“ Northampton / England „
If you tap in the words 'Salcey Forest' and 'Fun' into Google these days you need the family filter, as with many out of the way national park areas very popular with 'dogging' types, the act of outdoor sex with strangers, not a pretty site. Think British porn and then ten times worse. But it's still a nice place to go for walks and bike rides in the day time and one of very few forested areas in the centre of the country to still enjoy. It's situated about 7 miles outside of Northampton to the south of the county and the forest constantly being improved by various attractions and events.
It's a former medieval hunting forest where kings and queens, noblemen and landowners, would venture out by foot or horse from their stately homes to crossbow a deer or two. Today it's a commercial forest as well as a tourist attraction with the two working side-by-side.
In 2005 they built a really cool award winning timber skywalk so the visitors can now walk amongst the tree top canopy, some 15 - 18 meters up, which is up to 70ft. Some of the towering old oaks that you can touch by offering your hand are believed to be over 500 years old and some of Britain's oldest tees. Parts of the skywalk walk are good for buggies and wheelchairs and so accessible for all. Granny may not make it up the observation tower.
Things to do aside from the forest walks are what you would expect, an adventure playground for the kids with an excellent café nearby for ice creams and coffee and all sorts of healthy treats. There is a pay and display car park here or you can park free in other areas of the forest. They also have a bookcrossingzone place where you can leave books for others and pick up others for free. It's not popular though in the winter. You used to be able to get there by train some 100 years ago but they ripped up the track in the 1920s. Disused railway tracks and tunnels are always fun things to explore.
The quirky fact of the day for Salcey forest is that during the Second World War, elephants from circuses were put to use to fell the trees. The Elephant Pond - now called - is where the elephants could bathe at the end of the day and kick back. Not only that but they had been ridden to work in the Forest by a genuine Hollywood star, Sabu the Elephant Boy, over in England making a film with Alexander Korda, no less! There are also quirky sculptures ready to surprise you on the various trails.
Although Northampton has the more convenient Harlestone Firs near Althorp House for the kids and dogs to have a run around the walks are somewhat samey up there so if you want to really get out in the countryside then Salcey Forest feels more the wilderness experience, one where you can't hear the nearby roar of a motorway or A-Road to spoil the ambience.
If the spring ever arrives it looks stunning in the forest with all the Blue Bells and snow drops coming through amongst the firs and blackberry bushes. It's a great foraging forest and good for mushrooms if you are that way inclined. The author of the book 'Pollard', my mate Laura Beatty, has a home deep in the forest and it's straight from Hansel & Gretel, really spooky as the gentle wind rustles the tree tops above and creeps dusk through the forest with its cloak of evil darkness. Is there is any scarier place than a forest at night then I would be surprised.
So pack you kids and into the Volvo and have a day there in the spring. In my marathon days I would run the seven miles to the café, have a hot tea and sandwich, and run back to Northampton once every two weeks to tune up for the London marathon. It's a pretty place to be and the medieval side of the forest very much Lord of the Rings stuff with lots of gothic twisted gnarly trees and roots shaped like witches hands, a carpet of thick green moss leading to magical pools to treat those who venture deeper into the forest.
The foot and horse trails are good and if you are stabled nearby you will know that already. Kid's buggies will travel well on the lightly graveled surfaced tracks and they also offer milk warming services in the café if you want to bring babies and toddlers. The toilet block is good although only two in the forest so you will be doing you know what with the bears if you get lost, Salcey Forest not small.
Nearby is Castle Ashby House, star of many Merchant & Ivory bodice ripping movies, and Emberton Park, lots of old gravelpits and boating areas for the kids to have fun in there. Hartwell village that lips the forest is beautiful and has a lovely local pub and great oldie worldly cottages to snap, Olney village down the road straight from a Constable painting, the familiar yellow spring canvas of rape seed soon appearing. Not a lot of Northamptonshire is pretty so head to the Buckinghamshire border for the best bits is my advice.
Breakfast, Snacks, Brunch, Lunch, Afternoon Tea and everything inbetween.
Speciality Teas, Chocolate and Barista Coffees.
Children's Menu * Ice Cream Parlour * Takeaways * Play Area
Seating for 50+ inside, 80 outside. Major cards accepted.
1/2 mile from the Tree Top Walk and on the 6 mile Woodpecker Nature Trail.
Well-behaved Dogs (on a lead) and Children always welcome.
Car Parking * £1 for the first hour or £3 for the day or £28 pass for the year.
If the rain holds off today the plan is to go for a hike in Salcey Forest for me and the boyfriend as it has some excellent walking routes and while our favourite long six mile walkwill be far too boggy and hard going after the recent weather the up side of the poor weather is that many people will stay away and it will be relatively quiet for a weekend.
Located on the outskirts of Northampton near a village called Hartwell it is a beautiful forest to visit. It is a managed location so there is parking which costs £2 for the day and lso an information centre and cafe on the site whose hot choclate will be much appreciated today. There is also a little kiddies play area.
