The Harry Potter Tree, Blenheim Palace
Exploring England, Scotland, and Wales
Standing on the bank of The Lake in a historic landscape below Blenheim Palace is a Cedar of Lebanon known as The Harry Potter Tree for its role in the 2007 film Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix.
Perhaps the Harry Potter Tree should more accurately be called The Severus Snape Tree, for the scene filmed here was centred around Professor Snape's memories of a time when, as a student at Hogwarts, he was bullied by Harry Potter's father while sitting under the tree. The scene is important, for it gives us an understanding of why Snape is so hostile towards Harry.
To counter a common misunderstanding, the Harry Potter Tree at Blenheim is not the Whomping Willow! The tree used for the Whomping Willow in the films stood on the National Trust's Ashridge Estate in Hertfordshire. And, just to confuse things further, it was not a willow at all, but a yew.
Sadly, that tree suffered at the hands of over-enthusiastic fans who climbed its branches and cut away pieces as souvenirs. The tree died, leaving Blenheim's Harry Potter Tree as the only surviving tree that had a major role in the popular film series.
To protect the tree and make sure that it did not suffer the same fate as the Ashridge tree, Blenheim estate has put up a wicker fence around the sides and back of the tree and stretched a chain across the front. A team of specialist tree surgeons also attached cables to the tree's upper branches to stabilise it and protect it against collapse.
The low fence and chain ensure that you can still get a good look at the tree from up close, but you can't climb on it or sit on the exposed roots. These measures will hopefully ensure that the Harry Potter Tree will be around for another few centuries!
The most obvious feature of the Harry Potter Tree is the large circular hollow in its south side (facing the water). This hollow was created when a large branch died and fell away. The wound created by the branch became infected and the centre of the tree died, creating a hollow interior. Despite the hollow, the outer shell of the tree is very much alive.
If you stand in the right spot, you can see straight through the tree; through the hollow that faces the water and a matching hollow on the opposite side of the tree.
How Old is It?
The Harry Potter Tree was probably planted during Lancelot 'Capability' Brown's landscape work on Blenheim Park. Over the years 1763-1774 Brown carried out extensive work at Blenheim, transforming the Palace grounds into a picturesque landscape garden on a vast scale, with sinuous waterways and viewpoints created by carefully planted clumps of trees.
Filming at Blenheim Palace
Blenheim Palace and Park are frequently used as a setting for feature films. Among films using the park as a setting are Transformers: The Last Knight (2017), The BFG (2016), Spectre (2015), Mission Impossible: Rogue Nation (2015), Gulliver's Travels (2010), The Young Victoria (2009), The Lost Prince (2003), Entrapment (1999), Black Beauty (1994), The Scarlet Pimpernel (1982), and Barry Lyndon (1975), to name just a few.
When our family visited the Harry Potter Tree, we found film crews in the Park packing up equipment and cleaning up after themselves. We asked a local resident what was going on and they told us that the crew were wrapping up several days of shooting for a feature film, due to be released in 2023, on the life of Napoleon, directed by Ridley Scott and starring Vanessa Kirby and Joaquin Phoenix.
There are three ways to reach the Harry Potter Tree, but only two are free. The paid way is for visitors to Blenheim Palace itself, while the two free ways to access the tree are from public rights of way entering Blenheim Park from Combe Lodge in the west or from Woodstock to the east. Let's look at each of the three options in turn.
Blenheim Palace Access
This option is a no-brainer. If you pay the entrance fee to see Blenheim Palace, you can also explore the gardens and grounds. Here's how to find the Harry Potter Tree from the palace.
The front court of Blenheim Palace faces north-west, with a paved path leading straight as an arrow towards Capability Brown's Grand Bridge across The Lake at the bottom of the hill. In the distance, beyond the bridge, you can see the Column of Victory on the top of the hill. Simply walk down the paved path to the bridge.
Make sure you have your Palace entrance ticket with you; you will need it to get back across the bridge!
Cross the bridge and take the path on the left. After a few feet, you will see a gate in the fence. Go through the gate and follow the obvious path down the slope to the water's edge. You will see the Harry Potter Tree on your right.
From the Palace courtyard to the Harry Potter Tree is no more than 800 yards (500m) and should take only five minutes.
Members of the public are invited to access the Blenheim Park grounds freely. There are several entrances to the Park. The one best placed for the Harry Potter Tree is located on The Causeway (the A44). This entrance is not signposted, but it is extremely easy to find.
