Hatfield Forest is a 403.2 hectare biological Site of Special Scientific Interest in Essex, three miles east of Bishop's Stortford. It is also a National Nature Reserve and a Nature Conservation Review site. It is owned and managed by the National Trust. A medieval warren in the forest is a Scheduled Monument.
Hatfield is the only remaining intact Royal Hunting Forest and dates from the time of the Norman kings. Other parts of the once extensive Forest of Essex include Epping Forest to the southwest, Hainault Forest to the south and Writtle Forest to the east. Hatfield Forest was established as a Royal hunting forest in the late eleventh century, following the introduction of fallow deer and Forest Laws were imposed on areas by the king. Deer hunting and chasing was a popular sport for Norman kings and lords and strictly the word ‘forest’ means place of deer rather than of trees. In the case of Hatfield the area of Forest Law consisted of woodlands with plains.
Oliver Rackham, the botanist and expert on the countryside, in his book about the Forest entitled The Last Forest (Dent Books 1976) argues that: “Hatfield is of supreme interest in that all the elements of a medieval Forest survive: deer, cattle, coppice woods, pollards, scrub, timber trees, grassland and fen .... As such it is almost certainly unique in England and possibly in the world …….The Forest owes very little to the last 250 years ….. Hatfield is the only place where one can step back into the Middle Ages to see, with only a small effort of the imagination, what a Forest looked like in use.”
There is no written record of exactly when Hatfield was established as a Royal Forest, but records suggest it was sometime between 1086 and 1225. In 1238 Henry III (while retaining hunting rights) gave the land and trees to Isobel of Huntingdon, daughter of the Earl of Chester. She married into the Bruce family and the Forest remained in their hands until Robert the Bruce had his English lands confiscated by Edward I in 1306. On his death it was given by Edward II to the de Bohun family. The right to venison (deer meat) stayed with the King, but the rights to the wood and soil belonged to the de Bohuns, until 1446 when the family was given the right to the deer as well, shortly after they had been awarded the Dukedom of Buckingham.
In 1521, however, the third Duke, Edward Stafford was beheaded by Henry VIII and the Forest reverted to the Crown. After Henry’s death, Edward VI granted the forest to Sir Richard Rich. In 1592 the family sold their interest in the Forest to Lord Morley and in 1612 sold the rest of their Hatfield estate, including the lordship of the manor to Sir Francis Barrington. This resulted in a succession of disputes over ownership and rights in the Forest for the next 200 years. In 1729 it was purchased by the Houblon family. They were a wealthy family, originally from Lille in Flanders (now northern France) and included John Houblon who had been the first Governor of the Bank of England in 1694. While leaving the traditional woodland management techniques little changed, the Houblons probably sought the help of Capability Brown. As a result, the lake was created and exotic trees planted (i.e. trees not native to Essex).
A picnic house was constructed overlooking the lake and this was decorated using British and tropical shells by Laetia Houblon and this ‘Shell House’ can still be visited today. It stayed in the hands of the Houblon family until 1923, when Edward North Buxton bought the Forest from his deathbed and gave it to the National Trust. On 22 December 1999, Korean Air Cargo Flight 8509 crashed into the forest.
Hatfield Forest was woodland long before it became a royal forest. This has been managed by coppicing (where trees are cut down to ground level) and pollarding (where trees are cut above the browse (or grazing) height of deer or cattle). In the case of coppicing, the regrowth has to be protected from browsing or grazing animals by fencing, ditches and banks. There were a number of uses for the cut wood, including firewood, fences, thatching spars, furniture and flood defences. The methods used remained unchanged for centuries and are described by Thomas Hardy in The Woodlanders. Some trees, rather than being coppiced, were left to grow and become ‘standards’ to be used as timber for buildings and ships. This system of woodland management is still carried on in the Forest today and can be readily seen by visitors.
