Great Breach Wood Nature Reserve, Somerset


Giant redwood
Autumnal leaves

Mixed woodland on flat, elevated ground towards the east end of the Polden Hills, crossed by paths and tracks. Good for wildflowers, insects and fungi; also fine views from the western edge
Reached by a path from the Combe Hill Wood carpark along Reynald's Way, 3 miles south of Street; BA6 8TP
Photo Tour (24 images)
Great Breach Wood is one of six Somerset Wildlife Trust nature reserves in and around the Polden Hills, a curving ridge of mudstone and limestone rising above the south edge of the Somerset Levels. The western portion of the hills are narrow, but the wood occupies part of the southeastern section, where the ridge widens, forming a flat escarpment a mile or more across, with gentle slopes to the east and much steeper ground to the west.

The site has been wooded for at least several centuries though there are no ancient trees here: much of the hilltop was planted with oak and beech in the 19th century, later partially cleared and replaced with conifers including Sitka spruce Lawson's cypress, in the 20th century. In more recent times the conifers are gradually being removed, and the land restocked with native species.

The 148 acre reserve is not directly accessed from any road, being bordered by other woods on three sides and by open downland to the west, this also part of nature reserves, and needs a walk of about half a mile to reach, yet is relatively popular, in part because it lies along the 6 mile Polden Way, a well-used path that traverses the crest of the hills. The woods are crossed by a network of tracks (rides) and contain a few grassy clearings; together with the varied trees, the differing habitats result in a good wildflower diversity, and the site is also noted for insects, and for fungi, with over 600 recorded species


Paths enter Great Breach Wood from several directions but the usual starting point is from the north at the Combe Hill Wood car park along Reynald's Way, 3 miles south of Street. Again there are several trails here; the reserve is reached by a route to the south, soon intersecting the Polden Way, just before it crosses a deep ravine (Combe Hollow), after which it climbs the far side and leads through more trees to a junction at the northwest corner of the reserve. It continues along the western edge of the wood, for 0.8 miles, then follows the adjacent, and contiguous, Copley Wood. On the other side of the Polden Way, the steep, west-facing slopes are mostly grass-covered, divided into the Gilling Down, and Tannager and New Hill nature reserves, the two open sections of the latter separated by another patch of trees (Bunch Wood), more ancient in origin. Most of the other adjoining woods are privately owned, with no public access allowed.

Gilling Down
Woodland glade - the site of Copley House

The Reserve

The main walking route through Great Breach Wood the Discovery Trail, a 1.1 mile circuit starting at a fence and gate a little way south along the western edge; this leads mostly though broad-leaved woodland, also along the edge of some of the residual conifer and beech plantations. Along the way are seven information posts detailing some of the habitats and wildlife. Towards the far side of the loop, the path passes a grassy triangle of open land overlooked by a huge tree, a giant redwood, or wellingtonia (sequoiadendron giganteum), planted here as part of the landscaped grounds of Copley House, an elegant mansion built in the early 1800s, long since demolished, with no trace remaining. The path also comes close to the Colston Obelisk, a stone memorial to William Hungerford Morris Colston, who died here in a hunting accident in 1852, age 34. Away from this signposted route are various other pathways, while walking off-trail, directly through the woods, is generally easy owing to the relatively light undergrowth.

Gilling Down
Gilling Down