12 peaceful places to enjoy the outdoors in Hertfordshire

PUBLISHED: 10:00 18 December 2020 | UPDATED: 12:19 18 December 2020

Wildflower meadow at Heartwood Forest (c) Judith Parry

Wildflower meadow at Heartwood Forest (c) Judith Parry

Judith Parry

It’s been a stressful few months and, now with lockdown eased, we could all do with finding a place to relax. Here are some of the best spots in Herts to practise it safely.

Frogmore Meadows (c) Josh KubaleFrogmore Meadows (c) Josh Kubale

We’ve been taking walks locally for weeks to avoid unnecessary travel but finally we can head further afield for our relaxation and exercise as lockdown restrictions are eased.

Here are some of the best places to find calm, beauty and a balm to our mental health right here in the county. There are large expanses of woods, parks and wetlands to enjoy safely. Just remember the latest government advice.

Balls Wood, Hertford Heath

It’s increasingly well known that time spent outside and in nature helps relieve stress and anxiety by reducing levels of the hormone cortisol in the brain. To do just that, head to Balls Wood near Hertford. It’s a nearly 60 hectare nature reserve waiting to be explored, so shouldn’t pose problems for social distancing. The woodland is a tapestry of varied species including a number of ancient woodland ones such as herb-paris, common spotted orchid and old wild service trees. Look out for the wide and sunny rides which abound with beautiful butterflies, birds and wildflowers in summer.

Heartwood Forest, Sandridge

Being active has a whole range of benefits when it comes to mental wellbeing. For starters, it improves self-esteem, mood and sleep quality while reducing stress, anxiety and fatigue. So, what are you waiting for? Visit Heartwood Forest, managed by Woodland Trust volunteers, and embrace its abundance of space – 347 hectares to be exact. The site near St Albans is the largest continuous new native forest in the UK and boasts some fantastic walks to help you get back to nature and lost in the moment. Discover the woodland (ancient and new), wildflower meadows and a community orchard.

Rye Meads Nature Reserve, Hoddesdon

Watching wildlife offers a great way to reduce anxiety and stress, and nourish our wellbeing. So, if you are looking to lose yourself in the spectacle of nature for an afternoon, the wild is closer than you might think – just head to RSPB Rye Meads, a beautiful wetland reserve beside the river Lee and a firm favourite with birdwatchers, walkers and photographers. At 58.5 hectares, there is more than enough space to roam peacefully and safely or just pick a spot and watch...

Ashridge Estate, Ashridge

The National Trust is reopening its sites to visitors again. One of the first was Ashridge Estate, so we can head once more to this Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty with its chalk downlands, meadows and ancient woodland. Monument Drive and all car parks except Little Gaddesden are open. There’s no need to book a parking space but if the car park is full, do come back later and don’t park on the verges. The visitor centre and café remain closed.

Tring Park, Tring

Tring Park is the ideal place to respect social distancing as it has more than 250 acres to explore. The Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty in the Chilterns is managed by the Woodland Trust and boasts sweeping panoramas, open parkland and mixed woodland, providing the perfect opportunity to switch off and get swept away by the beautiful surroundings. Here you can embrace the benefits of reconnecting with the outdoors during turbulent times.

Berrygrove Woods, Radlett

The beautiful Berrygrove Woods is the largest area in a patchwork of woodland and green spaces on the historic Wall Hall Estate. As a species, we can see more shades of green than any other colour. As well as boosting our mood, exposure to green environments reduces feelings of being overwhelmed or angry that can manifest when we get trapped in a cycle of depression.

Frogmore Meadows, Sarratt

Now is the time to really take advantage of Herts’ best green open spaces to boost our energy levels and morale during this period. Nature and wildlife are something we don’t always appreciate every day and a visit to Frogmore Meadows Nature Reserve is the perfect way to reconnect. Nestled in the quiet Chess Valley, the Herts and Middlesex Wildlife Trust site offers vast meadows and tranquil woodland, providing space to breathe while keeping socially distanced. Take in the air and the views, they’re a free tonic.

Rickmansworth Circular Wild Swimming Walk

Fancy taking a swim on the wild side? This is a gentle circular walk through a beautiful rural area taking in the river Colne –and a wild swim. But what is wild swimming? It’s swimming in any natural body of water, whether lake, pond, river or the sea. Advocates say it gives the ultimate feeling of being at one with nature. The health benefits of exercising in nature are widely documented; improving mood, relieving stress and lowering blood pressure and cholesterol. Just remember to be aware of your surroundings.

Therfield Heath & Hawkins Wood, Therfield

However busy we are, it’s important to take time out to relax and recharge our batteries. Hawkins Wood is a great spot for just that. This 10-hectare nature reserve south of Therfield near Royston is a small but perfectly formed place to get away from it all. Combine a visit with a bracing walk across nearby Therfield Heath Nature Reserve – the views as far as Cambridge are spectacular.

The Chilterns, West Herts

Hertfordshire boasts so many walking and cycling trails, it is just a case of which one to pick next. Perhaps choose those in one of the UK’s most beautiful Areas of Outstanding Natural Beauty, The Chilterns. Rising near Hitchin, they stretch along the western edge of the county and as far as Oxfordshire. With vast views from it’s hilltops, archaeology and rare wildlife, it is a place you will want to come back to time and time again.

Longspring Wood, Kings Langley

We’ve all been cooped up and perhaps more aware than ever that being out in the open helps us feel more alive. And this county definitely leaves you spoilt for choice with its abundance of secluded spots, including Longspring Wood. Even though this little gem, part of Herts & Middlesex Wildlife Trust’s portfolio, covers only one hectare, it still offers the space to be on your own. Head into this wildlife haven and you can feel like you are the only person on earth.

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