Take a day trip or weekend break to one of the UK's leafiest locations: tackle a treetop obstacle course, walk in the setting for the film ‘Robin Hood: Prince of Thieves’, then warm up in a wood-burning hot tub and bed down in a tepee.
The ancient pollarded oaks and beeches of Burnham wood were saved from encroaching development in 1880 by prescient City of London bankers. The ‘very reverend vegetables’, as the poet Thomas Gray put it, were filmed in ‘Robin Hood: Prince of Thieves’ as a stand-in for Sherwood. Volunteers play an important role in the management and upkeep of the woodland. Pitch in and help out with heathland restoration or birch cutting.
Grizedale Lodge B&B on the edge of the forest has four-poster bedrooms from £50. Hawkshead, Ambleside, Cumbria, LA22 0QL (015394 36532).
The largest free public space in the South East and an Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty, Ashdown Forest was also the inspiration for the adventures and ‘expotitions’ of Winnie-the-Pooh. Wander the 6,500-acre wood on one of the ‘Pooh Walk’ routes, quoting AA Milne and his bear of little brain. Just make sure to watch out for Heffalumps.
Ashdown Forest Centre, Wych Cross, Forest Row, East Sussex, RH18 5JP (01342 823583). East Grinstead rail.
Where to stay
Choose a yurt or tepee at Wowo, a family-friendly campsite six miles from the forest with a brook running through it.
Brede High Woods
Six miles north of Hastings, along the B2089, Brede is the largest ancient woodland managed by the Woodland Trust. Part of the High Weald Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty, it’s been exploited since Roman times for its deposits of iron ore, and is now a focus of archaeological interest. The furnaces and bellows have given way to mossy trails that weave through peaceful woods. Join a nature walk with local ecologist Patrick Roper.
Choose from the Piggery (sleeps two), the Cowshed (sleeps eight) or a private campsite. Stoke the fire in your own private wood-burning hot tub at Hawthbush Farm.
Epping Forest (6,000 acres) remains the largest area of ancient forest around London – and was dedicated to the people by Queen Victoria in 1882. The forest is considered a Site of Special Scientific Interest and Special Area of Conservation. Contemplate the changing colours reflected in the water from a hired boat.
If you’re strapped for cash, you can avoid a sleepover and do an easy day trip to woods inside Greater London. Charmingly named, for medieval archery practice (rather than the array of anti-aircraft guns stationed here in WWII, or the many highwaymen who haunted the Roman Watling Street and later hung from its gibbets), this patch of trees encompasses several woodlands (Oxleas, Castle and Jack Woods), the folly of Severndroog Castle, a Victorian gothic water tower and a host of literary references including Byron’s ‘Don Juan’, H G Wells’s ‘The War of the Worlds’, Dickens and Pepys. Walk with a ranger on Thursday mornings or join in on regular volunteer workshops.
Another wooded area that is ideal for a day trip – and tends to be ignored by the hordes that gather in Richmond Park and Bushy Park – is Hampton Court’s 700-acre back garden. Home to herds of fallow deer, a fourteenth-century ice house and a wonderfully knobbly stump called the Medieval Oak (or Methuselah’s Oak), thought to be 750 years old, it’s a calm swathe of parkland that affords long-distance views of Hampton Court Palace.
Where the wild boar roam. Dean’s mixed coniferous and broadleaf forest stretches along the Severn river up to Gloucester and has been a haven for wildlife since before the Normans. Swing through the treetops at the Go Ape adventure park, learn how to capture the scene in a forest photography course or join a Winter Owl evening (Friday and Saturday nights in November and December). The National Arboretum is nearby and is at its best in autumn.
Stay in the woods in a private ‘treehouse’ log cabin. Abbey Home Farm in Cirencester is an organic farm with yurts, cabins and camping.
