One of the largest pockets of lowland pine forest in Great Britain, Thetford Forest offers the chance to explore a truly unique landscape. The forest sprawls across almost 19,000 hectares and is laced with some great walking routes, ranging from 45-minute-long woodland strolls to long-distance trails that take you across multiple counties. Our list of Thetford Forest walks for 2021 is varied enough to suit the tastes of novice and hardcore walkers alike.
What we really love about Thetford Forest is the diversity of the trails on offer. If you’re visiting with kids the trails, picnic sites and activities around High Lodge promise days of entertainment. If you’re in search of solitude and wide open spaces, check out one of the longer trails or even a long-distance route like the Peddars Way. The forest is surrounded by a handful of storybook villages, the icing on the cake if you like to end your walks with tea and cake at a cosy cafe or lunch at a country pub. Basically, there’s something for everyone in this pine-studded pocket of Britain.
Planning a trip to Thetford Forest? Pack your boots because there are some seriously good walking trails to explore. Read on to find out more about some of our favourites:
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Green Walk at Great Hockham
This easy 1.5-mile trail is perfect if you’re walking with young kids, elderly grandparents or anyone else who likes to take things easy. It winds through the Hockham pocket of Thetford Forest and takes you under a canopy of enormous Scots and Corsican pines, as well as mature oaks. Fun fact for all you botanists out there – Scots pines are the only true native English pine, with other species introduced from European neighbours. The needles are green with a blueish tinge and the bark has a distinctive orange/red hue.
There’s plenty of insect and bird life to spot along the Green Walk at Great Hockham, including green woodpeckers and speckled wood butterflies. In spring the forest floor comes alive with wildflowers. You can follow the clear signposts – a bonus if you’re terrible with directions. Combining your walk with lunch at the Great Hockham Picnic Site is a great way to spend an afternoon.
Distance: 1.5 miles
Average time to complete: 45 minutes
Starting point: Great Hockham Picnic Site
Yellow Walk at Great Hockham
For something a little longer, the Yellow Walk at Great Hockham takes you through the same landscape of mature oak and pine woodlands. Foxgloves, dog rose and honeysuckle blanket the forest floor and give the woodlands a magical feel. Both the Yellow Walk and Green Walk at Great Hockham are dog friendly, meaning you’ll see plenty of wagging tails on the trails.
If you want to add an extra 40 minutes to your itinerary, consider parking in Great Hockham village and walking to the Yellow Walk trailhead from there. Burning the extra calories is a great excuse to enjoy lunch at The Eagle, one of the best country pubs in Norfolk. As well as tasty food there’s a great selection of local ales to choose from, always a perk for beer aficionados.
Distance: 2.5 miles
Average time to complete: 1 – 1.5 hours
Starting point: Great Hockham Picnic Site
The Peddars Way
Once an ancient Roman travel route that connected East Anglia with the North Norfolk Coast, the Peddars Way is now one of England’s most iconic trails. There are big rewards on offer for adventurous walkers, with the trails taking you through wide open countryside, along flower-filled country lanes and past glacier-carved ponds formed in the Ice Age. You’ll pass through four villages along the way, making it easy to find a good meal and a warm bed if you’re a comfort-conscious walker.
The Peddars Way has an authentic country feel. You’ll often find yourself completely surrounded by fields and farmland. This goes hand-in-hand with mud so be sure to invest in a good pair of boots beforehand. The woodland sections are beautiful, and the landscapes change drastically depending on what time of year you walk. Spring promises emerald-green leaves and plenty of wildflowers, while autumn sees colours transition to vivid yellows, oranges and golds. You can walk the Peddars Way easily walked in winter, providing you have appropriate clothing.
Birders love the section that passes through Brettenham Heath National Nature Reserve, an important habitat for curlew, redstart, woodlark, skylark and buzzards. There have also been sightings of the nocturnal nightjar in the heathlands.
Wondering where the name comes from? The word “peddars” is derived from the Latin word “pedester” meaning “on foot”. The Peddars Way is named after the pilgrims who once trudged along to the village of Walsingham. People have been walking the route since 1587 AD. While it’s tempting to breeze through, don’t forget to slow down and take a moment to appreciate the ancient footsteps you’re retracing.
You can find a map here.
Distance: 46 miles
Average time to complete: 4 – 7 days
Starting point: Knettishall Heath Country Park in Suffolk or Holme-next-the-Sea in Norfolk
A great little walk for geology buffs, the Pingo Trail showcases the ancient landscapes of Norfolk. If you’re not familiar with the term “pingos” let us fill you in. Carved by glacier action during the Ice Age, pingos are water filled craters that provide an important habitat for native wildlife. While most pingos in the Brecks area were destroyed for agricultural use, this little pocket remains and is an ecological gem.
One of the real highlights of the Pingo Trail is the chance to spot Shetland ponies grazing on Thompson Common. The common is also dotted with natural ponds that provide a home for Scarce Emerald Damselflies, one of the rarest species of insect in the UK. You’ll know if you’ve spotted one by the metallic green body and shimmering royal blue accents. The section through Cranberry Rough is another good excuse to take your time, stopping to admire the swampy woodland habitat and watch dragonflies buzzing around your head.
