“ Ancient royal forest of oak and beech in western Gloucestershire, England, covering an area of about 26,000 ac (10,500 ha) between the Rivers Severn and Wye. It became a National Forest Park administered by the Forestry Commission in 1939. „
I've lived in the Forest of Dean my whole life (nearly 33 years) and completely taken it for granted! It's really only been in the last few years, since we had our son, that we have started to enjoy our home, with it's breathtaking scenery, abundance of family activities and friendly atmposphere, so I thought I would share it all with you. Brace yourselves, it's a long one!
==Here comes the history bit!==
The Forest of Dean was firstly recognised by the Saxons and covers 110 square kilometers or 27000 acres of woodland. It is one of the few remaining Royal forests left in England and has a rich history as a favourite hunting ground for many of our historical kings. The vast amount of woodland is home to many animals and birds, but Forest pride is mainly given to the beautiful fallow deer. There are about 400 here, of which at least one is a white stag which I've spotted only once. Spotting the unusual is becomming a bit of a hobby here, with the wild boar picking up numbers, the peregrine falcons successfully nesting and even sightings of a big cat nicknamed the 'Forest Beast' - although many of us have yet to see it!
The Forest is probably mostly reknown for it's coal mining industry and the last colliery closed in 1965, although there are still a few small mines around which are run by freeminers. To qualify as a freeminer you must have been born 'within the 100 of St. Braivels' (anywhere in the Forest of Dean) be over 21 and have worked a year and a day in a mine. Freeminers rights also mean if they have sheep, they can let them graze freely around the Forest, so sheep are a common sight by the roadside, very nice in the spring when the lambs are around. This ancient law also allows pigs to graze in the woods at autumntime when the acorns are about, but I've never witnessed this. Unfortunately, most children are now born outside the district, in Gloucester hospital, so the Freeminers numbers are dwindling.
In the 17th century, the Forest became famous for it's 'finest timber' - (Lord Nelson) and the oak and iron was used for Britains expanding ship building industry. Thankfully, the depletion of the mighty oak was recognised and in 1668 the re-forrestation act was introduced, allowing the Forest to flourish.
==The Forest today==
The Forest of Dean lies between the rivers Wye and Severn, in the western part of Gloucestershire, and on the borders of Wales and Herefordshire. Embarassingly, here is where I learnt something new: the Forest isdivided into four main areas (my hubby didn't know either!):
===The ancient Royal Forest.=== This is classed as the heart of the Forest and is probably the more 'built up' area. Here is where you can find the market towns, Cinderford (where I live) and Coleford, which both have the usual small town array of shops, supermarkets, schools, banks, hairdressers and pubs, but you're never too far from the wood.
===The Wye Valley.=== This stunning spot is right on the English / Welsh border and is an Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty. As well as being a wonderful place to experience the breathtaking scenery and tranquility it also boasts an exciting range of activities such as canoeing, hiking, climbing and biking.
===The Vale of Leadon.=== More toward the Northern section and including the pretty town of Newent. A very charming and picturesque area, well known for the black and white timber properties and famous for its abundance of wild daffodils and annual onion fayre.
===The Severn Vale.=== Home to Lydney, a bustling town with its historic harbour and Roman Temple. The river Severn flows through the Vale and is famous for it's 'Bore', a huge tidal wave which carries down the long stretch and which many people try to surf.
==What else is there to do?==
Close to the Cotswolds, Hereford and Bristol, we Forresters are used to travelling! Gloucester is only a 20-30 minute drive from Cinderford, beautiful Ross-on-Wye is 15 minutes at most and Bristol, 1 hour & 20 minutes max. Food shopping isn't a problem, but clothes and household items can be rather limited. Same again for the nightlife, not many decent nightclubs here! Evenings out usually consist of boozy nights at the local pub or a nice meal out and the Forest definitely has a huge selection of both old style and more modern pubs and a great variety of restaurants. Just ask a local for advice (make it a younger person though, as the strong Forrester dialect can sound like another language!).
Here are a few of the attractions worth visiting:
===Speech House.=== 17th century hunting lodge and home of the verdeers court. (where they passed all the Freemining laws) Now a very well appointed 3 star hotel in the heart of the Forest and very popular for weddings which are held on the grounds in a Marque. Close by is a lovely little aboretum, a popular picnic area and Bechenhurst.
