The UK can lay claim to some of the greatest fairy tales of all time, from Jack and the Beanstalk to Goldilocks and the Three Bears. It’s little surprise; the forest – a feature of folklore literature since the genre began – is etched deep within the our consciousness. Explore any county and you’re guaranteed to stumble upon a mythical woodland brimming with anthropomorphic trees and whispering winds.
But forests aren’t just the stuff of legend; they’re also ideal places for long walks and activities – alone or with the family. If you want to experience the great outdoors (or act out your favourite childhood story), these are the best forests in the UK.
Best-known for being Robin Hood’s old stomping ground, Sherwood Forest is probably the most famous woodland in the UK. Little has changed since men in green tights stole from the rich and gave to the poor: many of the 500-year-old trees remain standing, with one even thought to be over 1,000 years old. Take a wander and you can find Europe’s largest collection of ancient oaks, rare mammals, insects, and birds.
William the Conqueror’s old hunting ground, the New Forest isn’t actually that new at all. Its 300 square miles of woodland is home to some of the oldest trees in the UK, and is also one of the largest areas of pasture land in the UK. Famous for its 5,000 ponies, you’ll discover a treasure trove of wildlife on your walk. Follow the walking trails and you’ll stumble upon quaint village that have been plucked straight out of a fairy tale.
Home to all things Winnie-the-Pooh, Ashdown Forest served as the inspiration to AA Milne’s classic stories. Take the Winnie-the-Pooh walks and discover Lone Pine, Roo’s Sandy Pit, and even a Pooh Stick bridge which is perfect for children. It isn’t all things yellow bear, though; Ashdown Forest is situated in the High Weald Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty with unbelievable views of the Sussex countryside.
Snowdonia is brimming with natural beauty – so much so that its woodland flies under the radar. If it were anywhere else, more people would know about Gwydir Forest: a landscape circling the quaint village of Betws-y-Coed. Moss covers the tree roots and brooks stream from rocks in a forest that produces fairy tale nostalgia.
Hatfield has been a royal hunting forest about as long as royal hunting forests have existed, meaning it’s hardly changed in the last 1,000 years. Described by locals as ‘living sculptures’, the ancient trees have remained the same during that period, standing high and mighty in the sky. With a fishing lake, cycling paths, horse riding, and herds of deer, Hatfield Forest is the perfect day out for family activities.
Take one look at Glen Affric and you’ll be forgiven for thinking you were in Canada rather than Scotland. Snowy mountaintops are the backdrop to dense woodland and glistening lochs, all home to otters, red squirrels and even golden eagles. Hiking trails take you past waterfalls and through deep canyons – there really is no better place to connect with nature.
Just south of the hustle and bustle of Manchester is Delamere Forest, a serene woodland with trees that have existed since over 11,000 years ago. Its swampy area is a site of special scientific interest (SSSI), and is home to mallards, great-crested newts, Canada geese and other rare wildlife. Hiking trails take you to the depths of the forest, including Blakemere Moss, a wetland area formed in the Ice Age.
The Lake District may be famous for its water landmarks, but the space in between is filled with stunning woodland. At the heart of the region – between Coniston Water and Windermere – lies the 800-acre Grizedale Forest. Features like Carron Crag are stunning viewpoints of the area, while several trails take you past towers trees and trickling streams. Look out for the sculpture trail – one of the first in the country.
Although it has a reputation as a murder dumping ground, Epping Forest’s history is much more positive. Evidence suggests it dates back to the Mesolithic period, and since that time it’s seen royal hunting, SSSI designation, and a whole host of rare wildlife enter its premises. What makes Epping Forest special is that it’s so close to London, making it one of the easiest and best forests for Londoners to visit.
Forest of Dean
Home to a whopping 20 million trees, The Forest of Dean’s rustic woodland inspired JRR Tolkien’s The Lord of the Rings trilogy. Today, you can expect to see wild boar roaming, quaint villages sleeping, and rare plants flowering. It’s also home to one of the best sculpture trails in the UK, with pieces made from stained glass, stone, and wood.
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