Hatfield Forest Flitch Way and Forest walk, Takeley, Essex
No other forest on Earth evokes the atmosphere of a medieval hunting Forest so completely. The ancient trees are like magnificent living sculptures, peaceful giants worn and fragile from centuries of seasons and use. This circular National Trust family walk, starting from the main entrance car park heading towards and joining the Flitch Way, then around points of interest within this National Nature Reserve and Site of Special Scientific Interest. See the Shell House; site of the Doodle Oak; London road; the Flitch way and Portingbury Hills.
The trails in the forest can become very muddy during Winter, so this walk is best enjoyed from April to October. In addition, we may have to close some parts of the route, even in summer, to allow the ground to recover. If so, an alternative will be provided.
Main entrance car park, grid ref: TL547203
From the car park, head along the entrance road until reaching a boardwalk path to your left. Turn right opposite the boardwalk and head across the plain.
Continue straight ahead, keeping the line of trees close to you on your left. This area, and the next plain, is covered with buttercups in May and used as grazing land for cattle. The wood pasture, commonly known as the plain, is a very rare habitat in the UK and even Europe. Eventually you will reach the exit road from the Forest. Cross this road (checking for any traffic) and continue on heading slightly to the right.
The London Road pasture and other pastures within the Forest, are covered with buttercups in May. The London Road was traditionally used by people travelling to London avoiding surrounding towns and villages.
Head across the plain towards a red-roofed building in the distance, going up the slope to the top of Takeley Hill and continuing straight on, keeping the building (Hatfield Forest Estate Office) on your right. Keep ahead then exit Hatfield Forest through the metal gate and turn left onto the Flitch Way.
Now it is a pleasant level walk along the Flitch Way for approximately 1 mile (1.6km), with the boundary of Hatfield Forest alongside on the left. Pass through three gates across the Way until reaching Elman's Green. Then stop at the third gate.
The Flitch Way, open to walkers and cyclists, is now classed as a country park and follows 15 miles (24km) of the route of the former Bishop's Stortford to Braintree railway.
Turn left into Hatfield Forest, at Elman's Green, and on to the Forest Way path. There's an information map on the left as you enter. Keep left of the open pasture, alongside the trees, then when you reach the first left opening, fork left off the Forest Way path and go diagonally left across the pasture to the far side/corner to the trees.
To your right, amidst the trees, you can walk into the site of the Doodle oak. Take time to look and read about the oak. Go back out the same way from the trees and turn left along the edge of the pasture and you'll meet the Forest Way path again. Turn left and immediately right (in effect crossing over the Forest Way path) and follow along until the third opening/path on your left at a site known as Six Wantz Ways - where six paths meet.
Site of the Doodle oak
The oak which died in 1858, was believed to have been one of the biggest trees (by girth circumference). The oak growing to the right is believed to be growing from one of the roots of the original tree.
Take this path and at the first crossroads you can stop and explore the Portingbury Hills Iron Age settlement on your left, at Beggar's Hall coppice. Rejoin the path and go straight over the crossroads to a T-junction at a wide ride (there's a yellow walk sign with number 13 on a post at this junction).
The low mounds and ditches to be seen here are the visible remains of a small Iron Age settlement, probably associated with early woodland clearances and the grazing of livestock
Turn right then almost immediately left (crossing over the ride) on to a smaller path, to Round Coppice, bearing left at a sort-of crossroads. Then when you arrive at the open plain, walk straight across to the gravel track at the far side. Cattle and deer often graze in this area.
At the gravel track, turn left and follow it round to the right past Warren Cottage, then round to the left and up to a road junction. Cross over the road and straight over the grass to a post with a yellow marker on it. Turn right and over a small bridge, through a hawthorn coppice and bear left to a boundary gate of the lake area. Go through the gate, walk alongside the lake on your left, then after a large old oak tree on your right you can take a break ahead of you at the Shell House and Discovery Room. There are toilets, a shop and café at this point. Dogs need to be kept on leads in this area, please.
Take time to browse the Shell House visitor's area. The large oak tree in the foreground is at least 450 years old. The large gall up in the tree's branches is an unusual growth caused by an insect to protect its larvae.
Coming out from Shell House, turn right on to the path then follow left over the dam, with views of the lake on your left. Join a board-walked path and stay on this through the woods, going through one gate then across a plain until the end, when it comes to a road. At the end of the board-walked path, turn right and follow the road back to the car park. Many of the pollarded hornbeam trees in this area are in excess of 400 years old.
The Shell House was used by the Houblon family as a summer house for picnics when they owned the forest between 1729 and 1923. The lake was created in 1746 and, with the marsh area, they provide a home to a wealth of different species.
Main entrance car park, grid ref: TL547203
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