Forest of Dean, Gloucestershire
Mysterious and atmospheric, the Forest of Dean combines dense pine woods, rolling hills and the glistening ribbon of the Wye river, with plenty of family attractions dotted throughout. The big draws are Puzzlewood – a natural theme park – and the Clearwell Caves, while the Perrygrove Railway offers the chance to see the forest from a steam-drawn carriage. Hole up at the super-chic Tudor Farmhouse, a former working farm dating back to the 13th century, which offers rustic bedrooms and modern British cuisine.
• Doubles from £239 half-board, tudorfarmhousehotel.co.uk
Brechfa Forest, Carmarthenshire
Dating back to before records began in the sixth century, Brechfa (then known as the Glyn Cothi Forest) is encircled by traditional Welsh villages and hamlets that exude a tranquil charm. Follow the Forest Garden Trail, which links giant redwoods, eucalyptus, oak and walnut trees, wander through the Alpine-esque pine woods and settle down to lunch on one of the picnic tables, feasting on provisions from the fabulous Ginhaus Deli in nearby Landeilo. Stay at Tŷ Mawr Country Hotel, a secluded bolthole in the tranquil Cothi valley which has six light, airy bedrooms and a cosy restaurant focusing on local produce.
• Doubles from £130 B&B, wales-country-hotel.co.uk
The New Forest, Hampshire
Mentioned in the Domesday Book, this swathe of pasture, heathland and forest is tucked in between the Solent and the rolling Wiltshire plains. It’s a fantastic choice for families to explore on foot, bike, horseback or open-topped bus. Take a kayak out on the tranquil Beaulieu river, or hike through the woodland in the company of free-roaming ponies and deer. The forest is also rich in history, with ancient burial mounds, Saxon settlements and stately homes dotted between the trees. Stay at Daisybank Cottage in pretty Brockenhurst – a stylish, eight-room boutique B&B with chic bedrooms and a lovely, indulgent vibe.
• Doubles from £120 B&B, bedandbreakfast-newforest.co.uk
Elibank and Traquair Forest, Scottish Borders
A lush swathe of coniferous woodland in the Tweed Valley, this forest offers some of the UK’s most challenging mountain-bike trails and superb walking routes, with a good chance of spotting red squirrels and red deer. The Tweed Valley Railway Path offers a softer cycling option, while Traquair House – Scotland’s oldest inhabited house – gives a wonderful insight into the rich history of the forest and surrounding area. Nearby Windlestraw Manor is a charming country house hotel with stunning views.
• Doubles from £190 B&B, windlestraw.co.uk
Ashdown Forest, East Sussex
World-famous as the home of Winnie-the-Pooh, Ashdown Forest is an oasis of open heathland, woods and sandy ridges situated on the Kent/Sussex border. Ideal for a walking break, it features well-marked trails linking unspoilt villages, many of which have excellent pubs for re-fuelling. Of course, no visit to the Forest is complete without a stop at Pooh Corner – shop, tearoom and shrine to all things Pooh – in the pretty village of Hartfield, and a stroll up to the Enchanted Place, which has spectacular views across the forest. It’s an idyllic location both for children and adults revisiting their childhood. Stay at the Ashdown Park Hotel, a sumptuous country house with rolling gardens and a world-class spa.
• Doubles from £179 room-only, ashdownpark.com
Sherwood Forest, Nottinghamshire
Steeped in legend, most notably that of Robin Hood, Sherwood Forest is dominated by stately oak trees, the most famous of which, the Major Oak, is somewhere between 800 and 1,100 years old. Walking-trail maps of the forest are available from the well-equipped visitors’ centre, and there is an excellent programme of family-friendly activities, including bug hunts, storytelling walks and hireable children’s backpacks which are full of useful kit to help them explore. The Forest Lodge Hotel, just a five-minute walk from the forest, offers simple but comfortable rooms and a cosy, fire-lit bar.
• Doubles from £80 B&B, forestlodgehotel.co.uk
Grizedale Forest, Lake District
Leave the crowds behind at Windermere and Coniston and plunge into the shady walking and biking trails that crisscross the lush swathe of forest at Grizedale. A great choice for art lovers, the forest is famous for its sculpture trail, which features 50 works of art – all made from natural materials – dotted through the trees. Kids will love the chance to explore the area by Segway, and there’s a Go Ape climbing centre as well as excellent play areas for younger children. Stay nearby in the buzzy town of Hawkshead. Try the Hive, a clutch of attractive, comfortable rooms above the Poppi Red Café, which serves guests hearty breakfasts and homemade cakes.
• Two-night breaks from £200 room-only, hiverooms.co.uk
Galloway Forest, Dumfries and Galloway
Claimed to be the largest forest in the UK, Galloway Forest Park sprawls for more than 300 square miles, crisscrossed with biking and hiking trails, dotted with bird-watching hides, fishing lakes and even rock- and ice-climbing sites. The three visitor centres offer bookable activities, maps and orienteering trails, and there are excellent play parks for younger children. Stay at the House o’Hill Inn, the only pub actually inside the Forest Park, with two comfortable rooms above the lively bar and restaurant, serving locally sourced meat and fish.
• Doubles from £95 B&B, houseohill.co.uk
Afan Forest Park, south Wales
Afan is famous as one of the UK’s best mountain-biking destinations, with six world-class trails snaking across the 48-square-mile forest park. There’s more gentle cycling on offer, along the old railway track at the base of the valley, and walking routes varying from an easy one-mile stroll to a more challenging 10-mile hike. The Glyncorrwg Mountain Bike Centre offers bike hire, as well as day-fishing permits, and the Cedars Tearoom does a nice line in hearty sandwiches and cakes. Stay at the Afan Lodge, a comfortable, no-nonsense base for active holidaymakers, which offers family suites and a restaurant serving well-cooked pub classics.
• Doubles from £75 room only, afanlodge.wales
Forest of Bowland, Lancashire
The wooded valleys, heather-clad moorland and gritstone fells that make up the Forest of Bowland are scattered with hamlets and villages that feel almost untouched by 21st-century life. This is where to come for peace and quiet. The natural landscapes feel wild and untamed, with vast skies rolling out above the hills. There are clearly marked walking and cycling routes, while pretty market towns, such as Clitheroe and Bentham, offer the chance to stock up on local produce for picnics. Base yourself at the lovely Inn at Whitewell, a coaching inn dating back to the 1300s, famed for its restaurant and comfortable rooms.
• Doubles from £100 B&B, innatwhitewell.com
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This article was amended on 3 May 2021. Ashdown Forest is in East Sussex, not Kent, as the sub-heading in an earlier version said.