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Minehead - Parks Walk 1

Welcome to The Parks Walks Arboretum Storywalks.

On this Storywalk find out about the power of walnuts over witches, why conkers were collected for the war effort, and the whereabouts of the chocolate tree in this park.

The approach to creating these trails is likened to a skimming stone, stopping at several segments of the park and dropping interesting facts, myths and tales throughout, and all pivoting on the trees.

To view, travel to the trailhead at the lower or town end of each park and the first chapter will reveal. The walks are designed to read aloud to family and friends and to embellish your experience of this place.

Allow an hour at an amble.

All parks are flat and level throughout.

Updated 2020 in parallel with the Hidden History town trails.
Directions - This trail begins at the lower park walk gate, approached from Parkhouse Road, Minehead TA24 8BT What3words address ///twirls.fools.variety 51.204735, -3.4837080
Chapter one

Entrance to The Parks Walks

Welcome to The Parks Walks.

These parks are in fact an Arboretum, a garden of trees, they come from throughout the world as well as locally and the stories and anecdotes I have listed reflect this international nature. There are also some fabulous shrubs and beds, but in the interest of my commission I have focused on the trees, with the last section having a list of all trees present in this park

So first stop is the entrance to the lower park with Parkhouse Road behind you, here there is a bench which you may like to take a perch on before you read on.
Chapter two


There are two large tree specimens to your right, an Oak and a Copper Beech, both I will talk about later in the walks. The next tree has a silver white smooth trunk and lifts over the stream, this is a Walnut tree. If you turn around to the road there is less crowded and healthier specimen standing by the wall next to the White Cherry. The image above is of the first May buds as the tree springs into life.

Walnut trees, according to Mr M. Robinson's The New Family Herbal were a wonder whose medicinal properties could be turned to almost every eventuality. Cures ranged from Rabies to Carbuncles, Gangrene to a simple sore throat, (green Walnuts mixed with Honey to make a gargle.) Interestingly enough Mr Robinson's book, which was published in the late 1870's has this remark in respect to Culpeper's Herbal which was first published around 1652. Culpeper's had been the go-to herbalist book for almost 200 years by this point.

'[Culpeper's Herbal] is entirely useless in this modern era of science'

Mr Robinson purports that Walnuts were also a great antidote to many poisons, the kernel also being good for colic sufferers, and half ripe ones able to strengthen weak stomachs.
Chapter three


In Glastonbury there was once a famous Walnut at the side of St Josephs Chapel in the Abbey Churchyard, it was termed 'a miraculous specimen, which never budded before the feast of St Barnabas' (June 11th) and Queen Anne, and King James were said to have given large sums of money for cuttings.

In English Folklore the early flowering of the Walnut heralds a good harvest, with the opposite being the case when there is an abundance of foliage and little blossom. But more importantly if a walnut was placed under a witch's chair, then the witch would become rooted to the spot, and in the interests of modern science I have placed one beneath your very bench to see if this works. So, I wonder, are you able to stand ?!

Harvesting Walnut fruit is completed by knocking them off the branch rather than pruning, which this rather distressing old English rhyme suggests.

A woman, a spaniel, and a Walnut tree,
the more you beat them, the better they be.


Thankfully neither of these three reprehensible acts are condoned these days, but interestingly it is thought that more fruit will grow next year from a broken or ripped tip than a pruned one.
Directions - Please now pass over the bridge and down into the park, at the left turn there is a large Ash tree on the corner and the next chapter will reveal there.
Chapter four

Ash Tree Corner

Even Ash I thee do pluck,
Hoping thus to bring me luck
If no luck thee brings to me
I wish I had left thee open the tree.


The large tree in the corner of the park is an Ash tree, and I have enjoyed counting the leaf points with my children to find an even one. This is a good opportunity to test this poem, though perhaps I should not encourage such vandalism, though I doubt the tree will miss a leaf or two!

Ash wood is strong and light, it can be steam bent which is a process involving heating the timber in a chamber with steam, in this hot state it becomes more pliable enabling it to be reformed in a clamp or jig. As it cools the timber returns to it's more rigid self making it perfect for the fuselage of aeroplanes, with the Spitfire being perhaps the most famous example. Today Aluminium alloys take the place of Ash in aeroplanes though the Morgan motor car is still hand built in this way.

