VISITORS to a famous Oxfordshire forest often enjoyed a special tipple, Spanish Liquor.

They would bring with them chopped pieces of black liquorice, crushed peppermint sweets and brown sugar.

Then they would mix the ingredients with the sparkling spring water which cascaded from the hillside in the Wychwood Forest, on the Cornbury Estate, near Charlbury.

Terry Pratley, a regular visitor to the forest, tells me: “The concoction was said to ‘cure all ills’ and was a delicious drink in its own right.”

Until the early 1990s, Wychwood was known as the ‘Secret Forest’ because the public were allowed access on only one day a year – Palm Sunday.

Villagers from Leafield and other surrounding villagers would walk into the forest that day, mainly from Five-Ash Bottom, one of the quaintly named entrances off Forest Road, to make their Spanish Liquor.

Mr Pratley, of School Road, Finstock, recalls: “This tradition took place all through the 20th century, and probably before, although the liquorice may have originally come from the root of the plant, rather than being shop bought.

“Because the forest was accessible only once a year and because of local and national publicity, the mystique of this ancient woodland, by the late 1980s, was attracting hundreds of people for the Palm Sunday walks.

“I’m not sure how many of them made Spanish Liquor.

“It was possible to meet people from Cornwall one minute, then a family from Durham a few yards later, and cars would line both sides of the narrow hills and bends at Five-Ash Bottom.”

In 1990, public pressure persuaded the then Lord Rotherwick to open one footpath, from Patch Riding, Finstock, to Waterman’s Lodge, near Charlbury, every day of the year.

The Secret Forest, or at least part of it, was secret no more.

Mr Pratley writes: “I walk this permanent footpath regularly but also try to do the Palm Sunday walk as often as possible, as that’s still the only day the Five Ash Bottom route is open to the public.

“This year, I did the complete circle – Finstock-Patch Riding, Waterman’s Lodge-Five-Ash Bottom and then along the stream and lakes back to Patch Riding.

“Amazingly, in two-and-a-half hours, I met only eight people (and two dogs), despite the day being, for the most part, bright and sunny. Whatever happened to ‘Spanish Sunday’?”

Any memories of making and drinking Spanish Liquor? Write and let me know.