At the northern end of the Chilterns, the Ashridge Estate, managed by the National Trust, is a Site of Special Scientific Interest and home to the ancient Frithsden Beeches. The pollarded trees featured in the Harry Potter films as the Forbidden Forest. Lady’s Walk is a place to see the autumn colour roll in, or join an organised deer walk to watch the fallow deer rut. Taste the fruits of the last of the summer sun at nearby Frithsden Vineyard.
The most complete conifer collection in the world – at Bedgebury, Kent – is a multi-hued mixture of evergreens and broadleaves interspersed between open spaces and waterways. Test your aim with archery, hire a bicycle or get high on canopy walks and zipwires care of Go Ape.
Bedgebury National Pinetum & Forest, Bedgebury Rd, Goudhurst, near Cranbrook, Kent, TN17 2SJ (01580 879820). Open from 8am daily, weather permitting. £8.50 car parking charge. Etchingham rail.
Where to stay
Beckett’s B&B has four rooms in a converted barn with vaulted ceilings and exposed beams. Or there’s the more contemporary Slides Farm.
Thetford Forest Park
Britain’s largest lowland pine forest, located in the Norfolk Brecklands, was created after World War I and is now a centre for activities of all sorts. Glide along the forest trails on a Segway or a bicycle. In December, walk through dark woods lit up (www.theelectricforest.co.uk).
Home to the legend of Robin Hood and dominated by native species, Sherwood forest has some of the oldest oaks in Britain: the ‘Major Oak’ is estimated to be 800 years old. Join a hawk walk or learn to string a bow at the Adrenalin Jungle, a kid-friendly activity park.
A remnant of the Saxon hunting forests of Mocktree, Deerfold and Bringewood. Mortimer is the largest block of forest in the Marches – an area stretching from Shrewsbury to Leominster. Take in the geology trails and ridge walks on horseback and cover a lot more ground (www.northfarmludlow.co.uk).
It’s long been a much-loved day trip for Londoners, and Box Hill’s panoramic views over the North Downs inspired Keats and Austen. Graham Simmonds, trustee of the Trees for Cities charity, says: ‘My favourite forest to escape to near London is the woodlands at Box Hill near Dorking in Surrey, which has some great beech and oak woods and even wild cherry on the top of the hill; plus there are amazing views, and a very nice pub too!’ For those who are inspired and want to join Trees for Cities on a tree-planting escapade, now’s the season.
A little further out – near Billingshurst – is Shadow Woods with yurts, cottage and bush craft courses.
Deep in Constable country, and managed by the RSPB, Stour Wood is a place to gather sweet chestnuts for roasting or join a fungal forage (firstname.lastname@example.org). Native trees with spectacular colours give way to estuary salt marshes where wading birds congregate on their winter migrations.
There are luxurious canvas-and-wood-frame tents at Layer Marney Tower 25 miles away or you can sleep under oak beams in one of the self-catering cottages at Park Hall.
Europe’s oldest planted woodland has been owned by a single family for 31 generations. The 4,500-acre Savernake Estate offers visitors the ordered grace of landscape architect Lancelot ‘Capability’ Brown’s ‘Grand Avenue’ of beeches (planted in the 1790s) and the gnarly majesty of ancient oaks in groves carpeted with fallen leaves. A few miles further west is the Neolithic henge at Avebury, which includes the largest stone circle in the world.
Walk the ancient Ridgeway in Wiltshire through Grovely Wood – another Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty – along a path that has been used to travel the downland for centuries. In spring you can see purple emperor butterflies here, but now is the season for rutting deer, fungi, wild plums and bullaces, blackberries, cobnuts, chestnuts and, after the first frost, sloes.
There are four rooms and a cottage at The Compasses Inn, a fourteenth-century thatched freehouse.
Time Out guidebooks
Introduces 100 of the best campsites in Britain, from the Cornish Riviera to the wild north-west of Scotland.
The Great Trees of London guidebook
London has some wonderful trees, but it also has some Great Trees: horse chestnuts, London planes, oaks, beeches and other more unusual species that are notable for being rare, ancient, tall, historically significant or special in some way.