Exmoor National Park Authority own several small woodlands at Simonsbath in the heart of Exmoor. Of these, Ashcombe and Birchcleave Woods are the most frequented by visitors and are near to the A3223 road that passes through Simonsbath.
Both woodlands were originally planted by the Knight Family in the 1820-40s. The Knights were based in Simonsbath and were largely responsible for planting most of the beech hedges which are now very much part of the Exmoor landscape. They maintained a tree nursery in Simonsbath where they acclimatised their trees to the altitude and the Exmoor weather.
Ashcombe and Birchcleave were envisaged by the Knights to be part of a designed landscape at Simonsbath to complement the surrounding landscape of the River Barle. Although not everything is known about the origins of both woodlands, Ashcombe is thought to have been planted as a type of "wild garden" with a range of native and non-native trees and shrubs, centered around the stream which runs through Ashcombe Bottom and discharges into the River Barle. There is still a range of native and non-native trees growing in Ashcombe today including native ash and oak trees and non-native Douglas Fir, cotoneaster and rhododendrons.
Birchcleave was originally planted with mostly beech trees on a hillside spur overlooking the Barle Valley. Many of the mature beech trees blew over in gales during the early 1990s but in the gaps left by the fallen trees, hundreds of young beech saplings have since grown up to take their place. The beech woodland at Birchcleave is thought to be the highest beech plantation in the UK at between 320-360m high.
Ashcombe Wood (named on OS maps as Ashcombe Plantation) lies to the north of the A3223 road and Birchcleave to the south of the A3223 road in Simonsbath.
There is an information board, car park and toilets at Ashcombe which is at grid reference SS773394 and accessible from the A3223 road.
The Two Moors Way passes through both Ashcombe and Birchcleave Woods on public rights of way. There are also several permissive paths running through each woodland.
What to look out for
There are some fine views along the Barle Valley, particularly from Birchcleave Wood. There are a range of interesting features in Ashcombe such as prominent, large white rocks and the remains of an old leat which used to supply the water to houses nearby. Simonsbath is a popular centre for starting walks such as along the Barle Valley to Cow Castle, which is featured in one of the National Park Authority's Golden Walks series of walks leaflets.
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