===Bechenhurst Lodge & The sculpture trail.=== This is a large picnic area partly surrounded by the woodland but situated just off the main Cinderford - Coleford Road. There are signed woodland walks all around, one of which takes you around the three mile sculpture trail. The sculptures include a huge stained glass window, a giants chair and engraved railway sleepers. The actual lodge sells hot and cold drinks and some lovely cakes! A couple of years ago, it also held an ice-rink over the christmas period.
===Dean Forest Railway.=== This is a steam railway that travels from Lydney to Parkend. At various times throughout the year, children may be lucky enough to ride on Thomas the Tank Engine or his friends.
===Perrygrove Railway.=== Steam railway in Coleford. As well as riding the trains, they have undercover play areas, indoor village and a fantastic treasure hunt. Very popular for the christmas grotto & train ride which sells out in September!
===The Dick Whittington Country Farm Park.=== Indoor jungle gym and outdoor small holding, perfect for kids (even grown up ones!) and one of our favourite places. I won't go into too much detail as I've already written a review about it
===Dean Heritage Centre.=== In a pretty little village called Soudley, just on the outskirts of Cinderford. The centre has indoor & outdoor exhibits, showing the history of the Forest and it's locals. Lovely walks, picnic and play areas.
===Clearwell Caves.=== Visit this working mining museum and even meet a Freeminer to really get a feel for the Forests heritage. The caves also have a blacksmiths shop, picnic area and cafe. For the more adventurous, they also offer deep level mining. A really lovely little village with great hotels and restaurants.
===Puzzle Wood.=== A woodland walk through an ancient wood, ancient iron ore workings, small far animals and much more. I haven't been for a little while and they seem to add more to it every year!
===Symonds Yat rock.=== The rock is the home of some much loved Peregrine falcons who can be watched from a high vantage point that also gives fantastic views over the wye valley.
There is so much more to tell you about, I've barely scraped the surface, but if I write much more it could be a book for the tourist board! I hope I've given you a good taster of what's on offer , if you want any more information, such as prices, please let me know and I will find out for you. I will leave you with some interesting facts and some websites you may find useful.
JRR Tolkien's "Lord of the Rings' books are thought to have been inspired by the earthworks and ruins on Lydney Park Estate which date back to the 4th century and can still be seen today.
J K Rowling grew up in Tutshill which is in the Forest of Dean.
Critically acclaimed playwright, Dennis Potter, was born in Berryhill, Coleford.
If you got this far, give yourself a clap on the back, and thankyou for taking the time. Hope to see you here soon!
Im very fortunate to live within visiting distance of areas of natural beauty. Many people are unaware of the sights around them, but this is something I have never taken for granted and once again I would like to share part of this beauty with you. Some may think the ideal time to review this area would be in summer or autumn, but spring in The Royal Forest of Dean brings its own particular brand of magic and as an added bonus there is a natural phenomenon nearby which must be seen to be believed.
My aim is to give an overview of the area rather than go into a lot of detail that can be found in abundance on the Internet. Some local history cannot be ignored but Ill try to keep it as simple as possible, otherwise youd be reading this for days to come.
The actual forest itself.
This was once a royal forest that was kept for the royalty only who used to hunt here but its history goes back a long time before the monarchy was established. The area, which is now Gloucester and the surrounding counties of Herefordshire, Monmouth and parts of Wales, was once one vast forest where a squirrel could jump from one tree to another. This is born out by the many coaching Inns, which still retain some of their original names, e.g. The Kings Arms, The Greyhound Inn, and The Foresters Oaks etc.
In the heart of the forest iron ore was mined here for nearly 3000 years and the necessary process of charcoal burning dates back to 450BC. Thats so hard to imagine but visitors can still view this ancient process that carried on until about fifty years ago.
One of the most impressive places to visit is Clearwell Caves, once an incredible system of underground tunnels and chambers caused by the extraction of iron ore, its now open from 1st March to 31st October and is one of the most popular visitor sites.