In Scandinavia and Ireland individual Ash trees would be hailed as guardians of individual settlements, with the Anglo-Saxons preferring Ash for spear and shield handles, and is still the choice for tool handles today.

Allegedly Ash keys were often carried to ward off witches, and bundles like wands have been found on Anglesey dating from the first century. The Luttrell Arms in Dunster has been known to burn 'The Ashen Faggot', on Christmas Eve which is a bundle of twigs bound with seven green bows, as each bow cracks and snaps in the heat of the fire, sending up sparks, it is custom to cheer and take a drink. The Ashen Faggot is also apparently celebrated on Dartmoor where the seeds are referred to as 'Keys of Heaven'

The well-know saying,

"If the Oak is out before the Ash, then we shall surely have a splash,
If the Ash is out before the Oak, then we shall surely have a soak."

Apparently this saying has been tested against records going back a hundred years and found to be the other way around.
Chapter five

The Judas Tree

Further along the fence line stands a smaller tree with slowly twisting branches in rather poor condition. This is the Judas tree, and has a pinky blossom in the spring. The image shows the blossom springing from bark fissures as well as sprig ends.

This tree gained its name after Judas Iscariot, one of Christ's disciples who hung himself in shame after selling Jesus to the elders for 30 silver pieces. The deed was sealed with a kiss which Judas placed on Jesus' cheek in the garden, which identified him to the guards. In one version of the story the apostles defended Jesus from arrest by attacking them with swords, a guard's ear was cut off, but Jesus would not have them fight over him and healed the guard's ear before being taken away.

When Judas realised that Jesus was being tortured and condemned to death he was mortified, he tried to return the money to the Elders, but they would not accept it. Ridden with shame he then took his own life by hanging himself from the Judas Tree. It is said that the flowers turned from white to blood red from that day through the shame. However it is more likely that the name derives from the hills of Judaea in the Middle East, where this tree is commonplace.
Directions - Now follow the path into the park, at the first central bed the next chapter will reveal.
Chapter six

Willow and Hazel

Turn to your left and face the majestic Weeping Willow, with Hazels of different kinds either side. These are respectively Purple Hazel, and Filbert Hazel, with a second Filbert Hazel to the right of the Willow also.

Hazel is often coppiced with Oak and Willow.

Coppicing is the traditional practice of cutting back the tree to a short stand, the cut shafts can be used for many tasks including bean poles and fences, or hurdles as they are more commonly known. Wattle and daub also requires hazel rods, providing a lattice for a mud and straw mixture, creating walls in timber framed buildings at little cost.

Charcoal is traditionally made from Oak, Hazel and Willow which was essential for smelting and working iron. Two hundred years ago it was common to see transient people referred to as 'the charcoal burners' who would coppice and burn charcoal in a rotation, living a nomadic lifestyle in the woods. In Arthur Ransome's Swallows and Amazons (1929), there is an awkward chapter in which they meet the mysterious Charcoal burners, a curious observation from today's perspective of different societies living side by side.
Chapter seven

Hazel Nuts

In respect to the fruits from the Hazel tree, these are obviously the Hazel nuts, which the Celts believed gave one wisdom and inspiration. There are numerous variations on an ancient tale that nine hazel trees once grew around a sacred pool, dropping into the water nuts that were then eaten by the highly venerated fish Salmon. These great fish then absorbed the wisdom from the Hazel tree, and a druid teacher, in his bid to become omniscient, caught one of these special Salmon and asked a student to cook it but not to eat it.

Whilst this student prepared it on the fire a blister formed on the fish's skin, and the pupil used his thumb to burst the hot fat, the juices splashed onto his hand and quick as a flash he sucked his thumb to cool it. Immediately on placing his thumb in his mouth he absorbed the great fish's wisdom, the boy was called Fionn Mac Cumhail, or Finn McColl and is often the central character in many traditional celtic stories.

Culpeper's Herbal, first published in the mid 1600's, has this to say about Hazel.

