Where better than deep in the trees to shake off the cobwebs? These are the finest fairytale forests in the UK.Less
Contrary to its name, the New Forest is actually not very new at all. Created as William the Conqueror’s hunting ground and featured in the Domesday Book, the New Forest is one of the largest remaining patches of pasture land, heathland and forest in southern England. Covering some 300 square miles – it stretches from the Solent all the way up to Salisbury – it’s a beguiling, wild tapestry of woodland, heath and shoreline.
Nottinghamshire’s Sherwood Forest is yet another of those famed ancient royal hunting woods, and this patch of timeworn trees is particularly legendary for being Robin Hood’s old stomping ground. Nowadays it’s also a National Nature Reserve and home to rare birds, insects, mammals and fungi as well as Europe’s biggest collection of ancient oaks. Make a weekend of it by staying over and refuelling in one of the villages on the forest fringes, like the historic Edwinstowe.
If Ashdown Forest feels vaguely familiar, that might be because it’s where AA Milne got the inspiration for his Winnie-the-Pooh stories. Situated in the High Weald Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty, there are some pretty spectacular views across the Sussex countryside here, as well as plenty of flora and fauna thanks to its large areas of heathland – a rare habitat in the UK.
You’ll feel a million miles away from the city in this 336-acre park, which is one of the last remaining sections of the Forest of Essex: a former hunting ground and now one of the best examples of medieval woodland still in existence. Stroll around the gorgeous greenery, which is home to a diverse range of wildlife and plants – the rare sound of nightingales has been heard here, and you can spot turtle doves and butterflies in the summer.
Undulating across the craggy hills between Coniston Water and Windermere, the 8,000-acre Grizedale Forest is a masterpiece of mixed woodland nestled in the heart of the Lake District. As well as towering trees, epic viewpoints like Carron Crag and endless fern-fringed trails that wind past trickling streams and tarns, it’s also home to a famous sculpture trail. Plus, keep a keen eye out for fallow deer: the forest holds England’s only remaining indigenous woodland herd.
Sandwiched between the Rivers Severn and Wye like a little island, this swathe of ancient woodland packs in 20 million trees, wild-roaming boar, picture-postcard villages and rustic scenery that inspired JRR Tolkien to write ‘The Lord of the Rings’. The greenery has changed a lot over the years: you can still see relics dotted around the woodland from its past lives as a source of timber for Tudor warships and a coal mining site. Today, it’s teeming with wildlife and rare plants.
With twisted trees stretching out of the ground like wizened fingers, winding mossy verges and colourful carpets of wild flowers, Ashridge Estate woodland is straight out a fairytale. In fact, it’s played an enchanted forest in two Disney films: ‘Maleficent’ and ‘Into the Woods’. The best way to explore its ancient beech and oak woodlands is on foot: there are miles of footpaths and bridleways stretching through the trees.
If you ever travel up to Zone 4 of north-east London, you’ll notice a looming stretch of trees on the horizon. That’ll be Epping Forest: the 6,000-acre stretch of lush wooded greenery perched on the edge of the city. It’s a beautiful expanse of mature native trees with more than 100 lakes and ponds among them. Walking routes are signposted through the area and horse-riding and cycling are both permitted.
Ready for a change of scene? How about a leap through time? Hatfield Forest in Essex is the best surviving example in Britain of an almost complete royal hunting forest, meaning it’s barely changed in 1000 years. It’s famous for its gnarled ancient trees (described as ‘living sculptures‘ by locals), many of which have been standing tall for thousands of years. There’s a fishing lake, paths for cycling and horse riding and herds of fallow deer alongside rare woodland species.