Walks in Herts with kids: Heartwood Forest

Hornbeams of Heartwood Forest

It’s rather telling of the times we’re living in that woodland “den building” has become an advertised activity. But if that’s what has to be done to get kids playing outdoors, then so be it. If your offspring require some inspiration for their den building, look no further than Heartwood Forest near St Albans. This newly planted forest with pockets of ancient woodland is an impressive project created by the Woodland Trust.

Bluebells at Heartwood

Heartwood bluebells

dens at Heartwood Forest

Den building at Heartwood

We visited Heartwood at the start of May and were rewarded with carpets of bluebells in Langley Woods, one of the ancient woodland areas. It is here that you’ll also find the den building area, which on our visit was packed with families picnicking in the shade of the oak and hornbeam trees.

Langley Woods

Families enjoying Langley Wood

As well as bluebells, we spotted a variety of other wildflowers including elegant Lords and Ladies, Yellow Archangel and Stitchwort. There were some brilliant mature trees in Langley Wood, we particularly liked a stand of hornbeams which looked like a group of ghostly figures.

Hornbeams of Heartwood Forest

Hornbeams of Heartwood

Thanks to thousands of volunteers over the last ten years, Heartwood Forest has been transformed from what was predominantly arable land into a 347 hectare site with over half a million newly planted trees. The Woodland Trust has also created new hedgerows to provide an important habitat for wildlife.

Heartwood pathways

Pathways through the new growth forest

Heartwood has walking trails for all abilities including paths suitable for buggies and wheelchairs. There are bridleways for horses and bikes are also welcome. Aside from Langley Wood, children will enjoy the 1.5 mile Magical Meander through one of the new woodland areas. Along the way you’ll spot carved wooden creatures, reflecting the range of wildlife at Heartwood.

Heartwood information boards

Information boards at Heartwood

Heartwood features a community orchard which includes old local varieties of apples and pears plus an arboretum containing all 60 native UK tree species. I’m looking forward to returning to Heartwood in the summertime to see the wildflower meadows, I’ve seen some lovely photos on Instagram of cornflowers (my favourite), oxeye daisies and poppies amid the tall grasses.

Langley Wood Heartwood

Langley Wood

There are plenty of events planned by the Woodland Trust to entice visitors to Heartwood including guided walks, children’s activities such as nature detective experiences plus a summer festival.

Refreshments: We haven’t eaten out in this part of Hertfordshire but the pubs in the surrounding villages look very appealing. Otherwise, Heartwood is perfect picnicking territory.
Parking and transport: Heartwood Forest is 4km from St Albans train station (20 minutes from London), otherwise there is a large car park at the forest (postcode AL4 9DQ) and further parking (plus toilets) in nearby Sandridge village.

More family-friendly walks in Hertfordshire:

Broxbourne Sculpture Trail

The best bluebell woods in Hertfordshire

Watton at Stone circular walk

Mardley Heath near Welwyn Garden City

heartwood forest smudged postcard

heartwood forest walk smudged postcard

Country Kids


  1. pigeonpairandme
    14th May 2018 / 12:52 pm

    I think it’s brilliant that they’ve created a new wood. Ok, it might be a busy visitor attraction, but if it gets people out and interested in nature, then that has to be good. Beautiful pics!

    • smudgedpostcard
      14th May 2018 / 6:11 pm

      Thanks. Yes, I agree it’s definitely a good thing. And there’s plenty of reasons to visit al the year round.

  2. 17th May 2018 / 10:49 am

    Would love to see those pretty bluebell flowers! And this forest looks awesome! I’d totally visit! #FarawayFiles

    • smudgedpostcard
      17th May 2018 / 11:24 am

      It’s such a great project, I’m looking forward to returning over the next few years to see how it evolves.

  3. Clare Thomson
    18th May 2018 / 2:04 pm

    This looks like a fantastic place for den building. I know our boys would love it! I’m all for imaginative ways to get families out and enjoying the great outdoors. Can’t believe how close this is to London too. Thanks for sharing on #FarawayFiles

    • smudgedpostcard
      18th May 2018 / 3:40 pm

      Yes, really easy to get to if you put bikes on the train. I hope it proves popular this summer.

  4. Beth
    18th May 2018 / 5:37 pm

    Such a pretty place, I love those hornbeams in Langley Wood. It’s funny, I don’t ever recall hearing about “denbuilding” back in the states, and I lived and played in places during my childhood that were “wild.” I think we were building similar things but we called them forts. Thanks for the links to Woodland Trust, I want to learn more about their work, too. #FarawayFiles

    • smudgedpostcard
      18th May 2018 / 6:06 pm

      Interesting how we use such different words to describe the same thing!

  5. 19th May 2018 / 10:17 am

    What a lovely way to enjoy a family day out at this time of year. It looks very well organised with the trails there and plenty of space so it doesn’t feel too busy. I must say visiting with the bluebells out makes the woodland look so pretty and what child can resist a den building opportunity. You remind me that we could do with some new branches in our den building area.

