Transcript from leaflet published by Coventry City Council published July 2003, with updates where needed
Coombe Country Park is situated 5 miles east of Coventry City Centre on the A427 Coventry to Lutterworth Road and is the largest recreational area owned by Coventry City Council. Coombe Abbey, it's gardens, parkland, surrounding woodlands and lake cover an area of 372 acres. The Park is open all year round from 7:20am to dusk. Car parking is provided at a charge.
The Country Park lies over soils of glacial origin varying from alluvial grey soils to light sandy acid soils and comprises the Abbey Gardens, Parkland, Woodland and a magnificent 90 acre lake.
The Woodlands at Coombe are mainly mixed deciduous broadleaves with an area of mixed coniferous woodland surrounding the Wrautums field. The woods contain both native and introduced species and the 1984/86 Woodland survey identified over 50 species at Coombe (excluding the gardens) comprising Sycamore 39%, Oak 12%, Scots Pine 10%, Silver Birch 7%, Ash 6%, Lime 6%, Hornbeam 2% and others 5%.
The 90 acre Lake and its surrounding woodland have been designated a Site of Special Scientific Interest (SSSI) by English Nature because of its bird population, including the Heronry, which is one of the oldest and largest recorded Heronries in Warwickshire. The Heronry is situated on a small island close to the north bank of the lake and can be viewed from a bird hide (see plan).
Part of the woodland has been fenced to create a Conservation area, providing a refuge for animals and to help minimise disturbance to the Heronry. The Heronry is the largest in Warwickshire supporting more than fifty breeding pairs of herons.
Capability Brown created the lake and planted the surrounding woodland and parkland in 1770.
To ensure the long-term continuity of the woodlands it is essential to encourage regeneration, both naturally and/or via planting. Trees differ in their requirements for soil, light and climate. All these factors are taken into consideration when restocking.
The Woodlands of Coombe are of a high amenity and conservation value and, therefore, a sensitive management approach is required.
During recent years some chosen areas have been selectively felled and restocked with mixed native deciduous trees which enhance wildlife conservation and also eventually produce some timber.
Young trees are protected from rabbits and deer by a protective tube which helps their growth.
There is also a policy to retain a percentage of dead trees for conservation purposes and allow some trees to reach senile decay gracefully.
Coppice management has been re-introduced along the northern boundary close to the Little Wrautums area.
With a large influx of visitors annually, the Woodlands need to be robust and careful zoning of activities helps to avoid a conflict of interests between recreation, conservation and management operations. For example, if felling is taking place paths may need to be closed and re-routed to avoid any areas of danger.
Historically, the Woodlands would have been more open with more of a parkland character. Trees would have been in clumps or as single specimens, possibly within pastures grazed by deer, sheep or cattle. Shrub species such as Laurel and Rhododendron would have been planted as cover for game birds and clumps of these evergreens are still evident.
With ownership changes and lapses in management the parkland has reverted to woodland and scrub. Invading species such as Sycamore have been allowed to dominate in some areas and squirrel damage has resulted in some very deformed specimens.
With the backing of the Forestry Commission and English Nature, future management proposals may result in the woodland being restored to its former open character. This may require the felling of selected trees and areas of scrub, especially where views can be re-opened, providing views across the lake.
Currently, woodland management is sporadic but in the past there would have been dedicated woodsmen working continuously on the estate. Periodically the Park Rangers organise demonstrations of woodland crafts which would have been second nature to the woodsmen of previous generations. These crafts included hedge laying, hurdle making, charcoal burning, coppicing (Hazel and Sweet Chestnut) and rustic fencing, to name but a few.
All of these crafts helped to shape the woodlands into productive hives of local industry and, of course, the raw material was available on 'the doorstep'. English Nature, as part of the SSSI designation, has produced a 'Site Management Statement' which provides various objectives and action plans that impact on woodlands. For example, under their Habitat Management section they state:-
"Manage the Woodlands as high forest on long rotation (c. 120 years) and retain a significant proportion of deadwood habitat, as hulks, branchwood piles etc. Control invasive and non-invasive species such as Canada Goose, Cormorant, Grey Squirrel, Rabbit, Indian Balsam, Ragwort and Rhododendron".
