Britain's best forests and woodland

Britain’s best and most spectacular forests and woodlands to explore on walks and days out

21st March 2017
best British Forests

Forests are the lifeblood of the planet, providing habitats for the myriad of animals across the continents as well as helping to maintain the balance of the air around us.

Here, we’ve compiled a list of Britain’s best forests to get out and explore in celebration of International Day of Forests on 21 March

Grizedale, Cumbria

Grizedale, Cumbria/Credit: Getty

Set right in the heart of the Lake District, between Windermere and Coniston, Grizedale Forest offers wonderful walks, trilling mountain bike trails and artful sculptures, not to mention the stunning Lakeland views.

Home to the only remaining indigenous woodland red deer herd in England, Grizeland is a haven for wildlife with roe deer and red kites to be seen along with barn owls and buzzards.

Hackfall, North Yorkshire

The beautiful Hackfall Wood near the village of Grewelthorpe between the Yorkshire Dales and Moors appears to be wholly natural but it in fact owes a lot of its current appearance to the intervention of John Aislabie, who bought the land in the 18th century, and his decedents. John was famous for his landscaping work at Fountains Abbey, while his son William built many follies in the woods that line the winding River Ure. Recommended by Wordsworth in his tour guides and responsible for inspiring JMW Turner, this is enchanting woodland.

Photograph: © Copyright Paul Buckingham and licensed for reuse under this Creative Commons Licence.

Banagher Glen, County Derry

Banagher Glen in Northern Ireland is one of very few pieces of forest in the United Kingdom that is just about untouched by human hands – at least as far as deforestation is concerned.

Set back upon a steep ravine, carved out by the Glenedra and Altnaheglish rivers, the trees are difficult to access and have therefore made cutting them down more effort than it was worth. The oak, ash, hazel, hawthorn and holly trees provide an excellent habitat for wildlife, including red squirrels. Legend has it that St Patrick trapped the last snake in Ireland in the woods, where it still lurks to this day.

Pressmennan Wood, East Lothian

Forests and woodland have forever been entwined with our folk tales, myths and legends. Fitting then that here in Pressmennan Wood a new curious creatures are born.

Glingbobs and Tooflits are the creation of the Woodland Trust Scotland and author Robin Wood. They exist in and around the woodland, hiding behind secret doors and stained-glass windows set into the trees, and children are tasked with finding them as they follow the trail through the trees.

Located on the slopes of Deuchrie Dod, the forest is home to a variety of flora, from conifers, to wild garlic, dog’s mercury and wild raspberries.

Photograph: © Copyright Richard Webb and licensed for reuse under this Creative Commons Licence.

Priestley Wood, Suffolk

One of the best spots for spring blooms in the country; Priestley Wood is a veritable burst of colour from March onwards.

Over 130 plants and flowers have been identified in the woods with wild garlic making an appearance alongside various orchids, primrose and bluebells. In amongst the flowering plant-life, it is possible to find one of the county’s two wild pear trees. However, the fruit is inedible so sadly won’t provide a nice snack to go with the picnic.

Glen Finglas, Stirling

This spot is the Woodland Trust’s largest estate, and one of their most beautiful and most accessible, with great routes to explore the woodland wheelchairs and buggies.

Found in the heart of the Loch Lomond and the Trossachs National Park, the area is home to some of Scotland’s oldest trees, stunning waterfalls, lochs and heathland. Parts of the forest such as Little Drum Wood have excellently surfaced paths, opening up this wonderful country space to all.

Photograph: © Copyright Richard Webb and licensed for reuse under this Creative Commons Licence.

Coed Ysgubor Wen, Gwynedd

Planting began on this former sheep-grazing site after the Woodland Trust purchased the land in 2007. The plan was to add to the small part of ancient woodland already existing in the site’s 42 hectares, constructing woodland that offered spectacular views of local countryside landmarks. As visitors walk through the remains of old farmsteads, the mountains of north west wales stand tall, rising up into the distance, deep into Snowdonia as you look inland. In the opposite direction is the Irish Sea. It’s a stunning area.

Kielder Forest, Northumberland

With an observatory made famous by Stargazing Live, Kielder is not only a great place for dark skies and astronomical observations; it’s also a woodland that hosts some interesting art that will engage children and adults alike with the forest around them.

A huge wooden head with a mouth you can walk through, rotating chairs that fold out like flower petals and a miniature golf course made of maps are just a few of the 20-something artworks that are hidden amongst the trees. The forest stakes a claim to be Britain’s largest art gallery, and few could argue as this mass of greenery spreads across a vast countryside of north east England.

It’s also the place eagle-eyed wildlife enthusiasts will be able to find over half of England’ red squirrel population. Again, with excellent accessibility, it’s somewhere that people of all ages, abilities and interests can enjoy.

Photograph: © Copyright Iain Thompson and licensed for reuse under this Creative Commons Licence.

New Forest, Hampshire

Many visitors leave the New Forest slightly disappointed.

Having expected a sprawling expanse of thick woodland, they are faced with vast areas of heather moorland punctuated by coppices and woods that are home to a plethora of wildlife, including the famous New Forest ponies, the grazing cattle, deer, red kites and flora unique to the region.

Here, the word ‘forest’ refers to its ancient meaning: a royal hunting ground.

In fact, it’s not all that new either, having been planted during the reign of William the Conqueror, so the name is a little bit of a misconception.

All the same, there are countless walks, activities, picnic areas and several scenic drives to enjoy in what is a beautiful part of southern England.

Ingleton Falls, North Yorkshire

The Ingelton Waterfalls Trail in North Yorkshire is a wonderful walk along the rivers Twiss and Doe, steeped with trees on both banks. The trail takes in nine woodland waterfalls over the four-mile trek around some of Yorkshire’s most lovely countryside on the edge of the Dales.

It’s easy to see why it has been designated a site of special scientific interest.

Open since 1885, the trail is on private land so it does cost a small fee to follow the trail, but it’s worth it. What greets you is a series of spectacular falls set in beautiful woodland – Thornton Force is a particular highlight. 

For information about how to help preserve and enjoy our ancient woodlands, visit the Woodland Trust website.


Main image: Getty

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