The Forest of Dean is one of England's few remaining ancient woodlands and well worth discovering on a cottage holiday in Gloucestershire. Known locally as the The Forest it is composed of mixed woodland, mainly oak although beech is also common and sweet chestnut has grown here for many centuries. The Forest has a distinct cultural identity situated on high land between the Severn and Wye valleys.
When I approached it from the east, across the Severn at Gloucester, it seemed like I was entering a small, central European fairytale kingdom - the road climbing quickly and steeply through trees from the wide open valley. As I quickly found out cycling around the winding country lanes the Forest it is a surprisingly hilly area, although thankfully in short sections. However there is a wide-ranging network of well-constructed cycle paths which are particularly good for families. These routes make use of old railways lines which served the coal mines deep in the forest and therefore offer long stretches of flat and gentle gradients.
The Family Cycle Trail is an 11-mile circular route that takes you around the heart of the Forest of Dean. This route has been especially surfaced and is suitable for all ages and abilities. I started out from the Cycle Centre between Cinderford and Coleford where there is a well-stocked cycle shop with bikes for hire. I arrived for a summer's evening ride just as the shop was closing but was pleased I was persuaded by the friendly old character running the shop to buy a map of the trail - he even reopened his shop for me! Although it was well marked in some sections, other parts seemed poorly signposted - if there were signs they were somewhat ambiguous. As I cycled along the wooded track I kept my eye out for the wild boar and deer which inhabit the forest. I didn't see either but did come across several sheep which roam freely in the Forest - an ancient grazing right granted to those born there.
I think it fair to say that much of the local architecture is not of great character, much of it built when coal mining expanded in the area in the 19th century. However, I did come across some older buildings of interest. As with my native Yorkshire it is the impact that industry has had over the centuries on the natural environment which today creates some of the most interesting and striking landscapes in the Forest.
Saying that, the highlight is a totally natural sight. In the far west of the Forest of Dean, the River Wye winds its way around a 500 foot high limestone outcrop through a deeply wooded gorge. From the top of Symonds Yat Rock the views across the Forest, down the gorge and over to the Welsh hills are breathtaking. The Rock is on the Gloucestershire side of the river, with Herefordshire on the opposite side. The only connection between the two banks is an ancient hand-pull ferry. For a small fee the ferryman pulls people across the river using an overhead rope. Far above, on the natural battlements of my fairytale castle, I watched birds gliding below me and squirrels scurrying along the carpet of the wood and beat my retreat.
For visitors to the Forest of Dean cottages make an ideal base from which to explore this ancient woodland. Below is a selection of our holiday cottages in the Forest of Dean.
See all of our holiday cottages Gloucestershire.
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For enquiries, availability or to book over the phone please call: 0844 561 8329
Opening Hours: Mon, Tues 9am-7pm, Wed-Fri 9am-6pm, Sat 10am-5pm, Sun 10am-4pm
2 Oak Tree Cottages, Royal Oak Road. View on map>
Blacksmiths Arms, , Main Road, Alvington. View on map>