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Somerset, Line Wood Walk

John Townson (reprinted with permission)

The Line Wood Walk, near the village of Hatch Beauchamp in Somerset, opened to the public for the first time in 2003, with the support of Taunton Deane Borough Council.

The walk is interesting for a number of reasons:

  • Provides an insight into the 18th century landscape design of the woodlands,
  • Provides dramatic views across the Vale of Taunton to the north,
  • Has great value to wildlife, especially butterflies, birds and flora,
  • Contains many wonderful trees.

Location: Line Wood is one mile north east of Hatch Beauchamp and about 5 minutes drive from the A358 and 15 minutes from junction 25 of the M5 Motorway. See map at bottom of page.

Opening Times: The woods are open to the public from March to November on Wednesdays, Saturdays and Sundays, 9:00am to 7:00pm (or dusk if earlier). They are closed at all other times.

Contact: Heritage and Landscape Team,
Taunton Deane Borough Council, Belvedere Road, Taunton, Somerset TA1 1HE
Tel: +44-(0)1823-356491
Web: www.tauntondeane.gov.uk
Email: heritage.landscape@tauntondeane.gov.uk

Note: Please keep to the recommended trail as some of the other areas are steep and more difficult walking.

Brochure: Click to download PDF version of brochure from Taunton Deane Borough Council website. (Right click and Save As to store on your computer for printing.) The brochure has a map of the trail. This page contains the information in the brochure.

Photos: Slow Travel Photos, photos from our walk in the Line Woods, May 2005.

Pauline's Notes

We spent a week in Cider House, a cottage on Belmont Farm, in May 2005 (see resources for a link to my review of the cottage - we loved it!). Belmont Farm was once part of Hatch Court, a large estate near Hatch Beauchamp (pronounced Beechem), in Somerset. From Belmont farm you see Hatch Court, a large manor house, and the estate church.

This page describes a lovely walk through a privately owned woodland on Belmont Farm (open seasonally, two days a week to the public). We did this walk during our week there and took lots of photos, but when I returned I realized that I had no photos of the historic landscape features described on this page - only photos of the beautiful trees and wildflowers. We loved this walk, and if you are in Somerset, I recommend that you schedule some time to explore this woodland. The woods are beautiful and peaceful, the historic landscape features are interesting, and the walk is easy.

This page is reproduced, with John Townson's permission, from a brochure that he wrote for the Taunton Deane Borough Council.

History of Line Wood

The Collins family, cloth-makers of Ilminster, started buying land in Hatch Beauchamp and North Curry during the early part of the 18th century and by 1750 they owned a large enough estate for John Collins, the son, to cut away from trade and become a country gentleman.

He built Hatch Court in 1755 and created his landscape garden at the same time, inspired no doubt by his neighbours: Sir Charles Kemeys-Tynte at Halswell and Copleston Warre Bampfylde at Hestercombe who were creating gardens during the middle years of the 18th century. It is thought that the garden at Hatch was not as elaborate as those at Halswell and Hestercombe, although it is tempting to speculate that Thomas Prowse might have had a hand in designing some of the buildings. He was the architect of Hatch Court and also of the restored Temple of Harmony at Halswell.

Path on Line Wood Walk, May 2005

Path on Line Wood Walk, May 2005

The reason that we know what buildings there were at Hatch is that the garden was visited in 1761 by a traveller, Edward Knight of Kidderminster. He kept a small pocketbook, only 2.5in by 5in, and in this he noted everything that he saw on his travels. Hatch is only given half a page, but he recorded that the house was by Prowse, there was a greenhouse with piers and a pediment, gothic shell temple and serpentine river with no water, chapel, bastion with a fine view, bowling green, bonehouse, hermitage, square summer house, grotto and roothouse. Other visitors included the Second Viscount Palmerston in 1787 and the Revd. John Collinson who mentions in his History of Somerset, published in 1791, several temples and seats erected on the brow of the hill with hanging woods below. This seems to be the last proper reference to the work carried out by John Collins.

