“ Address: Nympsfield / Nr Stroud / Gloucestershire / GL10 3TS / England „
Last month, myself and my best friend spent a week in the Cotswold with our dogs. The main idea of the break was to just chill out and have lots of walks in the countryside with the dogs. On our first day there, we set up the sat nav and asked it to show us all the tourist attractions within 30 miles. Woodchester Park was one of the first attractions to come up and we were pleased to see that it was only 7 miles away from where we were staying.
Woodchester Park is situated in a stunning secluded valley near Stroud in the Cotswolds. In the valley are the remains of an 18th and 19th century Landscape Park, a mansion and a chain of five lakes surrounded by woodland and lots of green fields.
Much of Woodchester Park is owned by the National Trust since they bought it back in 1994 with the intention of protecting and preserving the landscape. The only part of Woodchester Park that isn't owned by The National Trust is the Mansion and the immediate surroundings, as these are owned by Stroud District Council.
The entire valley is designated as a Site of Special Scientific Interest. Buzzards, woodpeckers and owls breed in the woodland and coots, moorhens, mallard and mandarin ducks live in the lakes.
Entry to Woodchester Park is totally free. However, you are required to pay £2 for all day parking. I was pleased to read that all the money paid out for parking goes straight back into Woodchester Park.
The Woodland and Lakeside walks are open for visitors to enjoy every day of the year. However, visits to the Mansion are only possible of specific open days which are held between April and October.
There are three marked walks within Woodchester Park. These are:
Woodland Walk - marked with blue arrows. This walk is the shortest at only 1.7 miles. This walk is fairly gentle, taking you through Marmontsflat Wood and to one of the viewpoints where you can see beautiful views of the Mansion and Woodchester Park.
Boathouse Walk - marked with orange arrows. This walk is 3.5 miles long and takes you past the Mansion, the terraced gardens and some of the five lakes. It is called the Boathouse Walk as it takes you past a 19th
Valley Walk - marked with red arrows. This walk is 7 miles long and takes you past the lakes and woodland enclosed within Woodchester Park. On this walk, you get to see all the attractions within the Park and get to see some beautiful sites from the various viewpoints.
Attractions Within Woodchester Park
When you first arrive at the car park, there is an information sign where you can collect a leaflet giving you details of the various walks inside the park. In this leaflet, there are details of the various attractions. You will need to plan your route carefully if you wish to see all the attractions and sometimes swap from route to route to include them all. The following attractions are located inside the park:
The Ice House
Near the large horse chestnut tree are the remains of a brick-lined Ice House, an underground cold store built for the earlier Georgian Mansion. Ice Houses were popular with rich families in the 18th and 19th centuries, who used the ice to chill their drinks in summer.
This was in use until the early 1900s, providing building stone for the Woodchester Estate. Since then, nature has taken over and colourful wildflowers and shrubs thrive in this sunny, south-facing spot.
Beech leaves cast dense shade that makes it difficult for other plants to grow under them. Spring flowers like bluebells and anemones manage by blooming early, before the beech leaves are fully open. A few plants, such as box and yew trees, can grow in shade. The trees in the area are extremely close together and look very beautiful as the sunlight streams through the top of the trees and onto the woodland floor.
The woodland track winds through beech and Lawson's Cypress trees to a secluded bench with wonderful views looking along Woodchester valley to Minchinhampton Common and the village of Amberley. In May, lily-of-the-valley bloom beside the track.
The Coach House & Stables
These are the remains of a stone built coach house and stables that were associated with the Mansion. In their day, they would have been extremely beautiful stables. This is shown in the property details dated 1846 where the buildings are described as 'everything the most fastidious Gentleman can desire... Coach Houses for Eight Carriages....Stables with Twelve Stalls and Harness rooms...'
This is the name given to the parkland beside the main track. This was re-created in 1996 by the National Trust; they cleared the ground and reverted it back to grassland. This area is important to Woodchester Park as it is a feeding area for the greater horseshoe bat who feed and insect in the dung left by grazing cattle and sheep.
The wooded valley contains the remains of terraced gardens which were created in the late 1700's and early 1800's. History records describe a Temple overlooking Italian style gardens with fountains playing in ornamental ponds.
