Walk along the pine-carpeted paths of Thetford Forest, from a metal stag to a mock-Jacobean hall.
Distance 4.5 miles (7.2km)
Minimum time 2hrs
Ascent/gradient 66ft (20m)
Level of difficulty Easy
Paths Wide grassy trackways and small paths
Landscape Coniferous and mixed deciduous forest
Suggested map aqua3 OS Explorer 229 Thetford Forest in the Brecks
Start/finish TL 813917
Dog friendliness On leads and keep away from children's play areas. No dogs (except guide dogs) in arboretum.
Parking Lynford Stag picnic site off A134
Public toilets At picnic site
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1 Leave the car park and follow the blue marker posts into the trees. Jig slightly to the right and follow the markers heading north. The path then turns left. Take the next wide track to your right, next to a bench, leaving the blue trail to walk along edge of the Christmas tree plantation. Eventually, you reach a paved road.
2 Cross the road and continue ahead on what was once part of the driveway leading to Lynford Hall. There is a notice board giving information about the arboretum and its 'lost' Victorian gardens. Go past it to Pumphouse Plantation along a gravel path, picking up the next set of blue and green trails. The Church of Our Lady of Consolation is behind the trees to your right. It was designed by Pugin in the 1870s for the owner of the hall who was a Catholic, but the next owner, a Protestant, planted the trees to shield the unattractive building from view. After a few minutes, you reach a stone bridge.
3 At the stone bridge across Lynford Lakes, a sign gives information about the history of Lynford Hall, now a hotel. Cross the bridge and walk until Lynford Hall comes into view. Continue walking past the Hall.
4 At the T-junction, turn right and walk along the road to visit the arboretum. When you have finished, retrace your steps along the lane, then turn left so that the Hall is on your left.
5 Turn right on to a wide grassy sward called Sequoia Avenue. Walk almost to the end of it, then follow the blue markers to the left into the wood. After a few paces you come to the lake. This is a good place to look for frogs and newts. The blue trail bears to the left at the end of the lake, but our walk continues straight ahead on the bridleway. The path jigs left, then right, but keep to the bridleway.
6 Cross a paved lane and continue straight on, towards the Christmas trees. Turn left at the end of the track, then almost immediately right, where you will pick up the blue trail markers again. Follow these until you reach the car park.
By 1916, with the horrors of the First World War in full swing, the British government realised that it could no longer rely on timber imports to supplement Britain's own wood production and sustain industrial output. The huge demands placed on woodland resources by the onset of trench warfare and the spiralling need for colliery pit props brought the realisation that it would have to establish a group responsible for planting strategic timber reserves, as well as chopping them down again. The solution was the Forestry Commission, established immediately after the war in 1919. It began by buying up large tracts of land that were suitable for growing trees. One of the first areas it obtained was the sandy heathland around the ancient priory town of Thetford, because this was an ideal habitat for many species of fast-growing conifers.
By 1935, the new Thetford Forest had reached the boundaries on today's maps. It covers an area of approximately 50,000 acres (20,250ha), and is the largest lowland pine forest in the country. Originally, it was dominated by Scots pine, but this was changed to Corsican pine, which allows some 220,000 tons (224,000 tonnes) of timber to be cut every year. This is enough to build a 4ft (1.2m) high plank fence around the entire length of Britain's mainland coast. The amount taken is carefully controlled, so that the timber industry is sustainable - it never takes more than it plants.
The forest is more than just a giant timber-producing yard, however. It is home to numerous rare animals, birds and plants, including the native red squirrel, and people travel from miles around to enjoy the peace of the great forest trackways. Lucky visitors who walk quietly may spot one of the park's four species of resident deer: fallow, roe, red and muntjac. It is also home to a large number of bats, including the pipistrelle and the barbastelle, that feed on the many insects that inhabit the forest. Because the area is so important to bats, a bat hibernaculum has been built, to give them somewhere to spend the daylight hours.
Lynford Stag is named for the life-sized metal deer that stands quietly and unobtrusively among the car parks and picnic benches. This was discovered by Forestry Commission workers when they were clearing the area for planting trees, and must have given them quite a surprise. It was made for Sir Richard Sutton, a keen hunter who owned nearby Lynford Hall. He used it for target practice and, if you approach it, you will see the scars of its previous existence.
Lynford Hall is a Grade II listed mock-Jacobean mansion standing amid imposing gardens overlooking a series of artificial lakes. The building began in 1857 on the site of an earlier hall dating to the 1720s. The estate was known for the splendid quality of its hunting, and birds and beasts continued to fall until 1924, when the hall was sold to the Forestry Commission. In the late 1940s, trainee foresters began to plant trees in its grounds. These now form the arboretum.
Visit the High Lodge Forest Centre at Santon Downham, just over the border in Suffolk, if you want more information about the Forestry Commission and what to do in the area. Attractions include cycle hire and the giant Squirrels' Maze. There are also children's activity days, a shop and café, an outdoor theatre and a concert programme. Deeper into Suffolk is West Stow, a recreated Saxon village.
Lynford Hall Hotel is a perfect place to take a break, since it lies at the halfway point. It offers bar meals and morning and afternoon teas and coffees, and is open from 11am to 11pm. The Lynford Stag picnic site has picnic tables and a huge wooden 'play' stag for children. There are ice cream vans here in the summer and on busy weekends.
The red squirrel, once a common sight in our woodlands but now sadly depleted in numbers, can be found in the forest. Besides deer, you may also see foxes, hares and badgers. Around the Lynford Lakes and its drains keep an eye out for frogs, toads and newts.