Walks in Herts with kids: Mardley Heath

tree with exposed roots at mardley heath

When you’re taking children out for a walk it sometimes helps to have a destination or focal point to aim for to encourage them away from their Lego, iPad or whatever other housebound activity they’re occupied by. In the case of Mardley Heath, one of our local woodlands in Hertfordshire, the highlight is a large beech tree with a magnificent tangle of exposed roots creating the perfect natural climbing frame above ground, and a cave-like hideout below.

child exploring tree roots
Exploring the “monster tree” at Mardley Heath

Mardley Heath Nature Reserve

Mardley Heath is a nature reserve located midway between Knebworth and Welwyn Garden City in Hertfordshire (about half an hour north of London). Used for fuel collection and grazing livestock back in the Middle Ages and more recently as a gravel quarry in the mid 20th century, its 37 hectares have been successfully returned back to a natural state. The reserve now comprises woodland, heathland and small seasonal stretches of water. The gravel extractions have left the area with some fantastic undulations and together with the network of pathways there’s enough interest to fuel everyone’s imagination and enjoyment.

If biking is your thing, Mardley Heath is perfect. Children and adults alike love zooming down hills and over little jumps and bridges that a few industrious visitors have created. My kids enjoyed “summitting” some of the steeper slopes. The Heath is also popular with dog walkers and I’m pleased to say that the owners seem to be excellent scooper-uppers!

The endless paths, which disappear into the undergrowth, are satisfyingly muddy after heavy rain, I’m afraid this isn’t buggy territory. Watching my kids running off to explore, I’m reminded of my own childhood and the excitement I felt in such environments.

There’s a wide variety of trees to identify whilst walking through the reserve; silver birch, sweet chestnut, oak and beech are all easy to spot and there’s plenty more besides to test young nature detectives. Our last visit was on a breezy winter’s morning when the beech trees creaked spookily overhead. We haven’t visited in spring yet but the telltale green shoots we spotted in early February suggest the floor will soon be covered by bluebells.

trees with wooden fence
Mardley Heath in the summer time

How to find the “Monster Tree”

So, to find the beech tree, or “monster tree” as my children have decided it shall be called, cross the road from the reserve’s car park and head to the right along the path bordered by a wooden balcony overlooking one of the former gravel pits. There are various paths which lead down into the forest away from the road. Take one of these and continue in a generally south-westerly direction (or just directly away from the car park if that’s a more straight forward way to navigate).

tree with exposed roots
The Monster Tree at Mardley Heath

The monster tree can be found on a ridge overlooking a beautiful stretch of beech trees with a dense carpet of their leaves on the ground (if you’re there in autumn or winter that is, otherwise you’ll see a magnificent canopy of beech leaves above you!). If you reach the southern boundary of the reserve, check the map by one of the gates for your location, the tree is located between the entrances at Hangman’s Lane and Dolesbury Drive. If you were feeling particularly lazy, you could park here and approach the tree from this end of the reserve but it’s more rewarding to spend a bit of time wandering through the forest looking for it.

Mardley Heath in the sunshine
Mardley Heath in the sunshine

Where to park at Mardley Heath

Location: Mardley Heath has a car park on Heath Road, reached via the B197, just off the A1M (don’t let the proximity or the hum of the motorway put you off). The car park postcode is AL6 0TP.
Find out more: Welwyn council and the Woodland Trust have more information on Mardley Heath.
Where to eat nearby: we’ve had enjoyable Sunday roasts at the White Horse in Burnham Green and tasty pub grub at the Horns (a cheaper option) in Bulls Green near Datchworth.

Have you visited Mardley Heath? Or do you have a similarly magical forest near you? Let me know in the comments below.

Looking for refreshments? Check out my post about the best family friendly pubs in Hertfordshire.

Pin for later:

Mardley Heath walks with kids in Hertfordshire
Mardley Heath walks with kids in Hertfordshire
Mardley Heath walks with kids in Hertfordshire

More family-friendly walks in Hertfordshire:

Broxbourne Sculpture Trail

Heartwood Forest near St Albans

The best bluebell woods in Hertfordshire

Watton at Stone circular walk

Autumn walks in Hertfordshire



  1. 13th February 2018 / 1:13 pm

    I can’t wait until my son is old enough to ride a bike so we can go explore the local wildlife trails and woodlands looks super fun and makes for great photos #familyfunlinky

    • 13th February 2018 / 1:14 pm

      It is a really fun stage of family life!

