Shaftesbury Tree Group published its second self-guided tree walk map and leaflet on Thursday. It suggests a tree-spotting trail around the foot of our town’s green slopes.
Alfred caught up with map artist Gary Cook and Tree Group member Sue Clifford to uncover some of the secrets revealed on the route.
Last spring, when Shaftesbury Tree group launched its first ‘top of hill’ tree walk around Park Walk, Pine Walk and Bimport, the leaflet and associated guide-led walks proved a huge success. Over sixty people accompanied the walk leaders on the first organised outing. “We’ve done an entirely new map to complement it, and the first map has been reprinted, because it’s been so popular,” said Sue Clifford from Shaftesbury’s Tree Group.
This new, blue leaflet accompanies the original green-coloured guide, offering a second route of discovery. “The first walk is around the top of the hill. The second walk takes you down Gold Hill, all the way alongside St James, right around the corner and back up through Enmore Green and up Tout Hill. There are various places where you can, if you wish, defect to take a shorter journey back up again,” said Sue.
The guide encourages walkers to spot signs of nature and history and Sue says it should have wide appeal. “It is for residents and visitors. What we keep on finding is that people often never thought of looking sideways because they’re going about their daily business,” said Sue.
Once again, Shaftesbury Tree Group asked a popular West Melbury artist to create a sketch map offering a visual overview of the suggested circuit. “Gary Cook’s done this wonderful oblique aerial view,” said Sue, as she unfolded the map. “You see here a mention of the house martins that come to all of the nest boxes alongside St James, and it’s their view of it, in a sense. You can see all of it. You can get a sense of how long it may take you. It might take an hour and a bit, or it may take you two or more hours, depending on how many diversions you want to make on the way, discussing what you see.”
Gary went on the walk with the Tree Group leaders before he started sketching. “As we were walking around, they pointed to the tulip tree and that was one that I really wanted to draw,” Gary enthused. This specimen, with its impressive 30-foot girth, towers above a private garden, when you head west along St James Street. It is found just before the school.
“It was planted in the late 1700s. It’s really big. It gives the great big tulip trees in Stourhead a run for their money. It’s fabulous,” said Sue.
Gary also enjoyed drawing a distinctive tree below the Old Parsonage on Tout Hill. “The monkey puzzle tree at the other side of town is just incredible. Just to be walked around the town as the experts described all the different trees and the history was a real treat,” he said.
Although there are few trees along St James Street itself, Sue says the guide helps walkers appreciate what they can see around them. “There are a lot of trees that aren’t on the road at all, because it’s a very narrow road. As you walk down Gold Hill you see a wonderful big beech tree just standing there before the vale. The vale itself is full of trees, and you can see them on the journey as far as St James church,” said Sue. “There are some wonderful, very tall lime trees. Many of the other trees have probably seeded themselves. There’s ash and there’s birch. Looking up to the right, through the Pump Yard, and seeing all the trees on the top it’s a real mixture. That is wonderful.”
Sue says some of these highlighted trees have been part of Shaftesbury’s landscape for centuries. “There are quite a lot of places where you see trees that are middle 1800s and onwards.”
The leaflet is filled with anecdotes. You’ll learn where to find poplars, which were planted to reduce dampness in nearby cottages. “There was so many little bits and pieces. They were pointing out things that I’ve never noticed before – where the swifts nest and where there is an insurance symbol on the cottages was just fascinating,” explained Gary. The map shows you where to spot a building which displays the mark of Sun Fire Office. That would identify the cottage to the company’s own fire brigade, set up to protect its clients.
As well as trees, the walking guide also highlights some of the distinctive hedgerows, particularly one on Breach Lane. “There’s a hazel and willow hedge, right by Shaftesbury Homegrown,” said Sue.
And the walk will be very different according to the season. “There are all sorts of things, like fantastically beautiful Scot’s pines, which are really tall and lovely. In the hot weather we’ve been having they smell wonderful, the resin catches your nose,” said Sue.
The area around the bottom of Castle Hill stands out earlier in the year. “There are a lot of blossom trees there, from hawthorn to wild cherry. During the winter, the sun never quite gets around there,” said Sue. “Then suddenly spring comes, and the blossom starts coming. You get this lovely colouration of the side of the hill. It’s wonderful.”
Sue hopes the guide will make an impression on its readers which lasts longer than the duration of the walk. “One of the things that we really want to do is to help people understand that trees need our help. We’ve got to care for them to some degree,” said Sue, who added that she is unsure whether there will be a third walk map, but an app for walkers could be on the cards. “They can either hear or look at bits as they go around. I’m a geographer at heart and having a physical map in my hands is so nice, though,” confided Sue.
Sue says she’s grateful for the funding and support for the leaflet. “Shaftesbury Town Council has come up trumps again, so we’re very grateful to them, as well as the Shaftesbury Charitable Trust.”
Sue says that Grosvenor Arms will offer the guide to guests. “They’re going to put one of these in all of their resident packs so people will be able to amble about and look at the place through our eyes, which is always good,” said Sue.
You can pick up your guide in many of the cafés and businesses in town, the Town Hall foyer and in the Neighbourhood Plan pop-up shop at 37 High Street.