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Step back in time at Hatfield Forest and visit the 'Walking tree'

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Walking tree (8613545)
Walking tree (8613545)

After a winter when Hatfield Forest staff asked visitors to stay away to give the ancient woodland's precious ecology time to recover, spring is now in full swing as Visitor Welcome Team members Helen Hooker and Elizabeth Reeve report.

Robin Redbreast (8613550)
Robin Redbreast (8613550)

Take a stroll in the historic woodland that is Hatfield Forest and you step through a portal into the past.

The hundreds of ancient trees give a glimpse into years gone by and it is easy to imagine yourself back in medieval times, walking in the footsteps of your ancestors, when Hatfield Forest was a royal hunting ground.

The forest has barely changed in a thousand years and the trees here all have a story to tell, just like the centuries-old hornbeams at the side of the entrance road.

One is known as the "walking tree" because over the years it has gradually "walked" across the ground. Each time a branch comes into contact with the earth it takes root, and what was a fallen branch becomes the next generation of the tree's life.

Meanwhile, at the side of the lake, a 500-year-old burr oak stands tall. It was one of the trees selected to "grow on" in the mid-1700s by landscape architect Lancelot Capability Brown, often remembered as England's greatest gardener.

Brown was called upon to redesign the lake area for the Houblon family, the then owners of the Hallingbury Estate, which included Hatfield Forest.

April is a month of regeneration, with the trees bursting forth with fresh foliage, changing from bare skeletons, to a lush canopy of green. The forest is a wonderful place to explore and experience at first hand this seasonal transformation. We are looking forward to welcoming everyone back this spring, as the forest awakens after its winter slumbers.

Thank you for working with us over the winter months to help protect the forest from the impact of the worst of the bad weather. The trees, in turn, provide the perfect habitat for some of the forest's rarest insects, lichen and fungi. A fungi survey carried out last year found at least two species new to Britain and 41 species new to the site.

There are lots of events planned this month, celebrating the new season. These include a Forest Bake-off, where you can make campfire bread, cook sausages, toast marshmallows and bake apples around a fire pit.

We also have an opportunity later in the month to make a Mini Bee Hotel and plant some red clover seeds - bees love clover flowers - to take home with you. If you're a keen photographer, why not take a look at our selection of photography workshops? Visit www.nationaltrust.org.uk/hatfield-forest for more details.

April marks the start of the forest's summer opening hours. Between April 1 and September 30 all the car parks will be open daily. The entrance car park is open at all times, while the interior parking areas will be available between 10am and 4.30pm, Monday to Friday, and from 9am to 4.30pm Saturday and Sunday (weather permitting). Our cafe is open daily from 9am until 5pm, while the shop opens from 10am to 5pm.

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