Big Wood trail through Emes' pleasure park
Big wood trail is a short circular walk taking you round the orange waymarker route on the 1,200-acre estate with an array of archaeological features. As you reach the top of the motte (or mound) discover the secret meadow, formerly the bailey where the castle village would have been.
Discover 'Cathedral Aisle'
William Emes incorporated the motte into his pleasure park design to create ‘Cathedral Aisle’ with two rows of beech and hornbeam to walk through; the perfect place for quiet reflection. The estate is a haven for wildlife. Look out for bluebells and wild garlic in spring and listen out for woodpeckers as you walk through Big Wood.
Erddig car park
Start by the dovecote and walk east through the coach park, continuing straight on to the stony track. On your right you’ll see the dead oak tree (Quercus robur) home to barn owls and a myriad of invertebrates.
18th century dovecote
The early 18th century dovecote housed pigeons, which were very useful for a stately home. They were a valuable source of food for their meat and eggs, their feathers used as stuffing material and the droppings contained potassium nitrate, an ingredient for gun powder!
Follow the path round to the left and past the ha-ha, where if you look westwards (to your left), you will see the back of the house, the canal water feature and a glimpse of the 18th century formal gardens. The elaborate wrought iron gates from Stansty Hall, thought to be constructed by the Davis brothers, were installed at Erddig in 1977 when the house opened to the public.
Ha-has are a quirky kind of walls built in the 17th and 18th Century on country estates of the landed gentry. They typically formed a boundary between the estate's gardens and grounds and built to be invisible from the house, ensuring a clear view across the estate.
Continue along the path and enter Big Wood.
Big Wood is considered an ornamental woodland as there is a diverse range of broadleaf tree species including oak (Quercus roburor) and sycamore (Acer pseudoplatanus) compared to our other woodlands which are predominantly beech (Fagus sylvatica).
Follow the path round to the left and take the right hand path, following the orange waymarker.
On the original planting scheme for Erddig, Big Wood is described as the pleasure grounds, so it would have been a vast open space with avenues and borders of trees.
Continue straight on, you will notice fallen beech trees as you walk round. These have been left as essential habitats for many species of invertebrates and fungi which enjoy feeding on the decaying wood, such as woodlice and earthworms.
According to the original plans of Erddig, Big Wood would have been used as a pleasure ground and deer park, but the woodland fell into poor condition and now most of the trees have self-seeded in the past 150 years.
Continue straight ahead as the other routes turn right. As you follow the path round to the left, the woodland opens up a little. On your left there is a straight avenue through Big Wood to Wolf’s Den and the gardens. The idea is that from the Garden gates you can see straight through to our eleventh century Norman motte and bailey castle remains.
Wolf's Den is our natural play area, designed by our rangers to help young children enjoy nature and the outdoors.
Continue along the path until it drops off down to the right – this is the base of our Motte and Bailey Castle. If you want to walk on to the Motte and Bailey head down the slope to the interpretation panel and then continue up the steep hill. Please take care on the slopes, especially in wet and slippery conditions. If you do not wish to go on to the motte and bailey, please continue to step 10.
Discover the remains of a Norman castle
The Norman motte and bailey was constructed around 1071 by Hugh D’Avranches (Hugh the Wolf), the Earl of Chester, by instruction of the Norman King to gain control of the Welsh borders. It would have been a wooden hillfort, which is why there are no obvious remains here.
Once at the top of the steep hill it opens out into a flat grass meadow area. This area would have been the village, with houses and shops, probably including a bakery, butchers, armoury and blacksmith. Now there is an avenue of beech and hornbeam (carpinus betulus).
Discover 'Cathedral Aisle'
700 years after the castle was built, landscape designer William Emes incorporated these earthworks into his plans and planted an avenue of trees on its summit named ‘Cathedral Aisle’ leading to a spectacular view over the surrounding landscape.
Half-way down the avenue on the left, follow the path down where you can see a large mound, this is the motte. On top would have been a wooden palisade with a keep, which would have been a vantage point used for soldiers to keep watch of invaders as well as where Hugh D’Avranches would have stayed.
The motte and bailey is one of two Scheduled Ancient Monuments at Erddig and is owned by CADW.
Once you have explored the motte and bailey, retrace your steps back to the interpretation panel and up the slope. Stay to the right and continue straight on through Big Wood. You will reach a wooden fence and gates. Follow the path down to the right, down the hill. Half way down the steps on your right is one section of Wat’s Dyke, the second of our Scheduled Ancient Monuments.
Constructed in the 8th Century, it predates its larger cousin Offa’s Dyke, acting as a 40-mile defensive linear earthwork in the form of a bank with a ditch on the western side. Wat’s Dyke stretches from the Flintshire coast to just south of Oswestry. There is currently 2 miles of Wat’s Dyke on Erddig’s estate. You will notice the piles of branches along it which helps to reduce the footfall and prevent further erosion.
At the bottom of the hill go through the black kissing gate and turn left. To see the ‘Cup and Saucer’ cyclindrical cascading water feature, head over the wooden bridge to the right. The Cup and Saucer waterfall was designed by William Emes in the 1770s along with many other features on the estate.
The heartbeat of Erddig
The cylindrical cascading waterfall drops 10ft and was designed to lower Black Brook quickly to prevent erosion. There is also a hydraulic ram from the late 19th Century, which used to pump 10,000 gallons of water 90ft uphill to supply the gardens and fountains. The thud of the ram was known as the ‘Heartbeat of Erddig’.
Retrace your steps back to the path and go through the wooden kissing gate alongside a cattle grid onto a tarmac road.
Continue up the hill and through the trees, as you pass the white gates to the west front of the house, you'll see our Coachman's tea garden, serving hot drinks and light snacks at weekends and on busy days. Head left back to the dovecote.
Erddig car park
You made it
Following this trail on mobile or tablet? Share your experience.