Autumn is the perfect time to let trees take you on a journey to their historical roots that can be illuminating, inspiring and fun, opening up stories you never knew about and, thanks to Lake District tree locations, often views to die for.
Heading to Grizedale Forest, near to Coniston, you can not only find sanctuary beneath the forest canopy and enjoy therapeutic scents and incredible sounds but also derive cultural inspiration aplenty, whilst enjoying stunning views too, if following trails like the Seat How Summit circular walk, with its vistas of the lakes of Derwentwater and Bassenthwaite and the Skiddaw and Helvellyn mountain ranges. As the home to over 50 amazing forest sculptures, exploring Grizedale is joyous, whether you shelter inside the giant megaphone, RUUP, or stumble across a totem pole. but few people are aware of what to find on a beech tree on the Bogle Crag trail – a carving of a helmet, made by a German Prisoner of War held at the Grizedale Hall No 1 POW camp between 1939 and 1945. Many prisoners were elite officers from sunken U-boats but use your own imagination to decide who carved the helmet. Visit https://www.forestryengland.uk/grizedale for more details.
Seeking out an ancient 400-year-old lime at Grizedale’s Rainsbarrow Wood can be accompanied by a visit to another such tree, if you head to Holker Hall and Gardens, in Cark-in-Cartmel. There, the Holker Great Lime was named one of the Tree Council’s ’50 Great British Trees’ in 1992. Standing 72 feet high, with a fluted trunk 25 feet in circumference, it is easy to see why. Listening to its secrets, whilst sheltering or hiding, is pretty irresistible! With lots going on at Holker, including a Garden Tour with the Head Gardener, on October 21, which includes an afternoon tea within the ticket price of £25, and Winter Markets between November 6 and 8 (£4 including parking or £5 with entrance to the gardens too), it is worth pre-booking your tickets and either visiting when it suits, or heading to an event. Call 015395 58328 for more information or visit www.holker.co.uk
Over on Cumbria’s West Coast, heading to Muncaster Castle can reveal ‘Tom Fool’s Tree’ – a magnificent Sweet Chestnut underneath which the last Fool of Muncaster, the 16th century Thomas Skelton, (thought to be the Tom Fool of legend) would purposefully sit to determine the fate of passers-by seeking directions. If he liked the direction seekers, he sent them on a safe route; if he did not, he sent them to their death on the local quicksands! Muncaster’s gardens, Hawk & Owl Centre and Halloween 2020 activities are all available for booking online at www.muncastercastle.co.uk with much to see, do and learn about.
Skip a century on and you will discover 17th century tree delights at Levens Hall and Gardens in the South Lakes, where the world’s oldest and most extensive topiary garden can be found. The garden contains 100 pieces of Yew Taxus baccata and Golden Yew Taxus baccata ‘Aurea’, as well as Box Buxus, clipped into unusual designs that include the Umbrella Tree, shortlisted for the Woodland Trust’s ‘Tree of the Year’ in 2016 and planted in the 1690s. Sharing the limelight with designs including chess pieces, a judge’s wig and a jug of Levens’ secret-recipe Morocco Ale, this is well worth seeing for the entrance price of £14.50 for an adult, £5 for a child or £36 for a family, booked at www.levenshall.co.uk The gardens are open Sunday to Thursday, to October 29.
At National Trust Sizergh near Kendal, the firework-coloured Japanese maple trees are ablaze with colour in Autumn and who can resist the scent of toffee apples wafting from Japanese katsura in the herbaceous border. Over 65 varieties of apples can be found in the orchard, if you can tear yourself away from the impressive Limestone Rock Garden, the mirror pond and the National Collection of hardy ferns. Entrance costs £8 for an adult and £4 for a child. You can also enjoy a woodland walk from the car park, taking in views of Helsington Barrows and Church Fell, before returning to a treat from the Sizergh café perhaps? Visit www.nationaltrust.org.uk/sizergh for all details and pre-booking.
Note the Scots Pines dating from 1786 as you drive up to Mirehouse near Keswick, where visiting Mirehouse Wood or Castocks Wood or exploring the Family Nature Trail will open up the possibility of a wildlife encounter with roe deer, badgers, red squirrel, rabbits and a wide variety of birds. Take the Lakeshore Walk, on the other hand, and you will tread in the footsteps of Alfred Lord Tennyson, a frequent visitor to the historic home beside stunning Bassenthwaite and with views of Skiddaw. With a terraced Poetry Walk, and even the chance to stroll down Lovers’ Lane, Mirehouse gardens and trails hold much enjoyment and opportunities for memory creation and, if you can’t walk that far, you can always sit and breathe in the scents of the walled Bee Garden. Head to www.mirehouse.co.uk for more details. Gardens entrance, providing access to walks and trails, costs £4 for adults and is free for children.
At the volunteer-run Holehird Gardens near Windermere, an explosion of colour awaits in the autumn borders, if you can take your eyes off of the spectactular Gercidophyllum tree at the fork in the drive just before entering the car park. Wandering through the gardens will afford stunning views of England’s largest lake and the uplifting joy of viewing the brown, orange and red leaves of some of the Lake District’s finest trees. With trees including Handkerchief Tree, a giant Californian Redwood and a Tulip tree, there are lots of varieties to explore and note. Just work out what to do ahead of a visit by heading to www.holehirdgardens.org.uk
In some ways, it is the lack of trees at the former Roman fort of Birdoswald, in the far north of Cumbria, that tells the story of life on the most northern frontier of the Roman Empire, as it was the clear view of the surrounding rolling countryside that was so important to the Empire’s defences. Viewing the longest remaining stretch of Hadrian’s Wall, visiting the remains of the fort, turret and milecastle, and enjoying the romance of life trodden in Roman shoes, is a great reason to head to this wide-open space and recent award-winning visitor attraction. Visit the Birdoswald page at https://www.english-heritage.org.uk to book your tickets before your arrival.
If you like to have a purpose whilst being out amongst nature, make a beeline for Whinlatter Forest, close to Keswick, and download the iNaturalist App, recording wildlife as you make your way around England’s only true mountain forest, whether that be on any of the nine walking, three cycling or two running trails. Being part of the recording of wildlife through the Forest Find project will provide purpose and help protect habitats at the same time. Alternatively, get your credit or debit card at the ready, buy a Gruffalo Map for £1.50 at the Visitor Centre and test out your map-reading as you seek out 12 Gruffalo markers in the forest. The Visitor Centre is open from 10am to 4pm each day, providing lots of opportunities for family fun. More information is at https://www.forestryengland.uk/whinlatter
Let Cumbria’s Living Heritage members provide you with plenty of wide-open space, fresh air and a huge variety of outdoor cultural experiences this October and you should have a truly tree-mendous time.