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September 15, 2023

Destination: United Kingdom


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Best Woods & Forests in the UK

There’s something quite magical about strolling through a forest. Leaves crunch underfoot and trees creak in the light breeze, as you walk through the beautiful leafy sanctuary.

Woodlands and forests actually represent just over one-eighth of the total land area in the UK, and often they’re not as far away from you as you think.

From just outside London to the remote wilds of Northumberland, here are some of the most beautiful and enchanting woods and forests in the UK.

The New Forest, Hampshire

Hampshire’s New Forest covers 219 square miles, stretching as far as Lymington on the coast. As a result, there are plenty of walking routes to discover, from woodlands and heathlands to coastline strolls.

Nature aside, there are also plenty of quaint neighbouring villages to stop for a bite to eat, like Lyndhurst (the ‘capital’ of the New Forest), Brockenhurst or Burley.

Ponies in New Forest Hampshire

The New Forest is just 90 minutes by train from London, and there are plenty of hotels, camping spots, and bed and breakfasts to stay at, too.

Lymington, SO41

Cwm Rheidol, Ceredigion

Wales is full of beautiful walks. But lined with towering trees, and a patchwork quilt of colours, Cwm Rheidol is really something special.

Winding its way through the valley is the famous steam train of the Vale of Rheidol Railway, which first opened in 1902, to export lead and timber.

Now, passengers can take the train through the woodlands to Devil’s Bridge (, where waterfalls and nature walks await them. It’s a brilliant day out for the whole family.

Vale of Rheidol Railway, Park Avenue, Aberystwyth, Ceredigion, SY23 1PG

Wychwood, Oxfordshire

The Wychwood is a small, but delightful wooded area in the East Cotswolds. Though it’s much, much smaller today, it is thought that the Wychwood was part of a larger forested area that stretched across Oxfordshire. The term Wychwood can be found in the Domesday Book. Today Wycwhood forest is a designated as a Site of Special Scientific Interest or SSSI.

The best walking to be had includes the footpath through the Cornbury Estate. Start in the village of Charlbury and head South through Cornbury’s North gate. Spot the Deer on the estate, who walk amongst some of the oldest trees in the area before looping back North again through the heart of the forest.

The forest give its name to the surrounding villages, Milton-Under-Wychwood, Shipton-Under-Wychwood and Ascot-Under-Wychwood – all worth a visit in their own right.

Chipping Norton, OX7 3EN

Bradfield Woods, Bury St Edmunds, Suffolk

Bradfield Woods near Bury St Edmunds is one of the UK’s most ancient woods, with some ash coppice stools thought to be over 1,000 years old. 

With five miles of trails, broken into three colour-coded different lengths, navigating your way through the woods is easy. Look out for songbirds and the 24 species of butterfly, which can be seen in the summer.

Bradfield Woods, Felsham Road, Bradfield St George, Bury St Edmunds, Suffolk IP30 0AQ

Tollymore Forest, Country Down, Northern Ireland

If you’re visiting Northern Ireland, Tollymore Forest is a must-see. Tucked into the foot of the Mourne Mountains, this 630-hectare forest offers panoramic views of the towering peaks, down to the sea at nearby Newcastle.

Tollymore Forest, Country Down, Northern Ireland

Wooden bridges cross the flowing rivers. Encased by a canopy of trees, Foley’s Bridge is perhaps the most iconic.

There are four waymarked trails of different lengths which you can follow, starting from the Tollymore Forest Park.

Bryansford Rd, Newcastle, BT33 0PR

Kielder Forest, Northumberland

Kielder Forest is the largest forest in England, spanning 250 square miles. While it’s a working forest, where timber for furniture or construction is produced, there are still plenty of beautiful woodland trails to explore.

Home to some 50% of England’s native red squirrel population, and the UK’s largest manmade lake, Kielder Forest is the ideal spot for anyone who loves nature and wildlife. It’s also not too far from the best sites of Hadrian’s Wall – somewhere brimming with over two thousand years of history.

Kielder Castle Visitor Centre, Kielder Castle, Northumberland, NE48 1ER

Loch Ard Forest, Stirlingshire

Loch Ard Forest doesn’t just offer charming trails to explore, you can also take part in a number of watersports like kayaking, swimming and wakeboarding.

Towering conifers line the loch and if you’re lucky, you may see some red squirrels and roe deer hiding in the woods, and osprey and otters down by the water’s edge.