Government and Virtues. They are under the dominion
of Mercury. The parted kernels made into an electuary,
or the milk drawn from them with mead or honied water,
is good to help an old cough, and a little pepper put in
draws rheum from the head. The dried husks and shells,
to the weight of two drams, taken in red wine, stays lasks,
and womens' courses, the skins answer the same purpose.
Chapter eight

Horse Chestnut

The Horse Chestnut is a simple tree to identify, its long loping leaves, broad dense canopy, and the spiky gourds which hold the conkers. But you will have difficulty in spotting one in the park today although there were two good specimens here in 2014 when the Storywalk was initially commissioned. Can you see any of the remaining stumps or depressions in the park?

Horse Chestnut trees have been suffering from a disease of recent years which affects their appearance as we progress through the summer. This is the leaf miner [Cameraria ohridella] which has been rapidly spreading across the UK since 2002.

The blossoms stacks are often referred to as lanterns or candles and from a distance you can see why.

A Chestnut tree once stood in Amsterdam which was referred to locally as 'Anne Frankbloom', as it was described by Anne Franklin in her diary of a young girl. The bloom could be seen from the annex where Anne and her family hid from the Nazis during their occupation but sadly the tree blew down in a devastating storm in 2010.

During World War I, the Royal Navy needed large volumes of the solvent Acetone to make Cordite which is used as a smokeless gunpowder for firing artillery. Initially the Acetone was made using a bacterial fermentation of grain, however grain was in short supply, fortunately a Mr Chaim Weizmann had developed a technique to ferment Acetone from Horse Chestnuts, an alternative source of starch. So school children were asked by the Ministry of Munitions to gather tons of these nuts from far and wide, which were then stored in six huge silos at Holton Heath in Dorset, at the Cordite Factory.

If you suffer from Arthritis may I suggest you place two in your trouser pockets which I have read will help this chronic condition, it would be interesting to find out whether this is so!
Directions - Continue along the path into the park, the next chapter will reveal at the next central round bed just a little along. Note - you can refresh this page whenever the distance counter gets a little sleepy or use the 'help' button on the bar below.
Chapter nine


To the left of the path there is a Palm tree, with its slender trunk and bushy grass topped fronds. This Cordyline Palm tree is indigenous to New Zealand and Polynesia, and is venerated in their culture for being a naturally chewable sweet. The process would involve cutting a tree between 4 to 6 ft high, taking roots and all, which would then be stripped of bark, and then split so the sweet pith was accessible.

This would then be dried and processed over a long slow cooking process, which would finally finish with the production a dark liquorice type gum. It could be chewed or made into a kind a porridge when mixed with water, and was harvested and prepared twice yearly by the Maori people.

Throughout the parks there are many crab apple trees with a good aged specimen to your right.
Chapter ten

Crab Apple Tree

In this arboretum there are several Apple trees, many of which are Crab Apples, which have beautiful blossoms (see photo) and whose fruit will be small, tart and high in Pectin, an active setting agent required for Jams and preserves.

'An apple a day, keeps the Doctor at bay,' is probably the best known rhyme, and late in the year there are several traditions which revolve around the Apple tree.

One of which is Apple Dunking, which involves a barrel or deep bowl with apples floating on the water. The participants hands are tied and they must lift an apple from the water with just their mouth. To get purchase you must boldly plunge your head into the water helping you to bite into the fruit and retrieve the apple.

Traditionally this happened on Halloween though there is a similar Cornish game involving two pieces of wood which were nailed together in the shape of a cross. It was suspended with four lit candles on each arm and apples hanging underneath. The aim being to catch the apples with your mouth without getting molten wax on your face. The game was traditionally played by newly wedded couples as technique requires two people to bite into a single fruit simultaneously.

According to legend if you peel an apple into a continuous ribbon and throw the peel over your left shoulder then the initial of your true love, which is not necessarily your betrothed, will be revealed.
Chapter eleven


More locally the Apple Wassail is a traditional form of folk singing practised in cider orchards across Somerset. The ceremony is said to 'bless' the apple trees and spirits to produce a good crop for cider in the forthcoming season and is steeped in folklore and tradition.

The village of Carhampton, just five miles east of Minehead is famous for its Wassailing celebration which is thought to be the oldest in the land. The event, which takes place in the old orchard behind the Butchers Arms is a curious affair, all comers are greeted with some proper foggy cider to toast and Wassail the Old man of the Orchard the name given to the oldest fruit tree in the orchard. The Wassail Queen, a young virgin then places cider soaked toast in the branches for the Robins to eat along with any apple eating grubs the tree might be harbouring. Trees are then Wassailed, with song and verse interspersed with the crowd banging pots and pans to make a din of a noise before shot guns are fired over the branches which would chase the last of any bad spirits away.

