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No 6 The Parks Walks Minehead

Welcome to The Parks Walks Arboretum.

The approach to creating these trails is likened to a skimming stone, stopping at several segments of the park and dropping interesting facts, myths and tales through out, and all pivoting on the trees.

What this is not is an in depth factual tour and history of the Minehead Parks walks.

To view, travel to the trail head which is the lower end of each park and the first chapter will reveal. The walks are designed to read aloud to family and friends and to embellish your experience of this place.

Approach this park from Porlock Road / The Parks Road and follow the directions.

Allow three quarters of an hour per park at an amble.

These Parks Walks digital trails have been made possible through the Exmoor Natural History Society, the Seaside Strategy Fund managed by West Somerset Council, The Minehead development Trust and the Minehead Vision Group.

Instructions

 
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Chapter one

Introduction

These parks are in fact an Arboretum, a garden of trees, they come from throughout the world as well as locally and the stories and anecdotes I have listed reflects this international nature. There are also some fabulous shrubs and beds, but in the interest of my commission I have focused on the trees, with the last section having a list of all trees present in this park.
Chapter two

Hawthorn

As you step into the park past the Photinia hedge pictured, you will be greeted by a moderate Indian Chestnut who's lanterns are purple rather than white, and who's conkers are black. Note that the Photinia hedge is red in spring and turns greener through the year.

There are also two White Thorn Trees, or Hawthorns, one to your right against the fence and the second over arching the stream.

The fair maid, on the first of May
Did go into the field
On the first of May
And wash in the dew of a white thorn tree
and will ever after handsome be

(Old English Rhyme – anon)

The Hawthorn is a wiry and tenacious tree, Chaucer wrote in the 14th century about a ceremony of retrieving Hawthorn bows.

'forth go all the court, both most and least, to fetch the flouris fresh.'

At the time of Chaucer in the fourteenth century the Hawthorn would have been generally in bloom on the 1st of May but today does not flower until about two weeks later. This is not due to global warming but to the changes in the calendar which took place in 1752. The English calendar year began on Lady day which is the 25th March, but the European timetable began on January 1st. There were often problems with contracts and deeds across these boarders so the Calendar Act was created designed to realign England with Europe.

May day is now technically two weeks earlier in real terms when related to the seasons and planets rotation. These May photographs pictured were taken 21th May 2014 and show a full bloom coming almost three weeks later than May day.
Chapter three

Hawthorn

Hawthorn is sometimes thought of as an unlucky tree, perhaps this may be attributed to the period The Black Death was rife around the 14 Century. So many died that the grounds were left uncultivated and hedgerow suckers of Hawthorn sprung up everywhere.

Hawthorn can also be used as a rootstock in the practise of grafting, which is the splicing of two trees together. It is graft-compatible with many fruit trees but its suckering habit (new shoots from the roots) can be problematic.

The medical benefits of Hawthorn are still being studied today as in 2008 Cochrane released a paper showing that extracts from this tree where used to treat chronic heart conditions and also cardio vascular disease, though to what degree of success is not revealed. In Celtic lore the tree was was once said to heal the broken heart, which is an interesting link to the medical study above.
Chapter four

Purple Smoke Bush

Further up the path to your right is a small tree, or bush called the Purple Smokebush.

The royal Purple Smokebush is a deciduous tree that reaches a mature height of only 15 feet with a similar spread. Its oval leaves are deep purple when young and gradually turn a dusty forest green. It's name comes from its foliage and wispy flowers that bloom in early summer resembling puffs of smoke when viewed from afar.
Walk over to the footbridge, the Ash on your left is referenced first.
 
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Chapter five

Weeping Ash Tree

To your left is a Japanese Rowan pictured in spring bloom, Rowan are also known as the Mountain Ash.

In the late middle ages it was recommended that every Lord of the Manor should plant 1 acre of ash to every 20 acres because in years to come the woods would be worth more than the land itself, but interestingly today this is the reverse.

Gilbert White (1726-1798) History and Antiquities of Selborne Hampshire makes this interesting observation about Ash trees.

