National Trust Woodchester Park (Stroud)
Member Name: MollyWH
National Trust Woodchester Park (Stroud)
Advantages: Beautiful walks, cheap, well set out
Disadvantages: Can only visit Mansion on set days
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.
Summary: Wonderful Woodchester