On this circular walk you’ll learn a little more about the ancient trees in the Deer Park and gain insights into 18th-century landscaping.
1 Start at Fountains Abbey Visitor Centre. Leave the visitor centre and follow signs towards St Mary’s Church. Follow the signs for ‘Footpath to St Mary’s Church, Deer Park and Water Garden.
2 Follow the well-defined bridle path that runs parallel to the main drive, until you reach the large gates on your right that give access to St Mary’s Church and the Deer Park. Go through the pedestrian gate, and proceed down the roadway. The sweet chestnut will be on your right. Opposite St Mary’s Church (a William Burges masterpiece) the impressive sweet chestnut tree is a pre-18th century pollard. Note the line of five limes opposite Choristers House. Continue down the roadway and notice Lime Avenue framing the view to Ripon Cathedral.
3 Further down the road, take the left turn at a small crossroads. Just before the brow of the hill note the old cherry tree on your right. It was reputed to be the largest in Britain at one point but is now in decline. A little further on note the impressive pre-18th century oak tree, also on your right. Pass the converted stable block on your left and look straight ahead to the oak avenue. Look beyond the gate to the estate and see the line of oaks continue north to Low Lindrick, originally part of the estate. Continue for about 55yd (50m) then take the grass track that veers off to the right.
4 Before the beech tree look across to your left to the old sycamore pollards near the small, square pump house. Follow the path down a slight slope and cross the stone bridge at the bottom, known as ‘Rough Bridge’. The track splits into two - take the right hand path, going up a slight incline, and follow it as it bends to the left and continues between two lines of oak trees. Continue following the path as it dips. As it rises again look to your right at two Atlantic cedars: the result of 19th-century planting by Earl De Grey, owner of the estate from 1845 to 1859. The path bends sharply to the right, follow it to the right. Look at the old tree trunk, can you guess its age?
5 Continue towards the lodges at East Gate and at the bottom of Lime Avenue turn right, being careful of the traffic on the road. This is the original 18th-century entrance to the estate. Just before the car park sign turn left and walk across the park to enjoy a magnificent view of the lake. Leave the viewing point and head towards the tea-room on the far side of the lake.
6 Take the roadway up to the lower car park on your right, if its not time for tea. Cross the car park, heading for a grassy path at the rear, signposted ‘St Mary’s Church 500yds, Visitor Centre one mile’. The path rises and goes through trees, bending to the right - see sweet chestnuts on the hillside planted in about 1710.
7 At the crest of the hill head for the old sweet chestnut; take a rest on the bench made from branches of the adjacent sweet chestnut. A little further the path splits into two, take the left hand path heading to the main gates of the deer park. Go through the pedestrian gate and turn sharp left to follow the footpath back to the visitor centre and main car park.