Last week was the school half term break so most of my time was taken up with keeping Toby out of mischief. I did have a free day on the Wednesday though (when he went for respite care) and by happy coincidence this was the best day of the week weather-wise, so I packed up my backpack.
There is no shortage of places to choose from within a 15 minute drive and I count myself very lucky to be able to transport myself with relative ease to the woods, the canal, the lakes or the hills as the mood takes me. This time I headed to Panshanger Park. From the 1700s this parkland formed the grounds of a grand stately home but after the death of the last member of the Cowper family in the 1950's the main house was demolished and the estate divided up and sold by auction. Today the park is owned by Tarmac who extract minerals at one end of it. As each mining site is exhausted they have been returning the land to nature, so at the Hertford end of the park there is now a wonderful 400 hectare nature reserve crisscrossed by paths from which you can regularly see many species of ducks, dragonflies and wild birds including the occasional kingfisher and even osprey at the right time of year.
I walked through the fields of grazing sheep (who seemed quite curious about me photographing them), down the track towards the lake cottage and along the Mimram river for a bit before heading uphill to the site where the house once stood. At the hilltop there's a bench with a wonderful view designed by Humphrey Repton so I sat to eat my snack. From there I headed into the woods until the eerie sight of crumbling stonework appeared through the gaps between trees. The Orangery is all that remains of the original house - though if you scrabble about in the woods you can see the remains of walls and terraces which are being slowly reclaimed by nature - it's a bit like being on the set of a Lord of The Rings film. Following the path past the Orangery leads to a ring of iron railings encircling a gigantic oak tree...
"The park contains the largest maiden (not pollarded) oak in the country, with a circumference of 7.6 metres. It is believed to have been planted by Queen Elizabeth I. Acorns from the tree have been used as seedlings for notable oaks in other parts of the country, such as the Prince Consort Oak in the Forest of Dean. Winston Churchill planted a sapling from the tree in the park and the tree can still be seen in the grounds." (source Wikipedia)
I'm not sure that the pictures quite convey how massive this ancient oak is without anything for scale in the foreground but it is quite awe inspiring. I sat there for a while, quietly. All around I could hear small birds twittering about their business in the undergrowth. The squirrels were busy too with their store-cupboarding. There is a feeling of magic there (though that might be just me channelling my childhood love of reading The Tree That Sat Down and The Faraway Tree) and I look forward to returning through the changing seasons and visiting the peacefully enduring old oak.
I walked the path back to the car beneath dramatic skies. I've realised recently that late afternoon and that last golden hour before sunset is my favourite time of day and it really soothes my soul and dissolves stresses to be wandering about then. Even the tedious traffic jams to get back through rush-hour Hertford couldn't dent my sense of well-being.
Although autumn is undeniably here with cooler, breezier days and an abundance of berries and hips in the hedgerows, the leaves of many trees have yet to reach their full autumn glory, so I'm hoping for another wood walk later this week before leaf fall is complete.
See you soon and thanks as always for visiting x