Low Scrubs: A walk back in time
For many centuries, perhaps dating back to Anglo-Saxon times, Low Scrubs was part of common woodland where anyone could collect fuel. Under the 1805 Enclosure Act, the present roughly 40 acre area was assigned to Ellesborough Parish for the poor of the parish to collect and take out wood fuel. Individual families were allotted their own compartments of trees. This usage continued until the Second World War. The National Trust bought Low Scrubs from the Ellesborough Charities in 1985.
The walk is way-marked with orange arrows mounted on wooden posts at all major changes in direction.
Coombe Hill car park, grid ref SP 851062
Start the walk at the right hand side of the entrance to the car park as seen from the road. Enter the woodland at the public footpath sign just to the left of the wooden posts that mark the road-end of the car park. Throughout the walk, follow the orange way-marking signs, the first of which can be found on a low post just as you enter the woodland. After 50m ignore a path bearing to the right, but pause here to look at the coppiced beech trees around you. Continue on the main path winding through the trees until you reach a sign-post on a crossing, sunken path.
Some beech trees within Low Scrubs were regularly cut down to near ground level (coppiced) and then allowed to grow back. Others had branches lopped off using hooks and axes - saws were not allowed. This regular cutting extended the life of the trees and these may be some of the oldest surviving beech in the Chilterns. The National Trust is continuing this regular cutting on a more sensitive scale.
Turn left here and head gently uphill on this ancient trackway. (Please note that in April 2021 a tree had fallen across the trackway at this point, but it is easily circumnavigated.) Continue on the main, broad path for 350m until you reach a large beech tree with a marker pointing to a path on the right.
Bundles of firewood and faggots (sticks) were taken out by villagers (often the women) on their backs or using wooden trolleys, much going to homes in Dunsmore 1 km away. The regular fuel removal created sunken trackways through the woods, often along the boundaries of the family compartments.
Turn sharp right onto this path, partially back from the way you came. After 100m you reach a crossing point with another path joining from the left. Cross this path, keeping the same direction, going through a gap in a distinct line of large trees. Notice some curious ironwork, about a metre long, partially embedded in a tree.
This cast iron deer fence was hand made in 1902 by Chiltern Ironworks of Wendover. A hand-operated press made the holes in the fence uprights. The fence ought to have been removed for the war effort during World War 2 but was left as in places it had become embedded in the trees.
Turn immediately right at the iron work to follow a broad path with the distinct line of large trees on a bank on your right. After a while this path curves round to the left until you reach a T-junction. Notice more of the gate and fence ironwork on the opposite side.
This bank and ditch is thought to have been constructed to mark the boundary of the fuel allotment area in 1805. The eastern section here is also the District and Parish boundary. The trees along the bank were originally coppiced and laid to form a hedge.
Turn right and follow the path keeping the iron fence on your left, with a paddock behind. After 200m you reach a point where wooden, solid fencing has been installed behind the iron railing fence. Stop here to look back and just to the right of the path you walked down. Try to spot the outline of a low, 5m wide ditch forming a right-angled corner. This ditch can be traced over an approximately 50 x 50m area. Archaeologists have identified it as the possible remains of a cattle enclosure dating back to the late Iron Age (2000 – 2500 years ago). Continue for another 50m to a footpath sign.
Turn right here to walk along a flat then gently downhill narrow path. This is likely to have been another ancient trackway between two compartments of trees. At the end of the downhill section you meet a crossing path.
Turn right here. After about 100m a clear area appears to the left of the path. Then, about 25m after re-entering woodland, stop to look at a small depression with raised banks just to the left of the path. This is thought to be the remains of a lye pit.
This Q-shaped depression may have been a lye or potash pit for burning bracken, gorse and branches. A stoke hole in one side was used to stir the embers to make sure they burned evenly to a fine ash. Possible uses for the potash were for glass making or to create a liquid called lye for making soap. However, it is likely here that the potash was used as a soil fertiliser to encourage the re-growth of trees after their harvesting for wood.
Turn round to retrace your steps. Continue past where you joined this path then bear right at a footpath sign to walk gently uphill until you reach a T-junction.
Turn sharp right here towards a thick grove of silver birch trees. Notice a small pit just to the left of the path as you leave the grove. This is possibly another lye pit. On leaving the copse, stop to look at the landscape of Low Scrubs here, which is very different from the dense woodland you first entered. Continue along the path until you re-join the path you first started the walk on. Turn left to return to the car park.
Bracken and Birch Area
This area of Low Scrubs, now dominated by bracken with silver birch trees, was kept as open grazing ground for sheep.
Coombe Hill car park, grid ref SP 851062
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