Brick Kiln Pond
This is the first lake in a chain of man made lakes set within Woodchester Park. The dam was breached in the 1940's and currently there is an on going project to restore the lake and surrounding area.
In this area, the trees have been cleared to create a sunny area for butterflies. A variety of moths and butterflies come to this area in spring and summer.
Middle Pond Dam
This pond is full of lilies which provide shelter for carp, roach and tench. Dragonflies and damselflies can also been seen around the edge of the lake during warm weather.
This was built in the early 19th century and used by the family and any guests for picnics and outings. In 1998 it was restored and the roof, windows and timbers were replaced. Bat roost in the roof space here.
Many of the trees within the parkland are more than 150 years old. They were planted as specimen trees to create impressive landscape features to be viewed from the carriageways and the Mansion. The oaks here are a special variety from Devon called Luccombe Oak.
1749 is carved on the stone bench which sits under an old yew tree. It is one of a series of seats which have been situated at scenic points around the park.
Park Mill Pond
This lake is home to varieties of wildfowl such as kingfishers and otters. Up until the 19th Century, a huge water wheel which was used for grinding wheat for the local estate and other local landowners was situated here.
The Old Kennels
This is all that remains of a larger building which included the Kennel Keeper's cottage. The remains include an open faced farm building which used to be used as the kennels. Nowadays it is used as a picnic spot due to the picnic tables which are situated here.
Middle Pond Bench
This bench was discovered by foraging pigs and was restored in 2003.
Animals Within Woodchester Park
Woodchester Park is nationally famous for its bats and badgers. Greater horseshoe bats have breeding roosts in the Mansion, where they live during the summer months. Lesser horseshoe, Pipistrelle, Daubenton's and long-eared brown bats are also found in the valley, usually hunting flying insects in the woods and over the surface of the lakes.
Woodchester Valley has one of the largest concentrations of badger setts in Britain. In total there are 12 main setts located here. The Ministry of Agriculture monitor Woodchester's badgers as part of a long-term research programme.
Roe deer and the smaller Muntjac deer can be seen here, especially on the wooded upper slopes. At dusk, when the valley is quiet, the deer move down to the pasture to graze.
Myself, my friend and our dogs spent an entire morning here, from about 9.30am till 1pm and we could have spent much longer although my dog has poorly legs so I can't walk him into the ground. I thought the park was very beautiful and felt totally relaxed walking round the routes and taking in the scenery. I found it really useful that they gave out the information leaflets about the park because this enabled us to plan our route and see all the attractions that we wanted too.
My dogs LOVE water and there were various places throughout the park where they were able to get into the water which obviously they adored. One thing I would point out is that people fish here and are often hidden away around a corner. My dogs are exceptionally friendly and proceeded to bound up to all the fishermen but sadly the fishermen were not impressed with this so maybe this is something to be aware of if you do decide to take dogs into the park with you.
I liked the fact that there were planned routes so there was no fear of getting lost and you could decide how far you wanted to walk and pick the trail accordingly.
I was really impressed that there was no entry fee for the park and I consider £2 for parking to be very reasonable.
Woodchester Park offers a great family day out on the cheap.
When I was young I spent a lot of time with my Grandparents during the school holidays, and they loved to drive about the countryside for hours on end. We put hundreds, probably thousands of miles on that car doing day trips. One of my memories of these trips is regularly driving past the entrance to Woodchester Mansion which isn't too far from where they lived, my Grampy was born and grew up in Woodchester, and my Gran would start telling me stories about this eccentric old man who wanted to build the most elaborate house ever, but ran out of money before he was able to buy the windows so Woodchester Mansion was left to rack and ruin. The truth is much more complex but it implanted the romance of this gothic 19th Century mansion in my mind from an early age.
Woodchester mansion is built in a secluded valley known as Woodchester Park, with 6 landscaped lakes running through it. For years the park and the mansion and park were closed to the public so again my fascination with it was increased by the fact that it was forbidden territory and my Grampy also used to tell stories of playing in the park as a boy and getting chased out by various woodsmen.
In 1994 the National Trust bought the park, the mansion is owned separately by Woodchester Mansion Trust and has been greatly restored in recent years. Access to the mansion is only on special open days held most weekends throughout the summer, this is because it is run almost entirely by volunteers and there are also rare greater horseshoe bats in the property. However the focus of this review is Woodchester Park, not the mansion and as the National Trust own the parkland around the mansion, this is open all year round and is a wonderful place to walk.
