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Whether whizzing along woodland trails, embracing a loch-side stroll or enjoying the view from a treetop walkway, there are many ways to soak up the magic of Britain’s forests and arboretums.
Easily accessible by public transport, Epping Forest is a green oasis close to the heart of London. Stretching 12 miles, this ancient woodland is one of the largest open spaces in the capital, with many cycling trails and forest walks to enjoy. One of the best-loved walking routes is the Willow Trail, a family friendly hike that runs alongside Connaught Water, passing grazing longhorn cattle on the way. If you want to add a more challenging trek to your London itinerary, you can discover the Oak Trail, an energetic route along the edge of the park’s Deer Sanctuary that features acorn-peppered paths and historic monuments.
Made famous by the story of Robin Hood, Sherwood Forest now hosts some modern-day adventures. The nearby GoApe outdoor activity centre features knee-buckling tree top challenges, daring zip wires and 30-foot-high netted walkways. Back on the forest floor, you can dream of an off-road Segway adventure.
If you’re a history lover, you can walk through England’s ancient past by finding the Major Oak, a vast gnarled tree with a lifespan of more than thousand years, or retrace the fabled footsteps of Robin Hood along the Greenwood or Wildwood walking trails.
Located close to another city centre is Oxford’s Harcourt Arboretum, a 130-acre collection of colourful, mature trees that dates back to the 19th century. Featuring meadows of wildflowers, vibrant Japanese trees and some of the oldest giant redwoods in Britain, it’s a fascinating spot if you’re a nature lover. There’s also a spell-binding eight-acre pinetum which dates back to the 1830s, along with native bluebell and lime woodlands and an Acer Glade, which delivers seasonal highlights throughout the year.
You can get a taste of this lush sanctuary with a virtual look around the 19th century Serpentine Ride, the grassy path that winds through the oldest parts of the arboretum.
Delamere Forest in Cheshire is another location packed with family fun. Easily accessible thanks to its own train station, there are many tempting walking trails including the Old Pale, which rewards you with views of all seven surrounding counties and Liverpool’s iconic skyline.
High above the mature trees lie more fantastic GoApe activities, including a high rope treetop challenge, zip wires and wobbly bridges. Smaller explorers can look forward to meeting the Gruffalo, in the form of a charming sculpture, and finding 12 markers in the deep, dark wood with Gruffalo orienteering.
If you want to spend the night in this enchanting forest, you can look forward to Delamere’s brand new forest cabins, complete with log burners and private hot tubs, which are set to open soon.
Another majestic selection of trees can be found at Westonbirt, the National Arboretum. Located in Gloucestershire, it is home to more than 15,000 trees and 2,500 species from across the globe. You can wander between some of the tallest trees in Britain in addition to native conifers and as many as 100 rare and threatened specimens.
Another highlight is the STIHL Treetop Walkway. Measuring 300 metres in length and located 13 metres above the forest floor, it’s an unforgettable way to see one of Britain’s most beautiful arboretums.
A hub of wildlife walks, mountain bike trails and water sports by day, come nightfall Kielder Water and Forest Park becomes a stellar stargazing hotspot. As an official International Dark Sky Park it boasts one the clearest skies in Europe. Home to the Kielder Observatory, it offers out-of-this-world experiences, including the chance to spot meteor showers and shooting stars, plus a range of interactive talks and activities.
Back on earth, if you’re a foodie fan you can plan a Northern Wilds Forage and Feast adventure. Focusing on the seasonal delicacies of the region, these experiences teach you how to identity edible wild plants and fungi before finishing with an eco-friendly foraged meal.
If you’re dreaming of vast forests, rugged mountains and jewel-like lochs, you can look forward to a trip to Queen Elizabeth Forest Park. Located just 25 miles from Glasgow, Rough Guide’s official world’s friendliest city for 2021, the park spans almost 50,000 acres and is home to both Loch Ard and Loch Lomond. You may also be keen to explore Loch Katrine’s Great Trossachs Arts & Literature Trail, which was loved by Wordsworth and Sir Walter Scott alike.
Approximately 75 miles south of those twinkling lochs visitors can find another woodland getaway, Galloway Forest Park. The UK's largest forest, it is home to gentle cycling routes in addition to beautiful walking trails. If you’re keen to embrace the great outdoors on two wheels, you can also look forward to exploring Kirroughtree or Glentrool, two of Scotland’s internationally renowned 7stanes mountain biking centres. Kirroughtree offers outstanding single-track routes, while Glentrool encompasses many types of adventure, including the famous Big Country Route.
If you’re an animal lover dreaming of Scotland’s iconic wildlife, you can look forward to seeing the herd of Red Deer in Galloway Forest Park. With a special viewing area and hide, you’re able to see the deer up close without disturbing their natural environment, for an environmentally friendly encounter with one of Scotland’s most iconic animals.
Gwydir Forest is another enchanting location full of al fresco activities. Nestled between great lakes and Snowdonia National Park, it encircles the lively mountain village of Betws-y-Coed. Here, you can go trout fishing in a 63-acre lake or discover walking trails leading to relics from Wales’s mining past. There’s also the 138-foot tall Swallow Falls waterfall and even the chance to embrace the adrenaline at Zip World Fforest.
Gwydir Forest is soon to become part of Wales’s new National Forest, a long-term project aiming to link ancient woodlands with 14 new sites that will run the length of the nation. Created with sustainability in mind, the initiative will include reforestation and improvement to existing woodlands, in addition to creating new spaces for wildlife and environmentally friendly leisure activities.