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. Trek the 'rides' and visit such places as Portingbury Hills and look out for evidence of coppicing. Numbers in brackets relate to way-markers en- route.
'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, National Trust Countryside Manager.The trails in the forest can become very muddy during Winter, so this walk is best enjoyed from April to October.
Shell House, grid ref: TL540197
From the rear of Shell House, follow the right-hand side of the lake and join a board-walked path for about 390 feet (120m). Turn left at the arrow-marker and follow lake until gate (5). Look out for a group of conifers: 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 skirt the marsh area (6) . 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, around the Gravel Pit, (7) a small area of hillocks and hollows. In springtime, look out for orchids. Bear right and cross the entrance road.
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 edge of Spittlemore Coppice. Continue downhill, looking out for large disused badger sets (8), now colonised by rabbits as well as large ant hills, which are home to the yellow meadow ant. Cross Shermore Brook using the horse bridge (9).
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 slightly left and enter the coppice (10), continuing for about 300m into Beggarshall Coppice (12), passing open ground on your right. This is Portingbury Hills. Look out for low mounds and ditches, which are visible remains of a small settlement, originally thought to be of Iron Age origin but now believed to be probably 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.
Turn left and follow the ride until you reach a wider ride (13). Turn left again and follow the wide ride until reaching the open area of reclaimed wood pasture. Look out for young pollarded trees. Turn right and aim for the main estate road (14), you're now on the Main Plain.
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.
Continue straight on to a large horse chestnut tree (15), by the side of the main estate road.
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.
Now cross the estate road and follow the path over the footbridge. Bear left and proceed through the gate, looking out for a 450-year-old oak. The base of this tree is protected by a ring of stakes. Walk around the outside of the stakes and finish back at the Shell House and café for a cup of tea and perhaps a bite to eat.
Enjoy views of the 450-year-old oak with Shell House and café in the distance.
Shell House, grid ref: TL540197
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