This is a traditional Wassailing song.

Old apple tree, we wassail thee,
And hoping thou wilt bear
For the Lord doth know where we shall be
Till apples come another year.
For to bear well, and to bear well
So merry let us be,
Let every man take off his hat,
And shout to the old apple tree!
Old apple tree, we wassail thee,
And hoping thou wilt bear
Hatfuls, capfuls and three bushel bagfuls
And a little heap under the stairs,
Hip, Hip, Hooray!
Directions - Carry on down the left side of the park just before the park pinches to a narrower width there is a stand of Birch trees.
Chapter twelve

Birch Trees

Birch is a fast growing tree which populated the English Isles as the Ice sheets retreated, it has a deep history inside European Folklore with a broad range of uses. It was apparently hard wearing enough for bobbins, spools and reels for the Lancashire cotton industry. Traditionally, babies' cradles were made of birch wood, and the thin branches even used in thatching or as a mattress when other materials were scarce.

The sap can be tapped as it rises in spring and fermented to make birch wine, a process still practised in the Highlands today, and according to Scottish Highland folklore, a barren cow herded with a birch stick would become fertile or a pregnant cow bear a healthy calf.

In Culpeper's 'The Complete Herbal' which was first published in the 1600's and republished many times since has this to say about Birch trees, with this extract coming from a version printed in 1880.

'Government and virtues : It is a tree of Venus; the juice of the leaves, while they are young, or the distilled water of them, or the water that comes from the tree being bored with an auger, and distilled afterwards; any of these being drank for some days together, is available to break the stone in the kidneys and bladder, and is good also to wash sore mouths.'

S.T. Coleridge who lived in Nether Stowey which nestles in the Quantocks called the Birch tree 'Lady of the Woods'

"Beneath you birch with silver bark
And boughs so pendulous and fair,
The brook falls scattered down the rock
and all is mossy there."

Samuel Taylor Coleridge
Directions - Walk down the park to the tall poplar tree just before the bridge. You can see it from here, standing to attention.
Chapter thirteen


Poplar trees are often referred to as the talking or whispering tree due to the rustle of their leaves. It is said that in Greek Mythology Hercules after destroying The Cacus, a fire breathing giant, made a wreath out of Poplar leaves, the inside turned white as they pressed on his sweaty brow whilst the outer darkened due to the heat of the underworld.

Pliny the Elder, the Roman philosopher writing around AD 50 suggested Poplar be used instead of Oak for shields as it is lighter and more pliable as can be steam bent like willow although weaker. In some cultures the catkins or red flowering cases are called Devil's Fingers, and if you were to pick them up then you would have seven seasons of bad luck. To lift this hex, you would tuck the catkin behind your ear or between your toes when you slept.

Poplar wood has recently been used as a biomass crop due to its astonishing growth rate.

To the left of this Poplar is a Holly tree, but next to this is a slender tree called 'Hoheria' and as of summer 2020 was in rather poor shape. Native to New Zealand and known as ribbon wood or lacewood tree, their flowers have a distinct chocolate aroma and is commonly known in the UK as the chocolate tree.
Directions - Carry along and over the stone bridge, the next tree is a Eucalyptus on the left. Note - you can refresh this page whenever the distance counter gets a little sleepy or use the 'help' button on the bar below.
Chapter fourteen

Eucalyptus Tree

Towards the left, close to the fence line stands a good proportioned tree with a relatively sparse canopy and beautiful red flaky bark (see image). This is the Eucalyptus tree, lean and muscular which is native to Australia and able to withstand spells of heat and drought.

Eucalyptus oil is extracted from both leaves and bark and has identifiable active antibacterial properties. You will find it readily available from modern herbalists and pharmacies, it is commonly used for coughs, cuts and chesty ailments including asthma. Doses must always be small as severe poisoning can easily happen of which children are amongst the most vulnerable.