Hatfield Forest has not been ploughed and as a result there are many archaeological remains. The principal ones are Portingbury Rings (or Hills) and the warren area. Portingbury may date back to the Iron Age, but recent research has cast doubt on this. The Warren was created for rabbits in an area of existing mounds. Warren Cottage was built for the warrener and the Forest Lodge for the head woodsman. Later remains are the Victorian fence columns. These were erected around 1857 when the Forest was enclosed. Some columns survived the 1930s, when many were sold, and sections of fencing have been recreated by the Shell House car park and in Gravel Pit Coppice, near the Lake. Parts of the Forest were used during World War II to conceal the storage of munitions for the airfield at Stansted. The remains of the huts that were constructed at this time can be seen alongside the entry and exit roads.
The ecology of the Forest is in notably pristine condition. It is one of largest areas of land in East Anglia which has not been ploughed. There is a wide range of habitats, (including coppice woodland, wood pasture, scrub, grassy plains, marsh and lake) for both animals and plants. The ancient coppices and wood pasture are likely to be managed relics of the original wildwood and are now extremely rare, providing a last refuge for much unusual and specialized wildlife.
Given the wide range of unspoilt habitats in the Forest, it is not surprising that it has much wildlife, both plants and animals . Amongst mammals to be seen at the Forest are fallow deer, muntjac deer, fox, grey squirrel, rabbit, weasel, and hedgehog. There are badger setts, but badgers, being nocturnal are rarely seen. Two herds of Red Poll cattle graze the plains in the traditional manner. Sheep are used as ‘conservation grazers’ for areas that have been cleared of scrub. The breeds being used are Speckled Faced Beulah, Wiltshire Horn and Manx Loaghtan.
A count in May 2008 found 58 different species of birds, attracted by the various habitats. Woodland birds include jay, green woodpecker, great spotted woodpecker, carrion crow, blue tit, great tit, common chaffinch, nightingale, kestrel and bullfinch. Around the lake, depending on the time of year, are graylag geese, Canada geese, mute swan, great crested grebe, common tern, moorhen, coot, occasional kingfisher, cormorant, and grey heron, with swallows and house martins skimming the water. Buzzards can increasingly been seen above the Forest.
Eight species of bats are found in the Forest, with dusk the best time for sightings. Hatfield Forest is especially important for its invertebrates, especially those associated with decaying wood. Of particular significance are the saproxylic beetles and the site is in the top 10 in the UK for this specialised fauna.
Trees are found in abundance, with the main species being oak, ash, hornbeam, hawthorn, hazel and field maple. There are over 800 ancient trees in the Wood Pasture areas, some of which are over 1,200 years old, and of especial note are the huge pollarded oaks and hornbeams. Mistletoe grows in profusion, especially on the old hawthorn scrub. The most famous tree in the Forest was the Doodle Oak, which was one of the largest trees ever to grow in England. It last bore green leaves in 1858 and its site is marked in the north of the Forest.
Plants: A total of over 400 species have been found in the Forest. Some of the more common ones are: white clover, common spotted orchid, selfheal, sheep’s sorrel, herb robert, bugle, agrimony, bee orchid, perforate St John’s wort, common field speedwell, bird's foot trefoil and, perhaps, most notable of all, buttercups (the Forest has perhaps the most extensive fields of buttercups in England during late May and early June). In addition over 600 species of fungi can be seen.
** – Hatfield Forest Capability Brown Trail – **
Follow this National Trust trail at Hatfield Forest, along a series of sites associated with landscaping of the Forest in the Georgian era, including the legacy left by Capability Brown, plus later Victorian embellishments. Classified as Easy, the Walk is 1.9 miles long, is dog friendly and should take between one and two hours to complete.
Hatfield Forest was acquired by the Houblon family in 1729. They set about modifying the medieval forest they had acquired by developing the central area as a so-called "pleasure ground". They would ride through the Forest to this from their main residence at nearby Hallingbury Place. The initial landscaping included the creation of a lake and the provision of a lakeside picnic shelter, the Shell House. In 1757, the renowned landscape architect, Lancelot Capability Brown, provided a plan for modifying the lake, part of which was implemented. The range of tree species was extended beyond native types such as oak and horn-beam, to include planes, conifers and chestnuts, planted in prominent positions. In the late 17th century, the original coppices had been modified by the introduction of 'rides', intersecting at a central point, following Continental influences.