Despite the use of the forest for the Kings hunting, iron ore was needed and over the years little groups of peasant huts encroached on the forest giving rise to the many tiny villages which can be found in and around the forest limits. This also brought many churches to the area and todays visitor have a choice of 42 churches to look around, some very old and others much newer but still well worth a visit for people who are interested in history.
The Royal Forest of Dean.
This became a national park in the year 1938 and covers an astounding 110 square acres of woodland. It lies between the rivers Wye and Severn and although the main area is in Gloucester the Wye Valley meanders through the surrounding counties of Herefordshire, Monmouth and borders on parts of South-east Wales. Visitors may find this confusing but the Wye Valley alone with its many places of interest forms part of the forest area. Where the forest peters out lofty castles and ancient ruins abound. Its not hard to imagine the vast age of the area when Megalith sites can be found in the forest itself.
Its not a place that can be visited in one day and the intrepid explorer can choose from a wide variety of accommodation. From large hotels to B & Bs, campsites to Youth Hostels and even places where you can pitch your own caravan or tent, this area offers a plethora of choice for all budgets. With so many nearby large towns and the city of Newport, there is no reason not to indulge yourself if you dont want to rough it. (More on accommodation later).
Activities and places of interest.
Much of the forest is easily accessible and doesnt cost anything to explore on foot, bike or car. There are plenty of leaflets available in the information centres or go online to plan your holiday. Walking holidays are extremely popular here and the routes are clearly mapped out from beginner status to seasoned walkers. I would advise a car though to get the best out of sightseeing. Many visitors choose to stay at little guesthouses or park in one of the many sites deep in the heart of the forest. The village of Parkend is a very popular site situated in one of the best places to explore the forest and the surrounding area. Theres a good museum here and the locals can tell a few stories about the rural life. I stayed at a small guesthouse here a few years ago and was delighted with everything. My room had a canopied bed and the bathroom had a choice of a bath or shower. Little sachets of bath products, shampoo and even ladies essentials made this a home from home. I stayed there in autumn and witnessed a very old ritual in a local pub, the traditional baked harvest loaf was part of a raffle along with local produce, and all proceeds went to charity. The winner of the harvest loaf (a huge plaited piece of craftsmanship) generously cut it in pieces and served it to everyone there along with homemade pate and preserves. The entertainment was provided by a local band and yes, there was a fiddler!
There is much to see and do in the forest but no stay would be complete without at least one of the following day-trips.
1). Tintern Abbey.
Following the River Wye from Chepstow for a few miles the road twists and turns until it widens and the vista of Tintern Abbey is revealed in a blaze of glory. Founded in 1131 by the Cistercian monks its turbulent history cumulated in the dissolution of monasteries under Henry V111. Set against a background of wooded hills the ruins still stand proud and attract visitors from all over the world.
Many famous artists have painted the ruins but Turners painting is the best known, a swirl of light and atmosphere.
William Wordsworth visited here as part of a trip around the area and penned one of his well-known poems that captures the spirit of the hills and the rolling River Wye.
Five years have past; five summers with the length
Of five long winters! and again I hear
These waters, rolling from their mountain-springs
With a soft inland murmer. - Once again
Do I behold these steep and lofty cliffs,
That on a wild secluded scene impress
Thoughts of more deep seclusion; and connect
The landscape with the quiet of the sky.
Wiliam Wordsworth. 1798.
Inspired words indeed.
2). Symonds Yat.
Passing through Monmouth take a turn into Symonds Yat West just before entering the town of Ross-on Wye. This is a unique beauty spot, which is divided into east and west and lies on a five-mile bend in the river offering the visitor a whole day out in this rich wooded valley.
The west side is the more commercial with attractions that include boat trips, white water rafting and canoeing. For the less sporty person there are walks along the river and many little pubs overlooking the river. Visit the Japanese gardens or wander through the maze, arriving back in time to sample lunch or dinner in The Old Court Hotel. This is an experience itself with Tudor beams in the lounge and four-poster beds for those who want to stay in a listed building. Non-residents can enjoy a pint in the bar and sample some of the inexpensive local cuisine.
For a totally different experience take the road to the east side and park your car within walking distance to the Yat rock, a limestone outcrop 500 feet above sea level and look for miles around. Watch through the viewers provided and see the Peregrine falcons as they leave their nests to hunt for food. Picnic in the forest but beware the climb, its not accessible at the moment to disabled people.
