At Ashdown our two ancient trees are both beeches. One has a girth of 4.96 metres, the other a girth of 5.15 metres. It's difficult to assess the age of a beech on the basis of girth alone but both of these trees are several centuries old and may well have been standing when the house was built 350 years ago. Accordingly, as a tribute to Ashdown's anniversary this year, we have unofficially named them the Elizabeth Beech and the William Beech. Elizabeth stands on the back boundary of Hailey Wood. William stands at the back of Upper Wood. Both stand beside the medieval Park Pale. According to the Woodland Trust this is no co-incidence; many of the surviving ancient trees in the UK stand in what were once Royal hunting forests and medieval deer parks. It's wonderful that at Ashdown we have this link with the early history of the estate.
The Ashdown Park Pale was built in 1204 when the Ashbury estate belonged to Glastonbury Abbey and Ashdown was a hunting forest. Park pales consisted of a bank and ditch with a wooden palisade, or fence,
on the top. They were designed to let the deer in through gaps in the pale called deer leaps, but once inside the emparkment the deer could not get out again. At Ashdown the entire existing wood was emparked. Changes to the estate and the parkland during the 18th and 19th centuries have altered the appearance of the landscape, and the park pale that surrounded Middle and Hailey Woods has mostly been either ploughed out of the fields, demolished or worn away, although the later ha-ha is still visible.
However to the south of the sarsen field and most particularly around Upper Wood, the park pale is still a magnificent earthwork rising up to 9 metres high on the escarpment of the hill. The photograph above shows the remains of the park pale where it intersects with the Lambourn road to the south of the estate. There is a footpath that runs up the back of Upper Wood (where the William Beech stands) and around the top of the park pale and from this vantage point you get a superb view of the surrounding landscape. You can also see what a huge embankment the park pale originally was.
There is one other verified ancient tree at Ashdown that is currently not on the map. A couple of years ago English Nature paid Ashdown a visit to assess the elm avenues. In the course of their work they also discovered an oak tree on the edge of Upper Wood. Measurements taken showed that this oak was old enough to be part of the original 13th century hunting forest. In honour of its ancient status and the connection to Glastonbury Abbey this has therefore been named the Glastonbury Oak. We are very proud to have ancient trees at Ashdown. They are living relics that inspire awe and mystery and have helped to shape our history.