There are many trails to choose from, ranging from 2 miles to 8.5 miles.

Loch Ard Forest, FK8 3TF

Friston Forest, East Sussex

Friston Forest is part of the South Downs National Park, not too far from the Seven Sisters Country Park, near Eastbourne.

There are 850 hectares of trails to explore in the forest, as well as great views of the Cuckmere and rolling South Downs.

Long Man of Wilmington in Friston Forest
The Church of St Michael, Withington. Image: Murray Harding

If you’re up for an adventure, plot a route out to the Long Man of Wilmington, an iconic carving in the chalk scarp of Wilmington Hill, which lies at the southern edge of the forest.

Friston Forest, Old Willingdon Road, East Dean, Eastbourne, BN20 0AT

Hainault Forest, Essex

If you’re based in London and are in need of some tranquil woodlands, there are quite a few only a stone’s throw away – but in which you’ll feel a million miles away from the busy city.

The 113-hectare Hainault Forest was a former hunting ground and medieval woodland and is home to a wide range of plants and wildlife. Over 150 bird species have been spotted here, so keep an eye out.

For other easy woodland escapes from London try Swinley Forest, Wendover Woods or Tring.

Fox Burrow Rd, Chigwell, IG7 4QL

Forest of Dean, Wales

Take the Sculpture Trail in the Forest of Dean and add a little something extra to your walk by looking out for the many contemporary sculptures along the way.

Highlights include the mesmerising stained glass window ‘Cathedral’ and the ‘Meander’, which is designed for people to stop and rest, as they immerse themselves in the forest.

Speech House Rd, Cannop, Gloucestershire, GL16

Ashdown Forest, East Sussex

Ashdown Forest is a place where fairytales come to life. It’s the woodland that inspired the adventures of the great Winnie-the-Pooh, or as A. A. Milne called it, The Hundred Acre Wood.

Ashdown Forest Bridge, East Sussex
The Church of St Michael, Withington. Image: Murray Harding

Just 30 miles from London, Ashdown Forest is a wonderful family day out, with over 6,500 acres to explore. Make sure you stop at the legendary Pooh Stick bridge for a game or two.

The Ashdown Forest Centre, Wych Cross, Forest Row, East Sussex, RH18 5JP

Grizedale Forest, Lake District

From hiking the high peaks of Scafell Pike and Helvellyn to beautiful lakeside strolls, the Lake District is famously home to some of England’s finest walking. 

Not too far from Windermere and Coniston Water is Grizedale Forest. This lovely woodland is full of beautiful walking trails, flowing streams, lakes, and majestic trees.

There’s also another sculpture trail here, with each sculpture made from natural materials.

Grizedale Forest, Hawkshead, LA22 0QJ

Padley Gorge, Peak District

The Peak District is known amongst hikers for its wild and windswept hills and as home to some particularly dramatic stretches of the Pennine Way. But it actually has some enchanting woodland walks, too.

Padley Gorge Peak District
The Church of St Michael, Withington. Image: Murray Harding

Padley Gorge is a wooded valley in the eastern part of the National Park. It’s home to Burbage Brook, which flows through the forest; quaint wooden bridges provide a crossing over the meandering streams.

If you start at Grindleford station, there are many different length walks you can do, following signed trails. There are also a few refreshment stops along the way, too. 

Padley Gorge Trail, Hope Valley S32 2HY

What’s the difference between a wood and a forest?

In England, ‘wood’ and ‘forest’ are used interchangeably when describing an area of trees, though ‘forest’ has come to mean a larger area of trees.

Historically that’s not necessarily been the case. Here’s countryside author John Lewis-Stempel, in his book: The Wood: The Life and Times of Cockshutt Wood. “Forest is derived from late-Latin foras meaning ‘outside’ ordinary jurisdiction, being subject to ‘forest law.'” He continues, “a forest would include large areas of land that were treeless such as farmland, and even whole towns.” 

Lewis-Stempel explains further, “woodland is a term associated with naturalness, but natural woodland is a misconception. Along with coppicing and wood-cutting, from the Bronze Age onwards woods were farmed with livestock.”

Like our pick of the UK’s best woods and forests? As a neat little partner piece, check out our favourite fall walks.

Experienced by

Gaby Cecil

Expert Guide

Cotswold Tours

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