Over 40 square miles between the Wye and Severn River valleys lies the “Forest of Dean” in Gloucestershire, England. The vast woodlands were favorite hunting grounds for wild boar and bear in medieval times and the days of the Tudors. Inevitably, hunting for food and sport in the forest became less important with the industrialization of iron and coal mining. Loosely formed settlements of small cottages grew up around the forest, as Freeminers and their families gathered in community support and involvement. In time, however, modern technology arrived and the scenic beauty of the “Forest of Dean” and the surrounding area soon became a source of pleasure as a popular tourist destination. Visitors can find Forest of Dean holiday cottage accommodation and enjoy their holiday in this peaceful spot.
Day One – We arrive around noon at our accommodations, Holt Farm Stable, on the borders of Herefordshire and Monmouthshire. The stone stable turned cottage is on an organic farm and has great views. After unpacking and settling in, we decide to go into the village to look around and buy some Gloucester “old spot” bacon, smoked Severn salmon, and other items at the Farmers Market. It’s time now to enjoy the experience of “having tea” in the afternoon at the highly recommended Aunt Martha’s Victorian Tea Room. This is a lovely place with beautiful gardens and an elegant atmosphere enhanced by candles and oil-lit lamps. The menu includes a variety of tea sandwiches, scones, preserves, and cakes. Before leaving, we stop at the shop for a large basket of treats to take with us.
Hours: 12Noon-4pm. Price for 2 – $30. Reservations advisable.
After a delightful tea, we take a short 20-minute drive to Newent and visit the International Centre for Birds of Prey; many of these can be seen living within the forest. We find an incredible conservatory of over 250 birds of prey including eagles, owls, hawks, and falcons. The Centre also has a small shop and cafe. A camera is a must; you’ll capture some amazing shots.
Hours: 10:30am-5:30pm, 1 Feb-30 Nov. Prices: Adult – $17, Ages 4-15 – $11, Senior – $15.
Day Two – We awake to the early morning sounds of the forest and begin our day with a short drive to see the Severn Bore. You may prefer cycling or even walking if you’re feeling especially energetic. Considered the 3rd highest tidal range in the world, the waves average 9′, but have been as high as 49′; it’s a surfing paradise. After a few hours here, we’re off to catch the Dean Forest Railway at Lydney. The train travels 4 1/2 hours through the woods, stopping at 5 stations along the way, which gives passengers time to get off and explore some of the area. We skipped lunch, so we splurge on seats and a 4-course meal in the royal dining car. Price: $120 for 2. Back to the cottage to rest after a fun-filled day.
Day Three – There are plenty of goodies in Martha’s gift basket for a quick breakfast before an early start to Clearwell Caves. It’s about 6 miles to Coleford and another mile and a half to the visitor center at the caves. The nine caverns of Clearwell form a fascinating museum of mining and geological displays and demonstrations owned and maintained by former miners Ray & Jonathan Wright. Famous people have visited and filmmakers have used the caves in movies such as Narnia, Dr Who, and Merlin. We watch the resident blacksmith, Claire Robertson, at work and visit the gift shop to see her finished items, minerals, and other souvenirs, After a light lunch in the cafe, we walk over to the pond by an old mine shaft before leaving. Special events throughout the year. Free parking.
Hours: 10am-5pm. Back at the cottage for supper, relaxing in the tranquillity of the forest evening.
Day Four – It’s a nice day for a brisk walk or a short drive to the 11th century Chepstow Castle high on the cliff above the merging of the Wye and Severn rivers. The well-preserved stone castle has undergone extensive renovations through the centuries, but the oldest wood castle doors in Europe and other original items still remain on exhibition.ours: Mon-Sat, 10am-4pm. Sun,11am-4pm. Closed 24, 25, 26 Dec & 1 Jan.
Admission: Adults – $5, Seniors – $3.75. Free admission to museum at the car park.
After spending several hours exploring the castle, we drive about 8 miles to the Woodlands Tavern in the village of Llanvair Discoed for a late lunch. Excellent food, specialty coffees, and a variety of ales.
Hours: Tues-Sat, 12Noon-2pm, Sun, 12Noon-4pm.
Prices: $21.00, 3-courses
Day Five – We begin our morning with a 90-minute walk on the discovery trail through town past the historical landmarks of Cinderford. The rest of the day is spent browsing the small shops, chatting with the townspeople, and having lunch at a local pub before returning to our cottage to pack before leaving tomorrow.
Through the years, the “Forest of Dean” has received public acclaim and recognition in books, TV, music, sports, and movies. It is certainly one of the loveliest areas to visit in the UK less than 3 hours from London, a beautiful drive through the countryside past quaint towns and villages on the way to Gloucester. There are various types of accommodations including self-catering cottages, bed & breakfast inns, old farmhouses, and some hotels. Why not plan a holiday to the “Forest of Dean” amid the beauty of nature and the old-world charm of village life.
Sharon L Slayton