Start: Lakeside Café.
1. Starting from the hard standing area in front of the café, head off diagonally across the grass towards a wooden platform on the the edge of the lake. If you look further along the lake shore, towards your left, you can see a London Plane. Almost directly opposite, on the other side of the lake, is a clump of Scots Pines rising above the general tree line.
Specimen trees. Landscape designers liked to add variety to the tree-scape of native species such as oak and hornbeam, by including non-native specimen trees, either on their own or in small clumps. You will see several examples on this trail, including the London Plane and Scots Pines already noted, as well as Yew, Sweet Chestnut and Horse Chestnut. London planes were a favourite non-native specimen tree and are considered by many to be the Brown signature tree. This particular tree is however considered to date from the mid-nineteenth century, based on the measurement of its girth. The Scots Pines date from the 1860's, when the then owner, John Archer Houblon, carried out some extensive planting of specimen trees across the whole of the Forest.
2. Walk to your right, along the edge of the lake towards the dam, for about 250m, admiring the view across towards the dam, until you come in front of the Shell House.
The Lake. This was created in the 1740's, by the then owner, Jacob Houblon III, by building a dam across Shermore Brook, which ran through the centre of the Forest, thereby flooding an area of marshy ground. The original lake was about 7 acres and well-stocked with fish. Houblon was following the contemporary fashion of creating a pleasure ground, away from the main house at Hallingbury Place.
3. After pausing to admire the Shell House, continue along the lake side and then turn left to head across the dam to the further side of the lake. As you cross, there should be views to the right across open country-side, dipping away towards Hatfield Broad Oak. These views are however often obscured by trees, especially in summer. At the end of the path across the dam, just before the trees, turn round and look back across the lake towards the Shell House.
The Shell House was built at the same time as the lake, to provide a picnic shelter for those enjoying the delights of a trip to the pleasure ground, the centre of the Forest. The Shell House is so-called because of the shell decorations, designed by Laetetia Houblon, then aged 17, and the daughter of Jacob Houblon III. Note the peacock above the entrance door and the sun ray motifs on either side. The inside of the Shell House also has shell decorations. The wings on either side of the central building are 20th century additions. The Shell House was also intended to be admired from a distance, providing a focal point for a view from across the lake. Originally it would have had trees on either side.
4. Start by walking along the board walk. After about 50 m, take the left-hand branch towards the jetty, and then, after 20 m, turn right and head along a trail through the trees, a little way in from the lake side. This section can get quite muddy after wet weather. The trail emerges into a small open space, with the clump of Scots pines previously noted from across the lake, on the right. Continue through the five-bar wooden gate and follow the track to the left, gently rising out of the trees, and then turn more sharply left towards a small fir tree on the right. Keep following the path, passing by a small plantation of sweet chestnuts on your right, to open ground, where the path is marked by wooden posts, towards the main access road where it crosses the Shermore Brook. This area of open ground was the site of gravel workings in the 18th century.
The soft eastern shoreline. In the 1700's, the Shermore Brook formed the border between land to the west owned by the Houblons of Hallingbury Place, and land to the east owned by the Barringtons of Barrington Hall. Whilst Jacob Houblon gained agreement for the creation of the original lake in the 1740's, the two families appear to have fallen out 10 years later by the time of the Brown plan. Whilst this showed further modification of the Houblon bank, softening the original straight lines, the Barrington bank, in front of the gravel pits, was left unchanged.
5. Having crossed the road at the bridge, follow the grass track across the hill, rising gently to the right towards the open plain, passing through a gap between two small clumps of trees. Keep on heading south, past a water trough on your left and then following an unmade road, passing a plantation of mature horse chestnut trees on your left. Then turn left into broad side ride (Cedar Ride) with a lone cedar dominating the skyline at the end. Continue along towards the cedar.
