Forest of Dean
Known locally as ‘The Forest’, this elevated plateau of ancient woodland in west Gloucestershire is a beautiful and historical place to visit. It is bounded on the west and north by the River Wye, the south by the River Severn and on the east by the City of Gloucester.
It is one of the few remaining ancient mixed woodlands in England and covers an area of 42.5 square miles (110 sq km). Huge oaks, hundreds of years old stand side by side with magnificent beech trees, their pale green trunks dappled by sunlight. The forest is also home to silver birch, ash, alder and hazel trees.
This semi-open woodland allows bracken and numerous wildflowers to grow providing a habitat for many western birds and fauna. Before 1066 a large part of the forest was used as a royal hunting ground and deer still roam in parts of it. There are also some unwelcome wild boar which have been illegally released in the forest.
The forest provided a ready source of food for prehistoric man. Its geological formation created an abundant source of minerals such as iron, coal and limestone, underlaid with Old Red Sandstone.
The early inhabitants, particularly the Romans, soon learned how to take advantage of these minerals. Part of the fascination of The Forest is being able to see the caverns (scowles) where the Romans mined iron ore. The locals dug up the coal for fuel and the trees were carefully harvested to provide wood for building ships and making charcoal. The coal, iron and timber were transported through the narrow valleys to ports on the River Severn.
A section of the old Roman road can be seen at Blackpool Bridge, Soudley
. There is some dispute about the age of the current stones and kerbing. Some authorities say they are medieval, but there is no doubt that they mark the route of the 2nd century Roman Road
in the Forest.
The Forest of Dean became a prosperous although still isolated centre of industrial activity. Of course, eventually the good times ended and the collieries and mills closed. However, many of the industrial buildings have been turned into fascinating museums and there is even one privately owned coal mine that conducts tours underground by arrangement.
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Light Railways & Tramways
During its industrial heyday the Forest was criss-crossed by little railways and tramways. These abandoned rail beds now provide beautiful walking paths through the forest.
As a youngster this writer travelled by steam train to the secondary school in Cinderford. Many happy hours were spent chugging up the steep valleys to school, and running down through the tiny villages after playing sport, to catch the railcar at Ruspidge Halt.
Part of this railway network has been restored and now operates as the Dean Forest Railway
running between Lydney and Parkend.
The main administrative centre is now Coleford
and this is where you will find the Coleford TIC
. An excellent place to pick up maps, brochures on attractions and book accommodation.
The Forest of Dean
is full of surprises, from charming hamlets in hidden valleys to tranquil little woodland lakes such as Soudley Ponds
and Mallards Pike. There are stunning viewpoints such as Symonds Yat East
& Symonds Yat West
overlooking the River Wye and Blaize Bailey with views of the River Severn.
You can visit underground caverns at Clearwell Caves, and castles such as Goodrich Castle
and St Briavels. There are plenty of local pubs selling wholesome food, coffee and Real Ales, or go slightly more upmarket and visit the 17th century royal hunting lodge, Speech House
, Forest of Dean
for a meal and accommodation.
Inglesham Hamlet Swindon Wiltshire Heart of England Great Britain GB United Kingdom UK Lechlade-upon-Thames Lechlade Gloucestershire Church of St John the Baptist old vicarage Anglo-Saxon village River Thames
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A true Forester, that is a person born within the Hundred of St Briavels has the right to graze animals and mine for free within the Forest of Dean. It is quite common to come across sheep wandering along or sleeping on the roadside.
The Hundred of St Briavels was established in the 12th century, at the same time as many of the Norman laws concerning the Forest of Dean were put in place. St Briavels Castle became the Forest's administrative and judicial centre. Verderers were appointed to act for the king and protect his royal rights, and local people were given some common rights.
In 1296, miners from the Hundred of St Briavels were used by King Edward I at the siege of Berwick-on-Tweed in the Scottish Wars of Independence, to undermine the town's defenses and regain it from the Scots. As a result, the king granted free mining rights within the forest to them and their descendants; the rights continue to the present day.
In the 13th century mining was mostly for iron ore. However, later the freeminer rights were used mainly for coal mining. The activities of the miners were regulated by the Court of Mine Law.
The Speech House
was built in 1682 to house the Court of Mine Law and the Court of the Speech. It acted as a sort of parliament for the Verderers and Freeminers. Speech House
is now an hotel but the dining room is in the 17th century courtroom.
If you would like to see what an ancient Forest miner looked like, go to Church of All Saints, Newland
where one is depicted on an old memorial brass. He has a candle in his mouth, a pick axe in his hand, and a hod. This quaint old brass has been adopted by the Forest of Dean
as one of its official symbols.
To discover more fascinating facts about the Forest and its history, go to:
Browsing this Forest website is like talking to an elderly resident of the area - they are an untapped source of information.
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Contact & Further Information
+44 (0)1594 810 000
The Forest of Dean website has an excellent Forest Map.
Google Maps - Forest of Dean