Walking, cycling and even horse riing routes are well marked out with colour codes and there are a range of routes and distances to plan your walk or you can go away from these and just amble through the woods.
Younger children will also enjoy the skywalk which rises up to tree top level and gives you some great views across the countryside from the wooden observation tower at the end. This walk is about a mile in total so not very hard going and the ground is partly stoned paved and will take a push chair unless it has been very wet, the wooden walkway is not too steep and quite wide.
I do like these wods, there is plenty to see and enjoy and lots of wildlife in the woods themselves, we like to get away from the crowds and enjoy the tranquility even if at times you can hear the feint sound of traffic from the nearby M1.
Salcey Forest is very local to me, not the nearest woods but it is a short fifteen minute drive across Northampton from here I live, located close to the M1 Junction 15 it is just to the east of the village of Hartwell. It is a beautiful ancient forest and it has some impressive facilities which mean it is ideal for families looking for a relatively short flat walk or for those wishing to go for a longer hike or bike ride; it even has a bridleway for those wishing to horse ride.
There are a number of access points where there is parking and there are also some lay bys on the surrounding roads where you can park if you are too tight to stump up the £2 parking fee but to be honest if you are that sort of person then really you do not deserve to experience this great wooded area. The £2 parking fee is the same whether you stay for an hour or all day and goes directly towards the upkeep of the woods. The main entrance has a large parking area although this is not hard core layered so it can get muddy in places especially at this time of year. When you arrive there is a cafeteria in this area and some toilets as well as children's play area. In the summer there is also an ice cream stand that sells homemade ice cream which is just to die for however do be careful because it is prone to running out on very busy hot days. The run and raisin flavour is just heavenly as is the strawberry ripple.
The cafeteria sells reasonably priced meals and sandwiches, there is a small seating area inside and both covered and exposed seating outside as well, I must be honest I have not tried the food as we tend to take our own to consume on the longer hikes but I can vouch for the quality of the coffee. There is a small children play area that is well situated and constructed with a number of wooden climbing frames and slides, this area is only suitable for children under the age of ten.
To spend too much time in this area is a crime as the true splendour of these woods is to be found on the number of walks available. These are colour coded and vary from a 1km walk to a 10km one. The latter called the Woodpecker Trail is my favourite, in all it is a 10km walk that takes you all around the woods, it does involve two road crossings however these are country lanes and not busy. This is the walk that gets you away from the crowds and into the silent wonder of this wood, in all it takes about three hours to complete and is pretty flat all the way however it is very muddy as well which can make it hard going at times, in fact only when we have had a prolonged period of dry weather will you manage the whole route without getting muddy as there are a number of streams throughout the woods and it is very sheltered so retains dampness in the soil.
On this route you will at times make use of the cycle route and the bridle path so you have to watch out for riders of both types on your journey. There are a number of species of wildlife on the way including the chance to see woodpeckers, goldcrest and woodbill from the bird world as well as plenty of squirrels and the odd rabbit as well. All of the routes are really well marked using a colour code system and it is virtually impossible to get lost if you stick to the tracks. On the longer route there is plenty of variety in the types of woods and open meadows that you walk and plenty of places to stop of and appreciate the views and the peace and quiet.
There are two other shorter walks available that are suitable for those looking to spend less time or wanting to push buggies as these are flat, dry and hard paved. The shortest walk takes you to the tree top walk, a wooden structure that slowly rises to 20 meters in height on a fairly gentle gradient until you are up at tree top level and at the end of which there is an observation tower which gives superb views back on Northampton and out across to Milton Keynes in the south. This is really popular with children and adults alike and is worth seeing on your first visit. The third marked walk is about 1.5km in length and avoids the tree top walk but takes in a number of features such as some impressive fallen oaks and a wooden walk way across a pond.
For those preferring two wheels there is a 5km cycle path that cuts through the woods and is similar in the area it covers to the Woodpecker Walk, all of the routes tend to cut across each other at certain points and the cycle path is fairly even ground however there are some uneven bits making it suitable for hybrid or mountain bikes when it is dry and probably only the mountain bikes with their better grip when wet and muddy.
This is a popular destination at weekends in the summer but go during the week in the winter and it can be very peaceful once you get away from the shorter walks, indeed at half term I managed to walk for a good ninety minutes without seeing anyone on a three hour hike.
I do like these woods, Northamptonshire is blessed with some great walking areas and having this one so close to home is a real treat for both the kids and I, in fact I was tempted not to write about it as the fewer people the better but that would be to deny people the chance to see some old wild woods with some beautiful oak trees in it. Some parts of the woods are still cultivated for commercial purposes and in the centre of the woods there is some private land however this is well fenced to prevent you accidentally wandering on to it.
Opening times vary depending upon the time of year, check the website and look out or the closure times when you arrive as the car park is locked after a certain time. The facilities are good and the toilet area is well maintained and clean with a separate disabled toilet and baby change area.
For more information check out the following website
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