Parts of the trail span along the Peddars Way, a bonus if you’re hoping to check out the ancient Roman pilgrimage route. The walk is flat and well graded, making it a good option for most fitness levels. Most of the walk is also well signposted so you only need very basic navigation skills to avoid getting lost.
Distance: 8 miles
Average time to complete: 3 hours
Starting point: Pingo Trail Car Park on Watton Road
Orange Walk at St Helen’s
Stretching for 5 miles through Thetford Forest, the Orange Walk at St Helen’s meanders through the valley and hugs the banks of the Little Ouse River. There’s plenty of shade thanks to the towering poplars, with the trail also taking through past lush alder carr and fen wetlands. Panels dot the trail and offer more information on local flora and fauna – a great bonus if you’re walking with kids and want to make the experience a bit more interactive.
Set next to the river, the St Helen’s Picnic Site is the perfect place to finish your walk. Stop by the village of Brandon to pick up supplies, where you’ll find stores selling local goodies like smoked Suffolk ham, fresh-picked strawberries and Ipswich cheese.
Distance: 5 miles
Average time to complete: 2 hours
Starting point: St Helen’s Picnic Site or Santon Downham Village
Easy Access Trail at St Helen’s Picnic Site
Looking for something short and sweet? The Easy Access Trail at St Helen’s Picnic Site features similar scenery to the longer Orange Walk but without the 5-mile commitment. Some of the best sections skirt the Little Ouse River and are great for spotting wildlife. Keep an eye out for egrets and kingfishers. The well-graded path is ideal for strollers and wheelchairs, as well as younger kids who are still a little wobbly on their feet.
On a hot day you’ll be tempted to strip off and take a dip in the Little Ouse River. The water is shallow and relatively still – great for it’s you’re walking with kids. St Helen’s Picnic Site is also popular with kayakers and stand-up paddleboarders so if you’re itching to launch a new toy, this is the spot. If you’re lucky the ice cream truck might even pull up while you’re there.
Distance: 1.5 miles
Average time to complete: 45 minutes
Starting point: St Helen’s Picnic Site
Lynford Stag Green Walk + Blue Walk
What do you get when you combine the Lynford Stag Green Walk and Blue Walk? A punchy little 3.5-mile walk that takes you through sun-dappled woodlands and meadows strewn with wildflowers. Each trail is 1.75 miles long. You can walk each one individually, though we like to combine the pair for a longer hike. At one point you’ll pass through an avenue of lime trees, which was once used as a carriage drive for Lynford Hall. Now a hotel, the Neo-Jacobean country house is a pretty special place to stay the night if you’re celebrating an anniversary or milestone.
Like most trails in Thetford Forest, both the Green Walk and Blue Walk begin at a family-friendly picnic site. You’re not far from the village of Mundford, a good place to pick up sandwiches, cakes and other picnic essentials. If you’re looking to beat the crowds get an early start and enjoy sunrise on the Lynford Stag Trails. Brows Café in Mundford does an outstanding Full English if you need a bit of motivation.
Distance: 3.5 miles
Average time to complete: 1 hour
Starting point: Lynford Stag Picnic Site
Beech Trail at High Lodge
The Beech Trail rambles through Rishbeth Wood, a scenic pocket of Thetford Forest that feels worlds away from the buzz of High Lodge. Thetford Warren Lodge, an ancient stone tower house built by the Prior of Thetford in the 15th century makes a great lunch stop. The rectangular tower is surrounded by grass and is drenched in plenty of sunshine. You might even have some local sheep come to join your picnic. The fall foliage is incredible so if you’re visiting during autumn the Beech Trail should definitely make your list.
At 4 miles the Beech Trail is the longest High Lodge walk, but if you’re looking for something shorter consider options like the Pine and Nature Trails, both an easy 1 mile long. The latter is great for wildlife watching and offers a chance to spot all four species of deer that live in the forest. The 3 mile Fir Trail is always a winner with more adventurous hikers. It takes you away from the crowds and through quieter sections of the forest.
Distance: 4 miles
Average time to complete: 1.5 hours
Starting point: High Lodge
Lynford Arboretum Blue Walk
If you’ve ever visited California, you’ll know just how special Sequoias are. If you haven’t, this is the perfect opportunity to get up close with the living giants. The Lynford Arboretum Blue Walk is one of our all-time favourite trails and takes you through an avenue of towering Sequoia trees planted in honour of the Duke of Wellington in the 1800s. It’s known as Sequoia Avenue and is every bit as grand as it sounds.
As a working arboretum, Lynford is also studded with trees from around the world. Look out for Norwegian and Serbian spruce, Chinese firs and a centuries-old oak planted in 1671. Get up close with this mighty tree and you can positively feel the energy radiating off it. As well as botanists Lynford Arboretum is also a treat for birders, with the variety of trees attracting nuthatches, chaffinches and other feathered friends. Tacking on the Green Walk adds an extra 1 mile to your itinerary. It also showcases more of the original Lynford Estate parkland.
Distance: 4 – 5 miles
Average time to complete: 1.5 – 2 hours
Starting point: Lakes Car Park
Are you familiar with Thetford Forest? We know there are plenty more trails to explore in and around the local area. If we missed one of your favourites be sure to shout out. We’re always looking for new trails to explore so we’d love to hear from you. If it’s further exploration you seek, you can find all our UK route guides here.