The Forest of Dean
PUBLISHED: 11:44 22 June 2015 | UPDATED: 11:44 22 June 2015
There's so much to see and do in the Forest of Dean, you'll need to plan your summer days out with military precision, as Lynn Ede discovers
The Forest of Dean; where time stood still. It appears almost every house still has a chimney, most enjoy a spectacular view from their bedroom windows and families stay through generations. Stunning scenery and bags of ideas to get active, it would be rude not to explore.
There is a serene peace emitting from the region, influenced from the quite awe inspiring countryside but also there are remnants and evidence of times gone by during periods of an obviously labour-intensive mining industry. Some smaller collieries are still operating today. Its proud association brings images to mind of ruddy-faced, coal-smeared faces from long hours and exhausting work in the mines. Let’s hope at least there was an abundance of coal with which to keep their houses warm. Historical mining facts of the Forest of Dean can be read at British-History.ac.uk
Looking around, some of it seems unchanged for centuries, the vegetation transformed only by changing seasons and nature’s elements. The Forest is vast at 204 square miles and a reputed 20 million trees so don’t expect to get around it all at once.
Don’t be fooled by the peace and quiet though; it’s not simply a place to stand and stare. There is an awful lot going on. Although it’s a massive space, the distances between attractions is not far. Driving through, try to follow the Scenic Route for the best vantage points and picnic stops, it also helps to lead you to most attractions without too much confusion. Cycling is very popular too and Pedalabikeaway.co.uk is where you can hire a bike and follow set routes or create your own.
During summer it comes alive with visitors from far and wide, eager to sightsee and try out activities, play sports and simply take in the beauty of nature such as the many bluebell carpets. Head for Lydney Park Spring Gardens for your floral fix. As you travel around the Forest, you may get lucky and spot some shy deer, even more shy (but do not make good playmates) wild boar and of course the legend of the big cat. Pumas and panthers have been sighted, disputed and sighted again and again. I am willing to believe it. Keep your eyes peeled and the camera rolling for proof.
Tourists periodically pack themselves along the riverbanks to observe the Severn Bore, a natural phenomenon which, depending upon the tides can be as little as a feeble splash or high enough to surf and many do. It’s quite a sight. Tidal times show the next one for your diary is on July 4 – see TheSevernBore.co.uk.
Symonds Yat Rock overlooks a gorge (yat) through the River Wye and is a magnet for tourists. Passing that and into Herefordshire there is a Police sign prohibiting coaches, it advises cars only and I would add to breathe in as you go. It’s a narrow downward road, with precipitous edge and passing points not for the faint hearted but then I am not the bravest person. For climbing, canoe hire and camping information seek out Wyedean.co.uk
There is so much to do in the Forest it’s hard to fit it all into a day; it is after all a holiday destination. You can try your best though to tick them off. For all the family, how about a steam train ride through farmland and woods? Perrygrove.co.uk is the one everyone raves about. The venue hosts birthday parties, has hidden treasure and you can even have a go at driving one of the engines.
Clearwell Caves, an iron mining museum, should also be on your list and adjacent to that is a Secret Forest which sounds intriguing.
A visit to Puzzlewood sees you following pathways through rock and twisted tree formations, over wooden bridges and generally exploring the ancient woodlands, stopping for picnic breaks before attempting the maze.
Drop into The Dean Heritage Centre for it has a long list of attractions including a Victorian schoolroom, adventure playground, activity trails and ferret walking.
Amidst all of this is the Sculpture Trail – natural and contemporary installations including The Giant’s Chair, though hurry to see this as it was recently reported to be nearing the end of its life as sculpture and will be transformed into charcoal to make further art pieces.
Ever fancied yourself as Tarzan, swinging through the trees? Then GoApe.co.uk is tailor made for you. Take a deep breath, visit the toilet first and go for the high ropes, bridges and zip wires. Go crazy, go ape, I dare you.
Towns to visit in the Forest are several. Coleford, a market town has a cinema, golf courses and the Great Western Railway Museum along with useful shops and restaurants.
Cinderford – so named after cinder piles accruing from early ironmaking – has useful shops, cinema, library and in the central Triangle is a tribute statue to Freeminers by Antony Dufort. Enjoy hidden treasure Aunt Martha’s Victorian Tea Rooms just outside the town with gardens and pleasant views of the forest behind.
A few miles from Cinderford is Newnham on the banks of the Severn, giving beautiful views of the river, also a recommended Bore-watching point. The town has quaint streets with restaurants and a couple of antique shops.
Lydney has a harbour to visit; the River Lyd joins the Severn here and in the Lydney Park Estate are excavations of a Roman Temple, built in the fourth century following digging for iron ore. For the children (and you) to let off steam, have a break at Bathurst Park where they can play on equipment or practise your tennis, golf or football skills, finishing up in the café.
Newent is good for bird watchers with the International Centre for Birds of Prey where you can observe displays and learn to handle owls.
At Westbury-on-Severn is The National Trust Westbury Court Gardens. The only Dutch style water garden in the country, it was first established in 17th century. Features are canals, clipped hedges and ancient varieties of fruit trees.
If you are planning to don your walking boots in the Forest, then Beechenhurst Lodge is a reportedly good place to start, with suggested trails, play area and regular charity walks.
Gosh, what a catalogue of days out! Time to pull on your boots, wet suit, biking gear or simply feast your eyes and get amongst those gorgeous trees. If you spy the elusive, scary big cat, I want to know. I think.