The woodlands are not static and never have been. They react to man's influences as well as those naturally occurring. In one hundred years' time the character may be very different to what we see today.
Map of Coombe Country Park
The woodlands offer a range of walking routes and the main pathways allow easy access for people with disabilities. There are no major inclines but walking on soft paths can be muddy in the winter and appropriate footwear should be worn.
The spring and autumn are good seasons to visit the woodlands when dappled light can create a magical effect. In the spring newly emerged leaves offer a range of shades of green and in May complement the carpets of Bluebells.
Coombe Park organises many woodland recreational activities throughout the year ranging from 'Fungus Forays' to 'Tree Trails'. For further details contact the Information Desk on 024 7645 3720.
Other features of interest for visitors include:
Remnants of a 40-acre Victorian Garden first developed in 1863.
The most notable being a carving of a Cistercian monk from a giant redwood.
A belt of conifer trees in a horseshoe shape enveloping a large green open space.
Picnic areas and Visitor Centre.
Unusual trees including stately redwoods.
In 2004 part of the Old Deer Park was designated as a wildflower meadow. It includes a public trail, open from mid-Apr to end-July - outlined on map above, with details available in leaflets available from the Coombe Abbey Country Park visitor centre. On the trail you will see a number of coppices, and also a rare True Service Tree and a Cedar of Lebanon over 200 years old.
Throughout the Coombe Woodland there are various interesting specimens of Oak and a few that can be seen from the paths are notably large. Natural regeneration of Oak throughout the woodland is sporadic and, as Oak is intolerant of shade, it does not flourish under heavy canopies, especially in competition with Sycamore. Cleared areas are restocked with a proportion of Oak with a native provenance and tree shelters are often used to protect the young trees and encourage growth rates.
The tree acts as a host for many forms of wildlife; in particular large populations of caterpillars that provide vital food for young birds in the spring.
Common Hazel grows throughout Britain and is striking in February, when it is covered with catkins. This small tree can reach 30 feet tall if left uncut but traditionally it is coppiced to produce many new stems or rods. Coppicing is a cyclical practice whereby the stem is cut just above ground level to form a stool.
The hazelnut provides a useful supply of winter food for many animals and birds including jays, squirrels and dormice.
Traditionally, Hazel is grown as a shade tolerant under-storey to oak and there is evidence of this woodland structure to be seen in the Coombe Woodlands.
Pollen records show that Scots Pine invaded Britain from Europe in about 10,000 BC and slowly spread to the far north and established vast pinewoods. Many stumps can be found preserved in peat bogs, over 2,000 feet above sea level in Scotland and Northern England.
The needles are blue-green in colour, arranged in pairs. The bark has scaly ridges and is orange-brown in colour in the upper crown. Older trees develop a 'crocodile skin' pattern on the bark with a life-span of about 150-200 years.
In Scotland trees of over 300 years have been felled in the Queen's forest, Balmoral. A tree dating back to 1620 was blown down in Scotland in 1951, measuring 128 feet in height with a girth of 16 feet 1 inch.
The timber is used for house-building, telegraph poles, pit props, railway sleepers, fencing and paper.
The Alder is a water loving tree, and by bending its light branches gracefully over ponds, lakes and streams it creates shade for plants and fish.
Alder is native to Britain and pollen grains found in peat deposits show that it has thrived in the wetter areas of Britain for thousands of years.
Ancient beliefs suggest that 'evil' lurks in Alder and it was feared because its wood, when cut, takes on a blood-orange tinge, as if bleeding.
Alder was used in the past for making clogs because its wood rarely splinters and it is still used for making broom handles.
The Coombe Woodlands contain many Sycamores of all shapes and sizes but unfortunately many young trees have been damaged by Grey Squirrels which strip the bark from trees in the late summer. These deformed trees often form a poor under-storey that will never achieve full growth potential. The heavy shade cast by the large Sycamore leaves restricts regeneration of preferred species such as Oak.