The roads to the park are not great, even the main roads leading up to it at the moment, the speed limit is 50 but if you value the wheels on your car being in one unbent piece I would say 50 is ambitious, there are so many pot holes on it following the cold weather for the last two years and this road has been a little neglected. Then you get to the driveway leading down to the car park. It is steep narrow and full of puddles, if you like a clean car this is not one for you.
Parking is usually charged at £1.50 per day, National Trust members free, I certainly don't begrudge this as, as it isn't a property, there is no entrance charge for the park and that is the only money the National Trust get from visitors, and all the money goes towards the management of the estate, also the walks that I have done over the last few weeks really brought home to me how much work the management of such an estate takes as they have been repairing paths and fences and clearing areas of old woodland to allow the new plants to grow.
This park is generally not easily accessible for people with mobility problems, there is a steep walk back to the car park and the paths are uneven in places. However if you are visiting the mansion during one of their open days in the summer months they do have a Range Rover that takes people down to the mansion and back up. Which means you can then do a little bit of exploring along the valley floor without having to worry about the walk back up. I'm not sure whether they will give people not visiting the mansion a lift though as it seems to go to a different car park. This time of year walking boots or wellies are essential, in the summer however I usually just wear my Teva walking sandals. We walked here last weekend and I don't think I have ever seen my boots quite so filthy.
Attractions within the park
To be honest, I tend to come here for the solitary beauty of the park, and it is very easy to walk alone here once you've got past the route down to the mansion so 'Attractions' is a pretty big word, but there are things within the park that you may like to plan your route around.
Ice House: Apparently there is the remains of an ice house which would have been used as a cold store, I must have walked past this a million times and not seen it, so must look out for it next time.
Coach House and Stables: Again the remains of that you can walk past quite easily, these were described in the sale document of 1846 as "Most fastidious a Gentleman can desire....Coach Houses for Eight Carriages....Stables with Twelve Stalls and Harness rooms. Now, not so much you can see the remains but unless I'm thinking of the wrong thing it's more of just 'a wall'. There are however a large number of Rhododendrons planted along this avenue so give it a few more weeks and it will be truly beautiful.
Temple Site: I've walked past this countless times, and I can see that it could have been a terraced garden which has been described with fountains playing in ornamental ponds. Now it's just a lovely, peaceful valley.
The Boathouse: I love this place, it just has such a romantic feel to it, a 19th Century boathouse, there is usually a rowing boat upended behind it, and again usually so peaceful, but if you visit in the summer you may have to share with a few people.
The Old Kennels: We usually walk in the park on a Sunday morning while our kids are at a sports club so I very rarely make it down this far as we are restricted on time, but it is the remains of a larger building that was used as the Kennel Keepers cottage and if they hadn't now put a few picnic benches there, has an air of Lady Chatterley about it.
Middle Pond Bench: A lovely stone bench overlooking the lake, a perfect place to stop for a moment.
All of these are mentioned in the leaflet that is available from the car park, however I prefer to just walk, this park is really a well-managed woodland estate that works really well with the local wildlife, I have already mentioned the horseshoe bats in the mansion, there are also bats in the boathouse, pipistrelles I believe. There are a number of badger setts in the area, and they carry out regular moth surveys. They were setting up possibly the first one of the season this weekend. We often catch sight of early morning deer, or hear the woodpecker and see buzzards circle overhead in the summer catching the early morning thermals. This weekend I caught the first smell of wild garlic as we walked down past the temple garden, and in the spring the whole park is a blue and white blanket with the garlic and bluebells. There are coloured way marks guiding you around the park which if you are a one-time only visitor would be useful, but it isn't a huge park, I believe the longest trail is in the region of 7 miles and is a circular route, and you really cannot get lost. So unless you are short of time, or want to plan your route meticulously I always prefer to just discover what is around the next corner.
There is no, or very little mobile phone signal at all within the park.
So this is one of my favourite places to walk, and if you decide to visit, and it happens to be a Sunday morning and you pass a couple walking the other way - say hi, one of them might be me.
Thank you for reading
Digbycat aka MaryanneH