Best Forests to Explore This Winter: Family Fun with Forestry England

Wild, ever-changing and the backdrop to many a fairytale, but in addition to this forests are a massively important part of the outdoors. By being the home for thousands of species of animals, plants and insects they play a vital role in maintaining the health of the ecosystem and reinforcing biodiversity. Not only do these leafy wonderlands provide a home for nature to flourish, they also have an abundance of fun to be had, making them fantastic destinations for all ages!

Looked after by Forestry England, these nature theme parks have more to offer than most people know. From white knuckle ziplining to outdoor meditation classes. They’re open all year and you can bet there’s one on your doorstep. In fact, a recent report shows everyone living in England is within a 60-minute drive of a Forestry England site and 88% of people are less than 30 minutes away. Whether you’re a woodland regular looking to tick off more great locations or just looking for a new weekend family outing that doesn’t break the bank, this blog showcases what our nation's forests have to offer!

Kielder Forest

Kielder Forest can be found on the northern border of Northumberland. Made up of mostly conifer trees it holds the title of largest manmade forest in the UK with a size of 250 square miles, and there’s plenty of fun to be had in all that space.

 Kielder offers a variety of walking and hiking trails suitable for all ages and fitness levels, with options for short family-friendly walks or more challenging hikes. Home to Kielder Water, a large reservoir surrounded by stunning landscapes. You can walk around its shore, have a picnic or engage in water activities like sailing, canoeing or kayaking during the warmer months.

If you're interested in taking part in stargazing, you should check out Kielder Observatory. It's an excellent spot for observing the night sky, and they host specialist events and astronomy sessions for the whole family like the little explorer’s event and space kids. The forest offers other family-friendly activities, such as adventure playgrounds and the Kielder Castle Visitor Centre, which hosts educational events and exhibitions frequently.

Kielder Forest is home to diverse wildlife. Don't forget to pack binoculars to keep an eye out for the famous red squirrels, ospreys, and a wide variety of bird species. You can also explore the nearby nature reserves, such as Bakethin and Tower Knowe, for even more opportunities to observe animals and enjoy serene nature walks.

If planned events aren’t your thing, you can discover unique art installations and architectural features scattered throughout the forest. Notable examples include the Kielder Skyspace and the Silvas Capitalis, also known as the 'giant forest head.' The forest is also a great destination for cycling enthusiasts, with dedicated trails like the Deadwater Trail, part of the 7stanes mountain biking network. Even if you’re after a spot of fishing, Kielder Water provides angling opportunities galore. Be sure to check local regulations and obtain any necessary permits!

Haldon Forest Park

From the north to the south and Haldon Forest Park! Approximately 15 minutes from Exeter in Devon, it covers almost 1,500 hectares across the Haldon Hills. Containing around half a million trees it’s a large Site of Special Scientific Interest, with plenty of rare animals, such as adders, pearl-bordered fritillary butterflies and European nightjar. Haldon has plenty of hides and sheltered viewing platforms to sit and try your luck at spotting them!

As well as being a haven for unique wildlife the forest is perfect for finding plenty of fun outdoor activities. Haldon Forest is a well-known spot for cycling and mountain bike trails ranging from beginner to advanced levels. It’s even got bike hire and cleaning so switching to two wheels for the day on a whim is always an option.

If you fancy something more adventurous for the family day out, you’ll be glad to hear Forestry England has partnered with Go Ape to create a treetop adventure experience in the Forest. This includes zip lines, tree-to-tree crossings, and high ropes courses. It’s a great way to see the forest from a different perspective and is definitely one to get the adrenaline going.

If staying on the ground is more your cup of tea or if you have younger children, the forest has something special for the kids; the Gruffalo Orienteering course. Pick up a Gruffalo-themed orienteering map and take to the trail to find twelve giant Gruffalo markers hidden in the deep, dark wood! This trail is even pushchair-friendly, so it’s perfect for families with younger children. With plenty of facilities such as baby changing, a café, a play area and a Ranger's office Haldon has everything a family might need when enjoying one of the UK's most stunning forests. Haldon also scores high in the inclusivity department, with all-terrain mobility scooters on hand for anyone to hire. Off-road mobility scooters, also known as trampers, can tackle a range of surfaces and gradients in any weather condition with ease making Haldon forest one of the most inclusive forests due to its high levels of accessibility and facilities.

