Although not known for having a warm, sunny climate, the advantages of slightly wetter weather are certainly reflected in the abundance of beautiful forests that can be found in the UK. A diverse scenery that ranges from ancient woodlands with giant trees, to moss carpeted floors pierced by enormous rocks, to dark, atmospheric pine forests and on to the rolling, ragged countryside of the north. UK forests offer a stunning variety of scenery, and here are just some 8 of the most beautiful.
1. New Forest, Hampshire
Located in South East England and somewhere that features heavily in my childhood thanks to many camping trips spent there, the New Forest is definitely worth a visit. Once owned by William the conqueror, who restricted its use to a hunting ground for wild boar and deer, for use by the aristocracy only, it is now open to all, and with an area of 566sqkm (219sqm) there is plenty to explore. The New Forest feels unique in that there are whole towns and villages nestled in amongst it, giving you the feeling you have stepped into another land entirely. The forest is made even more special by the wild horses who inhabit it, and I have always loved how you can stroll through the area alongside these amazing creatures. There are also plenty of riding schools nearby, should you fancy exploring the many paths from a different viewpoint.
2. Puzzlewood, Gloucestershire
Significantly smaller in comparison to other forests but equally intriguing, Puzzlewood, in the South West, is an ancient woodland covering 14 acres. With evidence of open cast iron ore mining dating back to the Roman period and still visible today, you can really sense the history of this woodland. There are over a mile of pathways, created in the early 19th century, and you can spend hours weaving between the rocks and trees. One of my favourite days out when I was a child, the magic of this place is just as enjoyable as an adult. Filled with strange rock formations, ancient trees, secret caves and wooden bridges, it is not surprising it has become a popular filming location. Puzzlewood has appeared in films from The Secret Garden to Star Wars as well as popular television series such as Doctor Who and Merlin. Although its success has of course makes it busier, it is still worth a visit.
3. Thetford Forest, Norfolk
Over to the East of England is Thetford Forest, the largest lowland pine forest in Britain. Popular with mountain bikers and walkers thanks to its plentiful network of interesting trails, with 46950 acres there is plenty to explore and all sorts of flora and fauna to discover. If you fancy an extra adventure, you can also check out Grimes Graves, the only Neolithic flint mine that you can visit in Britain, dug 5000 years ago.
4. Sherwood Forest, Nottinghamshire
Sherwood Forest, Nottinghamshire, is best known due to its link with Robin Hood, who, in between robbing from the rich and giving to the poor, supposedly found sanctuary in this forest. With more than 1000 giant oak trees spread across the area, it is easy to imagine it as the perfect hide-out. One particular tree, the Major Oak, is believed to be 1,100 years old, (the largest in Britain) and is even thought to have sheltered Robin Hood and his allies. Strolling through this forest you will find sweet chestnut, pine, beech and birch trees, and it is a great haven for wildlife such as woodpeckers and tawny owls, so keep your eyes peeled!
5. Delamere Forest, Cheshire
With its own train station, Delamere Forest, not far from Manchester, is easy to reach for an afternoon stroll. Within the forest you’ll find Blekemore Moss, a reclaimed wetland area. The shape of this wetland can be traced back to 11000 years ago (the end of the Ice Age), when two large hollows were carved out by the ice. Today the marshy area hidden within the forest provides sanctuary for many species of wildlife and has recently been made a site of special scientific interest (SSSI). Canada geese, mallard ducks and great crested newts are among some of the inhabitants of the swamp, and some rare types of moss can also be found here.
6. Thrunton Woods, Northumberland, England
Heading north, a glimpse of the true Northumbrian countryside, Thrunton wood offers spectacular views thanks to its positioning on and around two steep sandstone escarpments (Thrunton Crag to the north, Long Crag and Coe Crag to the south). The miles of trail wind through the maturing forest as well as across open moorland, making it a beautifully varied walk. Mountain biking and horse riding are also welcome in this wood if you don’t fancy it by foot.
7. Finnich Glen or ‘Devil’s Pulpit’, Stirlingshire
Further north and on to Scotland the countryside changes, becoming even wilder and rougher than Northumberland, with sloping hills and narrow valleys, scenery that of course makes for some truly incredible forests. One such place is Finnich Glen, otherwise known as ‘Devil’s Pulpit’. A dramatic combination of moss covered rock and trees, the glen has an eery feel to it thanks to the blood-red coloured water flowing through the bottom of the gorge. Also the site of ancient Druid meetings, Finnich Glen is as atmospheric and enchanting as they come.
8. Tollymore Forest Park, County Down
Trees do not get much more impressive than the giant redwood, and the ones in Tollymore Forest Park, Northern Ireland, are no exception. Sitting at the foot of the Mourne Mountains, the scenery is not lacking in this forest as you walk among a huge variety of both exotic and common trees. Some of the oak here was even used for the interior of the Titanic ship many years ago. The forest spans 1600 acres and you can follow the network of paths, including 16 bridges, which enable you to cross back and forth over the river Shimna. You can also catch a glimpse of a sea view from certain parts of the trail. This location is also great for biking and horse riding and has gained popularity in recent years since being used as a filming location for Television series Game of Thrones. Even before this, however, it provided inspiration for the novel series Narnia, by C.S. Lewis.