Review of "The Forest of Dean"

published 29/04/2008 | watkins11
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Pro Gorgeous location, so much to see and do
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"Queen of the Forests"

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!

Note: I will add photos as soon as I learn how to do it!

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Comments on this review

  • wolfatgoogle published 15/09/2008
    An excellent review, well- written amd informative. Sounds well worth a visit.
  • Expired-Account published 14/09/2008
    Never been to the Forest of Dean, looks fab though, will have to add it to the wish list, but there are so many destinations already on it
  • Gary25 published 08/09/2008
    Very informative. We've stayed in Whitemead a few times and it's lovely. You're lucky to be there.
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Product Information : The Forest of Dean

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Listed on Ciao since: 25/05/2006