  2. Jenny- Rabbit Ideas
    15th February 2018 / 5:00 pm

    Great post- I didn’t know about this place, but we do love walks in the woods so will definitely make a note for when we are back down south on holiday. Those trees look epic!! #adventurecalling

    • 16th February 2018 / 7:11 pm

      It’s definitely our favourite local woods!

  3. Alana - Burnished Chaos
    18th February 2018 / 1:19 pm

    This looks like a really beautiful place for exploring, I know my two would love the monster tree. It’s reminded me we haven’t been to our local forest in a while, may have to rectify that next weekend.
    Thank you for joining #FamilyFunLinky x

    • 19th February 2018 / 11:08 am

      It’s easy to forget that we have all these ready made place grounds on our footsteps! I’m making a concerted effort this year to get out more!

  4. 18th February 2018 / 11:26 pm

    This place looks amazing! Beautiful photos too, and I love that big tree with all the exposed roots! x #FamilyFunLinky

  5. hip2trekem
    24th February 2018 / 9:02 am

    This looks an amazing place, my kids would love it! The monster tree especially looks great for exploring. Such a shame it’s so far away from us. We love walking in forests and woodland so will have to find a monster tree we can call our own. #Countrykids

    • 24th February 2018 / 9:09 am

      Woods seem to be very underrated these days as a way to entertain kids.

  6. 24th February 2018 / 6:04 pm

    This looks like a great place to explore with the kids, so much to keep them occupied all afternoon! Cycling is always a winner with my lot so they’d love to give some of the tracks there a shot! Tree climbing is always a fun past times for kids too, you’d struggle to keep any adventure seeking kids off those!

    Thanks for sharing the fun with me on #CountryKids.

    • 24th February 2018 / 7:23 pm

      It’s definitely our favourite in the area although am hoping to discover a few more, watch this space!

  7. Merlinda Little
    26th February 2018 / 10:53 am

    That monster tree is marvelous! This is such an amazing place to go with kids. So many interesting things to see. I have to admit that I struggled to get my son out a bit last half term.
    Will try to entice him to go out more by telling him about where will go & what we will see there next time #countrykids

  8. 26th February 2018 / 7:56 pm

    That’s an awesome sleepy hollow tree! What a great focal point to your walk and we love the hidden cave part underneath! #CountryKuds

    • 26th February 2018 / 9:27 pm

      It’s brilliant, I love going there!

  9. 27th February 2018 / 7:44 pm

    I love exploring woods, they’re such a magical places. That tree looks amazing, Finn would love it, especially the cave underneath. I’m definitely going to go and find somewhere like that near us. Thanks so much for sharing #AdventureCalling

    • 27th February 2018 / 9:33 pm

      It really is a lovely spot, I think we’ll be returning to it for many years to come!

  10. 27th February 2018 / 9:21 pm

    This looks like an amazing forest to explore. That beech tree is fantastic and there looks to be a wealth of other trees that look like they’re perfect climbing material. No wonder you love it. Thanks for joining us on #adventurecalling

    • 27th February 2018 / 9:33 pm

      It has so much to offer. I’m looking forward to us all being able to bike through it when my boys are a bit bigger.

  11. 28th February 2018 / 10:49 am

    Mardley Heath looks like a beautiful place to explore and that “monster tree” looks like the perfect place for imaginative play. My girls would love exploring that tree. Having a focal point is such a good way of encouraging children out on a walk. We have a favourite tree in one of our nearby country parks that the girls tend to make a beeline for although it isn’t quite as interesting as the “monster tree” here 🙂 #countrykids

    • 28th February 2018 / 11:37 am

      Yes, focal points are very helpful. It doesn’t take much to interest children I find. A tree to climb or trunk to crawl along usually do the trick!

  12. 28th February 2018 / 8:32 pm

    What a wonderful place for a walk. Looks like there is lots of interest too especially the Monster tree, leaves and the bridge. I can imagine a whole Billy Goats Gruff story coming out. #CountryKids

    • 28th February 2018 / 10:10 pm

      yes, the troll seems to make it into a lot of our walks!

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