'In a farm-yard near the middle of this village stands, at this day, a row of pollard-ashes, which, by the seams and long cicatrices down their sides, manifestly show that, in former times, they have been cleft asunder. These trees, when young and flexible, were severed and held open by wedges, while ruptured children, stripped naked, were pushed through the apertures, under a persuasion that, by such a process, the poor babes would be cured of their infirmity.

As soon as the operation was over, the tree, in the suffering part, was plastered with loam, and carefully swathed up. If the parts coalesced and soldered together, the party was cured; but, where the cleft continued to gape, the operation, it was supposed, would prove ineffectual. Having occasion to enlarge my garden not long since, I cut down two or three such trees, one of which did not grow together.

We have several persons now living in the village, who, in their childhood, were supposed to be healed by this superstitious ceremony, derived down perhaps from our Saxon ancestors, who practised it before their conversion to Christianity.'
Chapter six

Dreamin' Tree

The Weeping Ash tree can be seen by walking down stream having crossed the bridge, it is hidden at the back and out of initial view but it's canopy is large enough to stand underneath with it's fronds reaching down across both sides of the stream.

Ash tree's are steeped in folklore and custom, you can cure warts with hot sap applied from a burning stick, which is purported to complete within three days! They have great healing and clensing power too as a tree planted near your house would provide protection from witchcraft and witches as 'neither curse nor hag could abide the tree.'

In the Scottish village of Strathspey barely a hundred years ago, farmers would get their cattle to step through hoops of Rowan to ward off the Witches look and an 'unspecified evil' they would then step through the hoop themselves just for good measure. On the Isle of Brute in Scotland, lovers would eat leaves of a specific Ash tree known locally as the 'Dreamin' Tree', which grew near the church of St Blane. The lovers would experience pleasant dreams of their betrothed and spouses, with glimpses of their futures together, along with stomach cramps!

It is not only old European culture who have an affinity to these trees, as in the Cameroons the life of a person is believed to be symbiotically bound up with that of the tree. Some of the Papuans unite the life of a new-born child with that of a single tree by driving a pebble into its bark. The strength of the tree is then imbued within the child, but if the tree was cut down then the child would die.
Chapter seven

Redwood

The tree directly in front of the bridge is a Chinese dawn Redwood (pictured) which I have written a little about in walk number two. But in the corner of the park to your right is a smaller Red Wood tree, this is a Wellingtonia or Giant Sequoia which has soft spongy bark which our native bird the Tree Creeper often carves a circular nest in.

Archaeological finds in Vancouver show native American / Canadian tools made from this tree's timber, in the same way English tools are often made from Ash. The cutting down of a large specimen (this one is very small at 20 years) would be done in part with an Adze, (an axe with a head at 90 degrees to the handle) A wedge would be cut moss and clays then applied above and below this incision, then a fire set inside the cut which would eat the timber.

This process would take some time, the fire would need constant attention being pulled out, a deeper cut made then the fire re set. Finally the felled tree could then be stripped of it's bark and branches, ready for the next part of the process which would eventually turn it into an ocean going canoe. It is interesting to note that excavations of native American sites have found iron tools dating some 800 years back pre dating the dates of the Eupoean settlers. One of the team travelling with Captain James Cook noted that almost all tools used by the natives were iron in part. It is thought that the indigenous populations are likely to have traded with iron workers in Siberia over the frozen lands masses in the north.
Cross back over the foot bridge and then turn left into the park, stopping before the large Oak just a few yards up.
 
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Chapter eight

Sequoia

Once back over the stream you can see the Wellingtonia more fully but do not let the small stature of this tree be overlooked as the Sequoia's are the tallest living organism in the world. In the late 1980's I stopped at a location in Redwood National Park, North America, amidst a forest of enormous Sequoia and Pine trees. We were dwarfed by these colossal specimens as we drove but then incredibly came across a place called 'Big Tree'. Our interests piqued we stopped to investigate following signs along a trail to the side of which lay a felled Sequoia tree.

We walked it's massive length until we arrived at the big tree itself which rose way above the canopy of the surrounding forest, far too high to actually see it's top. On reading the information plaque we then discovered a storm a couple of years before had broken the top off, so the tree had recently been even taller. It then went on to explain that this top was now lying along the trail and we had just walked along it's length!

