Tuesday, 31 May 2016

Welcome to the Thorpe St Andrew Tree Warden Walks page

Walks with the Tree Wardens 2016

Join us in a series of walks around Thorpe St Andrew, exploring aspects of local history and looking at the birds and other wildlife, flowers and trees that make the area special.

Belmore Wood
Tuesday 12th July 7.00PM 
Meet South Hill Road entrance to woods
A lovely piece of mixed woodland, full of birds and with some good specimen trees. We will stop to look at the remains of the ‘Secret Army’ base, the once extensive system of ponds and the giant redwood near Pound Lane.
By permission of the Thorpe and Felthorpe Trust
Level, c90-120 minutes. Stout footwear if wet and insect repellent advised.

Postwick Grove
We may add a date for Postwick grove later in the summer, if the path has been cut!

For information on each of the walks, go to the links to the right of the page ( look under previous years as well as this year)

I aim to complete details of all the walks over the next few weeks, together with background information on local and natural history, some photographs, maps, and links to other places of interest on the web.
The idea is that people can have all the details we have found over the years available in one place, and  hopefully they will also comment! Good, bad or indifferent, I don't mind - and you can always make some suggestions for future walks.

Feel free to download any of the information here and do let me know of any errors.

Saturday, 1 March 2014

The Cottage Drive and Dussindale west

The Cottage Drive is a bridleway hung over with trees and bushes forming an inviting straight hollow way all the way through from Thunder Lane to Pound Lane. You could almost be rambling down a country lane here instead of in a densely built-up suburb. It's pleasantly shaded in summer and magical in winter snow.

You can access the beginning of the Drive either from Thunder Lane (please do not park in the Drive itself) or via the footpath which leads from the Cottage Public House car park. If you park there please patronise the pub! In either case take time to walk up to the front of the pub and take a look at it and its setting.

It was built as a private residence, a farmhouse most likely, by the Birkbeck family who had Hill House (at the top of South Drive/Thunder Lane) and much of the local land from the 1860s. For many years a Miss Antonia Birkbeck lived here, and she was still in the County Directory in 1933. There were extensive gardens and good specimen trees.
On one map there is a structure here marked as 'Talbot Cottage' which may be the same building as the Cottage. There were also extensive farm buildings, now all gone, off to the north of the main house. Local residents tell me they played in a large stone barn here as boys.
Prior to the Birkbecks buying the estate in 1864 it was owned by the Westons who were brewers, and who sold the estate off in 13 lots. One of them is a distinct enclosure of 22 acres centred on where the Cottage now stands, under lease at time of sale to one Charles Jecks. There were probably old barns here then.

However in 1935 the whole estate was broken up and the houses began to be built. As the area filled with thirsty people, Steward & Patterson cannily bought the house and turned it into a pub. An aerial photograph of the 'Spinney Estates' from 1935 shows the house in splendid isolation, surrounded only by the long narrow belts of woodland and open fields. The woodland is still largely intact today but the fields have all been infilled.

As you turn north from the car park and follow the narrow footpath in front of you under the large trees, to your left would have been a fairly rough and ready building with a tin roof. This was the original Church of the Good Shepherd in Thorpe, patronised by Antonia Birkbeck. On the first maps it is marked as 'Mission Church', on later ones as 'Church hall' and seems to have been kept for that purpose even after the new church was built on St Williams Way.

The footpath brings us to another minor road, which is the start of the Cottage Drive. The actual origins of this dead straight 'drive' are unknown; it would seem sensible to link it with the farm at the Cottage as 'carriage drives' were popular additions to country houses. However at various times it has also been called Church Loke, Mud Lane and Shepherd's Way, so it may be more mundanely connected to the agricultural landscape. Dead straight roads are often a feature of the new farms of the enclosure period (eg Pound Lane) but I can't see what it's purpose was in that case. Some years ago I also came across a section of the drive which had been washed clean by heavy rain, and underneath was pammet brickwork.

