Cathedral Firs - Great Wood Walk, near Over Stowey, Somerset.

PUBLISHED: 11:11 08 February 2010 | UPDATED: 09:30 09 October 2012

Take an easy walk in the grandeur of Great Wood, and enjoy looking for deer and the unique birds that call the forest home during winter, says Andy Harris

Take an easy walk in the grandeur of Great Wood, and enjoy looking for deer and the unique birds that call the forest home during winter, says Andy Harris

Situated in the centre of the Quantock Hills Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty is Great Wood, a 629-hectare area of conifer and mixed broadleaf woodland managed by the Forestry Commission. Criss-crossed with forest roads, footpaths and bridleways, it gives visiting members of the public a wonderful opportunity to create walks to suit them and access all corners of the woodland. However, those looking for a lovely meandering self-guided forest trail which is suitable for families should visit Ramscombe in the northern half of Great Wood. The walk leads you along well-surfaced tracks and takes in stunning views amongst majestic Douglas fir with the opportunity to spot both red deer and roe deer.
Great Wood was formerly part of the Royal Hunting Forests of Quantock and North Petherton in Norman times and later passed into private ownership. There are records of planting of Scots pine, beech, larch and sycamore as early as 1797 and at this time the older oak and elm timbers were used for shipbuilding, while the traditional woodland management technique of coppicing was practised.

Between 1857 and 1860 the last Lord of Taunton had Quantock Lodge built and the woodland provided the sporting venue for the Lord of the Manor. After a gradual decline, the house and forestry land were put up for auction and many parts of the forest were clear-felled during the 1914-18 war. The woodland then passed into the hands of Somerset County Council in 1920, following a short-term ownership by a timber merchant.
Great Wood is an excellent example of modern-day multi-purpose forestry that has created the stunning and continually changing landscape of not only conifer plantation but also heathland, scrub and mature ancient oak woodland. Following the contouring track on the outward section of the walk, the towering Douglas fir have been selected to be parent trees, producing seed to grow into the next generation, a management practice called continuous cover.
Since 1919, when the Forestry Commission was set up to provide a strategic reserve of timber for any future war effort, the business of growing trees has become much more mechanised and this is reflected by how much the staffing levels have changed. In 1922 in Great Wood alone, 108 people were employed, while today five staff cover not just the Quantock forests but also the Brendon Hills more than 2,200 hectares.
The variety of habitats attracts a diverse range of wildlife and although January may seem a quiet month, its a good time of year to see some exciting wintering birds such as crossbills, redpolls, goldcrest and woodcock. In just another months time the early breeding calls of the very secretive long-eared owls may be heard on still nights. The forest provides shelter from the worst of the winter weather but looks magnificent when covered in a layer of snow, which is a real possibility in January.

Boots on? Lets go!
1To find the entrance of Ramscombe drive through the hamlet of Adscombe; the first 150m of track is tarmac with speed humps. Continue to drive into the forest past the first car park to join the one-way loop in Ramscombe, passing the public conveniences. After a sharp right bend the car park can be found under the tall Douglas fir.

2Look for the waymarker (see illustration) which will help guide you around the 2 1/2 mile (4km) route. Walk out of the car park towards the top loop of the one-way system and carry on up Ramscombe with the stream on your left.

3After 230m take the first turning on your left, again you should see a waymarker. From the beginning of this junction there is a slight ascent but once you have reached the top the track more or less follows the contour with views over the forest. After approximately 600m the track dips slightly and comes to a crossroads of tracks continue straight on, following the waymarkers.

4(If you wish to shorten the walk you can turn left and follow the track down hill to the public conveniences and follow the one way system back to the car park.) If you continue to follow the waymarkers the track meanders through the forest for another 1km, descending to a T-junction and crossing a stream, at which point you turn left.

5After a further 700m and keeping the stream on your left you will come to Seven Wells car park and the beginning of the one-way system. Walk along the one-way system and just before you reach the public conveniences turn right into the picnic and barbecue field. Walk directly across the field to a wooden footbridge crossing the stream and turn left to walk back to the car park.

Fact File
Start: Ramscombe (in Great Wood), Over Stowey, grid ref ST168377
Distance: 2 1/2 miles (4km)
Time: 1 hour
Terrain: Forest tracks following red-banded waymarkers, some slopes, one main ascent at the beginning; suitable for families, including pushchairs
Maps: OS Explorer 140 or Landranger 181
Facilities: Toilets and picnic area with barbecues

Ranger profile
Andy Harris began working on the hills as a Ranger in 1996 and is the Partnership Ranger working for the Forestry Commission and Quantock Hills AONB Service. Andys main responsibilities are for recreation and wildlife, which involves leading guided walks and helping visitors enjoy the area, as well as undertaking habitat management such as swaling (heather burning) and wildlife surveys.

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