Five ways to have fun in Hatfield Forest

The festival in the heart of the forest © National Trust

The festival in the heart of the forest

Hatfield Forest is an ancient hunting Forest on the western edge of Essex, a place so old that even the trees have stories to tell (but we’ll get to that another day). It’s among these wizened trees that you can spend hours, afternoons, even days at a time having fun with little more than the world around you.

To give you some inspiration, we’ve put together a list of five great ways to have fun in Hatfield Forest:

1. Go wild for WoodFest
Every September, in a clearing deep in the heart of Hatfield Forest, musicians, actors, dancers and craftspeople gather together to put on a magical three-day festival known as WoodFest. With bands playing on the main stage throughout the day and late on into the night, and an open mic stage for unknown artists, the festival is a great place to find new music. There’s also storytelling and plays for children, crafts workshops, dancing, boating, plenty of food and drink to sample and of course, acres and acres of wild wood to explore. This year WoodFest is 5 – 7 September, so make sure you leave a space in your diary.

2. Get to know your favourite tree
Hatfield Forest contains some extraordinary trees, some of which are over a thousand years old. What makes them extraordinary is that they are so much more just trees: each one is a giant, living metropolis, home to thousands of other plants, animals and insects. Next time you’re walking through Hatfield Forest, why not pick a favourite tree and spend some time getting to know it and all its inhabitants, from the birds nesting in its branches to the tiny aphids travelling up and down its trunk.

3. Go deer stalking
In the cool, shadowy corners of Hatfield Forest live some of its most timid residents: fallow and muntjac deer. Catching a glimpse of these beautiful, nervous creatures is a memorable experience, especially for young people discovering nature for the first time; and finding them is an adventure in itself. Your best chance is early in the morning or at dusk in the quieter areas of the forest. Wear dark, natural-coloured clothing, keep quiet, move slowly and try to stay downwind of the deer, as they have a keen sense of smell. Finally, bring a pair of binoculars and a camera to capture the memory on film.

4. Use it as your training ground
With its network of way-marked trails and open clearings, Hatfield Forest is the perfect cross-country training ground. Bring your trainers and test your stamina through the forest, set up circuit training circuit around the lake or map out a cycle route and do some time-trials – the possibilities are endless!

5. Find a quiet spot and read a book
Hatfield Forest is the kind of place that lets your imagination run wild. With a book in your hands it can become an enchanted wood, a queen’s secret garden, the hiding place of armies or the refuge of a saint. So take a blanket and your favourite book, settle down in the dappled sunshine and lose yourself for an hour or two. If you start to get chilly, you can always relocate to the Forest Café for tea and cake or a warming stew.