Exploring the Grizedale Forest

Nestled in the hills between Coniston and Windermere, Grizedale Forest is one of the top woodland destinations in the majestic Lake District. Its nearly 10,000 acres contain a unique mix of nature, art, adventure and history just waiting to be explored. This in-depth guide will provide everything you need to know to fully experience the vibrant Grizedale Forest.


Genesis of a Green Getaway: History of Grizedale Forest

Grizedale Forest as we know it today is the result of careful cultivation over the past century. However, humans have interacted with the wooded valley for far longer. Neolithic stone axe fragments found in the area indicate ancient residents used the forest’s resources. By medieval times, local farmers grazed sheep and cattle in the Grizedale valley. The woods filled with livestock, leaving limited tree coverage. The area remained rough pastureland until the 1800s when demand grew for timber to fuel industry.The Satterthwaite family purchased the land in 1879 to provide oak bark for leather tanning. Fast-growing conifers like pine and larch were planted to also supply pit props and telegraph poles. Dense rows of quick-growing trees replaced the open fields. After WWI, the Forestry Commission bought 6000 acres to generate timber for the war effort. In the 1950s, the Commission introduced new species like Japanese larch and Sitka spruce. They also began creating footpaths and visitor facilities. Recreational use increased through the 1900s, at times conflicting with industrial forestry. In 1989, “Grizedale Forest Park” was established to balance public access and wood production. Today, 100,000 people visit annually to mountain bike, hike scenic trails, and enjoy art installations. Careful forest management allows both recreation and sustainable timber yield to thrive.

Genesis of a Green Getaway: History of Grizedale Forest

Ancient Oakwoods

Scattered throughout Grizedale are groves of ancient oak and birch that have stood for centuries, having escaped timber harvesting. These towering trees with massive, hollowing trunks and gnarled twisting limbs create a cathedral-like feel in the forest. Sunlight filters through the canopy, dappling the mossy ground below. Up to 5,000 species of insects live on just one ancient oak, providing ample food for woodpeckers like the acrobatic Great Spotted Woodpecker with its crimson underside. 


Below the oak branches lies a carpet of bluebells and primroses in spring. Old tree stumps sprout bracket fungi like Chicken of the Woods. Swiftly navigating up and down the oaks, the rare red squirrel makes its home in the ancient woods, avoiding the non-native greys. Beneath furrowed bark, holes and crevices provide nesting sites for small birds and roosts for pipistrelle bats. By preserving these invaluable ancient oakwood habitats, Grizedale provides a safe refuge for some of Britain's most threatened native wildlife seeking shelter in the forest's time-honoured trees.

Lakes and Tarns

Scattered throughout Grizedale are serene pools, ponds and lakelets, known locally as tarns, that create pockets of tranquillity in the woods. Surrounded by towering pines and emerald mosses, these glass-like waters reflect the forest canopy in their still surfaces. Along the muddy margins, boggy ground squelches underfoot and dragonflies zip through swirling mist. Damselflies perch delicately on spongy mats of algae and waterlilies float serenely on the tranquil tarns.


The tarns support a variety of specialized life like aquatic beetles, snails, and water boatmen gliding across the surface. Trolurksurk in the depths while frogs camouflaged in green and brown hide among the reedy grass. Red deer and fox tread carefully to the water's edge for a refreshing drink. The rich sounds of birdsong emanate from the trees encircling these quiet oases within Grizedale's dense interior. Taking a pause beside the mysterious tarns allows a moment of contemplation amidst the forest’s endless energy and life.

Lowland Heath

Dotted throughout Grizedale are pockets of lowland heath, where rugged dwarf shrubs and grasses grow in the poor, acidic soil. This open habitat provides a sanctuary for many specialized plants and animals. Hardy heathers in shades of lilac, pink and white bloom from late summer into autumn, coating the ground in colour. Interspersed are golden gorse bushes, hillside bilberry, and cushions of bright green moss. Look for the tiny pink flowers of Heath Spotted orchids peeking up between heather stems. Rare dragonflies like the Black Darter flit over sunny patches while lizards and adders bask on stone walls dividing up the heathland. 


