Ancient forests, hand-pulled ferries and steam engines
Forest survival skills? Zipwire through the treetops? Llama trekking? Rock climbing? I was so spoilt for things to do during my midweek break at Award-Winning Forest Holidays Forest of Dean site. More than 20 activities were bookable through the smart TV in our luxury Golden Oak cabin. My partner John, who is not so active, was happy to sit on the decking and read in the glorious September sunshine so I decided to explore the area on foot.
Day 1: Walking to Symonds Yat, crossing the Wye by ferry and bridge
Armed with maps bought from the Forest Retreat shop, a compass, a walking pole and rucksack full of essentials I set off from the cabin in the crisp early Autumn air for a nine-mile circular walk. Striding out along the forest path I was amazed by the silence and the absence of other walkers. I forced myself to slow down to practise forest bathing and was rewarded with the appearance of a tree creeper winding its way around a nearby trunk; a nuthatch tapping into the bark to catch insects; squirrels scampering.
Two miles into my walk, I stopped at Symonds Yat café to refuel with coffee and a generous slab of carrot cake. The views across the River Wye from the 500-foot high clifftop are truly spectacular. Scrambling down the steep and muddy path towards the river, grateful for the use of my hiking pole as a brake, I landed outside the Saracen’s Head pub where I took the traditional hand-pulled ferry across the Wye for £1.40. Following the friendly ferryman’s advice, I followed the riverside path for 1.5 miles to cross the river at Biblins suspension bridge – a slightly scary construction to rival those in Costa Rican rainforests. From there it was a slow and steady climb back up the steep hillside and through the forest to our cabin.
A long soak in our private hot tub in the late afternoon sunshine provided welcome relief for tired muscles. This was after I’d wasted time searching the cabin for goggles to wear as the Forest Holidays’ video for using the hot tub instructs you to “use the plastic glasses provided.” Of course, they were referring to plastic wine goblets! Doh!
Dinner: The New Inn, Shortstanding, just half a mile from the cabin proved to be a friendly local with large car park and equally large sports TV providing good quality, home-cooked pub grub.
Day 2: The Dean Forest Railway
Our stay coincided with a steam heritage day at the Dean Forest Railway that runs between nearby Parkend and Lydney. John has restricted mobility but decided to join me for the experience. Following the website’s recommendation, we drove to Norchard Station where there is a huge free carpark. We‘d have been better off parking at Parkend where the small carpark was adjacent the railway line and, as it was off season, seemed to have some spaces. At Norchard we had a lengthy and, for John, painful walk from the disabled parking area, across several tracks and up a steep slope to the upper platform to catch the train. It was all wheelchair accessible however and they had ramps to access the carriages.
We spent a relaxing couple of hours travelling backwards and forwards, enjoying the magical sound of the steam engine chuffing as it built up speed and tooting as it approached each station. I loved seeing the smiles lighting up the faces of people passing by or waiting at level crossings. The sight of the little steam engine instantly dispelled any displeasure at having to wait. Many waved and we waved back. At Lydney there was a break while the steam engine uncoupled to move around to the front of the carriages for the return journey. Some passengers chose to take the 20-minute walk to Lydney Harbour on the River Severn and return via a later train. Several of us jumped out excitedly to watch the engine reverse around the bend and reappear tooting with clouds of steam, leaving all of us grinning like little children.
Dinner: The White Horse Inn on the Monmouth Road. It was very busy for a Wednesday night and took 40 minutes to get our starters. Decent enough food but not ‘Michelin starred’ as described in a recent review.
Day 3: Puzzlewood, Lydney Harbour and Tintern Abbey
The enchanted world of Puzzlewood lies just 3 miles from the Forest Holidays site. This ancient mossy woodland has been used as a filming location for Star Wars, Merlin and Dr Who. I spent a magical 90 minutes following the pathways through craggy, moss-covered rocks beneath hanging creepers, spotting interesting bird life along the way.
I drove a further 8 miles to Lydney Harbour where a short circular walk afforded far-reaching views of the River Severn and its bridges. A peaceful drive along the riverside took me into Wales and up the Wye Valley. I was heading for Monmouth but was stopped in my tracks as the magnificent 12th century Tintern Abbey emerged into view. I spent a peaceful 30 minutes wandering around these ruins spouting half-remembered lines from Wordsworth’s famous poem. A lovely end to a magical break with Forest Holidays.
Dinner: Ng Thai, Sling. Great authentic Thai food cooked and served by friendly chef Ice, from Bangkok and Chiangmai. This tiny restaurant is hidden within the Sling Village Social Club House. You have to enter the club to buy drinks from the bar and on the night we visited two stern-looking women’s teams were engaged in a serious wooden skittles tournament. We were made welcome but felt like slightly bemused interlopers.
Carole and John were guests of Forest Holidays, Forest of Dean site, staying in a 2-bedroom Golden Oak cabin.
Forest Holidays offer mid-week, weekend breaks and longer stays at their 11 forest cabin locations across Great Britain.
Silver Travel Advisor recommends Forest Holidays.