Sadly, apart from the recently discovered engraving of the Hermitage dating from around 1785, we have been unable to find plans, drawings or even correspondence relating to the garden features. We can tell where a number of these features were, but others such as the greenhouse and the gothic shell temple are untraceable. Earthworks, fragments of masonry and the remnants of ornamental planting are all that can be seen to give an idea of this once romantic garden.

We must assume that the greenhouse and, possibly the serpentine river, mentioned by Edward Knight, were near to Hatch Court. There used to be a walk from there which passed to the east of the old stables in the park, over a rustic bridge near the Church and to the west of a Pond. The pond was at one time possibly the medieval fish pond associated with the earlier Hatch Court. This earlier house was the seat of the Beauchamp and Seymour families and fell into ruins in the 17th century. Its site is unknown; but it probably stood somewhere to the west of the church, with its remnant being used as the stables and farm buildings for the later house. These were demolished in the early 19th century.

Changing ownership and changing tastes may have speeded the decline of the garden, but one also wonders whether the plan was not particularly successful. There were no streams, rivers or large lakes to inspire the visitor and the buildings were not arranged on a dramatic circular walk. John Collins also did not own the steep North slope of the woods, which his garden overlooked. This was divided into small plots of coppice and used by North Curry farmers and householders to supply their firewood and other timber needs. It might have been annoying for a country gentleman to be sitting in his temple and contemplating the nobler aspects of life to have no control over the person chopping wood and carrying on his business only feet away. The main area of the present woods came into the ownership of the Collins family in 1820, just before they sold Hatch Court, and a lot of replanting and planting up of arable and pasture land would appear to have been carried out at that time.

The woodlands are now managed partly for timber production, concentrating on high value hardwood trees like ash and oak, and partly for amenity and nature conservation. We try to encourage varying heights of tree canopy, with some open glades, and this allows a wide variety of flora and fauna. At the Western end of the wood another three acres of oak, ash and cherry trees have recently been planted on former arable land. Near this there is an enclosed area of meadow notable for its cowslips and wild flowers. The Somerset Butterfly Group have counted over 30 species of butterflies and moths which use this meadow including rare ones, such as the Brown Hairstreak.

There is very little possibility of any of the original buildings being restored and funds for excavation works are limited. However, we continue to look out for documentary references to the landscape garden and Somerset County Council recently carried out a survey and limited excavation at the grotto. The Somerset Industrial Archaeological Society excavated building remains at the other end of the woods in 1991 and there is another site that would be worth exploring. The bowling green has been cleared of trees and walks and viewpoints opened up. We are also taking the opportunity to enhance the walks by adding one or two features, such as the urn and a few seats.

Sign at Start of Line Wood Walk

Welcome to Line Wood and the remains of the Landscape Garden. The full walk is between 1.5 and 2 miles long and is indicated by arrows on posts. The path is fairly level, except at the far end where it drops away steeply. Please watch for tree roots and stout shoes are recommended. Please also keep dogs under tight control to protect wildlife, especially in the nesting season.

The woods are open to the public from March to November on Wednesdays, Saturdays and Sundays, 9:00am to 7:00pm (or dusk if earlier). They are closed at all other times.

Description of the Line Wood Walk

Click for large image. Map of Line Wood © Crown Copyright. All rights reserved. Taunton Deane Borough Council. LA 079677. Used with permission.

Map of Line Wood Walk. Click for larger image.

This woodland walk starts at the car park off the Belmont Road. Turn left from the car park and follow the grassy track to a junction where another walk joins from the left. This was the old East walk from Hatch Court, which was planted with laurel, box and other shrubs. Turn right and the path passes below a field through some fine trees. Note a Wild Service Tree on the right hand side. On a 1787 map, a building is shown along here and there is a pile of rubble on the site, but we do not know what the building was.

