Stunning walks and meandering rivers..
Sandwiched between the River’s Wye and Severn is the ancient Forest of Dean, which includes some of England’s oldest woodland and yet which contains remnants from every passing century. The forest is a mix of broadleaved woodland and conifers, but many of the conifers are larches, which turn orange and then brown to lose their needles in the autumn, so now is a great time to see the forest as it transitions to winter and all the sunset colours are out.
Walkers will be happy to know that there are many miles of walking paths through the forest, mostly made from wide rides and the straight lines of the dismantled railway that used to run through the forest. There are two long distance trails that pass through, the Gloucestershire Way which runs south to north, and the Wysis Way, which runs west to east through the northern part of the forest. These trails are signposted, so the difficulty of navigating through dense foliage is made a bit easier.
The forest is not flat, though it can sometimes seem that way when looking down one of the forest’s long straight rides. There are undulations where streams cut down, and occasional rises and small hills such as at New Fancy, right in the middle, where it is suddenly possible after spending hours walking between the trees to be above them and see the true extent of the forest. It stretches in all directions, as if you had been transported back to neolithic times when Britain was cloaked in trees.
Though the view at most times will not be far, there is much to be seen in the undergrowth. The oak and beech hide roe deer, goshawks, and the reintroduced families of wild boar. No one knows how many there are, though certainly more than a hundred, and people report sightings to each other on the paths, total strangers united by a once locally extinct species given a second chance.
Apart from a few small bits, the forest is free to roam through and if you wander off through the trees there will always be a track not far away, though once away from the track it can seem like all the world’s a forest. There are also several small lakes where you can catch a glimpse of the sky, and at the very least provide some reassurance you are where you think you are. The introduced spruce and larch trees have a wholly different feeling to the broad-leaves, and though they will disappoint you if you are looking for an unspoilt British woodland, they soon cast their spell and feel that they have their place nonetheless.
Now and then walkers will come across the broken sites of the coal and iron mining history of the region, which has been going on since the Romans. A well preserved and interpreted spot is at Dark Hill in the south west of the forest, which you can easily visit if you are following the dismantled railway line from Coleford.
Whatever your interest is that brings you walking in the Forest of Dean, you cannot help being drawn into the special atmosphere of the place, one which has been forest for thousands of years, has seen industry and commercial forestry, and now where the trees have crept back to take over their old haunts and rule the landscape once more.
If you would like explore the Forest of Dean then join us in May as we host a weekend walking along the River Wye with a canoeing experience on the Sunday. Book here…
We will also be heading back in the Autumn of 2016 to explore the surrounding area on our Hereford Cider Trail Weekend.
Author: Alex Kendall
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