3). The Severn Bore.
This is where the rivers Wye and Severn empty into the Bristol Channel and at the spring and autumn equinox produce the spectacle that is called the Severn Bore. The estuary has the 2nd highest tidal range in the world and the sight can never be forgotten. The next bore can be seen between the 1st and 3rd of March and viewing points are mainly free of charge. For the places that do charge its wise to book early as people flock to see it.
As the raging Spring tide reaches its height the tidal wave roars into the estuary and when it recedes leaves behind empty mudflats for a short moment before it fills up once again. This produces an eerie effect of water standing still, I cant describe it better than that, you have to see it to believe it.
Ive chosen just three of the best places to visit, there are many more but I dont want to overload you with information. From castles to rivers, forests to streams there is something for everyone. Walking, climbing, canoeing, rafting, archery, gliding and even balloon rides this is the place to visit. For the children there is the steam railway at Coleford, and if the weather is really appalling Newport (my hometown) is about a 40-minute drive away. With its leisure centre there is enough to keep even the most bored child interested and the centre offers concerts, which all the family can enjoy. You can make your visit as chap as you like or enjoy a bit of luxury, whichever you decide you will certainly unwind and let that stress just melt away.
I wish I could take you by the hand and walk with you through the forest canopy in spring when the woods are full of wild daffodils and primroses. Aconites raise their white heads and the early spring sunshine carpets the ground in a dazzling display of colour. Rivers wend their way to the sea, trickling lightly over rocks and stones singing songs of the ancient hillsides that gave them birth.
I wish you could see through my eyes the acres of bluebells, a sea of colour amidst the myriad hues of green. I would love it if you were by my side when after walking through lofty trees we bathe our aching feet in cool, clear water.
I would stand next to you as the summer sun brought the fledgling birds out to soar on the thermals and hear you gasp with delight as your eyes roamed over the fields of green and gold.
In autumn I would take you to places where the leaves fall in cascades of russet, ochre, brown, gold and orange as a harvest moon. Together we would watch as wild deer, rabbits, squirrels come out to feed. Sitting on a rock high above the world I would watch your face and hear that sharp intake of breathe as the sun sinks below the horizon washing the sky with streaks of violet, blue and gold.
When winter grips the land in frosty calm I would walk with you as the earth crunches under our feet. Together we could hear the whisper of a myth from long ago and look back over the years to a time when man still looked to the stars for light and guidance, far from the haze that lies over towns the stars would burn more brightly and maybe then you would understand some of the mystery that lies deep on this land as old as time.
Will you join me here sometime?
© Lisa Fuller January 2006.
Once the Forest of Dean was a great forest stretching between the Severn River and Wales. Over the years, man has encroached and now its not a single piece of woodland, but many woods punctuated by towns, villages, roads and farmalnd. The Forest of Dean includes many featuers that make it an excellent place to visit. The forested areas are wonderful, full of well marked paths that are easily walked. Expect to see deer, birds and wild mamals, as well as lots of sheep. The River Wye runs through the Forest of Dean and down to meet the Severn at Chepstow (where there is an excellent castle that's a must for visitors). The river can be swum in, and is popular for canoing. Symonds Yat features a large rock popular with rock climbers. The Boat Inn at Redbrook is well worth dropping in to - they do great fod, the garden is full of waterfalls and they are yards from the Wye. A beautiful spot, and a good palce to walk from. Clearwell has caves, which are a good place to visit. There is a small steam museum at Coleford - very popular with children. There is also the evernm steam railway, if you want the full experience. Tintern Abbey is one of the forests greatest gems. This large building still has significant sections in tact, and is situated in the picturesque Tinternet villlage, beside the Wye. If you go to the forest, Tintern is an absolute must - there's lots to do and see, some great pubs and its a beautiful area. In Summer there are lots of really good places to camp. There is B&B and some hotels as well. Its not a terribly expnesive place to stay and has been overlooked by tourists - a great loss to those looking for UK holidays. From The Forest of Dean area you can go down to the Severn, to Chepstow and to Monmouth. At Chepstow there is horse racing. I would also recomend crossing the Severn bridges - an experience in itself.