Wychwood Forest & Cornbury Park

Cornbury Park Estate includes the 870ha Wychwood Forest - the core 262ha is a National Nature Reserve and most of the rest is a Site of Special Scientific Interest. Wychwood is one of the largest areas of ancient semi-natural broadleaved woodland in Oxfordshire. The forest is notable for plants such as herb-Paris, early purple orchid, adder’s-tongue fern and autumn crocus. The forest is interesting in all seasons with plenty of striking tree silhouettes, lichens and ferns; there are also several calcium-rich ‘marl lakes’ abundant in insect life.

The current day woodland is a small remnant of the historic royal hunting forest (see 1815 map of Wychwood Forest). The Wychwood Project focuses on the former Royal hunting Forest of Wychwood, it encourages people to understand, conserve and restore its rich mosaic of landscapes and wildlife habitats. The Wychwood Project area includes 41 parishes, some 120 square miles.

The area of woodland was far more extensive as recently as 1857 when 10 sq miles of Royal Forest was taken out of Forest Law by a Parliamentary Act of Disafforestation. Ancient forest rights granted to commoners were ended and the commoners compensated. Within 2 years, 2,000 acres of woodland was converted to farmland and housing, with the timber felled from this acreage sold for £34,000. 10 miles of new roads were built. Seven new farmsteads were built, including King's Standing Farm. The parish of Leafield and its church dates from this time. The book, Rain and Ruin: The Diary of an Oxfordshire Farmer, John Simpson Calvertt 1875-1900 is a fascinating account of life on one of the new farms.

Circular Walk through the Forest

This 8 mile circular walk  from Charlbury includes the only Public Right of Way through the Wychwood Forest. In April/May, the blubells are spectacular at Knighton's Copse along the path from the Leafield Road north to Chilson. (map).

Bluebells in Knight's Copse

Palm Sunday Walk

On Palm Sunday, tradition allows the public to walk through the Forest to Wort’s (or Uzzle) Well and Chalybeate (or Iron) Well, two ancient springs in Wychwood Forest, to collect water for making Spanish liquor. Access from Five Ash Bottom (see map) or the public footpath through the Forest (see map).

Wort's Well or "Uzzle" or "Wassail" is from the Anglo-Saxon greeting Wæs þu hæl, meaning "be thou hale" i.e., “be in good health”. Local folk took with them bottles containing a spoonful of brown sugar, a piece of liquorice and a black peppermint. At the spring they filled the bottles with water, the resulting concoction was used as a general “cure-all.”
John Kibble, a local historian, writing in 1928, records that prayers were said at the spring:
"Hast then a wound to heal; The wych doth grieve thee?
Come then unto this welle, It will relieve thee:
Nolie me tangeries, And other maladies”
It seems that tradition favoured a variety of wells in the forest, Caroline Pumphrey writes in The Charlbury of our Childhood, that in the 1850s: “any child might go there on Palm Sunday and make palm wine from licorice and the water from Our Lady’s Well.  The water of the Iron well was supposed to be medicinal and specially good for bad eyes.  The Wassail spring, between it and the Dog Kennels, near Pope’s Mount, was supposed to be the best water anywhere”.
Spanish Liquor Day  - Memories from Finstock which says the custom stems from pagan Celtic cult of well worshipping. Also that Finstock people used to go to Lady Well at Wilcote for water or the Chalybeate (or Iron) Well behind the Dog Kennels at Cornbury and that the original Ussell spring in Wychwood was flooded when the lakes were created.

28/06/10 - Down Memory Lane: Walkers flocked to explore 'Secret Forest' at Wychwood

Chalybeate Well within Cornbury Park

The Cornbury Estate also upholds the longstanding tradition of welcoming residents of Charlbury, Leafield and Finstock to the deer park to visit the Chalybeate Well every Palm Sunday

New Years Day Walk

Cornbury Deer Park is open annually on New Year’s Day to Charlbury residents.

Forest Schools

Charlbury and Finstock primary schools both regularly take children to Forest Schools held within the forest.

Cycle Route

permissive cycle route follows the line of the present footpath from the Park's North Lodge to Southhill Business Park and on to the Witney Road. The route is open to cyclists from Easter until the end of October and provides a safer alternative to the Fawler Road between Charlbury and Finstock.