Taking a walk in the forest is a fantastic way to get outdoors and away from the hustle and bustle of daily life.
According to studies, spending time in a forest can reduce psychological, depression and hostility. At the same time it is also known to help improve sleep and the feeling of well being, whilst being mutually beneficial for your physical health and fitness too. The smell of trees also have their benefits as the chemicals they release, phytoncides, have been attributed to improved immune defences as well as a reduction in anxiety!
With all these advantages of walking around trees it is no wonder I feel so relaxed after spending time in my local wooded areas. When you add the fact that they offer such scenic surroundings to pass the time whilst walking, it makes me wonder why I don’t spend more time in the woods!
I have always been a big advocate for exercising to improve mental health. No matter what activity you choose, you will always find that once completed your state of mind is completely different.
Walking or hiking is an activity that has become more frequent in my training schedule in recent years. It offers a break from the high impact and intensity from other activities I take part in, like running or spinning. Though, that’s not to say it is any easier. With a group of highly enthusiastic walkers – the pace and the terrain is always a challenge.
Whilst training for the Isle of Wight challenge finding routes that allowed us to prepare for both the mileage and terrain proved rather difficult. Living around the Herts/ Essex border did not exactly prepare us for what we were to be facing on the island. So we had to search for the toughest hills possible, the longest paths and the most picturesque routes to keep our minds occupied on the challenge ahead.
Forest routes became a frequent favourite as most offered us all of the factors we needed for training.
Epping Forest was one of these and one route we continue walking today! The 2,400 hectares of ancient woodlands is found between Epping at the north and Wanstead at the south. Here you will find 12 miles of woodland paths north to south and 2.5 miles east to west – offering a fantastic opportunity to walk a loop of significant distance. A forest with many paths that look identical, it does open the opportunity to get lost if you don’t know your way – I certainly did the first time I ventured there alone. Once you have familiarised yourself with the paths (perhaps with a map), you will find pleasure if finding new routes and working how to make your walk longer or more challenging.
Not only that, but with our ever changing seasons you will be rewarded with a number of beautiful views whatever the weather. Epping Forest is always a hive of activity throughout the year, with dog walkers, runners, cyclists and horse riders alike – all wanting to take advantage of the beautiful scenery.
Hatfield Forest, though significantly smaller than Epping a short distance away, offers equally stunning views. Only 403 hectares, it is a biological Site of Specific Scientific Interest in Essex. Only a few miles from Bishops Stortford and moments away from London Stansted airport, this picturesque spot is owned and managed by the National Trust. Like Epping Forest, not only will you stumble across a number of walkers, runners, cyclists and horse riders but also roaming cattle during the fairer months of the year. Whilst Epping offers an undulating terrain, Hatfield Forest is significantly flat in comparison. Running along the north of the forest is the Flitch Way, a former railway line passing through 15 miles of rural Essex between Bishops Stortford and Braintree, where you will find numerous runners and cyclists opting for the gentle path ways to clock up the miles.
Delve further into the forest and you will find a mix of grassy paths, woodlands and even a lake. In the height of Summer, the forest is a hive of activity, with numerous families and friendship groups heading here for the day. In the cooler months, especially earlier in the day you will normally come across dog walkers and fisherman, taking advantage of the serene surroundings. No matter what time of year you visit, you are bound to be captivated by the beauty of the Forest, though more so during early, cold, sunny mornings in the winter when the sunrise and mist from the cooler temperatures provide the most beautiful backdrop.
I have walked both Epping and Hatfield Forest countless times over the last few years and am yet to find a walk that I don’t enjoy. Each walk may see us taking the same steps, following the same paths at times, but every time we do the view is different. At the end of each walk we find ourselves feeling just that little bit better physically and mentally.