High Lodge

We’re in the east of England for our third fantastic forest at High Lodge. Part of Thetford forest, High Lodge is a result of an effort to create a diverse woodland ecosystem. Along with many coniferous tree species, there are also many classic broadleaf favourites such as oak, birch and beech. But as well as an amazing variety of trees, this forest has everything you’ll need to feel like a real-life Robin Hood! As well as a Go Ape with an extra demanding course option, High Lodge boasts its own archery range to try once you’re done swinging through the treetops. A company called Lookout Archery offers an archery experience for everyone, from beginners to seasoned archers. They run one-hour lessons, group sessions, birthday parties, corporate events and school trips. If fun and games are what you’re after, nestled among the trees is an 18-hole forest-themed mini golf course as well as a 9-hole Frisby golf course.

For the young orienteers, there’s another Gruffalo trail complete with carved wooden statues to find. Plus, a Zog the Dragon-themed orienteering trail they can try that incorporates augmented reality via an app. This allows them to collect all the gold stars while learning how to care for the forest as they play. For the older kids and adults, there are plenty of tougher orienteering challenges, guided trail runs and plenty of running and cycling events to get involved in. If you want to see the forest on a more unconventional mode of transport the Go Ape has Segways for you to take on an hour-long off-road adventure!

High Lodge has an abundance of exciting things to do on your visit, but if you’re after something more relaxing it has that covered too. Serenity Yoga runs walks from the information point at High Lodge and explores the forest during a 2-mile walk while practising yoga poses, meditation, and relaxation techniques as a group. Using nature as a backdrop for relaxation has many proven benefits to mental well-being and another unwinding activity to give a go is forest bathing! If you’re not sure what that is, it’s meditative and sensory practices that help you sink into a state of relaxation amongst the trees! This is said to enhance your well-being and health while you enjoy the beautiful woodland.

Delamere Forest

On the Cheshire Plain and just a stone's throw away from Liverpool and Manchester is Delamere Forest, easily accessible with its own train station, this forest is an absolute gem for getting away from it all. Made up of evergreens, open grasslands and wetlands it's an enchanting and diverse location to spend time in. While having some of the staple features of many other Forestry England sites, such as great bike trails, Go Ape, Segway riding and Gruffalo trails, Delamere also gives you to chance to holiday right at the heart of the forest! Cabins complete with underfloor heating, log burners and hot tubs are available to rent so you can adventure all day, relax in comfort in the woods and then wake up in nature and adventure some more. It’s the perfect way to see and do all that’s on offer. Horse riders are welcome in the forest and there’s a quiet car park right on the forest's loop route for owners to park their trailers to see the forest from horseback.

The Delamere Forest Café is a large restaurant serving hot and cold meals from 9 am to 4 pm every day, with a 5 pm close on weekends. Perfect for refuelling after a long walk exploring the area or a fast-paced family bike ride. If a more alfresco vibe is what you’re after Delamere has plenty of picnic benches scattered throughout the forest to enjoy a well-earned break on. Another great aspect of this forest is the number of nearby smaller forests! Places like Sutton Manor, this 230-acre former colliery in which 2 million trees were planted changing it from wasteland into a hub of biodiversity with its own fishing pond. Viridor Woods, also a post-industrial landscape that was made into a green space for wildlife watchers and is now a Site of Special Scientific Interest (SSSI) plus many more nearby sites.  

As wardens of these important and picturesque sites, Forestry England has created a network of nature across the length and breadth of the country. The facilities and activities outlined here can be found at sites in every corner of the land.

Follow the link to Forestry Englands Website to plan your next outdoor adventure.

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