The path comes to a clearing where the old West walk joined form Hatch Court and there is now an urn where there would have been an 18th century feature. This urn is a copy of the Pope urn at Hestercombe. Take the right hand path and then fork left at the top of the rise. This area of the woods had a very dense planting of larch until the 1980s and was almost impenetrable. The clearing of the larch has allowed the yew trees to become dominant and also the planting of more interesting species.

Further on, near the fine stand of beech trees, is one of the best areas of the wood for bluebells. There is a prominent bank noticeable on the right and this is the parish and hundred boundary, a very ancient feature. It runs right along the ridge and marked the limit of John Collins's ownership.

An old gateway leads through to the area of woodland planted in 1994. In amongst the trees on the right can be found a brick circle, which is all that can be seen of the Icehouse. These were nearly always built into the sides of hills in order that they could drain easily and trees were usually over them to keep them cool. This one was egg shaped and had an iron bar running up the centre. It was filled in and had its top removed in the last century after a cow fell into it. The ruins of the Grotto are just below, but it is safer to view them from the grass path.

These are the most interesting ruins to be found at Hatch and have been known variously as Diana's Bath, House or Cave. The Somerset County Council survey and excavation would appear to confirm local memories; that there was an artificial cave at the northern end with a low passage to another chamber containing a pool and statue. The presence of a fireplace suggests that the pool may have been used for bathing. It is recorded also that unsuspecting visitors were taken into the cave and squirted with water and this is borne out by the presence of a water tank on the hillside above connected to the grotto by a lead pipe.

Meadow with views over Somerset countryside, May 2005

Meadow with views over Somerset countryside, May 2005

Admire the views from the meadow and then take the path back into the wood. At the beech trees, take the left fork and this path leads round the edge of the hill to the site of the Square Summer House. The square dip and the two blocks of ham stone are all that remain of a summerhouse visited by Lord Palmerston in 1787. In his journal, he remarked that the view "commanded all the Vale of Taunton". The building is shown on maps up to the last century, but sadly we do not know what it looked like. In the Hatch Court sale particulars of 1899, it is described as a shooting shelter "containing a room on the ground floor with a large fireplace and a good room over". The surrounding area was planted with box hedges and other ornamental trees and shrubs, some of which remain.

The path rejoins the main walk and this returns to the urn and left below the field. At the end of the avenue of trees, go straight on. This is now deep woodland, but in the 18th century it would have been less densely planted with dramatic views down the steep slope to the left.

Other features could be expected through this section of the walk to keep the visitor interested and one village history mentions that there were "statues and images" in the woods. Take another left turn.

A short distance from the path is the Bowling Green, an extraordinary feature to find excavated out of the hillside. It has always been known as the bowling green and Edward Knight calls it that. It is an odd size for a bowling green, being 240ft by 60ft, and it has been suggested that it may have also been used for archery, another usual 18th century activity.

Bowling Green, May 2005

Bowling Green, May 2005

Follow the path a little further and the Bastion is on the left hand side, a built up mound with magnificent views to the Brendon Hills, the Quantocks and to Wales on a clear day. It is directly opposite a viewpoint at Hestercombe known as the Gothic Alcove, which has been rebuilt, and it is interesting to speculate whether this siting of the two viewpoints was intentional. On top of the mound are the ruins of an apse ended building that may be the chapel mentioned by Edward Knight. These remains would be worth investigating further and possibly could be built up into a viewing platform with a seat.

There are a lot of building remains and mounds in this part of the woods which may have been connected with lime kilns, as the field next door was known as Limekiln Close in the 18th Century. The Somerset Industrial Archaeological Society excavated a large and very deep tank just beyond the bastion, which had a sloping paved area alongside and other walls nearby. The SIAS and Bob Croft, County Archaeologist, decided that these remains were not industrial in origin, but were part of another garden water feature. Although they seem to have disappeared in recent years, this wood was known for a number of springs and perhaps one of these fed the tank.