Interestingly in California the Sequoia seeds germinate after flash fires, where the undergrowth is quickly burnt away and the parent tree left unharmed by the experience. This process was initially not understood, and forest fires were actively monitored and prevented, this led to a build up of debris on the under-story so when fires inevitably break out they then become hotter and deeper seated which has devastating effects destroying these ancient residents. In less managed woods, the fires flash through the trees leaving them unharmed but their seed pods then open ready to germinate on the freshly scorched ground.

The tallest tree in the English Kingdom, is a Douglas Fir and was planted in a sheltered valley just south of Dunster. It is currently 60m high and was planted in the 1870's (See Dunster Crown Estate - Tall Trees Trail) There is also a physical illustration on the trail as to the foot print of a giant Sequoia.
Walk up the hard path to the Yew tree situated behind the bench.
 
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Chapter nine

Yew

Yews are commonly found to be planted in Church yards, and there geographical relationship to the chapel, whether they lie to the East or West, has been linked to the site being identified as Saxon or Christian. Yew trees are poisonous to livestock and people although it's timber is traditionally used in bow making. In the 1980's the wreck of the The Mary Rose was raised from the sea bed which sunk with all hands in 1545. The mud and silt of the English channel had preserved it's contents and many long bows were found to be made from imported Italian Yew not native.

A yew in Fortingall Perthshire, Scotland is reputably to be 2000 years old making it the oldest known living tree in Europe, a fact which is widely contested as many trees have a tendency to be broken or blown down, and then sprout fresh again from the root. These then grow into full new trees which are genetically identical to the former, making the task of aging the tree almost impossible.

Note - local Somerset village Ashbrittle claim to have a tree 3000 years old.

In Shakespear, Hamlet's uncle poisoned the King (his father) by pouring the sap into his ear as he slept.

The Ghost of King Hamlet spoke

Upon my secure hour thy uncle stole,
With juice of cursed hebenon in a vial,
And in the porches of my ears did pour
The leperous distilment; whose effect
Holds such an enmity with blood of man
That, swift as quicksilver, it courses through
The natural gates and alleys of the body;
And with a sudden vigour it doth posset
And curd, like eager droppings into milk,
The thin and wholesome blood; so did it mine;
And a most instant tetter bark'd about,
Most lazar-like, with vile and loathsome crust
All my smooth body.
Thus was I, sleeping, by a brother's hand,
Of life, of crown, of queen, at once dispatch'd:

Ghost (King Hamlet, Hamlet's Father) spoken to Hamlet
Chapter ten

Acer Norway Maple

On the path to your left are more Maple trees who are members of the Acer family, Sycamores are also in this genus and it was common for children to slip off the bark to make little 'peeps'. Sycamores Maples and Beech have ideal timber for making wooden spoons and Spurtles (porridge stirring sticks) as the timber has natural antibacterial properties and can cope to some degree with the heat of boiling water.

In Ireland there was a famous Sycamore which became known as 'The Money Tree' where the tradition was to hammer a coin into it's bark for luck, after thousands of coins the copper took it's tole and the tree collapsed in the mid nineteen nineties.

Near Beaminster, at Mapperton in Dorset stands an Sycamore tree now just a stump (20ft) called 'the posy tree' with a plaque that reads.

'In 1665, when the Great Plague reached it's peak the parishioners gathered under this tree holding posies of flowers and herbs to ward off the disease as the dead were carried down this lane to a mass grave.'
Turn around and step off the path into the Birch trees
 
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Chapter eleven

Weeping Birch

There are several Birch varieties in this little grove, from the Weeping Birch which has low lying fronds to the White Barked Himalayan with it's tight creamy trunks. These are all relatively young saplings but it was the less exotic Silver Birch whose thin branches were used to maje excellent brooms.

In this Welsh tradition 'Besom Brooms' were made and laid askance (at an angle) before the door of a new wedding couple. The groom, followed by the bride would jump over it and enter the house without touching it nor the door frame, failure to do so would mean that poor luck would follow close behind. Apparently the phrase 'Jumped over the broom stick' stems from this activity.
Pass through the Birch trees at the back is the Snake Barked Maple whose red paper peeling bark is remarkable.
 
