Why you should visit Epping Forest this winter

PUBLISHED: 15:06 08 December 2015 | UPDATED: 16:17 08 December 2015

The magical Epping Forest

The magical Epping Forest

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Wrap up and head into Epping Forest for festive family fun

Walkers enjoying the festive moodWalkers enjoying the festive mood

Christmas day, for most people, is about family, friends and food….lots and lots of food. Endless lunches and parties finally culminate in the big day itself and, by the 25th, an excess of turkey, mince pies and bubbly can leave you feeling lethargic and needing to loosen your belt.

A festive walk with family or friends could be just the pick-me-up you need to see you through from Boxing Day to New Year – with stunning views, fresh air and exercise guaranteed to put a spring in your step.

Luckily London’s largest open space is right on your doorstep. Epping Forest covers over 8000 acres, from the open grassland of Wanstead Flats, to the densely wooded areas around High Beach and Loughton. This magical, natural playground draws thousands of visitors annually and is open 24 hours a day for 365 days of the year. City of London Corporation’s Superintendent, Paul Thomson, says: ‘Epping Forest offers the perfect place to escape to over the festive season. Whether you seek some tranquillity from the Christmas chaos, or would like to burn off the seasonal excesses with a walk, run or a bike ride, this ancient woodland in winter time will help you regain your equilibrium.’

The walking possibilities are endless and there’s something for every fitness level, whether you fancy a leisurely stroll by Jubilee Lake or a hard-core 10k run through the forest to work off some of that festive over indulgence.

Nine way-marked trails are the perfect guide for walkers, from the 4km Willow Trail, which starts at Connaught Waters car park and takes around an hour at a leisurely pace, to the 10.6k Oak Trail, which begins at Theydon Bois Tube Station and is a three to four hour wander. For advice, and a helpful map of routes, stop by the Visitor Centre at The View, adjacent to Queen Elizabeth’s Hunting Lodge in Chingford.

Snowfall in the forestSnowfall in the forest

Stretching over 12 miles from Epping, in the north, to Manor Park, in East London, the forest offers some enchanting winter views and a well-earned break from the hustle and bustle.

For some outdoor family fun in the run up to Christmas, on December 12 and 13 there will be a host of magical Christmas family activities in Epping Forest, with a wintry woodland trail featuring elves, stories and arts and crafts, including gingerbread decorating.

Through the festive season children, inevitably, gorge on an excess of sweet treats and selection box goodies and spend hours indoors playing with their new toys.

A wintry wander is the perfect activity for all the family and kids will love an adventure in the forest. To make it even more interesting for the little ones, create your own nature hunt, make a list of all the flora, fauna and woodland wildlife you’re hoping to see and watch how excited they get as they spot an oak tree or a robin. It’s fresh air, exercise and encouraging your kids to have an interest in nature and their surroundings.

Wanstead Flats is a little green haven in the midst of the streets, roads and houses surrounding it and its bushes and thickets, scattered across the grassland, are the perfect place for a game of hide and seek.

Sunset in the forestSunset in the forest

If walking doesn’t appeal, how about taking a family bike ride? There are over 80km of paths through Epping Forest from easy, flat trails to steep, woodland terrain for the more adventurous. If you don’t have bikes of your own, you can hire them from Go Further Cycling in Epping Forest, see www.gofurthercycling.co.uk/ for details.

The real bonus of a long walk or energetic bike ride is it justifies more indulgence! After a stroll at High Beach in Epping, you can call into the Kings Oak Hotel for a celebratory drink and a snack. The cosy, woodland venue offers a traditional, festive welcome with its log fires, low ceilings and sprinkling of fairy lights and mistletoe.

Jill Allday, corporate events manager, says, ‘We’re open throughout Christmas, as everyone else is winding down, we’re gearing up, but it’s a wonderful atmosphere.’

Jill says many walkers call in for the Kings Oak’s mistletoe and wine lunch offer. ‘We get lots of families or groups of friends who’ve enjoyed a beautiful wander through the forest and then sit in here with their wellies on having a meal or a Christmas drink.’ So, as tempting as it is to sit in front of the TV watching endless repeats with a giant box of Quality Street in your lap why not wrap up warm, slip on your wellies and head off out into the crisp, winter day to discover some of the natural beauty right in your own back yard.

Stop in at the King's Oak Hotel for a celebratory drinkStop in at the King's Oak Hotel for a celebratory drink

Like this? Check out our 17 winter scenes from Essex.

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