Hamsterley Forest lies wedged between Teesdale and Weardale in the heart of the Durham Dales. It is a place I have visited many times and my children have spent many a happy day there when they were younger.
How to get there :-
An hour's drive from the city of Durham following the road to Crook takes you through some scenic countryside and villages. After reaching Crook, continuing on the same road eventually brings you a roundabout which is the junction with the A68, the forest is signposted from there.
That is the way I always drive to the forest but of course if travelling from other areas, then the A68 may be more suitable and the forest is signposted north of West Auckland.
The postcode for your sat nav is DL13 3NL.
The forest itself is not served directly by public transport. It is possible to reach the village of Hamsterley via bus, but then you would have to walk 2 miles to the south entrance on a public road as there is no footpath.
Entering Hamsterley Forest :-
There are two entrances to the forest, the south entrance being the most popular, therefore I usually opt for the quieter entrance further up the road. The two entrances are at either end of the forest drive and you are required to pay £3 per car to access the forest and forest drive. This charge also covers your car parking anywhere in the forest.
Entering the forest from the more popular south entrance brings you to a large car park, situated beside the visitor centre, children's play park, bike hire, shop, tearoom and toilets. Of course you do not have to park there, but it is handy for the facilities.
Personally I prefer to enter via the other entrance and follow the forest drive towards the south entrance, stopping off at various places on the way.
A day at Hamsterley Forest :-
There are numerous places to stop off along the forest drive and it's always easy to find a quiet spot, even when the forest is busy in the summer months. We have spent many a warm summer's day parked on grassed areas near Bedburn Beck which runs through the forest. There are many large areas which can get quite busy, but also a few smaller quieter ones, so it is worth having a drive along instead of parking at the first place you come to.
When my daughters were younger we would take a picnic or even a barbecue and enjoy a day in the forest. As it lies in a valley, it is sheltered and can get quite hot in the sun. Parking near the beck is handy, as you can go for a paddle to cool down. My daughters would play in the beck for hours, enjoying building dams and splashing around.
We also have enjoyed some of the waymarked walks in the forest. Full details are available from the visitor centre, as the walks are of varying lengths, ranging from simple strolls to ones with more difficulty or including gradients.
If you do not like walking then you can hire a bike or take your own with you. The forest is a popular place for keen mountain bike enthusiasts as well as those who just enjoy a relaxing cycle ride. We would strap my daughters mountain bikes to the bike carrier on our car and they could happily ride around the grassed areas where we parked or ride along one of the trails.
It is also just nice to laze around with your picnic or barbecue on a warm day and many families do just that. The only time barbecues have been banned is if we have had a particularly dry spell and the risk of a forest fire is greatly increased. I know this doesn't happen very often given the often rainy summers we seem to have, but I can recall once in the 90's when it was warm and we had no rain for a while. Barbecues were not allowed in the forest during this time. Of course you must always be very careful anyway when having a barbecue in the forest.
Near the south entrance you will find all the facilities I mentioned earlier. The visitor centre has plenty of information and displays on the forest and habitat as well as walks and cycle routes. There is a great adventure play area for the children. The tearoom is also good but can get quite busy. It serves some lovely homemade cake!
Ice cream vans and burger vans visit the forest also.
Events take place throughout the year, such as planned activities to orienteering and all information on these are available from the Visitor Centre.
The forest is also used by scouts and brownies/guides throughout the year. My daughters went to guide camp in a cabin in the forest once in October and had a great time.
Hamsterley Forest is a great day out and a lovely place to visit at any time of year. We have often visited in the autumn and collected conkers.
It is large, scenic and although gets quite busy in the summer especially on weekends, you can always find a quiet spot for a picnic.
Often in school holidays it can become quite expensive keeping your kids amused. Visiting a forest such as Hamsterley is ideal as other than your travelling costs, all you need is £3 entry then you need not reach for your purse again! Children love a picnic in the forest and there is plenty of space to run around, play ball games etc. Take cricket sets and bats and balls etc along with you to also keep your kids amused.
It is worth noting that you can also purchase a 'Discovery Pass' which is valid for a year and allows free access to the forest. If you visit often it is worth considering this.
Overall, I can thoroughly recommend a visit to Hamsterley Forest. It remains one of my favourite places to visit. The well known botanist, author, broadcaster and environmental campaigner, David Bellamy, loves Hamsterley Forest so much he lives there!
For further info on Hamsterley Forest you can contact the ranger, Neil Taylor on 01388 488312 or email him at email@example.com