The Ash can be easily observed within the Woodlands. This is a versatile tree that can flourish on most soils apart from those that are water logged.
The almost pure white timber is coarse grained and exceptionally tough with a reputation for strength and pliability. Its many uses include oars, spars, tool handles, skis, tennis rackets and hockey sticks to name but a few.
Burning Ash logs was said to drive out evil spirits from a room and an ash Yule log was said to bring prosperity to a family. It is also rated as the best firewood, burning green or seasoned.
One of the most important features of Coombe Park is the variety of habitats supporting both plant and animal life. In addition to the lake there is woodland, grassland, marsh, scrub and heathland.
A survey in 1983
revealed over 250 species of plant and over 650 different animals including Grey
Squirrel, Rabbit, Woodmouse, Muntjac Deer and a
numerous variety of birds. More detailed information on the wildlife can be found in the Visitor Centre.
The woodlands also contain a diversity of wild flowers including Lesser Celandine, Foxglove, Bluebell, Red Campion, Herb Robert and many more, making the woodlands very attractive during spring and summer.
The survival of many wild plants and insects depends on the existence of open areas within a woodland. To achieve this, many of the rides have been widened and in some places bays and glades have been created to enhance the environment for wild flowering plants and butterflies.
Originally, the site formed part of the monastic estate of the old "Abbey of Cumbe", a Cistercian House founded in 1150.
The Abbey was built in a secluded wooded valley south of the village of Lower Smite and dedicated to the Blessed Virgin.
Between its foundation and demise following the dissolution of the monasteries in 1539, the Abbey was mainly involved in producing wool. In 1581 Sir John Harrington purchased the Abbey and in 1603 he was given charge of King James I daughter, Princess Elizabeth. to educate and bring up at Coombe Abbey. She was to live at Coombe for the next five years during which time she figured greatly in the plans of the Gunpowder Plotters who tried to kidnap her from the house.
The Abbey passed to the Craven family in 1622 when it was purchased by the mother of Sir William Craven from Lucy Harrington and remained in the family for over 300 years.
The Abbey passed through a succession of Barons and Earls until 1921 when, following the death of the 4th Baron of Craven, who was accidentally drowned whilst yachting, the house and estate were put up for sale by his widow. It was purchased by a group of businessmen who resold it in various lots.
Coombe Abbey and its grounds were purchased by Mr. John George Gray in 1923. Mr. Gray was a Coventry Builder with an interest in old buildings and an authority on paintings, silverware, porcelain and antiques in general. He modernised and restored the buildings, including demolishing most of the Nesfield wing. During the Second World War Mr.Gray shared the house with officers of the Royal Artillery. In 1952, GEC leased the house and gardens, upgraded the house, then used it as the apprentice hostel till 1964. Mr. Gray died in c.1958, but the house remained in the hands of his family, passing by the marriage of his daughter into the hands of the Walpole-Brown family who eventually decided to sell the Abbey.
[Note: The History section text in italics is an expanded and corrected version compared to the paper leaflet. Full details of the history up to 1961 can be found in " The Story of Coombe Abbey" by D.L.Motkin published by the House Committee of Coombe Abbey in 1961 - see The Story of Coombe Abbey for updated internet version.]
In November 1964, Coventry City Council purchased the Abbey and 150 acres of surrounding land for £36,000. Restoration work was carried out and Coombe Country Park was finally opened to the public in 1966.
The ground floor of the main building was used to hold Mediaeval Banquets during the 1970s and '80s.
The main building has now been restored and reopened in 1995 as a sixty-four bedroomed "No Ordinary Hotel". Restoration of the stables now known as the Abbey Gate, resulted in a superior banqueting suite which houses Mediaeval Banquets.
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See Information common to all Woodland leaflets
|Coventry Council free leaflet
Map & Guide "Coombe Country Park"
|Coventry Council website page
Coombe Country Park
|Woodlands Index and Information
common to all Woodland leaflets