There are good oaks on the Drive, some of them arguably as good as anything elsewhere in Thorpe. I hope too many householders who back on to the bridleway (who are responsible for its upkeep) don't decide to replace their end hedge with a fence. It's tidy but it will simply not be the same as the current rather atmospheric lane! The view down the drive was somewhat spoilt by the installation of  bright blue bus shelters right in the line of sight of the drive, where it cuts across suburban side roads. However the walk is  very pleasant and as well as the birds for company you may catch a glimpse of a cheeky fox or squirrel.

As we come to the end of the school playing fields we pass under a  large holm oak.
Quercus ilex, the Holm Oak or Holly Oak is a large evergreen oak native to the Mediterranean region. It takes its name from holm, an ancient name for holly. (The younger leaves on the lower branches are toothed like a holly). It produces a good hard wood but on the continent is more often planted in truffle orchards. It has catkins in the spring and acorns in autumn.

As we emerge on to Pound Lane, we have the choice of turning left and on past the Oasis Club to go and look at the lake in the bottom of the dip (to the right of the road) or continuing over the road into the playing fields and shelter belts round Dussindale.

The Oasis Club was formed from the large country house and estate known as Woodlands. In 1883 William Birkbeck also owned Woodlands, and it was occupied by a Mrs Patteson. At one time this house owned the lake which is now in the garden of Well Close, as well as other boating lakes set amidst an ornamental woodland garden across Pound Lane in Belmore Plantation. The lakes and woodland paths were adorned with statuary, some of which was apparently of a very high standard. The town council were approached about their history archive by an American researcher looking into 'a very important piece of 19th century American sculpture once in the collection at Woodlands' which was sold shorty before the house changed hands in the 1990s and became the Oasis.

Unfortunately the archives are silent about the statute and also very quiet about Woodlands, having only one or two old photographs - one of which shows a rather grand cast iron bridge spanning a lake.

To be continued......


Friday, 10 May 2013

Thorpe Pits

There are many old workings scattered around Thorpe, and there were once even more. Some are shallow and partly filled while some are surprisingly deep with steep sides. All of them are interesting and worth exploring.

A more or less circular walk may be made through and past some of the better examples, using some quiet and pleasant footpaths. You can start from several points - Yarmouth Road, Hillcrest Road, Hemsby Way, and work your way around as many as you like.

A convenient start may be made at the pit accessible from Hill Crest Road, generally known as Weston Pit . A narrow path leads off south from just before the chapel. It can be muddy! It comes out into a broad grassy area, roughly rectangular. This is almost certainly the most recently-worked pit in Thorpe St Andrew. The pit is designated as a RIG (regionally Important Geological Site) and a CWS (County Wildlife Site).
It apparently contains gravel sediments which show the meltwater of a glacier, allowing those who study such things to gauge relative melting rates, and therefore past climatic change.

When High House (which can be glimpsed through the trees at the top of Thunder Lane) sold their surrounding land, much of it was developed for housing and the estate woodlands, in which the Prince of Wales went shooting in the early years of the 20th century, became fragmented.

On the southern edge of Weston Pit is the remains of Weston Wood. This is classified as semi-natural Ancient Woodland by English Nature, despoiled shockingly recently by the building of two houses with large (cleared) gardens right in its western edge. This woodland would at one time have covered the area which is now a pit, and several large old trees remain on its boundaries. The pit was worked for sand and gravel up to the 1950s. The new owner was keen to do his bit for the war effort and apparently many sandbags were filled from here and another small pit on Thunder Lane (still an open space today).

Weston Wood also continues into the Pinebanks site and may eventually be accessible from the pit. There are proposals to build houses on the playing fields but the woodland must be retained and public access may be improved.

Weston Pit is currently open for the public to enjoy but has experienced some vandalism and trouble with youngsters on motorbikes in the past. Since I have lived here the vegetation has changed a lot - the population of rabbits has been chased away or scoffed by the many walked dogs, and as a result the short sward has been replaced by lush and lanky growth. This seems to have deterred some of the many crickets which used to live here, but it is still a good site for butterflies on a sunny day. Birds are numerous, including woodpeckers and chiffchaffs. There are some self-seeded fruit trees, probably from the lunch packs of past workers, and combined with the many blackberry bushes around the ages a free feast can be had if you get here at the right time!

One animal you may well encounter on a ramble anywhere in this area - and not always very early in the morning either - is the roe deer. I came face to face with a large female in the undergrowth in this pit, which is surprising given the number of dogs which come here.

