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24 September 2014

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Hatfield Forest
Image:  field of cows
Hatfield Forest Country Park
A flat easy walk across fields to join the Flitch Way. Then through Hatfield Forest Country Park, one of the finest and least altered survivors of the medieval forest of Essex.

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The National Trust
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Hatfield Forest is an example of a small Royal Forest that survives relatively unscathed.

In the 18th Century, two lakes were added, as was the Shell House.

The area was given to the National Trust in 1924.
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Start: Hatfield Forest car park on the lane signposted to Bush End and Hatfield Forest from A120 at Takeley
Distance: 5½ miles (8.9km)
Approximate time: 2½ hours
Refreshments: cafe by lake in Hatfield Forest, or pubs in Takeley and Hatfield Broad Oak
Map: OS Landranger 167 (Chelmsford, Harlow & Bishop's Stortford)
Explorers 183 (Chelmsford and The Rodings) and 95 (Braintree & Saffron Walden)

image: church

Begin by leaving the car park and turning right along the lane, passing a tiny church. Turn left along the lane signposted to Bush End and, where it bears right, turn left over a stile and take the path ahead across a field. Climb a stile on the far side, walk along the left-hand edge of a field to a T-junction and turn left onto a track, which bends right to continue along the right-hand edge of a field.

image: The Flitch Way

Where the track turns left, keep ahead along a path to continue by field edges. As you cross to the final field swap from walking by the right-hand edge to the left-hand edge to reach a hedge gap on to a straight, tree-lined path. This is the Flitch Way, a footpath and cycle way created from the former Braintree to Bishop Stortford Railway.

image: Hatfield Forest sign

After crossing a bridge over a lane, the path continues along the right-hand edge of Hatfield Forest. Ignore gates turning off into the forest and continue until you reach a Forest Way post. Turn left over a stile, and join the Forest Way entering Hatfield Forest Country Park.

image: The Shell House

Keep ahead to eventually emerge into a large open area and bear left across it to meet a stony track. Turn left along this curving track to a T-junction and turn right along a tarmac drive to a car park and National Trust information board by a junction of tracks and paths. Turn left through a gate and take the path that passes in front of the cafe and Shell House. The latter, an 18th-century picnic room, is so called because it is decorated with shells and flints.

Image: lake

Bear left to continue across the end of the lake and, immediately on entering woodland, turn right through trees to a stile. Climb it, keep ahead past some impressive ancient trees and bear left to a T-junction. Turn right, climb a stile to emerge from the woodland and keep ahead to climb another stile on to a lane. Turn left to return to the starting point.

Photographs courtesy of Alan Webster

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