Tales from the Trees: Harewood Housewoods, Leeds

Stags stalk the sun-dappled grounds of this stately home

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The Independent Travel

The fallow stag slips along the wooded ridge. Little more than a silhouette, it morphs out of the trunks of sycamore, ash and pine before blending into them again. Antler becomes indistinguishable from branch, body from trunk. Each stride I take, it matches me, shepherding me away from the herd.

It is not the first majestic sight I've seen today. Harewood House near Leeds is one of the UK's finest country houses. But on this gloriously warm afternoon I'm enjoying an entrance-fee-free stroll on the edge of its Capability Brown-crafted landscape, among the woodland that frames the stately home.

In between mirage-like appearances of this balustraded Georgian beauty on the horizon, I squint up at red kites hanging in the blue, drifting lazily to and fro from their roost in a ragged pine. The woods are tiered with colour, sun-dappled lime-green ash and beech canopies above; a haze of bright purple willowherb and Himalayan balsam flowers beneath.

The path winds through sheep-filled fields, deciduous dells and dark seams of evergreens before reminders of the grandeur of the Harewood estate emerge again from the trees. I pass the great redbrick wall of an old vegetable garden, then a beautiful but abandoned lodge beside a stream.

There has been a deer park in these parts since medieval times, although wild deer ranged freely here in the days of wolves, bears and lynx. Nowadays two prime herds roam Harewood, the reds and the more ornamental fallows.

As the stag on the ridge continues to keep in step with me, I realise it is just as exhilarating to be stalked as it is to stalk. I glimpse his wonderful fawn-coloured coat with mottled white spots and thick, chunky palmate antlers. A few more steps and I look up to see he's gone, melting noiselessly back into the woods.

*The Harewood House Woods Walk (follow The Walking Englishman's route; walkingenglishman.com) is 4.8 miles and starts just below the arched gateway to Harewood itself. Harewood House is well signposted from the A61. It is nine miles from Leeds City Station; the 36 bus service (harrogatebus.co.uk) runs every 15 minutes between Leeds and Harrogate. East Coast runs regular services from London to Leeds (eastcoast.co.uk). Overnight across the road from the house at The Harewood Arms Hotel (0113 288 6566; harewoodarmshotel.co.uk) where doubles start at £80 including breakfast. Dinner is simple but hearty. For finer dining, head down to The White Hart in Pool-In-Wharfedale (0113 203 7862; thewhitehartpool.co.uk).