Leaving the pit by the path which continues on across the open space from where you entered, you will have Weston wood rising on a lofty eminence to your right. This was once a famous and much-praised beauty spot, owned in the 18th century by the local rector and crowned by a flint and brick tower, Thompson's Folly. From it a fabulous view could be had across the river valley, in those days much more open and less treed than now, a pastoral panorama including the cattle grazing the marshes and the sails of the many wherries.

Faden's late 18th century map of Norfolk shows a curving, tree lined drive up to the tower from Thunder Lane (possibly from somewhere near the present junction with Hillside Avenue). The rector brought his guests to admire the views and picnic. The tower stood until the 1950s, in a state of advanced dereliction, before tumbling over in a gale. The crest is now topped with some lovely old oaks and sweet chestnuts but the base of the folly can still be discerned.

As you walk down the now steeply dropping hill, the next pit we can explore is directly in front of you, hidden at the backs of the gardens in the houses which face us. To reach it, turn left along Western Avenue, join with South Avenue, and continue down to the Yarmouth Road. From there, turn right and proceed a few paces until you come to a small road which leads back up the hill. 

This is Chapel Lane and it has a pleasant, almost rural aspect with many cottages and old houses tucked away. Carry on up Chapel Lane until almost at the very top you find a small wooden gate leading into woodland on your right. This is Chapel Lane Pit and is a revelation if you have never visited it before. Owned by local householders and managed by them with help from various bodies such as the Norwich Fringe Project, it is steep and somewhat dark. It is wonderfully atmospheric, particularly in snow. In recent years some of the drawn, competing trees have been removed and a more interesting and wildlife-friendly understorey planted up. Despite a constant battle with the encroaching sycamore seedlings, you can find some nice ferns and good fungi in Autumn. The pit has been worked several times over the centuries and for several different resources - likely mostly flint and marl. This pit-within-a-pit now has a Y-shape, both arms of the Y ending in shallower pits. (One now largely filled with garden rubbish). There are some more sweet chestnuts and Scots Pines, although the latter are mostly falling down the slope. The sheer size of the 'cliff' in front of you at the base of the arms of the Y is very impressive!
I have often wondered if the sweet chestnuts at the top of the right-hand corner of the Y once joined up with those in Weston Wood, and if they are possibly the remnants of the tree-lined driveway to Thompson's Folly shown on Faden's Map.

The next pit which we can see Tower Hill Pit, is accessed from School Lane, which is further up Yarmouth Road opposite the Town House pub. There is no public access but a very good view of this very large and steep pit can be had if you follow the footpath from the end of the Lane (it starts from just by the old school building). This footpath itself is believed by some to have originated in an old tramway that was used to get the materials extracted back down to the road. The path is a lovely, shady (if rather steep) walk, you can peer over to the left and see just how sheer the drop is! Just a few years ago this was a scene of some devastation. Houses on Tower Hill opposite were experiencing some structural movement and the solution was for the pit's owners (then Norwich Union) to undertake a large and expensive bit of geo-engineering. That side of the pit was stabilised using geotextiles and large piles. Much of the vegetation was removed to do this but today - well you would never know!

The path soon reaches the 'head' of the pit and the land to the left levels out. This backs on to the older part of the Pinebanks site and another tower can be glimpsed thought the trees. This is Taylor's Tower or Folly, built by the man who erected the big house there. While the future of the house is uncertain, the tower will be preserved as it is a listed building. The famously rotund Queen of Hawaii, visiting Britian for Queen Victoria's Diamond Jubilee, once ascended this tower - lord knows how!! She even managed to get down again without getting stuck. 

Pinebanks was built by John Odin Howard Taylor, an eminent Norwich solicitor and chess fanatic. It is said the tower's original purpose was to allow its owner to escape up there and contemplate chess problems.

When the site was recently being surveyed for housing, an interesting addition to our local history was uncovered.
The area to the west of the main building was formerly used as car parking and an underground structure was discovered in the northwest corner. The entrance is not visible but is adjacent to the existing garage located under the trees to the west of the car park. The escape tunnel emerges within the boundary trees to the north.
This World War II Zero Station bunker is thought to be one of two built in Norfolk as an auxiliary unit signals station early in World War II when the probability of invasion was considered to be high. The bunker may well be the best preserved ‘zero station’ still in existence.
(There are much more degraded remains of an auxiliary unit in Belmore wood.)