The 1757 plan of the Forest. The whole of the Forest was surveyed for Jacob Houblon in 1757, in the same year as, but before, the survey by Capability Brown. This shows the recently created lake, and a vignette of the Shell House. Beside the lake is an enclosed coppice, Warren Coppice. A prominent feature of this are two rides which intersect not quite at right angles, to form a slightly lopsided cross. The side ride, along which you have just walked towards the cedar, Cedar Ride, formed the western arm of the cross and was originally lined with oak standards. These were lost in 1923 when the Forest was sold and before it was bequeathed to the National Trust.
6. Continue along Cedar Ride towards the cedar and then pass into the main car park area. Walk across the grassy area, keeping the large oak to the right and then cross the estate road to a small grassy area with a wide five-bar gate to the right and a horse hitching bar to the rear. Turn right, head along the road towards the car park and then diagonally across to the far side, to a small metal gate.
Cross roads. The small open area by the five-bar gate roughly coincides with the intersection of the rides in the 1757 plan. As you walk by the road, you can see a run of cast iron fence fences. These are of Victorian origin and were relocated to their present position during conservation work in the forest.
7. Go through the metal gate and follow the path through the trees, emerging by a wooden bench, with water to the left. Follow the path back into the trees, across a trickle of water, and then take a left fork. Look out for a "NO FISHING " sign and note the fine Oriental Plane tree behind it. This is the less common cousin of the London Plane seen at the beginning of the trail, by the edge of the lake. The path now follows along the eastern bank of the Decoy Lake, towards the main lake, in front of the Shell House. This can get muddy after wet weather. You will pass by two yew trees, more or less at each end, the first much larger than the second and standing in the middle of the path. A small island can be seen at the beginning of the lake, the original Brown island, now dwarfed by the more recent and larger island dating from about 1979. The plantation to the right of the path also contains some specimen trees. On reaching the main lakeside area, walk in front of the Shell House and return to the starting point in front of the café, for some well-earned refreshments.
The Decoy Lake. In 1757, Capability Brown provided a plan for altering the original lake. The main features were the provision of arms to each end of the lake, with a small island at each end, to make the lake appear more sinuous. Subsequently only one arm was added. This became the Decoy Lake in 1979, when work to raise the height of the dam meant this arm had to be cut off from the main lake. The area of the lake was also increased by the excavation of a channel behind the northern bank, creating the larger island. The plantation is named "America" on early maps and was originally used for specimen trees from North America.
End: Lakeside Café.
** – Hatfield Forest Golden Boots – **
The plains at Hatfield Forest can be walked at any time of the year, but are carpeted by over 300 million buttercups in May and June; so this is the time to appreciate them at their best. This National Trust trail takes you through the best places to see the buttercups. There are so many, your boots will turn yellow!
Classified as Easy, this walk is 3.4 miles long and should take about an hour and a half. It is dog friendly. The trails in the forest can become very muddy during Winter, so this walk is best enjoyed from April to October. In addition, they may have to close some parts of the route, even in summer, to allow the ground to recover. If so, an alternative will be provided. Dogs welcome, but please keep on leads near livestock, around the lake and wherever temporarily signed.
Start: Shell House car park.
1. Starting at the gate to the lakeside area car park, walk to the far left-hand corner and take the path just past a wooden bench. This path can be very muddy at most times of the year. Follow this path until reaching a more open 'ride', with coppice on either side. There is a metal fence on your left. Keep walking uphill until you reach the end of the ride and you see a sheep grazing sign, then turn right and walk straight in a northerly direction.
This path can be quite muddy so it is a good idea to wear suitable footwear.
2. Continue heading north along the main plain, passing a chestnut paling fence on your left. Cross over the gravel track (which leads to Forest Lodge, a private residence).
