There was a moment of dread as I headed to Wendover Woods for the first time.
As Herts was bathed in the first signs of summer – and after a few weekends taking advantage of pubs reopening – it seemed the perfect opportunity to get back into nature.
However, as we turned onto the A41 it soon became apparent we were in a convoy, which continued after the exit and well into the woodland of the Herts-Bucks border.
Surprisingly, we weren’t the only people having the same idea – and I was worried the peace of the countryside was going to be lost amongst the crowd.
It definitely would have been a bit underwhelming to be fighting past people along the paths or even just hearing the murmur of voices when you’re wanting to escape from busier towns.
But yet within minutes of walking into the wood, it became apparent why so many people flocked to the forest and we were completely on our own and could hear a pin drop.
Wendover Woods is technically within Buckinghamshire, but it’s within walking distance of Tring and very easily accessible from Hemel Hempstead and Watford, and it clearly drew people in.
On the weekend I visited, the recently built cafe had few tables left, and dozens of families were picnicking around the grass.
The Go Ape courses were also booked-up, and around the entrance to the forest you could see the impressive courses snaking between the trees.
I didn’t know what to expect, but the set up was really impressive and while some bigger parks rely on keeping things as minimal as possible, having such a welcoming entrance made it feel like there was something for everyone.
There was even a Gruffalo walk to encourage younger children around the forest, which is definitely a great idea for encouraging them to get into the fresh air for an afternoon.
Being 23-years-old, I decided against that route, and instead headed along the Firecrest Trail.
It was a gut-feeling choice without knowing where we were going, but it turned out to offer some of the best views of the forest and felt like being completely on our own.
Despite how busy the social spaces in the park were, within minutes we were completely on our own in the forest.
The walk was just shy of three miles, mixing between surfaced paths and woodland detours, and showcased everything that was on offer, from narrow, clusters of trees to animal habitats and the surrounding countryside.
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It’s the longest marked trail, but there was plenty of chances to cut through or extend the walk to explore in your own time.
Another encouraging thing to see was a marked easy access trail, which means the woods is accessible for as many people as possible.
Hidden away in the woods are also hides to allow for you to discreetly look for wildlife, although we didn’t have much luck spotting anything.
There is a warning that the first half of the route is all about descending into the forest, which then sets up a tough climb back up the hill in some places.
However, it’s well worth it to see some of the views across the Herts and Bucks countryside, and properly escape at the weekend.
It’s the ideal route for a summer’s day as it remains cool while walking under the cover of the forest, before being able to relax with a picnic with the stunning views.
Once we got back, we found that there’s also the Hill Fort Trail which walks past the Boddington Hill Fort, which dates back to the Iron Age which is perfect to learn about some history while wandering around.
The map also revealed that despite covering three miles, there were still a good third of the forest we hadn’t got near to seeing.
As you return back to the entrance, the crowds become bigger again and it makes it even more striking that so many people can enjoy the area while also feeling completely isolated.
Its location in the Chilterns means there’s plenty of beautiful spots to explore but few will feel like such an escape from the rush of normal life than Wendover does.