More about this here:  http://www.coleshillhouse.com/latest-news-and-blog/norwich-zero-station-a-hidden-time-capsule-exclusive-report

and here:   http://www.coleshillhouse.com/thorpe-st-andrew-auxiliary-unit-and-operational-base.php

If you step inside the more level area where the fencing has been broken and peer across to the gardens of the house on the other side of the path, in springtime there is a lovely sight - it is carpeted in bluebells. You get a sense of what this entire ridge of woodland was like before it was peppered with housing.

The path brings us up to the minor road which led to the Pinebanks site. Join it and carry on to White Farm Lane, where you can turn right and continue through to Hemsby Way or left to come to Harvey Lane. Hemsby Way itself is built on the site of a former pit, in turn the workings were preceded by the farm which gave the lane its name. Near here, at the Oaks on Harvey Lane, Roman finds have been made.

There are other pits in Thorpe which are not open to the public and smaller ones also exist in the Dussindale tree belt. (These are the remains of what was once a large pit, now largely filled in and the High School built on part of it. No wonder it floods in heavy rain!) One of the small workings in Dussindale has been turned into a small children's playground, with a slide descending the side of the pit. There are some strange fungi grow here in the Autumn, do let me know if you can tell me what they are.

This wobbly path drawn on a Google earth map shows the general direction of the walk to the three main pits.

Tuesday, 26 June 2012

The Ridge

When seen from the river valley or from a stroll around Whitlingham Broad, the Thorpe Ridge gives an impression of almost unbroken dense woodland. Planning policy is designed to maintain this somewhat misleading but attractive vista, and so far is quite successful. However hidden behind the trees are one or two open areas, from where good views can be had looking back across the valley to South Norfolk. This walk takes us to two of them.

We start by a short visit to the Tree Plantation, a small area reclaimed from a former pit, the entrance to which is opposite the car park for the recreation ground on Laundry Lane. There is one old and fine oak here, two horse chestnuts (one white and one pink - compare and contrast in late summer when the depredations of the leaf miner moth have devastated the former but not the latter), a tulip tree (named for the shape of its leaves, not its flowers) and several assorted native and imported species. Some of the trees are a little overcrowded and drawn, but the overall effect is pleasant. There is a lovely fragrant rose on the entrance arch. The gate is open dawn to dusk.

Crossing back to the recreation ground itself, we find ourselves on a high point from which even the unlovely Cantley sugar beet works can be seen in winter when there are no leaves on the trees. There were Bronze Age barrows here, long since ploughed out but shown on Bryant's 1826 map of Norfolk -  a line of them stretched right through into what is now Dussindale. They would probably have been visible from the river and/or the ancient road to Yarmouth, the Yarmouth Way. This road led from the Bishop's Bridge area of the city up through the woods, along what is now White Farm Lane, across the Pine Banks site and intersected with Thunder Lane more or less where North Lodge now stands at the brow of the hill. If you take a stroll along Hilly Plantation (on your right as you crest the hill) and look in the big gardens to your right, you can still clearly see the hollow way of the old road. This road was superseded by the lower road next to the river from the 16th century onwards, but was not finally extinguished as a route until the enclosure of 1801.

From Hilly Plantation the road ran past the site of the original settlement and church of Thorpe - of which more later - and then gradually descended to the area of the current railway bridge across the modern Yarmouth Road.

In the south eastern corner of the recreation field is the Beacon, last lit for the Queen's Diamond Jubilee.
From here we head for the woods below the recreation ground, Gargle Hill Plantation. This area is shown on old maps as Gargate Hills and other variations of this spelling, and the name probably originated in the name Gar Gate - the Gar is an alternative name for the Yare. The woods are a valuable wildlife refuge so close to the thundering St William's Way and provide a home for owls and sparrowhawks. There are paths through the woods which will bring you to the footbridge over the road. When a warden is with you, you can access the top of the allotment site from the path which continues on from the bridge towards the northern end of the school playing field, but normally the gate is locked.

