The remarkable firs and redwoods of Blackwater were planted in the late 1850s to create the Rhinefield Ornamental Drive.
Walking the circular ‘Tall Trees Trail’ will take you through an impressive section of the drive amongst towering Douglas fir and mighty redwoods.
The Tall Trees Trail is roughly 1.5 miles in length. The path is a flat and fairly smooth gravelled surface with frequent resting places and no gates.
To start the trail from Blackwater car park, go under the carved oak archway and cross over the Rhinefield Ornamental Drive. The trail starts a short distance up the gravel track on your right. You will see some handrails either side of the path. See if you can match the different animal tracks to their owner. These are all animals that you might see along the trail – so keep your eyes open.
A ‘Welcome to the Tall Trees Trail’ information board shows where the signboards are located along the trail. These are large wooden boards, which describe some of the New Forest’s fantastic record breaking trees. Following the white marker posts will guide you around the trail and back to the start.
The first of our record-breaking trees that you will encounter on this trail is the coast redwood. This tree is located directly behind this signboard and has red stringy bark – its feels very soft, but this bark is very thick and helps protect the tree from fire and insect damage. This tree comes from North America where there are a lot of natural forest fires. Fire actually stimulates the cones of the tree to open, which scatter their tiny seeds, hidden within, onto the ground below. The seeds flourish in the nutrient rich ash from the fire.
If the seedlings are lucky enough start to growing in an area with lots of space and sunlight they can grow upwards to become the tallest trees in the world. The tallest coastal redwood in the world is 112m tall which is about the height of Big Ben. Our tree in front of you is 56m tall which is about the height of Nelson’s Column. Look up into the canopy – can you see the top? Just imagine - the record tree is twice this height!
Continue along the trail and you will discover an historical bank and ditch. The wooden picture board shows how the traditional oak cleft fence together with the ditch helped to keep animals out of the planted timber Inclosures. Today we use wire fencing to keep the cattle and ponies out of these areas. The deer that live in the forest can easily squeeze under, or jump over this fencing.
A little further up the trail you will encounter the biggest trees in the New Forest – the giant sequoia, also known as the Wellingtonia. The giant sequoia tree can grow to be the largest living thing on earth. The coast redwood trees, which you have already met, grow taller than the giant sequoia - but the giant sequoia have much larger trunks and are record breakers because of their volume.
Native to North America, a tree called ‘General Sherman’ is the biggest tree in the world with a weight equivalent to 248 elephants –that’s 1488 tonnes. The two trees in front of you both have a weight equivalent to 18 elephants – so a lot more growing to do yet if they are to become world record holders!
Walk up to the base of these trees – can you find one of their tiny cones? It’s amazing to think that these giants amongst trees start life as a seed the size of a grain of wheat! How many steps does it take you to walk around one of their mighty trunks?
Continue along the trail and keep your eyes open for roe deer. Roe deer are native to the New Forest and often seen in the beech woodland on your left. Eventually you will reach Brock Hill car park. To continue following the trail you need to cross back over the road. Now you will be heading back down the Rhinefield Ornamental Drive towards Blackwater car park on the opposite side of the road.
The next point of interest is the World War II bomb crater – you will find this huge hole on the right hand-side of the trail. A large oak disk next to this crater shows important events that happened in this area during this trees history. The oak disk is about 185 years old.
If you look carefully each white dot on the oak disk shows where a particular event happened on the growth rings of the tree – one growth ring is equal to one year. The centre ring is when this tree began to grow in 1821 - Maybe you can work out on which growth ring you were born.
As you continue along this trail, you might have noticed a number a wire cages with trees planted within them. To ensure that we always have giant trees growing along this trail it was important to plant the next generation. The cages protect the trees from deer whilst they are young. Eventually these cages will be removed when the trees are strong and tall enough to look after themselves. We have also planted a mix of broad-leaved species such a small-leaved lime trees, maples and hazels that will grow up and provide a natural screen between the trail and the road to make this trail more peaceful.
The final signboard that you will encounter is about the mighty Douglas fir tree. Many of the trees you will have marvelled at along the trail are Douglas fir trees. They have extremely thick corky bark that helps protect them from fire and insect damage – just like the coast redwood trees. Douglas fir trees are very valuable as a timber tree, as their wood is very hard and durable.
Although native to North America, this tree grows very well in Great Britain. The tallest recorded tree in Britain is a Douglas fir that has grown to 64m in height in Scotland. The Douglas firs you have seen today are the tallest trees of this species in England.
Can you find a fallen branch? Smell the needles – what do they smell like? – many people think they small like oranges. When we plant Douglas fir in the forest we need to protect them from browsing deer as they particularly love to eat this species of tree.
Pick up a fir cone from the base of one of these trees. Have a good look at the cone. If you look closely enough, you will notice that there are tiny scales, called bracts, hanging out of the cone.
It is said that, once upon a time there was a terrible forest fire and the mice managed to squeeze themselves into the cones to hide. If you look very closely at a cone you might see the back legs and tail of the mice hiding in the cone. They chose a good hiding place because the Douglas fir tree is naturally fire resistant.
Now continue along the trail and you will return to where you started at Blackwater car park. We hope you enjoyed this trail.
If you still have time visit Blackwater arboretum. It is situated across the road from this car park. Here your senses will be stimulated on our short trail around this small but nationally important collection of trees from all over the world.