3. Walk past a group of dead horse chestnuts, which are on your right. From here you can see Warren Cottage - another private residence. Follow the gravel track from Warren Cottage and you will shortly reach an estate road. Turn left along this road downhill until reaching the stream with culvert (under the road).
The main plain stretches almost the entire length of Hatfield Forest. Warren Cottage was built in the 19th century from handmade red bricks, on the site of an earlier cottage built in the late 17th century. The horse chestnuts which were planted in the 1700s have succumbed to Phytophthora and bleeding canker. These trees have been monolithed (reduced to trunk without branches) by Forest staff to preserve the dead wood habitat. Hiding under the trees, obscured by scrub, are the remains of a medieval rabbit warren - a collection of linear pillow mounds.
4. Walk uphill on the grass beside the road, until reaching a point where the road bears to the right. Do not follow the road, but keep to the grass walk straight ahead to a wide 'ride' in front of you. This is known as 'Halfway Ride'.
5. Continue along 'Halfway Ride' for about ½ mile (800m) to the end, (this may be muddy), and turn immediately right through the gate. You are now on Takeley Hill.
Takeley Hill is actually an area of wood pasture, with a slight slope. Here you will see an abundance of buttercups, along with Red Poll cattle. The cows do not eat the buttercups, so they flourish and re-seed each year.
6. Keeping to the tree line to your right, and looking out for grazing animals, walk straight ahead (south) following the distinct marked path in the grass until reaching the estate exit road. Cross over the road and continue in the same direction until reaching the estate entrance road.
7. Cross the road, and, in front of you, you should now see a boardwalk. Follow the boardwalk for 220yd (200m) or so, go through the gate and enter the woodland.
8. Follow the boardwalk to the end, passing the boat hire along the way. Continue along the dam, keeping the lake on your right until reaching the Shell House and café for a well-deserved cup of tea and perhaps a slice of cake!
Shell House. The Shell House was built in about 1750 and decorated using British and tropical shells by Laetitia Houblon, in about 1757, when she was aged 17. It was used by the Houblon family for picnics until they sold the estate in 1923.
End: Shell House.
** – Hatfield Forest Flitch Way and Forest walk – **
No other forest on Earth evokes the atmosphere of a medieval hunting Forest so completely. The ancient trees are like magnificent living sculptures, peaceful giants worn and fragile from centuries of seasons and use. This circular National Trust family walk, starts from the main entrance car park heading towards and joining the Flitch Way, then round points of interest within this National Nature Reserve and Site of Special Scientific Interest. See the Shell House; site of the Doodle Oak; London road; the Flitch way and Portingbury Hills.
This walk is classified as Easy, it is 3.5 miles long and will take up to two and a half hours. It is dog friendly. The trails in the forest can become very muddy during Winter, so this walk is best enjoyed from April to October. In addition, we may have to close some parts of the route, even in summer, to allow the ground to recover. If so, an alternative will be provided. There are toilets and a cafe in the NT Lakeside area.
Start: Main entrance car park.
1. From the car park, head along the entrance road until reaching a boardwalk path to your left. Turn right opposite the boardwalk and head across the plain.
2. Continue straight ahead, keeping the line of trees close to you on your left. This area, and the next plain, is covered with buttercups in May and used as grazing land for cattle. The wood pasture, commonly known as the plain, is a very rare habitat in the UK and even Europe. Eventually you will reach the exit road from the Forest. Cross this road (checking for any traffic) and continue on heading slightly to the right.
The London Road pasture and other pastures within the Forest, are covered with buttercups in May. The London Road was traditionally used by people travelling to London avoiding surrounding towns and villages.
3. Head across the plain towards a red-roofed building in the distance, going up the slope to the top of Takeley Hill and continuing straight on, keeping the building (Hatfield Forest Estate Office) on your right. Keep ahead then exit Hatfield Forest through the metal gate and turn left onto the Flitch Way.
4. Now it is a pleasant level walk along the Flitch Way for approximately 1 mile (1.6km), with the boundary of Hatfield Forest alongside on the left. Pass through three gates across the Way until reaching Elman's Green. Then stop at the third gate.