Once in the allotments, we come to the small nature reserve which was created on the site of  an important archaeological discovery. It has been excavated twice and there is a board to tell you what they found. The main feature of interest was the original church of Thorpe, which would have served the hilltop settlement which had existed there since Saxon times. The Saxons liked living on the tops of hills, and the remains of dwellings and loom weights and other domestic refuse have been found here. The Church may well have been built or enlarged by Bishop Herbert, who is known to have ordered the construction of a string of churches along the edge of Thorpe Wood/ Mousehold Heath (eg Magdalen Chapel - now the Lazar House library, St Michael's Chapel and St Leonard's Priory). The site of the manor house is not known for certain but it has been argued that an area near the junction of Yarmouth Way and Thunder Lane is the most likely spot. Thunder Lane itself is thought by some to be a Roman road in origin, connecting with the Roman pottery producing centre at Brampton.

At some point in the middle of the 16th century the entire settlement - church, manor, people and all - relocated in some planned fashion down to the river. The oldest houses in Thorpe all date from this period or shortly after, and the old church in front of the Victorian one on Yarmouth Road was almost certainly built at least partially with reclaimed materials from the allotment site. (When you are next at the riverside church, look at the entrance porch. It looks distinctly more like the sort of thing Tudor nobles built on their domestic houses than it does an ecclesiastical building).

The reasons for the relocation are lost in the mists of time but would certainly have been economic. This period was one of enormous boom times for trade, and particularly for river trade. Extraction of gravels, flints, marls, chalk etc was increasingly lucrative and all are accessible from the river terrace. Finally, there was a shift in land use from arable to pasture in the parish in the 15th and 16th centuries. Old maps show the lane leading up this field as a sheep track and many areas are simply marked 'sheepwalk'. Whatever the reasons, the shift in the heart of the settlement was a significant milestone in the history of Thorpe and its people.

This site at the top of the allotments gives lovely views across the valley, possibly the clearest one you can get from Thorpe. There are beehives here now, and a small community orchard planted in honour of the Queen's Diamond Jubilee.

There is also an uncommonly large den of foxes, the mother-lode of the Thorpe fox population! They live mainly in the partly-excavated but never finished 'pond', which gave them a ready made sandy bank to dig into.

Monday, 25 June 2012

A short history of woodland in Thorpe

The first recorded lord of the Manor of Thorpe was Stigand, Bishop of East Anglia from 1042 and Archbishop of Canterbury from 1052 until 1070. He had it from Edward the Confessor and there was a manor house used by the Bishops at least from the early 1200s. Stigand's successor Bishop Herbert de Losinga built a succession of churches along the edges of Thorpe Wood and Mousehold, and was most probably the founder of the first Church in Thorpe, at the site of what is now the top of the allotments. (Stigand was unusual in that he was a Saxon who survived well into the Norman era)

Thorpe Wood is mentioned in the Doomesday Book and at that time would have stretched virtually unbroken from the river in the west almost to Postwick, with Mousehold Heath to the north. Some think it likely that at one time Mousehold was also woodland, but that it became progressively overgrazed.

If Thorpe Wood was the hunting ground of the Bishops of Norwich, and before them the King – as some suggest Thorpe was an early Royal Manor – then the woods would have been jealously protected and no commoners’ animals would have been allowed to graze it. This is quite possibly why parts of ‘Ancient Woodland’ has survived while Mousehold became a heathland environment . The wood is likely to have been managed through coppicing for firewood and building materials, and hunting for deer and boar.

The main remnants of the Wood from the Domesday book, which lists ‘woodland for 1200 pigs’ are now Lion Wood and Weston Wood.  That number of pigs would have made it the largest wood in Norfolk – and the only village in the Mousehold area listed as having significant woodland. None of them had woodland for more than 15 pigs. This would tend to confirm the idea that the Thorpe woodland was specially protected, and possibly a Royal Manor. This may have been true even before the Normal Conquest.