Although there is a further ruin a little further on, it is difficult to get to and this is the end of this branch of the walk. Retrace your steps to the bowling green and fork left on the path which leads back to the car park.

Hermitage at Hatch Court

The recently discovered engraving of the Hermitage, even allowing for artistic license, indicates that it was a more dramatic structure than previously suspected and makes its location difficult to access. Apart from springs, there is no running water in the woods and no visible rock formations so one must assume that there was some artifice involved in its design.

A possible site for it is just beyond the grotto, towards the meadow which is the end of this branch of the walk. The water from the spring here used to run down into the wooded dell, but it is now tanked and piped away.

Engraving from around 1785 showing Grotto, click to see larger image

Engraving from around 1785 showing Grotto, click to see larger image

Belmont

Off the road to the south east of the wood is a ruinous cattle shed, which is all that remains of a house called Belmont. This is shown on the 1785 engraving of Hatch Court and was later owned by Bonner Collins, third son of John Collins.

It had its own short ornamental walk with a raised path, seats and a series of prospect mounds, the last one of which had a distant view of the Monument at Burton Pynsent. Some elements of this walk remain in the present day cider apple orchards.

Footpath Through Belmont Farm

When you finish the walk through Line Wood, find the public footpath that goes through Belmont Farm. It cuts through the field off the car park, crosses the main drive into Belmont farm, then goes between the farmhouse and the church. From the farmhouse it is a 10 minute walk on the footpath to the village of Hatch Beauchamp, where there is a pub.

This footpath gives you a view of the lovely gardens at Belmont Farm, the church (stop in for a visit), and Hatch Court in the distance.

Public footpath between Belmont Farm and Hatch Court, going to Hatch Beauchamp, May 2005

Public footpath between Belmont Farm and Hatch Court, going to Hatch Beauchamp, May 2005

Photos

Slow Travel Photos: Photos from our walk in the Line Woods, May 2005.

Slow Travel Photos: Photos of our vacation rental - Cider House on Belmont Farm from Helpful Holidays. This lovely cottage is on the same property as the Line Wood Walk.

Slow Travel Photos: Photos of nearby Hestercombe Gardens, Taunton, Somerset.

Slow Travel Photos: Photos from our walk along the Bridgwater Taunton Canal, May 2005

Resources

www.tauntondeane.gov.uk: Taunton Deane Borough Council

Click to download PDF version of brochure from Taunton Deane Borough Council website. (Right click and Save As to store on your computer for printing.)

www.tauntondeane.gov.uk/tdbcsites/council/forms.asp: Download other tourist brochures for the Taunton area on this page.

Slow Travel Vacation Rental Review 1408: Pauline's review of Cider House on Belmont Farm from Helpful Holidays. This lovely cottage is on the same property as the Line Wood Walk.

www.helpfulholidays.com/place.asp?placeid=212: Helpful Holidays, Cider House vacation rental (2bed/2bath) on Belmont Farm.

www.tauntondeanery.org.uk/hatchbeauchamp.html: St. John the Baptist (Church of England), church at Hatch Court.

www.hestercombegardens.com: Hestercombe Gardens, Taunton, Somerset.

www.fatbirder.com: Birding in Somerset.

www.weavo.co.uk/hatch/: Hatch Beauchamp website

www.hatchfireworks.co.uk: Hatch Beauchamp Charity Bonfire & Fireworks Display

webapp1.somerset.gov.uk/her/details.asp?prn=43258: Somerset, historical information on Hatch Court

Directions

© Crown Copyright. All rights reserved. Taunton Deane Borough Council. LA 079677. Used with permission.

Line Wood is one mile north east of Hatch Beauchamp and about 5 minutes drive from the A358 and 15 minutes from junction 25 of the M5 Motorway.


John Townson, 2003

Map of Line Wood and Directions Map Crown Copyright. All rights reserved.
Taunton Deane Borough Council. LA 079677. Used with permission.

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