Hamsterley Forest is a commercial forest in County Durham operated by the Forestry Commission. It is the largest forest in County Durham and covers more than 2000 hectares. Recreational activities are promoted within the forest and are focussed at the eastern end around the visitors centre. In addition to the visitors centre there is an adjacent cafe, an education room, toilet facilities and an independent bike shop called Wood'n'Wheels that also hires out bikes.
During the 1930s, the Forest was planted and tracks were built by unemployed men supplied through the Ministry of Labour. Most came from the mining communities and shipyards of the North East of England. They were housed in one of a number of Instructional Centres created by the Ministry, most of them on Forestry Commission property; by 1938, the Ministry had 35 Instructional Centres across Britain. These were basically work camps, where unemployed men carried out heavy labour and lived on site in wooden huts. The Instructional Centres were closed in 1938, as unemployment declined in the run-up to war, but some of the huts can still be seen around the Visitors' Centre, which was originally built as the camp's refectory. The Visitors' Centre was part of a prisoner of war camp during the Second World War.
A number of Mesolithic, Neolithic and Bronze Age flint tools have been found in Doctor's Gate Quarry. An area of the forest is probably the site of a 15th-century iron ore processing site. An area next to Linburn Hall Wood was the site of a medieval convent.
Mountain bike trails are developed in the forest by Hamsterley Trailblazers which were constituted on 5 January 2004. There are three official routes: Blue (moderate), Red (Difficult) and Black (expert) all of which are waymarked with colour-coded marker posts. A previous Green (easy) route has since been removed.
"The Loop" is a skills development circuit which includes features such as rock gardens and north shore obstacles. Features are graded from blue to black therefore helmets should be worn and it is not suitable for occasional/family cyclists.
Descend, a private club established in 2000 operates mountain bike 4X and downhill courses in the area south of the Grove.
See also Beyond Hamsterley for more mountain bike rides in the area.
The forest is home to other activities such as walking and horse riding. The forest has also been host to the RAC rally over many years as well as other rallies including the Hamsterley Stages Rally which from 2009 has a new name of The Tour of Hamsterley Rally
Durham Fell Runners are active in the forest with regular events starting at the visitors centre.
- The Forestry Commission
- Outdoor Centre
- West Hoppyland Farm
- Keys To The Past - Hamsterley Forest
- Tour of Hamsterley Rally
Field, J. "Learning Through Labour: Training, unemployment and the state, 1890-1920, 1992, University of Leeds, ISBN 0-900960-48-5