One of the rare surviving ancient woodlands in England, the Forest of Dean rests on the border between England and Wales. It became the country’s first National Forest Park in 1938 and shares its woodlands with lovely river valleys, a plethora of outdoor activities, interesting villages and towns, heritage attractions and art and craft centres. The area is essentially bounded by two rivers and a city – the Wye to the north and west, the Severn to the south and the city of Gloucester to the east.
The forest comprises 42.5 square miles of mixed woodland and has been used as an area for royal hunting in the past, which ensured its preservation. In fact, it is still often known as the ‘Royal Forest of Dean’. The forest boasts a range of trees, including oak, beech, and sweet chestnut, and it is home to animal species like fallow deer and a population of wild boar, which have been known to cause havoc for local residents' gardens. Birdwatchers will enjoy sights of peregrine falcons, mandarin ducks, pied flycatchers and redstarts to name a few. Trails wind through the ancient forests to the delight of walkers, cyclists and horse riders.
Outdoor adventure and activity is a major draw to the region. Canoe or kayak down the Wye River from Symonds Yat, sign up with an outdoor activity centre to go abseiling or rock climbing or play 18 holes at the Forest of Dean Golf Club. The area’s rich history can also be explored. Venture down Clearwell Caves mining museum and learn about the important role of iron ore mining in the region or visit the Dean Heritage Centre in the valley of Soudley. Explore megalithic monuments like Longstone near Staunton and Iron Age hill forts like Welshbury Hill Fort just west of Flaxley.
The Dean Forest Railway offers a gentler way to see the countryside and is a great attraction for those interested in trains. The 4.25-mile heritage railway travels between Lydney and Parkend and has several stops along the way. Fun for the family awaits at Elton Farm Mazes, Perrygrove Railway and Treetop Adventure, Puzzlewood (a pre-Roman iron ore mine that includes an unusual maze), and Go Ape! Highwire Forest Adventure.
Less than a 90-minute drive from Bristol, Birmingham, or Cardiff, the Forest of Dean is conveniently located and accessible. Its offerings are diverse and include shops, museums and galleries for those interested in arts and crafts. Of particular interest will be Taurus Crafts at Lydney and the Forest of Dean Sculpture Trail, which showcases contemporary art in site-specific places and starts and ends at the Beechenhurst Lodge picnic site. Other towns in the forest have excellent options for dining, shopping and other tourist attractions. The market town of Coleford has beautiful historic buildings, the Great Western Railway Museum and a tourist information centre. Those looking for overnight stays will find plenty of options to choose from and can book in to a country pub, bed and breakfast, hotel, youth hostel or a self-catering cottage.