Grid ref: TQ 570 939 (click for o/s map)
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This was a medieval deer park and now is an attractive mix of semi-formal parkland with large blocks of woodland. The remnants of the deer park – its south-eastern quarter, called The Park – is scattered with massive oak and hornbeam pollards, some of which are probably more than 500 years old. Red Poll cattle graze here, and in parts it is rich in wild flowers, including unusual plants like heath violets and heath spotted orchids.
The woodland across the north was cleared during World War II and replanted in the 1950s and 1960s with native hardwood trees such as beech and oak. This has created some fine woodland that positively shimmers with bluebells in spring. Golden saxifage, an unusual ancient woodland plant, grows in Foxdown Wood, which escaped conifer planting.
Remnants of more recent landscaping survive also, in the form of the belvedere at the southern end, the avenue of chestnut trees in the centre and the large ornamental lakes.
Such a variety of habitats attracts a wide variety of birds. Great crested grebes and moorhens breed on the lakes, and in winter flocks of seed-eating birds such as goldfinches and siskins can be seen feeding in the lakeside alders. Nuthatches and woodpeckers are often seen in the woods, and little owls can sometimes be seen hunting in the early evening.
From M25 junction 28 with the A12 take the A1023 towards Brentwood and turn left on to Wigley Bush Lane. This meets Weald Road in South Weald village, from which there are several entrances. SatNav: CM14 5QS.
Regular bus services from Brentwood to Pilgrims Hatch. Occasional services to South Weald village.
Accessible at all times. Car parks open from dawn to dusk. Visitor centre open daily 10am–4pm weekdays, 9.30am–5pm on weekends.
April–May for bluebells and birdsong; July for butterflies, dragonflies and wild flowers in the damper parts.
Battery-powered scooters can be provided on request.
For more information call the Rangers on 01277 261343.