The sandy substrate is too nutrient-poor for large trees to establish, creating natural clearings. Sheep once grazed these open areas, keeping woody shrubs in check. Now conservation groups manage the heath through careful seasonal burning and grazing by hardy breeds like Hebridean sheep. This maintains diverse mosaics of heather in different growth stages, benefiting many rare butterflies, bees, and moths that have adapted to the harsh conditions. The vibrant heathlands of Grizedale provide refuge for an incredible diversity of life specially suited to thrive in these harsh yet beautiful environments.

Riparian Habitats

Mossy streams and rivers flow through the forest valley, carving rocky gorges with miniature waterfalls. Dippers bob along moss-cloaked banks while deer carefully descend to the water’s edge. Listen for the drum-like call of black grouse echoing across the gurgling currents.This mosaic of woodland, water and open glades creates the perfect blend of food, shelter and seclusion for Grizedale’s diverse residents. Wander quietly and you’re sure to cross paths with some of these captivating creatures.

Genesis of a Green Getaway: History of Grizedale Forest

With over 90km of paths winding through the varied terrain, Grizedale Forest is a paradise for hikers. For an easy amble surrounded by towering trees, head out on the 1.5-mile Beech Trail loop from the Visitor Centre. The path undulates through a cathedral-like beech grove, their silver trunks soaring gracefully upward. Just beyond lies the scenic 2-mile Carron Crag trail following the babbling Carron Gill stream. It leads to views of Coniston Water shimmering in the valley below. 


For a longer trek into the forest's depths, tackle the 6.5-mile circuit on the North Face Trail. Climb up through the shadows of evergreens to emerge at the open summit of Carron Crag. Your effort will be rewarded with panoramic vistas over Grizedale and the Lake District fells. The trail then descends back into the woods, passing the striking Crookabeck Bench carved from a fallen oak. Towards the south end of the forest, the 4-mile Satterthwaite Trail loop meanders through craggy outcrops and sections of older, gnarled trees. Look out for weathered sculptures nestled in the undergrowth and babbling brooks spanned by quaint wooden footbridges along the way. With options for all abilities and plenty of natural beauty, Grizedale Forest offers sublime Lakeland hiking.

Artistic Expression in a Forest Setting: Grizedale's Sculpture Trail

In addition to natural beauty, Grizedale Forest offers a feast for the eyes and mind courtesy of artworks scattered through the woods. The Grizedale Sculpture Trail features over 100 pieces from international artists that use natural materials to enhance the forest surroundings. The Trail was established in 1977 by a progressive curator named Adam Sutherland. He believed art should be free and accessible to the public rather than locked in museums. Sutherland invited artists to design functional pieces like benches and shelters from sustainably sourced wood, stone and vines. Works range from representational, like “Bird Table” crafted from a downed oak trunk, to abstract, like the woven willow cocoons of “Hide and Seek.” Whimsical motifs like the pinecone-shaped “Seed House” and grass-covered “Badger Den” bring natural forms to life. Installation locations blend with the tranquil environment instead of disrupting it. A hand-carved owl peers from a rocky crag while a Celtic-inspired ash frame arches gracefully over a stream. Integrating art into nature promotes reflection on humankind’s relationship with the landscape. The titles provide clues but allow room for personal interpretation. Giant overturned fir cones inspire the aptly named “Fir Cones” while stacked stone spheres form the more mysterious “Vessel Stead.” Plan extra time when hiking Grizedale's trails to pause and ponder each work's possible meanings. The ever-changing Sculpture Trail embodies Sutherland’s vision of organic, egalitarian art unfettered by convention. Wandering the exhibit trail has been described as “viewing an outside gallery.” Let your inner child play among these creative woods.

Adventure Awaits: Zip Lines, Tree Climbs and Forest Fun

In addition to scenic hikes and bike rides, Grizedale Forest delivers adrenaline-pumping adventures. Soar over the forest, tackle wobbly crossings, and clamber into the canopy at these thrilling attractions:

  • Grizedale Forest Go Ape Lines: Strap on a harness and spend 2-3 hours navigating rope ladders, bridges, zip lines and Tarzan swings. The Treetop Adventure stick to heights under 10m while the Zip Trekking whizzes and zips you 10-20m up into the canopy. Guides provide training; brave the course solo or with friends.
  • Segway Tours: If two wheels are more your speed, book a Segway tour. After a lesson, glide effortlessly through the woods without hiking fatigue. Different-length tours stop at landmarks like Carron Crag for epic valley views without the climb.
  • Forbidden Corner: This whimsical maze-like sculpture park features caverns, grottos and surprising structures like the Hummidome Glasshouse. Wander through the fanciful trails, but beware of cheeky scheduled water fights! Open March through November. 