The part of the wood to the east of Harvey Lane was probably cleared for cultivation in the 13th or 14th centuries.  An agreement of 1239 divided that part of Thorpe Wood covered with Oaks between the Bishop of Norwich and the Cathedral Priory and a later document of the 14th century measured the main part of the woodland at more than 155 acres.
What’s left today are fragments, but they are very useful fragments as they have helped woodland to colonise other areas, including the gardens for which Thorpe was once famous.
The role and place in this story that is held by the large block of woodland in the North - the Belmore, Brown's and Racecourse plantations - is yet to be determined. However, the eastern part of Racecourse has recently been classified as semi-natural Ancient Woodland and contains many species of ground flora usually associated with the land use known as 'wood pasture'. This area that is now woodland has for many years been something of a moveable feast between woodland, heath and wood pasture, with some arable cropping too. The balance between these different types of cover was in former times largely determined by the intensity of grazing.

(With thanks to Trevor Nuthall's excellent Thorpe St Andrew - A History)

Belmore Wood

A pleasant walk may be had in Belmore Wood, the most southerly of three adjoining areas of woodland. The other two are Racecourse Plantation to the north on the other side of the Plumstead Road and Brown’s Plantation to the east, between Pound Lane and Dussindale.

The woodland as a whole covers 205 acres, an area which is larger than the entire Heartsease Estate. It’s owned by Thorpe and Felthorpe Trust, a private trust of the Gurney family.
The entire wooded area has been designated a County Wildlife Site. It is also recognized in various planning documents as an Area of Green Infrastructure, an Area of High Landscape Value and an Area of Core Biodiversity.

Belmore wood is made up of various sections reflecting its management over the years, and the species of trees to be seen varies from section to section. You can get a better idea of this by looking at the wood on Google Earth, which allows you to look at different images for different years. If you adjust the ‘clock’ icon at the top of the page back to 1999 there is a wonderfully detailed image which shows the various species of trees in the wood very clearly.

While you are on the web, take a look also at Norfolk County Council’s emap explorer http://www.historic-maps.norfolk.gov.uk/Emap/EmapExplorer.asp This allows you to type in the name of the Parish and see maps and aerial photographs side by side, including the first Ordinance Survey of the area, postwar 1940s b&w aerial photography, enclosure maps and tithe maps where they are available.
http://www.old-maps.co.uk/maps.html is also useful and allows you to track an area through each major revision to the OS. 

It is not known how long Belmore has been woodland but it was certainly well established by Victorian times as it is shown virtually in its current boundaries on the first Ordinance Survey map of 1882. However Bryant’s map of 1826 shows an area marked ‘plantation’ which fits almost exactly with the current wood, but is missing the right hand margin with Pound Lane.

If this map is accurate, it would suggest the central part of the wood is the oldest. Faden’s late 18th century map of Norfolk shows it simply as part of the vast Mousehold Heath, a term which covered both heathland and woodland. The balance between the two depended very much on the intensity of livestock grazing. The heath was enclosed in 1801, when Pound lane was built.

It seems probable that the ponds and some of the specimen planting near them – such as the beeches, the giant redwood  and the rhododendrons – were part of gardens laid out to complement the house known as Woodlands, which is now the Oasis Club. Old maps show a network of paths leading off from the house and around the lakes on both sides of Pound Lane, as well as statuary on the eastern part of the site.

Old photographs exist showing Victorian ladies boating on the ponds, several of which had large islands.

In the woodlands as a whole many rare and scarce species occur, including: Chaffweed (only recorded site in Norfolk); Allseed flax (one of only two records in Norfolk); heath milkwort; heath-grass; tasteless water pepper; fairy flax; bulbous rush; bristle club-rush; great woodrush (all scarce or rare in Norfolk); white admiral butterfly (UK BAP priority species & scarce in Norfolk); adder, grass snake; common lizard; slow worm; nightingale; hobby; bullfinch, and a very long list of other flora & fauna.  Many of the rare species are present in Racecourse Plantation rather than Belmore as it has more unique habitats. However the White Admiral may frequently be seen feeding on bramble flowers in Belmore.

Woodland types
There are extensive areas of hazel, some of which are in need of coppicing and some of which have been fairly recently coppiced and the standards thinned. Hazel was traditionally coppiced on a 5 to 7 year rotation, depending on what products were wanted.

