By 1916, with the horrors of World War I in full swing, the British government realised that it could no longer rely on timber imports to supplement Britain's own wood production and sustain industrial output. The huge demands placed on woodland resources by the onset of trench warfare and the spiralling need for colliery pit props brought the realisation that it would have to establish a group responsible for planting strategic timber reserves, as well as chopping them down again. The solution was the Forestry Commission, established immediately after the war in 1919. It began by buying up large tracts of land that were suitable for growing trees. One of the first areas it obtained was the sandy heathland around the ancient priory town of Thetford, because this was an ideal habitat for many species of fast-growing conifers.
By 1935 the new Thetford Forest had reached the boundaries on today's maps. It covers an area of approximately 50,000 acres (20,250ha), and is the largest lowland pine forest in the country. Originally it was dominated by Scots pine, but this was changed to Corsican pine, which allows some 220,000 tons (224,000 tonnes) of timber to be cut every year. This is enough to build a 4ft (1.2m) high plank fence around the entire length of Britain's mainland coast. The amount taken is carefully controlled, so that the timber industry is sustainable – it never takes more than it plants.
The forest is more than just a giant timber-producing yard, however. It is home to numerous rare animals, birds and plants, including the native red squirrel, and people travel from miles around to enjoy the peace of the great forest trackways. Lucky visitors who walk quietly may spot one of the park's four species of resident deer: fallow, roe, red and muntjac. It is also home to a large number of bats, including the pipistrelle and the barbastelle, that feed on the many insects that inhabit the forest. Because the area is so important to bats, a bat hibernaculum has been built, to give them somewhere to spend the daylight hours.
Lynford Stag is named for the life-sized metal deer that stands quietly and unobtrusively among the car parks and picnic benches. This was discovered by Forestry Commission workers when they were clearing the area for planting trees, and must have given them quite a surprise. It was made for Sir Richard Sutton, a keen hunter who owned nearby Lynford Hall. He used it for target practice and, if you approach it, you will see the scars of its previous existence.
Lynford Hall is a Grade II-listed mock-Jacobean mansion standing amid imposing gardens overlooking a series of artificial lakes. The building began in 1857 on the site of an earlier hall dating from the 1720s. The estate was known for the splendid quality of its hunting, and birds and beasts continued to fall until 1924, when the hall was sold to the Forestry Commission. In the late 1940s, trainee foresters began to plant trees in its grounds. These now form the arboretum.
From the car park follow the grassy path that runs between the metal stag and the notice board, parallel to the edge of the trees. When you arrive level with a large children’s slide in the form of a stag to the left, turn right and follow the blue marker posts into the trees. Jig slightly to the right and follow the markers heading north. Emerging from the trees turn left along a grassy track then, after passing a bench, turn right at a crossroads of tracks, leaving the blue trail to walk between conifer plantations. Eventually, after crossing another forest track, you reach a paved road.
Cross the road and continue ahead on what was once part of the driveway leading to Lynford Hall. Go across a junction of tracks and continue ahead along a gravel path, next to a meadow on the right, picking up the next set of blue and green trails. The Church of Our Lady of Consolation is hidden behind the trees to your right. It was designed by Pugin in the 1870s for the Catholic owner of the hall, but the next owner, a Protestant, planted trees to shield it from view. Shortly, reach a stone bridge and a sign for Lynford Hall Hotel.
Turn right and follow the gravel path along the shore of Lynford Lakes, with views across the water to Lynford Hall. Turn left across a bridge to enter Lynford Arboretum, and follow the path through the arboretum until you reach a road.
Turn left along the road, passing Lynford Hall Hotel on your left. After you have walked past the building, turn left through the main entrance gates of the hotel and walk up the drive.
When you see a sculpture of two bulls fighting, turn right onto a wide grassy sward called Sequoia Avenue. Walk almost to the end of it, then follow the blue markers to the left into the wood. After a few paces you come to the lake. The blue trail bears to the left at the end of the lake, but our walk continues straight ahead on the bridleway. Turn right where the path meets a T-junction then, ignoring another footpath to the right past a house, keep left. Turn left at the driveway to the house to continue along the bridleway.
Reach a paved lane and turn right for a few yards before turning left along another track. Continue straight on, through tall conifers. Turn left at the end of the track, then almost immediately right, where you will pick up the blue trail markers again. Follow these to return to the car park.
Wide grassy trackways and small paths
Coniferous and mixed deciduous forest
On lead, and keep away from children's play areas; no dogs (except guide dogs) in arboretum
OS Explorer 229 Thetford Forest in The Brecks
Lynford Stag picnic site off A134
Close to start
None on route
Walking in safety
Read our tips to look after yourself and the environment when following this walk.
Also in the area
About the area
The North Norfolk Coast is designated an Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty and probably the finest of its kind in Europe. Here you’ll find a string of quaint villages and small towns – Holkham, Wells-next-the-Sea and Cley next the Sea are 21st-century favourites, while Sheringham and Cromer are classic examples of a good old-fashioned seaside resort where grand Victorian hotels look out to sea. Further round the coast you'll find Great Yarmouth, one of the most popular resorts in the UK and packed full of amusements, shops and seashore entertainment. And let's not forget Norwich, the region's only city.
Norfolk prides itself on its wealth of historic houses, the most famous being Sandringham, where Her Majesty the Queen and her family spend Christmas. Many of Norfolk’s towns have a particular charm and a strong sense of community. The quiet market towns of Fakenham and Swaffham are prime examples, as well as Thetford, with its popular museum focusing on the TV comedy series Dad’s Army which was filmed in the area.