Hamsterley Forest

Hamsterley Forest is the largest area of continuous woodland in County Durham. Planted in the 1930s, today the forest is a popular outdoor recreation location, with trails for hikers, mountain bikers and horse riders. We’d originally planned to spend our day hiking up Skiddaw, but given that temperatures were set to soar to the high twenties, we re-evaluated and decided that an early morning walk with plenty of shade would be a much safer option for the dogs. Hamsterley has been on our radar for a while but we’d never made it a priority to visit as we know it’s a popular place and can get busy. However, we decided that as we’d be going early to beat the heat, we’d take a chance on there being not that many people around. And we were in luck!

Hamsterley was so much more than we expected. Some forests can be an unending stretch of coniferous greenery, but Hamsterley is a wonderful mix of coniferous and deciduous species, beautiful in summer but I expect would be even better in autumn. For visitors to the forest there are a selection of walking trails or you can make up your own route from the huge network of interconnecting paths criss-crossing the forest.

Most of the walks start from the main visitor centre, although the Spurlswood Valley walk we followed starts from Grove car park, a little further along the forest drive. Parking is £6 all day (£10 on bank holiday weekends) and works through Automatic Number Plate Recognition. There’s no pay and display, just pay at the pay station (cash or card) or via a parking app before you leave.

The Spurlswood Valley trail is a circular route of about 4.5 miles. The first two thirds or so of the walk follows the river and is a great shady walk for a warm summer day. While you’re in the woods for most of the walk, you wander in and out of clear areas with lovely views back over the forest, especially lovely on days with blue sky for miles like we had.

For the most part the path is level and surfaced, with the odd section slightly more bumpy with rocks and tree roots underfoot. This walk is pretty easy: there are no steep ascents or descents (although it’s not completely flat), and navigation is also simple – just follow the green way markers.

Being totally honest I wasn’t expecting to enjoy this walk as much as I did – I thought we were in for a standard wander round the woods and then home again! But this walk was a total delight and we’ll definitely be heading back to discover more of what Hamsterley has to offer. My favourite thing was the fact that despite being surrounded by trees for the whole walk, the scenery around us was constantly changing, rather than feeling like we were walking on a treadmill in the middle of a forest (which can happen sometimes!).

Dog friendly rating – 5/5. How could I give this walk any other rating! Ours absolutely loved it here – quite possibly their favourite walk ever. By going early (we arrived at 7.45am) we had the forest almost entirely to ourselves – we saw one other dog walker and a handful of mountain bikers. I do think it gets busier later in the day though! There were no stiles and no road walking which was fantastic. Merry in particular loved the river being next to the path for most of the walk – he probably spent more time in the water than out of it! We had ours off lead for the whole walk and it was great to have a long walk with no worries about livestock and no being dragged around on the lead – we will definitely be making this a regular walk! I’m writing this blog about six hours after getting home and neither of them have moved since we got in – they are completely pooped from having such an amazing time!

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