The standard trees include oak, ash and sweet chestnut, which is common here but does not appear to be coppiced in the more southern parts of the site although it is in the NE corner. There is a problem with sycamore invasion, particularly in the areas nearest to Booty Road. In coppiced areas they can outstrip many other species in the few years before the canopy begins to close again.

As well as the hazel, the understory includes a lot of holly as well as rowan, rhododendron, honeysuckle and a little hawthorn. There are some fine specimen beech towards the centre of the wood. The other largest and oldest trees on the site are generally oak and chestnut. There is also a very large redwood just north of the garden of the second cottage on Pound Lane.

In old woodland where the standards were cut on rotation for timber and only the more gnarled specimens marking the border of the wood were spared the axe, the oldest trees are generally on its borders. In Belmore the older trees are more widely distributed, but there are some fine oaks and chestnuts backing on to South Hill Road and Plumstead Road.

In the northern centre of the site there is a large block of conifers grown as a commercial crop, now mature. Not to everyone’s taste but I think these are rather lovely, and the paths through them are pleasant.  The larch was apparently planted in the 1930s for boat building.

To the north of the former ponds near Pound Lane there is an area of chestnut coppice mixed with a lot of birch, hazel and softwoods. However the soils here are very shallow and gravelly, and some have keeled over. The chestnuts are particularly prone to bark stripping by grey squirrels. There are a lot of them in the woods and although they are great to watch they do a tremendous amount of damage to both trees and wildlife. Unfortunately the nuts are often infested by larvae of the chestnut weevil (Curculio elephas) which renders them inedible.

For more information on coppicing and woodland products, see http://www.coppice.co.uk and for a historical angle look at some of the videos on http://www.woodlands.co.uk/tv
The Wikipedia entry is also a good start http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Coppicing

A suggested route (to be followed together with the map below)
1)      Regenerated hazel coppice by the entrance.  Coppicing is an ancient means of woodland management, which took advantage of the ability of many native species to quickly regenerate in order to provide essential products in the pre-industrial age. Coppicing has shaped our woodlands for centuries and possibly millennia, and many only survived because of the value of their crops. Fortunately, the alternating cycles of open and closed canopy encourage great diversity in plants and wildlife.
In most British woodlands coppice is grown with scattered large trees, known as standards.

2)      Recently coppiced and thinned area to immediate left of main path. Hazel coppice with mainly sweet chestnut standards. Note rather drawn, thin standards produced by dense shading and overcrowding. The understory also includes rowan saplings, sycamore saplings, holly etc. With regular coppicing the flora and fauna of the wood could be greatly improved. Some of the regrowth here has been grazed by deer. This work was carried out by students from Easton College.

(diversion to the right )
3)      'Secret Army' site dating from WW2. The Home Guard used the woods for training and there have long been rumours, since confirmed, of a ‘Secret Army’ hideout here. Strangely enough, the 1980 Russian map on the http://www.old-maps.co.uk/maps.html site actually shows two structures in the wood here, the only map to do so! If we were invaded, the idea was that small units would literally go underground to continue operations.

from English Heritage National Monuments Record:
The site of a former Second World War Auxiliary Units underground hide is situated at Belmore Plantation off Plumstead Road East at the eastern outskirts of Thorpe St. Andrew. According to an oral source the hide featured two entrances, three rooms with long connecting tunnels and a ventilation system through hollow tree stumps. In 2006 the condition of the underground hide is uncertain.
Information and pictures can be seen here: http://www.coleshillhouse.com/thorpe-st-andrew-auxiliary-unit-and-operational-base.php

The Auxiliary Units were specially trained highly secret units created with the aim of resisting the expected invasion of the British Isles by Nazi Germany during World War II. Having had the advantage of seeing the fall of several Continental nations, Britain was the only country during the war that was able to create such a resistance movement in advance of an invasion. - See more at: http://www.coleshillhouse.com/the-auxiliary-units-history.php#sthash.uMZ3vz0n.dpuf
The Auxiliary Units were specially trained highly secret units created with the aim of resisting the expected invasion of the British Isles by Nazi Germany during World War II. Having had the advantage of seeing the fall of several Continental nations, Britain was the only country during the war that was able to create such a resistance movement in advance of an invasion. - See more at: http://www.coleshillhouse.com/the-auxiliary-units-history.php#sthash.uMZ3vz0n.dpuf
For information on an important new (July 2012) find regarding another Auxiliary Unit in Thorpe St Andrew, see http://www.coleshillhouse.com/norwich-special-duties-zero-station.php The entrance to a well-preserved 'Zero Station' - call sign 'Bowling Zero' - has been located under the car park at the Pinebanks site.