The Flitch Way, open to walkers and cyclists, is now classed as a country park and follows 15 miles (24km) of the route of the former Bishop's Stortford to Braintree railway.
5. Turn left into Hatfield Forest, at Elman's Green, and on to the Forest Way path. There's an information map on the left as you enter. Keep left of the open pasture, alongside the trees, then when you reach the first left opening, fork left off the Forest Way path and go diagonally left across the pasture to the far side/corner to the trees.
6. To your right, amidst the trees, you can walk into the site of the Doodle oak. Take time to look and read about the oak. Go back out the same way from the trees and turn left along the edge of the pasture and you'll meet the Forest Way path again. Turn left and immediately right (in effect crossing over the Forest Way path) and follow along until the third opening/path on your left at a site known as Six Wantz Ways - where six paths meet.
Site of the Doodle oak. The oak which died in 1858, was believed to have been one of the biggest trees (by girth circumference). The oak growing to the right is believed to be growing from one of the roots of the original tree.
7. Take this path and at the first crossroads you can stop and explore the Portingbury Hills Iron Age settlement on your left, at Beggar's Hall coppice. Rejoin the path and go straight over the crossroads to a T-junction at a wide ride (there's a yellow walk sign with number 13 on a post at this junction).
Portingbury Hills. The low mounds and ditches to be seen here are the visible remains of a small Iron Age settlement, probably associated with early woodland clearances and the grazing of livestock
8. Turn right then almost immediately left (crossing over the ride) on to a smaller path, to Round Coppice, bearing left at a sort-of crossroads. Then when you arrive at the open plain, walk straight across to the gravel track at the far side. Cattle and deer often graze in this area.
9. At the gravel track, turn left and follow it round to the right past Warren Cottage, then round to the left and up to a road junction. Cross over the road and straight over the grass to a post with a yellow marker on it. Turn right and over a small bridge, through a hawthorn coppice and bear left to a boundary gate of the lake area. Go through the gate, walk alongside the lake on your left, then after a large old oak tree on your right you can take a break ahead of you at the Shell House and Discovery Room. There are toilets, a shop and café at this point. Dogs need to be kept on leads in this area, please.
Take time to browse the Shell House visitor's area. The large oak tree in the foreground is at least 450 years old. The large gall up in the tree's branches is an unusual growth caused by an insect to protect its larvae.
10. Coming out from Shell House, turn right on to the path then follow left over the dam, with views of the lake on your left. Join a board-walked path and stay on this through the woods, going through one gate then across a plain until the end, when it comes to a road. At the end of the board-walked path, turn right and follow the road back to the car park. Many of the pollarded hornbeam trees in this area are in excess of 400 years old.
The Shell House was used by the Houblon family as a summer house for picnics when they owned the forest between 1729 and 1923. The lake was created in 1746 and, with the marsh area, they provide a home to a wealth of different species.
End: Main entrance car park.
** – Hatfield Forest tree walk– **
On this gentle circular walk at National Trust's Hatfield Forest, see a variety of interesting trees that make the Forest a site of great historical and ecological importance, and an easy walk if you don't want to get your shoes muddy....buggy friendly along board-walks and mostly hard surfaces, an easy walk for the whole family.
An ideal walk for visitors using wheelchairs and pushchairs, this walk runs through the forest along flat, easy to walk terrain, mainly on site roads and gravelled footpaths, with a short section on a wooden boardwalk; no muddy trails. Classified as Easy, this walk is 1.8 miles long, is dog friendly, and should take one and a half to two hours. Capital letters, e.g. (A), refer to designations on the map.
Start: Main entrance car park or Discovery Room next to the Shell House.
1. Starting from the entrance car park, turn right out of the car park, go through the gate and follow the access road. Look out for the 400-year-old oak (shown) at (A) on your left, shortly followed by the hornbeam (B) on your right after a right-hand bend in the road.