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Chapter twelve

Paper Barked Maple

The Paper Barked Maple is native to China and was introduced to cultivation in Europe in 1901 by Ernest Henry Wilson. It is one of many species of Maples widely grown as ornamental plants in temperate regions, and is admired for its decorative exfoliating bark. It also has spectacular autumn foliage which can include red, orange and pink tones, and has gained the Royal Horticultural Society's Award of Garden Merit.

Recent attempts have been made to acquire new seed stock from wild populations in China because it is believed that the current gene pool of cultivated specimens is very small, making it susceptible to disease.
Drop down towards the Copper Beech tree, but before you cross the path you will find the Turkish Hazel.
 
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Chapter thirteen

Turkish Hazel

The Turkish Hazel tree has flowery nut kernels (pictured) but the common Hazel is simpler and less ostentatious. It has strong Druidic connections as nine were purported to grow over an ancient holy pool who's nuts fell into the water and were consumed by the Salmon which lived there. It is said that the number of spots on the body of a Salmon indicates the number of nuts they have consumed.

Holy Cross Day is on 14th September and was traditionally set aside as a school holiday for children to go nutting, a custom which persisted in England until the First World War. Various places celebrated Nutcrack Night when the stored nuts were opened, it was also said parishioners would take them to church to be cracked noisily during the Sunday sermon!

Hazel has long been a favourite wood from which to make staffs for fly fishing and catching Woodcock birds, this extract from an early book on the subject called ‘A Treatyse of fysshynge wyth an Angle.' explains how a rod would be made.

And howe you shall make your rod craftely, here I shall teache you, ye shall cut betweene Michelmas & Candelmas a fayre staffe of a fadome and a halfe longe and arme great of hasyll, [Hazel] wyllowe [willow] or aspe [ash], and breath hym in a hote ouen, and set hym euen. Then let hym coole and drye a moneth, take then and frete hym fast wyth a cokshote cord, and bynde it to a fourme of an euen square great tre.'

A cokshote cord, refers to the catching of Woodcocks with a net, their flightpaths are predictable and so a net can be set with accuracy. The term 'Cockshut' also means twilight, as does the local west country word 'Dympsie'.
Chapter fourteen

Larch

There are no longer any Larch trees in this Arboretum, their current population is suffering with fungal infections and whole local sections of forest have been felled to halt it's spread.

Traditionally in Europe parents would have children wear collars of larch bark as a protection against the evil eye. It also has a gummy sap which apparently has a very good flavour when chewed and was once referred to as 'Venice Turpentine' in herbalistic circles.

In Siberia it is associated with primitive shamanistic rites of the Tungus tribe, as according to an interview in 1925, larch poles are used in their sacred ceremonies which extend invisibly to heaven, it is also where the souls of all Shamen are developed before descending down to earth.

There are several stumps and dips throughout the parks where specimens have died often due to disease or infestation and changes in the inventory has been quite substantial since the first edition in the 1970's.
Walk under the Copper Beech to the tree line behind, from right to left you will see the Katsura and then the Dogwood.
 
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Chapter fifteen

Katsura Tree

Katsura tree, has geological and fossil records suggesting that it was once native to much of Asia, and although it was introduced to North America in the 1800's it was not brought into the UK until 1965. This would suggest that these trees were among the first wave to come into the UK.

The Katsura is closely related to the Magnolia tree, and according to Japanese Folklore it is considered the tree of the Gods, as according to legend when the Moon goddess needed to communicate with another god she would wait by the Katsura tree.

In a different story, again from Japan a man was banished to the Moon for punishment for his horrible crimes, and tasked with cutting down the giant Katsura tree which grows there. But the task is an impossible one for the tree is eternal. Apparently the face that we see on the Moon is in fact the shadow of the giant tree itself, and if you look very carefully you can still see the man cutting away to this very day.
Chapter sixteen

Dogwood

The large tree to the left of both Copper Beech and Katsura is the Dogwood 'Norman Hadden'

Dogwood comes from the old English word Dag, which means to penetrate, is appropriate as this tree was commonly used for making skewers. It's timber is very strong, and if you take a leaf and rip it apart across the veins, you will see that the veins or fronds are less likely to break in the action.
Walk back down the path and the central sage green tree with pine needles is the Blue Atlas Cedar.
 
