One of the first things I was made aware of when I began my volunteering here at Croft Castle was the history of, or rather the story behind the Sweet Chestnut avenue for which Croft is renown. These trees can be found on what has been designated the Ancient Tree Walk. The trees themselves are thought to be over 400 years old. The story is that sweet chestnuts were taken from the captured Spanish ships at the time of the Spanish Amada and the trees were grown from those same sweet chestnuts. It is also said that a planting regime of Oak Trees (English) and the Sweet Chestnuts (Spanish) in the grounds at Croft represents a battle formation during the Spanish Armada. This planting regime extends well beyond the Chestnut Avenue.
Working amongst all these ancient trees often has me reflecting on how much value was placed upon tree planting four centuries ago and how in recent times we have been so neglectful in the management of our woodlands throughout Britain.
Following the green signs now takes you down the exit drive and off to the right through the pedestrian gate and into what is called the Front Meadow. The early part of this walk is a pleasant enough route that will take you past the Pond. Recently a pair of Swans have made frequent visits here and there have also been sightings of an Otter. In summer you can see Swallows and house martins swooping over the surface of the pond feeding and drinking. On warm summer evenings around dusk Bats are also very active feeding from insects in the meadow and hovering above the pond.
The gentle upward slope away from the pond will take you towards the Quarry that lies to the left of the path. Below you in the hollow of the old quarry stands the ‘Quarry Oak’; this is thought to be in the order of 1000 years old. It is behind a fence to deter people from trampling around it. On guided walks the resident national trust ranger takes small groups to inspect and walk around the tree. You might also note the huge elbow on the Sweet Chestnut tree, I often look at this and it reminds me of just how amazing trees are; you would wonder how the trunk is able to support this enormous limb without it having every fallen over.
In mid winter, perhaps at the end of January, it’s worth looking towards and into the copse which at this point of the walk is on your right. Within this small collection of trees is a wonderful display of snowdrops that sadly is not given as much publicity as it deserves; until 2014 this copse was surrounded by old fencing and the snowdrops were hidden below a dense growth of rhododendron which we as volunteers cleared out. To one side of the copse is a fallen Lime tree that many years ago was left and is now an amazing example of both a Layered Tree and something called Phoenix Regeneration.
Layering happens when a tree that has fallen re-grows away from its original base. Phoenix Regeneration takes place when the fallen tree continues to grow from its trunk or branches that might still be attached to the trunk. In winter the structure of both aspects of this re-growth can be seen very clearly. In the summer it looks like a small group of trees growing next to a fallen tree.
Once you are through the field gate the route takes you up towards the avenue of sweet chestnut trees.
The older trees on your right and trees much younger on the left as you wander through the avenue. After you have traversed the farm track you pass through the triple row of sweet chestnut trees. There are wonderful views off to the left and right of you. Looking to the right you look down onto the avenue of lime trees, these are in the process of being felled and we will be starting to do more felling in Autumn. They were planted in about 1960 and we realise now they were planted there in error. A benefit of their removal is the wonderful view that is revealed; you can now get a far better view of the old wood pasture as you look north.
The ‘Spanish’ Sweet Chestnuts in the triple avenue have passed their prime and now many are suffering from ‘Ink Disease’. Ink disease is one of the most destructive diseases affecting sweet chestnut trees. It causes root and collar rot of adult trees and of seedlings in nurseries, plantations and forests. As you walk through the pasture a little later on your walk, you might notice the large tree guards; inside these are planted the next generation of, hopefully, ancient sweet chestnut trees.
From the Sweet Chestnut avenue you are guided past the Hawthorn Orchard.
This is an unusual feature possibly the only hawthorn orchard in England. These trees are estimated to be about 200 years old; this is considered ancient for this species. It is thought that the hawthorn was used as rootstock for the Medlar fruit. Due to their age they need careful management and about every seven years they are pollarded; this helps to extend their life but also reduces the risk of them splitting apart and falling over.
A steady walk back towards the Castle will eventually take you over a small bridge and past Sir Williams Oak. During the English civil war the Crofts were Royalists and Sir William Croft was killed in June 1645 after an engagement at Stokesay Castle. It is claimed that he was shot by one or two pursuers as he was returning to the Castle. Sir William’s Oak commemorates the incident as the spot where he died.
The route will now direct you back towards the Castle, past the Church and into the grounds of the Castle.
If you only have a short time to spend and are interested in trees this is one of the shorter and easier walks and is quite fascinating at any time of the year. In winter it can be quite muddy as this walk will take you over land often grazed by cattle.
Don’t forget to ask for the free walks leaflet when you are in the Visitor
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