(Rejoin the main path)
4)      Another coppiced  area of hazel  further along the main path, cut a little while ago and with oak standards.  No sign of recent browsing, denser undergrowth of brambles.

5)      Large beech trees are reached by turning left on to the main N-S  path just after a dead beech. Two of the trees here are showing the fruit of the bracket fungus Ganoderma adspersum. This is a common fungus on beech.
(carry on through the small beech grove, noting derelict ponds to left)

6)      A large stool of coppiced lime is on the left hand side. This appears to be the only lime in the wood. This brings us to:

7)      The remains of a once extensive system of ponds linked by a watercourse. Sadly they have all run dry in recent years. The only standing water is in the large lake on the other side of Pound Lane, which was also linked to these ponds by a culvert under the roads, now dry. 10 years ago there were water voles in these banks. What a wonderful addition to the life of the wood it would be if we could see water running through them again!

Going through the gap in the ponds and turning right up the side of the garden of the empty cottage brings us to:

8)      Very large specimen tree.  This is a Sequoiadendron giganteum, the Giant Redwood or  Wellingtonia and is possibly the grandest tree in Belmore. Giant Sequoias are the world's largest trees in terms of total volume. They grow to an average height of 50–85 metres (160–279 ft) and 6–8 metres (20–26 ft) in diameter. The oldest known Giant Sequoia based on ring count is 3,500 years old. Sequoia bark is fibrous, furrowed, and may be 90 centimetres (3.0 ft) thick at the base of the trunk. (General Sherman in the US is 275 ft tall). General Belmore has a way to go to catch him!
Returning back to the path where it crosses the ponds, as we head NW there is:

9)      Sweet chestnut coppice on the gravelly slopes to our right. They seem to have a hard time staying upright here. Thorpe residents may have noticed that when the chestnuts fall on the road in autumn and get squashed by the cars, they release  soap-like substances (saponins). If it rains this can make the streets and drains foam.

10)   By heading to the north again we cross a very mixed area of chestnut, conifers, some oaks and a good deal of birch. The birch are said to be natural colonists after the great gale of 1987. As we near the Plumstead Road there are wild raspberries, some large beech and oak and also some huge, tumbled sweet chestnut coppice stools. We emerge underneath the mast at the top of the main N-S path through the wood. This is the nearest Belmore gets to a ride and a glade now, but at one time the wood had a network of tracks, as can be seen on the old maps. It would be good to open some of them up again as they attract insects and birds as well a greater variety of plants.

11)   Heading south and then west along the main path though the conifer plantation we can see the cleared and replanted area to the north. The birch has taken hold again here;  there are also mosses and rushes. Juncus effusus, the soft rush, is flowering now (July), halfway up its stem. This species was at one time stripped for its pith, which was soaked in grease and used as ‘rush lighting’ for those too poor to afford candles.

12)   Our path leads off to the left and eventually brings us out behind the area of oaks with coppiced hazel we noted earlier. If we stay on it, we will reach the first area of coppice and be able to rejoin the main path on which we entered the wood.

Useful links

Some useful websites for finding out more on your local area

Lists recorded ancient monuments, archaeological finds, crop marks, routes of old roads etc.
Go to ‘digital maps’ at centre left and use a postcode search, or go to ‘click here to explore more’ to look for summaries of specific parishes.


An even better site for archaeology, again use a postcode search.

Allows you to search by Parish for old OS maps, old aerial photos, tithe and enclosure maps where available.
Use ‘Select area’ tab to input name of parish, then  clicking ‘view advanced’ will bring up two windows side by side for comparison. Unfortunately neither tithe nor enclosure maps  are loaded for Thorpe, although they do exist.
You can enlarge and crop sections of the maps and images.