Trees A-B. (A) An impressive 400-year-old oak that hasn't been cut for over 100 years, and is pruned in early spring; look out for prunings on the ground. (B) A hornbeam - look into the crown and you'll see that the branches are quite small. This is because it's a pollard still in cycle.
2. Follow the road until a field maple (C) on your right. Turn left along the sign-posted boardwalk, looking out for the 400-year-old hornbeam pollard on your left (D) just before the boardwalk bears slightly right, taking you to (E), a huge coppiced field maple.
Trees C-E. (C) An incredibly old field maple pollard, now managed carefully to keep it alive for as long as possible. (D) An out of cycle 400-year-old (approximately) hornbeam that has not been cut for at least 80 years. (E) Estimated to be a 1000-year-old field maple. Its a huge coppiced single tree that looks like a group of young trees.
3. Bear left and follow the boardwalk through the gate and enter the heavily shaded Gravel Pit Coppice. Look out for a coppiced hornbeam at (F). The boardwalk finishes at (G), an area of coppiced alder growing along the dam alongside the lake. Alder was traditionally used for clog-making.
Trees F-G. (F) A coppiced hornbeam that's out of cycle as it's not been coppiced for around 80 years. (G) Coppiced alders growing along the dam.
4. Follow the path alongside the lake until you reach the Shell House and Discovery Room area; ideal for a toilet or refreshment break. Skirt around the rear of this area, looking out for the oak on your right at (H). An apple tree at (I) is on your right, just before the gate. Go through the gate into the car park and turn immediately right onto the road.
Trees H-I. (H) One of the largest oak trees in the forest, probably at least 450 years old. (I) An apple tree that's host to lots of mistletoe; the forest is the last mistletoe stronghold in the East of England.
5. Follow the road from the car park, looking out for the huge cedar of Lebanon tree on your left at (J). Further along the road at (K) note some commemorative trees (young pollards in tree guards) planted across the plain. Shortly afterwards the road turns right and you'll see a small hawthorn at (L), near to the entrance to Elgin Coppice.
Trees J-K. (J) The cedar of Lebanon tree (shown) was planted by the Houblon family in the 18th century and acts as a landmark for people walking in the forest. (K) Across the plain you can see the next generation of pollards (in tree guards).
6. Follow the road to a car park and information point and turn left. Look out for a coppiced hazel on the right at (M). Just past this point turn RIGHT along the entrance road (not the exit route) and look out for an ash tree at (N) that's been cut for safety reasons with a cut known as a 'coronet cut'. Continue along the road back to the entrance car park. Please note: when Hatfield Forest is open, the road is used by vehicles.
Trees L-N. (L) Although the hawthorn tree in this picture isn't very big, it's in fact at least 400 years old and is a pollard. Hawthorn trees make up around 42 per cent of all the pollards in Hatfield Forest. (M) A Regularly coppiced hazel. (N) An Ash tree 'coronet' cut for safety reasons; cutting in this way gives the appearance that the tree has broken naturally.
End: Main entrance car park (A) or Discovery Room next to Shell House (H).
Shell House, Hatfield Forest
** – Visiting – **
Explore the best surviving example in Britain of an almost complete medieval Royal hunting forest. The forest trails are ideal for walking, running, cycling or riding. Try the lake for boating or fishing.
Boat hire is available from June - September, on Saturdays and Sundays, and daily in the school summer holidays, from 12.00 to 16.00 (last hire). A maximum of four are allowed in a boat, but no dogs. Boats cannot be reserved. The cost is £8 for 30 min. Please phone in advance (01279 870678) to check availability. The boat hire operates from a jetty in front of the Shell House.
The Forest is an ideal place for a quiet stroll away from the main lakeside area. Wander along the main plains or head off into the trees and explore the rides. Details of trails in the forest can be found above. Please not that these are not way-marked. They would ask that, during the winter months, you avoid walking on the footpaths amongst the wooded areas. These become very quickly muddy and footfall then causes irrepairable damage to the ground.