From the Woodstock town hall on Market Place face west, towards the post office and the Oxfordshire Museum. On your right you will see Brown's Lane, a narrow road leading down the slope of the hill. Follow the lane to a set of stone steps that take you to Oxford Street (the A44). Turn left and follow the walkway past a row of terraced houses.
Past the terrace, you will see a green gate that gives access to a private drive. Don't worry! The drive may be private, but this is indeed a public right of way and, in our experience, the gate is always open daylight hours. This access gate is located at SP442169.
If you reach the Black Prince pub, you've gone too far!
Go through the green gate and you will see another green gate on your left, leading through a high stone wall. Go through this second gate and you will find yourself in Blenheim Park. To your left is an attractive low stone bridge across the River Glyme.
Turn right (away from the bridge) and follow the paved path that skirts the edge of Queen Pool. Immediately on reaching the end of the pool turn sharply left onto a path that comes back on the opposite bank of the Pool. This path takes you to the northern end of Grand Bridge, where Queen Pool meets The Lake.
Don't cross the bridge!
Stay on the paved path as it heads away from the bridge and you will almost immediately come to a gate in the fence on your left. Go through the gate and follow the obvious trail towards the water, where you will see the Harry Potter Tree on your right.
From the Woodstock town hall to the Harry Potter Tree is no more than 1.25 miles (2km) and the going is very easy.
Combe Lodge Access
This is our favourite route, as it combines a walk through historic Blenheim Park, through what remains of a former royal hunting forest of High Park. You can reach this access point by rail to Combe Rail Station or by car.
If you are arriving by rail, turn left out of the station and then left again on Bolton's Lane, signposted to Combe and East End. Take the lane to the end and turn right onto Park Road at a traffic island (signposted East End and No through Road). Some maps show this section of Park Road as East End. You will see a broad parking area along the verge on your left. Carry on past the parking area and you will find Combe Lodge on your left.
If you are arriving by car, go through Combe village and take Church Walk, which turns into Park Road. Carry on down Park Road and you will see the Combe Pre-School on your right. Park Road soon reaches open countryside, with hedges and stone walls on each side of the roadway. You come to a traffic island where the road bends right onto Bolton's Lane (signposted to Long Hanborough).
Don't follow the bend in the road but carry straight on, onto East End. Just past the traffic island and a no-through-road warning sign you will see a widened verge on your left with parking space for dozens of vehicles. Park and walk along the lane for 100 yards until you reach Combe Lodge on your left (grid reference SP426157).
There is a pedestrian gate into Blenheim Park immediately beside Combe Lodge. Go through the gate and take the wide, paved road directly ahead of you. You will pass a large sign welcoming you to the Blenheim Palace World Heritage Site and reach a T-junction with an information panel directly ahead of you. This panel explains the history of High Park, established as a deer hunting forest for King Henry I.
King Henry not only hunted deer here; he kept a menagerie of exotic animals, including leopards and camels. Don't worry, the only animals you are likely to see today are sheep and pheasants.
Turn left, following the paved roadway. You will pass a richly-carved bench, created from the trunk of a fallen tree.
The path heads roughly north, following the contours of the land, and you will see a turf trail leading to the right, with a glimpse of The Lake in the distance. This turf path does take you [eventually] to the Harry Potter Tree, and may, in fact, be slightly faster, but it is harder to describe, so I suggest that you stay on the paved path.
The path climbs a small hill and curves gradually to the right, with small plantations on either side. You emerge into an open area on top of a low hill, where you find yourself at a T-junction. Take the right-hand paved path and follow it straight east. After a few minutes walk, you will see the path dip down towards the Grand Bridge, with Blenheim Palace coming into view on your right, across the water.
Just before you reach the bridge you will see a gate on your right. Go through the gate and follow the obvious trail down the slope to the water. The Harry Potter Tree will be on your right.
From Combe Lodge to the Harry Potter Tree is about 1.5 miles (2.5km). Of course, you have to double that distance to get back to your car, or even more than double it if you came by rail. The walk through Blenheim Park, however, is simply beautiful.
Our family took this walk on a sunny February afternoon and, after seeing the Harry Potter Tree, explored Woodstock village before heading back through the park to our car. The sun was setting as a glowing orange ball over the historic landscape as we walked, making for an unforgettable experience.