Just a 10 minute drive from our home of St Albans, you’ll find the sprawling expanse of Heartwood Forest. The relatively new natural space right next to the village of Sandridge is a great place to go for a walk before or after a roast.
There are loads of different routes you can take through the newly planted woods and orchards, and lots of signs to help you identify the local flora and fauna. If you enter from Sandridge High Street you’ll arrive at the main car park which is free, and has an overspill so there’s always space, and you can walk down Sandridgebury Lane back to the village if you’re wanting to visit a pub during your visit. The best time of year to go, in our opinion, is bluebell season.
We love it here. There are vast, open spaces, peace and quiet, wildlife galore and acres of beautiful woodland to explore. It’s really quite unique because it is such a new woodland. A lot of the trees are just saplings, but there are also protected pockets of ancient bluebell woodland, old hedgerows, wildflower meadows, a growing community orchard, an arboretum, and open grassland, all adding up to some fantastic views.
The final tree went into the ground in March 2018, completing the creation of Heartwood forest – now England’s largest, new continuous native woodland. 600,000 trees have been planted over 9 years, and all by volunteers. A 20km network of paths runs in and around the forest and through the existing ancient woodlands; the kissing gates are wheelchair and pram friendly and an all-weather trail links the car park to Langley Wood.
It all started in 2008, when the Woodland Trust bought 347 hectares of land with the vision of growing England’s largest continuous native woodland. The first few trees were planted by Lady Verulam, and local school children began to plant a community orchard (now home to 600 fruit trees). Disney volunteers chipped in, planting the Magical Wood in 2013. Fragrant wildflower meadows were created using a mix of native seeds, providing pollen and nectar of a diverse variety of insects. The arboretum was completed in 2017, a collection of native trees including Plymouth Pear.
New wildlife started moving in including the water shrew, barbestelle bat, common lizard and grasshopper warbler. The final tree was planted in 2018 by Princess Beatrice. All of this work has created an ever-growing wildlife haven – there are over 87 bird and 29 butterfly species recorded so far. One of our favourite residents is the skylark, which nests among the long grass of the reserve and dart around, only just visible.
Langley Wood in Heartwood Forest
Langley Wood is the jewel in Heartwood’s crown and one of three pockets of irreplaceable ancient woodland at Heartwood. The show-stopping display of bluebells attracts hundreds of visitors each spring. Depending on the season, you can spot yellow archangel, purple dog violet and white pignut. Along with the bluebells, these wildflowers are all indicators of Langley Wood’s ancient status.
Langley Wood isn’t very large, as woods go, but it is so beautiful when the ground is covered in its lush bed of leaves and flowers. Compared to the young trees in the surrounding area, it feels like an ancient oasis. It’s so quiet and peaceful. The impact during bluebell season really is something else, especially at the moment when you step inside and the violet blue shades of purple are displayed in front of you as far as the eye can see.
Unfortunately, their popularity is damaging the very plants that visitors come to see. Bluebells take centuries to reach the numbers needed to carpet a woodland floor, but the plants are delicate. Bluebells have soft, succulent leaves that are particularly sensitive to trampling. Once leaves are damaged they die back and are unable to photosynthesise. This means they can’t put food back into their bulbs which reduces their ability to produce flowers and seeds, so it takes them years to recover.
So basically watch where you walk! Stay on the way-marked routes and keep your dog on a leash. Of course, don’t pick or dig up the bluebells. Let’s all enjoy them in a way that makes them safe for years to come.
When is bluebell season?
Bluebells usually flower from late March to early May, but it does vary from year to year. They are one of the last spring flowers to bloom before the woodland canopy closes up and new leaves block out the sunlight.
Here’s our little local trick for you. Of course Langley Wood is incredibly popular when the bluebells are out, and sharing them with so many people does take away from the peace and quiet. So if you’d rather have the wood to yourself, time your visit for just around sunset. All the families and dogwalkers have gone home, and you get the added beauty of golden hour light as well.
Just south of Heartwood Forest is the village of Sandridge, where you’ll find the medieval church of St Leonards, three pubs, and a small village shop. In 2011 it only had a population of 11,000 people, but of course the pubs are very busy because of their vicinity to the forest. Make sure you book ahead for a Sunday roast!
The three pubs in Sandridge are The Green Man, The Queen’s Head and The Rose & Crown. The Green Man is great for a quick drink, but the other two are the best choice for a Sunday roast. The Queen’s Head is the most popular as it’s right next to the church and just has that picturesque look that attracts visitors. Having tried both, we actually prefer the roast at The Rose & Crown.
The Rose & Crown
A 400-year-old village pub, The Rose & Crown has the third best roast we’ve eaten in and around St Albans. Matt and I have very high roast standards with thickness of gravy and crispiness of roast potatoes being the top priority. As you can see, the roasties at The Rose & Crown delivered, and they didn’t have obnoxiously large Yorkshire puddings that seem to be popular at the moment. It’s a thumbs up from us!
For those who are interested, our current roast leaderboard for the area has The Kings Arms in first place, followed by The Six Bells.
Heartwood Forest is one of our favourite places to go if we want to get away from the city and into nature. We couldn’t be more excited for the bluebells to be back this year, and we’ll definitely be making the most of it by visiting as many times as we can.