These walks start from the main entrance car park at 09.45am on Thursdays and take about 90 minutes. The walks use forest trails and open grassland. Please be aware cattle are roaming free in the forest from May to October. Dogs are welcome on this walk if they are well trained and obedient. The walks are free and led by a trained leader. This is a joint venture with Uttlesford District Council.
Tired of running along roads? Then try the delights of trail running in the Forest. The terrain is generally flat with broad tracks between the coppices. You can extend your run by venturing onto the Flitch Way at the northern end of the Forest. Lucky runners may spot fallow deer.
Horses are welcome in the forest and on Woodside Green. Annual permits can be purchased from the Estate Office. In addition, during summer opening hours, day permits can be purchased from the shop. Horse boxes can be left in the entrance or Shell House car parks. Horse riding information
(PDF / 0.2MB)
The lake contains coarse fish such as carp, roach, perch and pike, including some large specimens. You can purchase a day fishing ticket (adult £15, concession £10) at the lakeside or a season ticket from the Estate Office. If you want to fish at night, you must have a season ticket. The closed season runs from 15 Mar to 15 Jun inclusive. The pike season runs from 1 Oct to 15 Mar.
You are welcome to come and explore the forest on your own bikes, in summer, when the ground has properly dried out.
If cycling to the forest, you can enter through the main gate; from the north, through gates on the Flitch Way; or, from the south, through the South gate, just beyond Woodside Green. There are no trails as such, beyond the access roads, only the open plains and forest rides. An all terrain / mountain bike is recommended, with heavy duty tyres, as the ground is very uneven in places and there are plenty of vicious thorns to cause punctures.
Bushcraft and Tracking.
Come and learn some bushcraft or tracking skills or enjoy a wildcamp weekend. The NT host a series of events organised by Woodlife, working in partnership with the National Trust, roughly once a month. Please check their "What's On" section
on the website for further details along with news of many other enjoyable events.
** – Facilities – **
Cafe - serves local and seasonal food, only limited covered seating.
Shop - sells a variety of gifts, books, food and drink.
Well behaved dogs welcome (on leads where signed).
Disabled car parking in Shell House car park.
Day horse riding permits available from the shop, annual permits available from the Estate Office.
Manual wheelchair available. PMV available, free of charge, must be booked 24h in advance.
Boat hire available at weekends from May - Sept.
Family trail, laminated guide available to purchase from the shop or kiosk.
Family events, throughout the year.
3 monthly children's clubs for 2 - 14 year olds.
All-terrain pushchair available to borrow.
50 things scrapbooks available.
Mobility parking - in Shell House car park.
Adapted toilet - near café.
Grounds - partly accessible, some hard standing paths near cafe, wider Forest paths are grass.
Access Road - Speed Bumps along access road, approximate height of 50mm with a speed limit of 10mph.
For the full Hatfield Forest access statement (PDF) click here
Location : Bush End Road, Takeley, Bishop's Stortford, Essex, CM22 6NE
Transport: Bishops Stortford (National Rail) OR Stansted Airport (National Rail) then bus (508). Bus routes: Arriva bus service 508 runs from Harlow, via Bishops Stortford to Stansted Airport bus station. Walk through the Forest approximately 1.5 miles (2.1 km) to visitor facilities. The bus stop at the Four Ashes, Takeley is served by a wider range of buses. The Forest can then be reached by walking along the Flitch Way (about 1 mile (1.5 km)).
Opening Times Forest / Kiosk Car Park: Dawn till Dusk.
Opening Times Cafe: April through October, Daily 09:00 to 17:00; Else to 15:30.
Opening Times Shop: April through October, Daily 10:00 to 17:00; Else to 15:30.
Opening Times Elgins + Shell House Car Park: April through October, Daily 10:00 to 16:30; Else to 15:00.
Tickets : Car Park £6.00; Mininbus £8.00; NT members Free.
Tickets : After 5pm in Summer and 3:30pm in Winter, car parking is £2 in the entrance car park.
Tel: 01279 870678