gently curves to the right and you reach a pond.
At the pond you will see two paths on your right-hand side. Follow the lower path past the pond. To your right you will see four ancient stag-headed oak trees. Continue to follow the path through the red-brown bracken. The path curves to the left and leads you to a gate. Continue through the gate and left until you reach the fork when you take the right-hand path.
Continue up the stepped path and you will reach an old pendunculate oak (Quercus robur) referred to as the 'dragon tree'. Beyond this tree is a gate on the right. Go through and continue ahead following the wood-chipped path. You will come to an area on the left with a row of silver birch trees (Betula pendula). Underneath, this shady, cool and damp spot is the ideal place to look out for fly agaric (Amanita muscaria), a bright red fungus which looks just like a fairytale toadstool.
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 the eyes. If you look at the top of the tree you may notice a silver birch growing out of the top.
Continue along the path and past the sweet chestnuts (Castanea saviva) - recognisible by their latticed bark. If you find any yellow-green husks they can be opened to reveal two or more red-brown nuts inside.
Just beyond the sweet chestnuts (Castanea saviva) on the right is an ancient oak tree. Look closely and see if any beefsteak fungus (Fistulina hepatica) is growing. This is a distinctive fungus as it looks just like a slab of meat.
When you reach a large open area, take the left-hand path and continue to the wooded area then follow the right-hand path. Look underfoot for the red sandy soil. Along this part of the route look out for the hawthorn bushes (Crataegus monogyna), in autumn they will be full of bright red berries and dark red leaves.
You will reach a wooden bench follow the path round to the right. You will then notice the deer enclosure fence on the left. You may hear the red deer as autumn is rutting season and they can be very loud. When you reach the fork take the left route up the stepped path which takes you past mature horse chestnut trees (Aesculus hippocastanum) - take a moment to do some conker hunting.
The path leads you out into the main car park. Make your way to the end of the car park and look through the fence for the magnificent sights and sounds of the Calke Park deer.
Red deer inhabit the estate. See males locking horns, calling females and scent-marking during the autumn rut.
Calke Abbey car park, grid ref: SK366226
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