Penn Wood is one of the largest ancient woodlands in the Chilterns.
From before the Norman Conquest until the mid 19th Century, Penn Wood was a wood pasture common. Consequently, the Woodland Trust now manages part of the woodland (136ha) as wood pasture. 16 cows wander throughout the wood during the winter months grazing and trampling the undergrowth.
Its name derives from the Old English term for enclosure or pen and dates back to when the area was a deer enclosure during Anglo-Saxon times. The area was such a feature of the surroudning landscape that it gave its name to the wood and the village.
In the 1850s the wood was enclosed and converted to high forest as grazing by the commoners stopped. It was probably at this time that several of the rides were lined with conifers and rhododendrons.
Penn Wood is a very varied site including many different habitats such as high forest, conifer plantation, acid grassland, rhododendron avenues and ponds. The wood was designated a SSSI (Site of Special Scientific Interest) in 1951.
Old growth features survive including one veteran oak, the remains of an ancient collapsed beech tree and a scattering of trees over 200 years old across the site which are remnants from the days when it was a wood pasture.
Evidence of former industry and activity still remain with archaeological features across the site such as woodbanks, flint and clay pits. In 1800 the wood from the site was a source of legs, stretchers, spindles and sticks for Windsor and cane-backed chairs. Many bodgers working in Penn Wood supplied this thriving industry. The chair-manufacturing firm Dancer & Hearne started up in a shed behind the Hit or Miss pub in Penn Street.
Penn Wood is carefully managed with the help of the Friends of Penn Wood, who formed to campaign against the development of a golf course here. Penn Wood is a lovely place to visit with many paths to explore; some winters you can even see horses dragging logs to the road so heavy machinery does not have to be used.
For more information and photos go to the Woodland Trust website.
This wood contains a number of special trees:
Earl Howe planted this purple leaf beech tree in March 2000 to commemorate the successful fight to save Penn Wood from development and to protect it for future generations.
The wood was purchased the previous year by the Woodland Trust after a nationwide campaign to save the wood from becoming a golf course.
The tree was donated for planting by HRH Prince Charles after it was grown at the nurseries at Highgrove, Gloucestershire.
Here you can see the tree is thriving, towering above Sir John Johnson, chairman of the Chilterns Conservation Board, on a visit to Penn Wood in spring 2007.
Near the tree you might find remains of an old fountain which was dedicated to Ernest Cook who once owned and cared for the wood.
This tree has to be the oldest tree in Penn Wood. It has survived for hundreds of years, including the period just before the Woodland Trust purchased the wood in 1999, when the previous owner was converting the site into a golf course and felling trees to make fairways.
The tree may have been a pollard once but now there is just one main branch growing from the trunk. The tree has a hollow trunk and there are other holes in the tree used by wildlife such as woodpeckers. There is even a hole which goes right through the hollow part of the tree. It certainly has a lot of character!
Loren Eldred used to manage Penn Wood for the Woodland Trust. He has recorded this tree as special and says:
"Although there is some uncertainty over whether this really is a pollarded tree, it clearly has a very different form from other trees in the wood with a very open, spreading crown. I think it is a very handsome tree!"
The effects of shade can be seen here as young trees are only growing around the edge of the tree and not directly beneath, where it is too shady.
Trees have been pollarded at Penn Wood for some time:
There is limited parking at some of the wood entrances, and numerous places to park in the Penn Street village. Pub in the village.
Bus to Holmer Green (10 minutes' walk). Parking nearby
There are access for all trails through the woods.
The Woodland Trust
On A404 near Holmer Green