There are plenty of trees in Ashridge from which to choose a favourite. I found my latest favourite through helping with Archaeological Monitoring and the Veteran Tree Survey. For both of these projects I have been exploring Northchurch Common, and have had to stop and look at places which I had previously just walked past. I first found this tree through it being near an archaeological site. These sites have to be looked at in the winter time before bracken, undergrowth and the foliage of summer hide all the banks and hollows. In the winter of 2014, I was looking at a linear ditch, part of the Bronze Age/Iron Age field system on the common, and had noted and photographed a large multi-stemmed tree which had fallen across this ditch. I assumed it was dead – but this April, I had a closer look when walking around the area trying to identify the main locations of veteran trees, before my group of surveyors started their summer time survey. I was delighted to see that some of the fallen tree – particularly the uppermost trunks, were still alive, and the beautiful leaf buds and catkins of Hornbeam were emerging, and it still had the lovely patterned bark. I think you can see it as a shadow among the other trees on Google Earth – including on the 1999 version, the earliest apart from the black and white 1945 photos, so it fell at least seventeen years ago. It will qualify as a Veteran, being of sufficient girth, so will feature in both Archaeology Monitoring and as a Veteran Tree, as well as on my list of favourites. I have really enjoyed the greater depth of exploration looking more closely at Ashridge, which I have experienced through taking part in these projects.
If anyone wants to find the tree, it is near Grid Reference SP976115 – but don’t go looking for it with a GPS – this is a guide only. If you park at the car park on the West side of the B 4506 just South of the junction with Toms Hill Road, then take the path from the South end of the car park that goes West, and skirt the South of the Iron Age enclosure – you will then come to the linear ditch, and the tree is obvious. This area is one of only three Scheduled Ancient Monument sites in Ashridge, so it is worth a visit for that alone.