Forest Walk at Hatfield Forest, Takeley, Essex
Enjoy the varied scenery on this National Trust circular walk at Hatfield Forest as you discover the sights that make it a National Nature Reserve and a Site of Special Scientific Interest. Follow the 'rides' and visit such places as Portingbury Hills. Look out for evidence of coppicing. The area around Portingbury Hills can be become very muddy in later autumn and winter so this walk is best enjoyed from April to October. Please note that there are no longer any way-markers for this trail.
'If I had just 2 hours to visit Hatfield Forest, this is the one trail I would choose to take in most of its points of interest and marvel at its splendour,' Henry Bexley, Operations Manager, Hatfield Forest.
Shell House, grid ref: TL540197
Starting from in front of the Shell House, cross the dam at the end of the lake and join the boardwalk heading into the coppice. After about 70m, cross a small bridge and then take the left fork for a short distance before turning right onto a short stub of the boardwalk. Follow a trail through the trees, bearing gradually right, until you emerge into more open ground and reach a five bar gate, next to a pedestrian gate. Look out for a group of conifers on the right, just before you reach this gate: Scots, Corsican and Austrian pine, together with cedar of Lebanon.
The Shell House was used by the Houblon family for picnics between 1729 and 1923. The lake, which was re-modelled by Capability Brown, was created in 1746 and is home to many different animal species. This picture gives a view of Shell House across the lake from near the group of conifers. Look out for the coppiced oak and hornbeam; two trees that look as if they are one.
Pass through the gate (please shut behind you) and, bearing left, skirt the marsh area. The marshland supports a wide variety of wildlife and plants, such as the tall plants called reed-mace, which provide a perch for reed buntings. Immediately after this area bear right, through the Gravel Pit, a small area of hillocks and hollows, following the path between short wooden posts. Note the change in the underlying soil - most of the rest of the Forest is heavy London clay. In springtime, look out for orchids. The snmall plantation to your right is beech. Bear right and uphill, aiming for the bend in the entrance road. Cross the road, aiming for the further side of the small plantation of sweet chestnuts..
Plants and birds
Look out for plants in the Gravel Pit area, such as tormentil (in this picture), early hair-grass, harebell and mouse-ear hawkweed. Green woodpeckers often feed on yellow meadow ants on the edge of Spittlemore Coppice.
Bearing left, skirt around the top of the sweet chestnut plantation, aiming for a gap in the trees. Continue downhill across the hummocky ground, looking out for large disused badger sets, now colonised by rabbits, as well as large ant hills, which are home to the yellow meadow ant. Cross Shermore Brook using the small wooden bridge.
Old London Road
A view of what is known as the Old London Road, which is believed to have been the main route in years gone by for people travelling from east of the forest to London, by-passing Bishop's Stortford. A pollarded ash tree can be seen beyond the log.
Continue uphill from the bridge, across open ground, taking a right fork about half way up. Turn left as you approach the trees and then after a short distance, turn right into a narrow ride, to enter Beggarshall Coppice. This can become quite muddy. Continue for about 300m, passing open ground on your right. This is Portingbury Hills. Look out for low mounds and ditches. These are the visible remains of a small settlement, originally thought to be of Iron Age origin but now believed to be medieval.
You can see examples of coppicing in Beggarshall Coppice. Coppicing is undertaken for its benefit to wildlife and the different ages of coppice as it re-grows creates an ideal habitat for a variety of different plants and animals. In spring, look out for primroses and violets and in summer, forget-me-not and centaury. You might even catch a glimpse of the silver-washed fritillary butterfly.
At the cross roads, turn left and follow the ride, past a tree in the middle of the ride, until you reach a wider ride. Turn left again and follow the wide ride past two trees in the middle of the ride. Just beyond this, bear to the right, heading for the main open plain. Look out for young pollarded trees.
A typical 'ride' looking up from Round Coppice to Old London Road. In spring, look out for primroses and violets, and in summer the pink flowers of centaury and the blue flowers of forget-me-not. The open plains in the Forest owe their character to a long usage of grazing. The grasslands support a variety of animals and plants; in May the plains are awash with yellow buttercups.
On emerging into the main plain, head towards a large isolated horse chestnut tree, by the side of the main estate road, just beyond the rising bend. Look for the newly exposed views of the lake through the thinned out trees.
This tree was planted in about 1860 by the Houblon family, together with other exotic species. Horse chestnuts were brought to this country from Turkey in the late 16th century. The timber has little use but they are popular for their appearance.
At the horse chestnut, turn right across the road and then walk on the grassy margin by the newly cleared ground. Admire the views towards the lake which have been revealed by this work. Head for the hitching post and then the pedestrian gate, next to the five bar gate, leading into the cafe parkland. Turn left and make for the old oak tree. This particular one is about 450 years old and its base is protected by a low railing. Walk around the outside of the railing and finish back at the Shell House. Reward yourself at the café - a cup of tea and perhaps a bite to eat? (Please note the present map shows an earlier route for this final stage - please ignore)
The old oak tree
This fine specimen is 450 years old. The base is surrounded by a low railing, to protect the roots from footfall compacting the ground. Close by this tree is a another fine specimen - this time a London plane tree which is about 160 years old.
Shell House, grid ref: TL540197
You made it
Following this trail on mobile or tablet? Share your experience.