Find more information at the Grizedale Forest Visitor Centre. You can also rent bikes and find trail walking maps.

Home Among the Trees: Places to Stay in Grizedale Forest

With endless discoveries waiting in the woods, you may never want to leave Grizedale Forest. Luckily, a range of accommodation options allows you to maximize your time in the trees.

Camping and Caravans

For the ultimate wilderness experience, pitch a tent within the forest itself at Grizedale Campsite and Caravan Park. The family-run facility offers 80 spacious, hedge-sheltered tent sites, some with electrical hook-ups for camper vans. Payment is by honesty box on arrival. Hot showers and toilets, a laundry room, and a small shop with essentials like firewood and snacks provide civilized comfort. The adjacent children's play area keeps little ones entertained while adults relax around the campfire circle. Seven miles of bicycle trails start right from the campground entrance. With 24-hour gate access, early risers can hit the trails at sunrise before the crowds arrive. Campers fall asleep to the soothing sounds of owls hooting in the darkness. In the morning, wake to bird song and fresh forest air - a perfect base for Grizedale explorations.


For those seeking added amenities, Lakeside Caravan Park sits right on Coniston Water just a 10 minute drive from the forest. Choose from electric and non-electric sites spaced widely for privacy, many with lake views. Glamping options like bell tents, pods and hobbit holes bring a magical twist. Lakeside's extensive facilities include hot tubs, playgrounds, sports areas, restaurants and evening entertainment. Grizedale Forest's natural tranquility contrasts brilliantly with the buzzing energy of the nearby caravan park. With options ranging from rugged to luxurious, Grizedale campers can craft their ideal woodland overnight experience.


The Daffodil Hotel and Spa

Tucked away in the tranquil Lyth Valley just outside the forest, the Daffodil Hotel and Spa offers luxurious accommodations in a bucolic setting. The Georgian-style main building features elegant rooms decorated in calm creams and greens that reflect the surroundings. Upgrade to a garden view room to enjoy the manicured grounds from your private terrace. The hotel's signature restaurant sources fine local ingredients like Herdwick lamb and fresh catch to create refined yet comforting dishes. After a day of forest adventures, unwind in the spa's azure 20-meter pool or book a relaxing massage. Friendly staff provide attentive service with care taken to learn each guest's name. The Daffodil's understated pampering makes it a peaceful retreat after an active day.


Moss Grove Organic

On a working organic farm just minutes from Grizedale Forest, Moss Grove combines eco-friendly luxury with countryside charm. The restored 19th century farm buildings house spacious suites with contemporary rustic decor featuring reclaimed materials. Many rooms open onto patios overlooking the micro-dairy and kitchen gardens that supply the exceptional farm-to-table restaurant. Beyond the refined accommodations, Moss Grove's environmental ethos shines through. Electric vehicle charging, renewable energy systems and local collaborations reduce their footprint while supporting the community. Guided tours showcase sustainability practices integrated with the day-to-day farm operations. With a focus on both comfort and conscience, Moss Grove makes for a meaningful forest stay.


The Punch Bowl Inn

In the heart of Crosthwaite village, The Punch Bowl Inn provides a taste of traditional Lakeland hospitality. Rooms retain period character through sloped ceilings and exposed beams coupled with modern amenities. The expanded restaurant, warmed by a stone fireplace, serves updated British pub classics like braised lamb shank or beer-battered fish and chips. The real attraction is the people, from the effusive owner who knows every regular by name to the tight-knit staff. Expect to be greeted with a smile and depart having made new friends. Its central location, relaxed vibe and lively community pub make The Punch Bowl an ideal Grizedale Forest basecamp. With varied options from luxurious to laid-back, visitors can select Grizedale Forest accommodations tailored to their style and budget. Each hotel provides warm Lake District hospitality amidst beautiful natural surroundings.


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