    Thank you for sharing with me on #CoutnryKids

    • smudgedpostcard
      19th May 2018 / 11:32 am

      It’s a great spot, and good to see so many people using it.

  6. 19th May 2018 / 10:11 pm

    A shame St Albans is so far from me as this sounds like a perfect home ed day out for us. I must make time to just take them to the foret.

    • smudgedpostcard
      19th May 2018 / 10:27 pm

      Check out the Woodland Trust website, really useful resource.

  7. 19th May 2018 / 11:33 pm

    I only found out about Heartwood Forest after I moved away from WGC, I can’t believe I lives in Herts for 16 years and was oblivious. It looks great fun. Mich x

    • smudgedpostcard
      20th May 2018 / 7:59 am

      You’ll have to return for a visit some time!

  8. 21st May 2018 / 7:13 pm

    Oh this is exactly the kind of thing I would love to do with my family! My kids are little wild free-spirits and would totally relish den-building and exploring the wood. I love all of the paths that are available for riding, and those bluebells are something straight out of a dream! #MondayEscapes

  9. 21st May 2018 / 8:30 pm

    What an absolutely stunning forest! We don’t really get anything like that near us in Glasgow. I could imagine Robin Hood and his merry men about those grounds..

  10. 23rd May 2018 / 10:53 am

    Oh I wish I still had den builders! We used to do this on the Oregon Coast with all the drift wood that would wash ashore. What a beautiful day out with your littles. And thank you for naming the wildflowers – I love the “lords and ladies!” #FarawayFiles

    • smudgedpostcard
      23rd May 2018 / 2:22 pm

      The lords and ladies look completely different by the end of summer, they have bright red berries on, quite a transformation!

  11. hip2trekem
    23rd May 2018 / 11:52 am

    What a wonderful looking forest. Sadly a bit far for us to travel to, but my kids would love those trees and we like den building too. #Adventurecalling

    • smudgedpostcard
      23rd May 2018 / 2:21 pm

      The dens are great, there were so many children there when we visited!

  12. 23rd May 2018 / 1:50 pm

    I have to agree that it is a bit of a shame that den building had become an advertised activity. It seems many of the things that we played as children has take a similar turn (I saw French Skipping and Cats Cradle kits for sale!! We used a bit of knicker elastic and some wool!)

    Anyway, Heartwood sounds like an amazing day to immerse into nature. I love that they also have a community orchard, I do love projects that bring people together along with food.


    • smudgedpostcard
      23rd May 2018 / 2:20 pm

      I agree, I’m looking forward to learning more about the orchard as it grows!

  13. twotinyhands
    24th May 2018 / 12:29 am

    Heartwood sounds idyllic! I love a good wood especially when it’s hot outside. We’re trying to teach our little about the fun of den building, I think it’s working as he got right into helping build one at a festival the other day. Beautiful photos #countrykids

    • smudgedpostcard
      24th May 2018 / 7:46 am

      Thanks. Yes, it’s such a fun thing to do with kids. Although my boys prefer using ones that have already been built!

  14. 24th May 2018 / 11:21 am

    You had me at the bluebells! I also love those hornbeam trees – how gnarled and beautiful they look! This place looks like a real wonderland, well done Woodland Trust for all the conservation and replanting.

    • smudgedpostcard
      24th May 2018 / 11:31 am

      Yes, it’s an amazing project with so many people involved.

  15. 24th May 2018 / 11:53 am

    That den is very impressive and it’s great to read there are so many events on there to entice people to visit #CountryKids

    • smudgedpostcard
      24th May 2018 / 2:29 pm

      Yes, there’s some really interesting events coming up

  16. 25th May 2018 / 6:53 pm

    I had never heard of den building. This is the perfect spot! I would really enjoy this. How fun for kids, too!

  17. 28th May 2018 / 8:07 am

    Looks like a great adventure and perfect place to wander. Kids love this kind of thing and me too!
    Thanks for the share!

  18. 28th May 2018 / 1:50 pm

    What a beautiful place! And you’re right – the hornbeams look magical


  19. 31st May 2018 / 7:55 pm

    What. A perfect spot for a family day out. My boys build dens where ever we are, forests, our back garden! It’s their no one fave thing to do! #MondayEscapes

  20. 5th June 2018 / 10:00 am

    I agree, it’s definitely a sign of the times that we now have advertised spaces for things like this. That said, and I completely agree again, anything that gets kids exploring the outdoors should be celebrated. What an achievement too, to develop this vast woodland from its previous arable state. Thanks for joining us on #adventurecalling . We open for new posts again tomorrow morning.

  21. 6th June 2018 / 10:51 am

    What an amazing project, it will be great to revisit over the years as the new woodland and hedges take shape. I bet it looked amazing with the bluebells, and will continue to change throughout the seasons. Thanks so much for sharing with us #AdventureCalling

    • smudgedpostcard
      6th June 2018 / 11:05 am

      Yes, it’s an impressive accomplishment. I’m looking forward to returning!

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