Westonbirt Arboretum – my woodland wonderland for nearly 40 years
HRH Camilla, Duchess of Cornwall, visited Westonbirt just one day after our visit. Camilla is patron of the Friends of Westonbirt and enjoyed many of the beautiful sights that we enjoyed including the tree-top walkway.
Tucked away just off the A433 about 4 miles from Tetbury and 2 miles from HRH Prince Charles’ country retreat, Highgrove, you will find the beautiful Westonbirt Arboretum. It’s not just a place for walks and trees and shrubs, but it has sculptures, a café, learning centre, live music events, an incredible tree-top walkway, a bird viewing shelter, play area and more.
What’s the time Mr Wolf?
Photo by Chris Roberts MBE
It is also just 9 miles away from the Cross Hands Hotel, a quaint 14th century posting house in the village of Old Sodbury, where HM Queen Elizabeth II took shelter during a blizzard in 1981. The story goes – and it is true – that Her Majesty had been visiting Prince Charles at Highgrove and was travelling back to London, when she was caught in a blizzard and could go no further. She availed herself of the hotel’s hospitality and there is even a plaque there now commemorating the occasion.
There are 600 acres at Westonbirt Arboretum to explore and it is estimated that it can take three hours to walk around the Acer Glade, the Maple Loop, Cherry Glade, Silk Wood, the Oak and Ash collections. Make sure you don’t miss out on walking across the STIHL Treetop Walkway, which gently climbs to a maximum height of 13m and where you really feel that you are up in the treetops and can enjoy a grey squirrel’s perspective! But don’t look down if you are afraid of heights!
I have been going to Westonbirt for nearly 40 years – take a look at the photo of my daughter taken in October 1983 and the later one of her taken in October 2020.
The Arboretum is a delight at any time of the year but, obviously, if you want to see the explosion of colour when the amazing acers and magnificent maples erupt into reds, bronze, deep purples, pinks, yellows and golds, then the time to go is in the Autumn – probably mid to late October.
But the Arboretum’s not all about the Autumn! Your senses – smell, sight, taste, feel and hearing – can all be titillated at any time of the year when you enjoy a tasty snack or a meal in the café, restaurant or picnic area. In Spring, the Cherry Glade in the Silk Wood is full of beautiful cherry blossom to create a stunning visual experience; in the Summer, you can enjoy the beauty, shade and tranquility of the Lime Avenue, the Broad Drive and the Holford Ride (named after the Victorian landowner, Robert Holford, who founded the Arboretum almost 200 years ago) and, in the Winter months, the aromatic aroma of the mature pine trees are a particularly pungent pleasure to experience.
Wintertime is also about Christmas and, at Westonbirt Arboretum, children and adults can treat themselves to an Enchanted Christmas with stunning light displays in the tree tops shining the way to Father Christmas doing a short performance on the woodland trail. Unfortunately, this year, due to Covid restrictions, Santa is not able to wander about the Christmas Village or invite you into his grotto.
Westonbirt Arboretum is great for all ages and children in particular love the thrill of collecting all different shapes and sizes of leaves, acorns, berries and conkers. When I was younger and the children were small, they loved kicking the leaves and feeling the different textures of bark on trees – particularly the soft red wood of the giant Sequoia, which can be punched easily with a fist and has earned the nickname of the boxing tree!
If you want something a bit more lively, Westonbirt puts on some really amazing live music concerts with acts such as The Script, Rag ‘n’ Bone Man, Van Morrison and, next year, on Saturday 12th June, Madness are set to perform as part of Forest Live. Tickets are on sale at www.forestryengland.uk/music.
All events throughout the country have had a rough time this year with lockdown and Covid-19 restrictions on meeting up in public places. To support and help Westonbirt Arboretum continue their educational and social development work, the Government has now granted a lifeline grant worth £195,500 as part of the Culture Recovery Fund (CRF). This is to help the Arboretum recover from the financial impact of Covid-19 after having to close for over two months and having to cancel many of its live concerts.
Go along and visit this incredible show of nature right here in the Cotswolds. You won’t be disappointed. But advance booking is necessary online.