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Chapter seventeen

Blue Atlas Cedar

The last tree, standing central and strong is our final specimen, this is the Blue Atlas Cedar, which is referenced in this publication of 1897 called The sacred tree; or, The tree in religion and myth. By J. H. Philpot

Of the innumerable observances founded on this idea the following may be taken as a sample. The sacred chili or Cedar of Gilgit, on the north-western frontier of India, was held to have the power of causing the herds to multiply and women to bear children. At the commencement of wheat-sowing three chosen unmarried youths, who had undergone purification for three days, started for the mountains where the Cedars grew, taking with them wine, oil, and bread, and fruit of every kind.

Having found a suitable tree they sprinkled the oil and wine on it, while they ate the bread and fruit as a sacrificial feast. Then they cut off a branch and brought it to the village, where amid general rejoicing it was placed on a large stone beside running water. A goat was then sacrificed and its blood poured over the Cedar branch, while the villagers danced around it. The goat's flesh was eaten, and every man went to his house bearing a spray of Cedar. On his arrival he said to his wife, 'If you want children I have brought them to you ; if you want cattle I have brought them; whatever you want, I have it.'

I doubt Minehead has performed a similar ceremony with this tree, but perhaps it is something which could be revived!

This is the final section of the three parks walks, and thankyou for reading, and I hope you have been enlightened by the diverse snippets though out.

This web app has been made possible by the support of the Minehead Visioning Manager Stephen Hooper, and I would like to thank him for his patience and support.
Chapter eighteen

Inventory

This inventory was created with generous guidance from Chris Adams a former manager and gardener of these parks. At several locations he brought my attention to details which were easy to miss including specimens which he himself had planted and are now well established. He was also disheartened to see there was so much work and education to be done, both in maintenance and infrastructure against a perpetually dwindling budget.

Perhaps this is a call to action for all those who love the parks to unite for the common cause, and preserve this place for our future joy.

Thanks are due to The Exmoor National History Society who's original pamphlet this app replicates. Thanks also to the Minehead Development Trust, The Minehead Vision Project, and West Somerset District Council who channeled the Seaside Strategy Fund to finance the making of this web app.

Section Three - From Porlock Road to Bratton Walk

Left hand side of path and left of stream

1. Photinia hedge
2. Alders
3. Weeping Ash
4. Caucasian Limes
5. Salix (Black catkined willow)
6. Norway Maples x 2
7. Italian Alder
8. Fastigiate Hornbeam
9. Golden Ash
10. Dawn Redwood
11. Ash (Fraxinus ‘raywood')
12. Cherry
13. Wellingtonia (Giant Sequoia) - About 20 years growth.

To left of path and right of stream:

1. Indian Horse Chestnut
2. Japanese Rowan
3. Imperial Alder
4. English Oak
5. Alders

Pond

1. Alders (Numerous)
2. Weeping Silver Pear
3. Beech (Several at back pond)
4. Blue Atlas Cedar
5. Norway Maples x 2 Purple x 1
6. Golden birch
7. Liquid Amber
8. Dogwood ‘Norman Hadden'
9. Hybrid Red Buckeye (similar to Horse Chestnut)
10. Katsura Trees (native in China and Japan - has spectacular fruits in Autumn)
11. Copper Beech

End of trail

Right-hand side of path:

1. Smokebush (Cotinus)
2. Crab apple
3. Yew
4. Douglas Fir
5. Pin Oak (U.S.A.)
6. Young's Weeping Birch x 3
7. Birch (2) Betula tristis
8. White-barked Himalayan Birch x 3+1
9. Snowy Mespil (Amelanchier) x 2
10. Cherry (Prunus yedoensis)
11. Cherry (Prunus avium plena)
12. Paper-bark Maple (Acer griseum)
13. Japanese Maples x 2
14. Cretan Maple
15. 1Turkish Hazel
16. Oak (small specimen)

End of trail - path to the left continues to Bratton; to the right takes you into Woodcombe Lane.
Chapter nineteen

End

I hope you have enjoyed this park, and thank you for reading, there are more details about my diverse works at http://jelley.info

All images are taken by myself and are published exclusively for these walks.

All rights reserved.

Christopher Jelley 2014
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