How glad I was that I didn’t allow my initial feelings of trepidation to influence my stay with Forest Holidays. Being a townie, and despite having a dog, I had never considered taking a holiday in the middle of a forest. Poppy, my Coton du Tulear and I had an unexpected, wonderful, relaxing time. Forest Holidays are spread throughout the country and I chose the one nearest to London, at Blackwood Forest in Hampshire. A big added bonus to this holiday was not having to endure the hassle of airports.
The minute we arrived we were immersed in nature. Our cabin was modern, airy, and spacious with, at the back, a hot tub with views of trees as far as the eye could see. A real plus was that Poppy was allowed access everywhere even in the reception/shop where there was a small cafe with a terrace, the focal point for meeting other guests, and more importantly, other dogs to play with. Dogs are supposed to be kept on a lead in areas where there are deer, but as we never saw any, she had free rein for the majority of the time.
On the day we arrived, Gail one of the two forest rangers, was running a fungus foray. I had hopes of teaching Poppy to sniff out truffles but sadly none were to be found. However, Gail did show us lots of different species, warning us not to eat any unless we knew for certain that they were edible as it could be dangerous. What surprised me were those growing out of tree barks that I had, up until now, thought of as parts of the tree. I had always thought of fungi as soft and moist but in reality over time they can become hard. It certainly taught me what to look for in the future. Thankfully dogs know not to eat mushrooms. We also looked at trees, crayoning pieces of paper on their barks to make patterns, and were told how to identify a tree by its particular leaf. Although perhaps not something that I would remember, it certainly gave me the taste to learn more, and question what I see. The time of year obviously dictates what is growing, and sadly we were just too early to see the profusion of bluebells that apparently coats one of the meadows.
Shelters made from long branches could be seen everywhere. These, David the other forest ranger, explained were made as part of the survival class although given the number around parents were also helping their children to make them on their own. In this course, participants learn the three basics of how to keep warm, forage for food, and provide shelter. Although the class is geared to youngsters, as the activities are family oriented the adults also participate, and enjoy it as much. I learnt how to light a fire safely using what I could find, and how to build a shelter, along with the sort of things I would need to consider such as the direction of the wind. David also had a box of goodies from which he took out containers filled with bugs for us to identify, showing us where to find them under fallen barks. The one and a half hour courses are charged as an extra but as the atmosphere is so informal and the foresters enjoy what they are doing I found that they went on for a lot longer.
Bicycles are hired out by the day for £15. Having never learnt to cycle as a child and living in London, I took lessons but was never brave enough to practise. Here with so many trails and few cars, it was the ideal environment and I am proud to say that I now can. As someone commented, for the novice car driver, this is also an ideal environment to become a more proficient driver.
The lodges are based in forests owned by the Forestry Commission. Virtually everyone, while I was there, had a child or a dog or both.
The 60 cabins of varying sizes are modern with underfloor heating, a kitchen, and floor-to-ceiling windows in the lounge, as well as a log-burner in many cabins. If you are travelling as a couple you could treat yourself to the romantic environment of a Golden Oak Hideaway cabin. There are also a number of Treehouse cabins which sleep up to ten people; this is essentially a four bed cabin sleeping eight people connected by a bridge to a Treehouse which sleeps two people. The treehouse is ideal for family holidays when those of us who go to sleep early or have a nap in the afternoon can do so without spoiling the younger members’ enjoyment.
The accommodation is self-catering but if the cook in the family wants a holiday too, freshly prepared food is available in the cafe as well as tasty meals that can be heated up in your cabin.
Forest Holidays offers an ideal environment for those who love the peace and quiet of the countryside with activities on hand, a hot-tub on the deck and space for quality time in the heart of beautiful woodlands.
Silver Travel Advisor recommends Forest Holidays.