Plan your summer visit to Hatfield Forest

Boys with their dad sitting on a tree stump next to the lake

Hatfield Forest National Nature Reserve makes for an ideal summer outing. The trees are in full leaf, the vegetation lush and the ground finally dry underfoot. We welcome back our summer visitors, the red poll cattle. It's the perfect time to get away from the central lake area and explore the outer areas of the Forest.

Coronavirus precautions

We are limiting the number of visitors to the Forest by asking people to pre-book their car parking space, at least the day before, by 3.00pm. If you arrive without having pre-booked your car, you will be turned away and invited to book for another day. 

The pre-booked car park entry slots are available from 9.00am until 3.30pm in half hourly slots, you can then stay until dusk. 

Our cafe is open again, but offering a limited menu.  Much of the outdoor seating has been removed.  The shop remains closed for the time being.

Social distancing measures are in operation around the toilets.

Elsewhere, we would ask that people respect the social distancing rules - there is plenty of space in the Forest, so spread out, relax and enjoy your time here.

Welcome to Summer

Summer is an exciting time to visit this National Nature Reserve. The trees are now in full leaf, and there is lush vegetation, so the landscape is transformed, with green everywhere and the coppices providing dappled shade. The lake can look very tranquil on a windfree day. Watch out for the display of waterlilies on the Decoy Lake as summer progresses. The buttercups have come and gone.  So, make sure to bring a camera to capture the beautiful landscapes, wildlife and wild flowers on your walk.

Our four-footed conservers, the red poll cattle, returned in May, for their summer grazing.  There are actually two herds, separated by fences running the length of the Forest, and within this, they each roam across the whole area, taking shade under the trees when needed. The cows also need the rain, to replenish their supplies of grass. Please close the gates behind you, unless they are clearly staked open. This helps the herds stay apart and prevents the bulls from trying to impress the cows by fighting.

The sheep have been sheared and moved from their winter grazing area in the marsh to their summer pastures, at the southern end of the Forest .

Please remember to take extra care with your dogs when close to livestock.

short back and sides for the summer
freshly sheared sheep in a pen
short back and sides for the summer

The lake area and the Shell House

Most visitors make for the lake area where the toilets are located. The cafe is now open, but offering only a limted menu, so a picnic may be a better option for the time being. It is important to remember that we do not allow BBQs anywhere in the National Nature Reserve due to risk of fire. 

There will be only limited outdoor seating as the picnic benches has been removed for the time being, for your safety.  In addition, the Fisherman's Shelter is temporarily ropde off. Please bring your own picnic blankets and folding chairs so you can relax comfortably if you are planning to make a day of it.

A prominent historic feature of this area is the Shell House, now over 250 years old. You might also take a closer look at the decorated features of the building. Walk a little way behind the Shell House and you will come upon the Decoy Lake. A path runs along the opposite bank, making for a pleasant short circular stroll.

As you stand with your back to the toilets, you can check the progress of the ongoing lakeside restoration programme. We have cleared an area of old scrub, to open up the west bank of the lake, to recreate the historic landscape from the middle of the eighteenth century, associated with the renown landscape architect Lancelot "Capability" Brown.

Visiting with the family

The Forest provides plenty of opportunities for children to burn off excess energy. We have no formal play equipment, so it is all down to Natural Play, exploration and discovery. On busy days, the open areas with shorter grass can become quite crowded, so there is limited space for ball games, but if you walk a little way into the woods, the trees can turn into rocket ships, fairy castles and gruffalo homes, taking you on countless adventures.  

If you are looking for some more focussed actvities for young visitors, then try one of several opportunities to tick a '50 things to do before 11 3/4' activity.

The Forest has no trails with prepared surfaces, so it can be somewhat bumpy pushing a buggy or riding a bike over the rough, uneven and sometimes baked-hard ground.  Also, puncture alert - beware thorns hiding in the grass, so bring a puncture repair kit with you, just in case!

We would normally offer a programme of activities for youngsters during the school holidays but will not be able to do so this year because of  COVID 19 precautions..

Eating and Shopping

We have a lakeside cafe which normally offers a range of tempting tasty cakes and lite bites, hot and cold drinks and ice creams. The shop has a range of exciting products, for yourself and as gift ideas.

The cafe has now re-opened, from 9.00am to 4.00pm, offering a limted range of hot and cold drinks, cakes and snacks, card only and COVID-safe.

The shop remains closed for the time being.

Where to walk

With the drier ground in summer, the wider Forest becomes more acccessible to walkers.  Follow the line of the old "London Road" which runs diagonally through the Forest and explore the main areas of woodland pasture .  Discover the unexpected and different set of vistas from the area around Takelely Hill - rolling Essex countryside to the south and east.  

For guided trails, we recommend:

Tree Walk (mostly hard surfaces, buggy-friendly); or, for a longer walk,

Flitch Way and Forest walk.


Day permits are not currently available, but season tickets holders are welcome.

Horse Riding

Day permits are not currently available from the shop for casual riders, but season tickets are welcome.  You must book a car slot if arriving with a horsebox. 

Boat Hire

Normally we would have boats available for hire on the lake.  We will not be able to provide these for the time being.