Hatfield Forest Capability Brown Walk, Takeley, Essex

Walking 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. During the winter months you will have to book your parking for weekends and school holidays.

Landscaping the Forest

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.


OS map shoing central lake area and Capability Brown trail


Lakeside Café TL 538198


The starting point for this walk is the hard standing area in front of the cafe. Before heading off, look around to see newly cleared scrub, extending towards a new fence and beyond. This is part of a project to recreate the lakeside parkland suggested in the Capability Brown plan. Low grade scrub has been removed, to expose some mature standard trees. The ground has been cleared and reseeded. Previously unseen views of the lake have been opened up. Now set off towards the right of an old oak tree surrounded by a low fence. This tree is 450 year old oak, pre-dating Brown by about 170 years. Head towards a wooden platform on the the edge of the lake (1). 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.

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A London Plane by the lake at Hatfield Forest


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 (2).

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A clump of Scots pines dominate the skyline across the lake


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 (3). 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.

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View of the Shell House at Hatfield Forest, across the corner of the lake


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 mentioned, 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 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 (4). This area of open ground was the site of gravel workings in the 18th century.

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The sweet chestnut plantation by Elgins car park in early Spring sunshine


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 this ride towards the cedar (5).

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A map of the Forest from 1757


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. This area has been recently cleared of low grade scrub and restored to parkland. Note the views of the lake that can now be seen through the remaining specimen trees. Turning right, head along the road towards the car park and then diagonally across to the far side, to a small metal gate (6).

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A magnificent cedar of lebanon tree in Hatfield Forest, Essex


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. (Please note, the attached map is now out of date, showing the situation before the Decoy Lake was created in its present form). 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.

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Sun shining through leaf canopy of an Oriental Plane at SW end of Decoy Lake


Lakeside Café TL 538198

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Hatfield Forest Capability Brown Walk, Takeley, Essex


Circular walk not waymarked. Level ground, muddy in places. The walk goes along the grassy plains and woodland paths. Tree roots and gates. Dogs welcome, but please keep on leads near livestock, around the lake and wherever temporarily signed. Trails in the forest can become very muddy during the winter months, so this route is best enjoyed from April to October.

Hatfield Forest Capability Brown Walk, Takeley, Essex

Contact us

Hatfield Forest Capability Brown Walk, Takeley, Essex

How to get here

Hatfield Forest, Bush End Road, Takeley, Bishop's Stortford, Essex, CM22 6NE
By train

Bishops Stortford, 5 miles (8km) or Stansted Airport Station, 3 miles (4.8km).

By road

From M11, J8, take B1256 towards Takeley / Gt Dunmow. Follow signs at Takeley.

By foot

Flitch Way (from Bishop's Stortford and Braintree). Three Forests Way and Forest Way both pass through Hatfield Forest.

By bus

The nearest bus stop is The Green Man at Takeley Street.  This is served by Arriva Route 508, from Harlow to Stansted Airport, via Bishops Stortord.  The Forest can then be entered at the northern end, from the Flitch Way, through Takeley Hill gate.  

The bus stop at The Four Ashes, Takeley, has more services, to and from the airport bus station.  The Forest is then about 1 km away, along the Flitch Way.

Hatfield Forest Capability Brown Walk, Takeley, Essex

Facilities and access

  • WC: At Lakeside area
  • Food and drink: National Trust café at Lakeside area