Hatfield Forest is the best surviving example in Britain of an almost complete Royal Hunting Forest. It has seen many owners, from Kings to commoners, evoking the atmosphere of a medieval hunting Forest.
Hatfield Forest is approximately 403 hectares of managed landscape, created by centuries of human intervention. The traditional woodland management techniques of coppicing (cutting), pollarding (cutting off the top sections of trees) and grazing are continued today. It is home to over 3,500 species of wildlife, some of which are rare and threatened. The ancient trees, some are more than one thousand years old, provide the perfect habitat for some of the Forest's rarest insects, lichens and fungi.
Whether you want somewhere for the children to run off their excess energy or looking for a place of quiet reflection, you will find your own special place at Hatfield Forest.
Some History on Hatfield Forest
Who was Lancelot 'Capability' Brown? Capability (a nickname for being so capable) Brown was born into a humble family in the small Northumberland village of Kirkharle. Brown trained as a gardener. In the 1740's he became the Head Gardener at Stowe, Buckinghamshire, which at the time, was the most famous garden in England. It was here his career took off. The Grecian Valley at Stowe was his first masterpiece.
Lancelot 'Capability' Brown was one of the UK's most talented landscape designers. Working on an immense scale, Brown replaced formal, geometric designs with a far more natural style - sweeping lawns, serpentine lakes and contoured land dotted with trees. Apparently, not everybody approved of Capability Brown's gardening approach. In fact, some saw his uprooting of formal gardens to make way for his 'natural' landscapes as an act of vandalism. Brown believed that designed gardens were only truly beautiful if they mimicked nature. His revolutionary style set a trend for eighteenth century gardens throughout Europe and beyond.
His clients and employers included some of the rich and famous of the time - six Prime Ministers, half of the House of Lords and even King George III.
Hatfield Forest was one of Capability's earlier, smaller gardening schemes in the late 1750's.
On the day we visited, it was to the Lake Area of the Hatfield Forest. Hatfield Forest contains a number of buildings and sites of historic relevance, including The Fishermans Shelter, which was built in the 1920's. The interior has three fire places and heavy oak benches and tables in the Arts and Crafts style. Unfortunately, we couldn't venture inside as the Fishermans Shelter was locked, but I did manage to get a picture of the front entrance.
Front entrance of the Fishermans Shelter - Image: Elaine de Wet
I know you're going to ask what IS so special about these boulders or rocks. Yep, who on earth is really that interested in photos of rocks, unless you're a geologist or a geophysicist. Well, let me tell you. First of all, these boulders are called Pudding Stones because they resemble the sultanas in a Christmas pudding. These specific boulders are approximately 55 million years old! It is true - they were formed just after the extinction of the dinosaurs.
Pudding Stones, because they resemble sultanas in a Christmas pudding - Image: Elaine de Wet
So how were these amazingly old boulders formed. At the time - remember, eons ago - the climate was very hot, similar to the climate in central Australia today. These Pudding Stones were formed from flint pebbles, cemented together by quartz to form an extremely hard rock and were then brought to this area by a glacier during the Ice Age nearly half a million years ago. It really astounds me how historians and geologists can know all this 'stuff'! Okay, according to hubby, they know this, because these are 'odd' or unusual rocks and are not typical to the local area.
Go boating at Hatfield Forest - Images: Elaine de Wet
There is so much to do at Hatfield Forest for families, especially on beautiful Summer days. Walking or running the abundant trails throughout the forest; cycling (bring your own bicycles) to the far reaches of the forest; or try the lake for boating and/or fishing. Look out for the deer while you're out and about, the Hatfield Forest is home to both Fallow and Muntjac deer.
Our 4-pawed family members are very welcome too - Image: Elaine de Wet
Once you're done adventuring and exploring, why not treat yourself to a slice of cake or a hot chocolate from the Forest Cafe, an outdoor cafe serving fresh, locally sourced, homemade food. The Cafe is fully licensed and sells a range of bottled beers, cider as well as small bottles of wine.
Can you see Hank in the background, to the right? Image: Elaine de Wet
Hank is a mobile catering unit, which was created in the style of a US Army truck from World War II, in recognition of the reported use of the forest, as a storage facility for munitions for the nearby USAAF air base at Stansted. Hank offers grilled food like beef burgers or Hatfield Forest's very own venison burgers. Hank was unfortunately closed on the day we visited, so we missed out on trying their speciality venison burger.
Lots of interesting goodies to be found at the gift shop - Images: Elaine de Wet
Finish off your day's outing with a trip to the Hatfield Forest gift shop, who stock a wide variety of local produce; gift items; picnic essentials - beautiful blankets to make your picnic perfect; and even books.
Experience an ancient Royal Hunting Forest at Hatfield Forest in Bishop's Stortford - it is the ideal destination for a family day out and with so many activities available, one day trip could certainly turn into regular outings.