Interestingly Eucalyptus has an ethanol value and can be made into a fuel like petrol though production costs are too high to make it financially viable.
Directions - Pass along the path, there is just one last tree in this park called the Handkerchief Tree, known also as The Dove or Ghost Tree, and is the last large tree on the right before the pathway shrinks to its smallest width.
Chapter fifteen

Handkerchief Tree

The final tree in this, the first of three parks walks, is the Handkerchief or Dove Tree.

Scottish plant hunter Augustine Henry found a single tree in the Yangtze river gorges of China and sent the first specimen to England, in 1868 but these were lost on the Han river in rapids. Another plant collector reported finding the tree again up a gorge of the Yangtze river but didn't retrieve a sample, so it was left until 1899 to a third entrepreneur, the 22 year old Earnest Wilson, who set out with a map to locate this very same tree. When he eventually found it, he discovered it had been felled for fire wood!

He did manage to collect seeds from the remains but these again were lost in a capsized boat. However, undaunted he retraced his steps and found replacements, sending seeds back to the UK successfully in 1901, with the tree flowering for the first time in the UK in 1911.

The name comes from the large bracts of flowers which hang down in May and flutter in the breeze like doves or handkerchiefs.
Directions - Last section of this walk, including a listing of all trees in this park will reveal at then end of the path.
Chapter sixteen

The Arboretum Inventory

This inventory was created with generous guidance from Chris Adams a former manager and gardener of these parks in 2014.

Thanks are due to The Exmoor Natural History Society whose original pamphlet this project replicates.

Thanks also to Minehead Bid and Minehead Bay for recent financial support to bring these trails up to date in spring 2020.

Initial works in 2014 were supported by the Minehead Development Trust, The Minehead Vision Project, and West Somerset District Council.

Trees in the park before the pathway to Lower Park and the A39 Porlock road.

On the left side - inventory correct spring 2014

1. Great White Cherry
2. Bay (clipped)
3. Holly (clipped)
4. Lombardy Poplar (large)
5. Crab Apples (several species)
6. Lombardy Poplar
7. Bay Tree
8. Filbert Hazel
9. Purple Hazel
10. Weeping Willow
11. Lawson's Cypress
12. Palm Tree (Cordyline)
13. Golden Ash
14. Palm Tree (Cordyline)
15. Zebrina Cedar
16. Cherry (grafted)
17. Lawson's Cypress
18. Crab Apple
19. Persian Ironwood
20. Variegated Holly
21. Katsura
22. Malus (Hawthorn)
23. Palm Tree (Cordyline)
24. Silver Birch (several)

On the right side

1. English Oak
2. Copper Beech
3. Walnut
4. Oak
5. Ash
6. Judas Tree
7. Flowering species cherry
8. Crab Apples (several species)
9. Argentinian Thorn bush
10. Bay Tree
11. Grafted cherries Autumn Flowering
12. Eucalyptus (Cedar Gum)
13. Horse Chestnut
14. Lawson's Cypress
15. Great White Cherry
16. Magnolia
17. Purple leaved Plum
18. Mount Fuji Cherry (grafted)
19. Crab Apple
20. Holm Oak
21. Crataegus x 2
22. Cockspur Thorn
23. Rowan ‘Joseph Rook'

Central Bed

1. Liquid Amber
2. Malus (several)
3. Silver Lime
4. Cappadocian Maple x 2
5. Purple Crataegus

Park trees beyond the Lower Park and the A39 Porlock road.

On the left side.

25. Balsam Poplar
26. Mazzard Cherry
27. Hoheria lyallii – Chocolate smelling flowers
28. Lombardy Poplar
29. Kohuhu (Pittosporum tenuifolium)
30. Japanese Angelica
31. Eucalyptus
32. Palm Tree (Cordyline)
33. Cockspur Thorn (Crataegus prunifolia)

On the right

22. Cherry species
23. Dogwood
24. Snowy Mespilus (Amelanchier)
25. Twisted Hazel
26. Maple
27. Liquid Amber
28. Western Red Cedar
29. Rowan
30. Willow
31. Horse Chestnut
32. Handkerchief Tree (Davidia)
33. Malus
Chapter seventeen

The End

I hope you have enjoyed this park, and thank you for reading, there are more details about my diverse works at www.jelley.info

All images are taken by myself and are published exclusively for these walks.

All rights reserved 2021

Christopher Jelley
Directions - The next park walk is No 5, hit the back button on your browser and select this trail to continue.
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