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Things to do in the Forest of Dean

Posted: Tue, 6th Jun 2023

The ancient Forest of Dean is well known for its walking and cycling trails, but there is a lot more on offer than you might first think

With an unexpected history dating back to Norman times, the Forest of Dean has an industrious past. The forest was once used for hunting deer and wild boar and became a source of food for Tudor kings. Timber was used for producing war ships and iron and coal was mined resulting in a network of tramways being built across the area.

The forest you see today isn’t that far removed from its past, as it is still a working forest providing sustainable timber for the UK. It also houses the UK’s largest population of wild boar after a herd escaped from a nearby farm in 1990.

Now managed by Forestry England, it is a popular destination with unrivalled woodland views and unique attractions.

Walking and cycling in the Forest of Dean

The best way to enjoy the Forest of Dean is to pull on your walking boots and head out there. With so many routes to choose from, here is a rundown of some of the great options.

Puzzlewood – This labyrinth of ancient trees, hidden caves and intriguing rock formations is a magical world to explore. In the 1800s winding pathways and bridges were built as a trail for visitors and it is much the same now as it was then. Its beauty has been seen across the world as parts have been used for filming Star Wars, Harry Potter, Doctor Who and more! You’ll find activities for children to complete, birds and wildlife to spot and lookout viewpoints to wonder at.

Beechenhurst – Get your cameras ready and enjoy Beechenhurst where you’ll find the spectacular Sculpture Trail. This 4.5 mile route follows tracks and pathways passing works of art that have been inspired by and then gradually taken over by the forest since their construction. After walking the Sculpture Trail you can enjoy a meal at the café or book a BBQ to grill your own meal.

Mallards Pike – Fancy swapping your two feet for two wheels? Join an all-terrain segway trail and fly through the forest. Keep your eyes out for deer as you pass by and test your driving skills on the twisty paths. Mallards Pike is also a great choice for shorter walks with the family to explore the Gruffalo Orienteering challenge.

Cyril Hart Arboretum – If you have your four-legged best friend with you, Cyril Hart Arboretum is in a secure fenced area making it dog friendly. It is a wonderful area of over 200 different tree species, some of which were brought back from China in the early 1900s. With an easy-to-follow looped pathway showing you the way around, this short walk of less than a mile is a relaxed choice for families with small children.

Forest of Dean Cycle Centre – Head to the Cycle Centre with your bikes in tow or hire some from Pedalabikeaway to ride a loop through many of the key parts of the forest. The family trail is nine miles long and isn’t too challenging with some technical skill zones to practise your mountain biking.

Rainy day activities

You might be in the forest hoping to enjoy the great outdoors, but sometimes the British weather doesn’t play ball. If you don’t want to tough it out it in your raincoats there are a handful of attractions that will keep you dry but entertained.

Clearwell Caves is a hidden realm of nine caverns showing the history of thousands of years of mining. You never know what you’ll find at the next turn; bats, skeletons, miners?

If it’s raining and chilly, the tropical Wye Valley Butterfly Zoo will be a welcome escape! Walk with exotic butterflies and learn about their lifecycle.

Keeping the children amused all day can be a challenge, but Perrygrove Railway delivers fun activities no matter the weather. Trundle along the tracks on a steam or diesel engine stopping off at the stations along the way to traverse the treetop adventure and find the secret passageways between houses in the Twilight Village.

Symonds Yat on the edge of the Wye Valley

Shopping and eating out

If you want to hit the high street and have a great meal out, the Forest of Dean has historic towns throughout. You’ll find independent shops, tempting delis and historic castles including St Braviels, Goodrich, and Chepstow if you travel slightly further afield. Lydney to the south on the River Severn is on the Dean Forest Railway line and there are over 30 restaurants and cafes to choose from. To the north, picturesque Symonds Yat is a stunning location on the River Wye where you have the best chance in the UK to spot peregrine falcons, enjoy a rewarding climb to the awe-inspiring viewpoint or try out some watersports.

As you travel around the many attractions of the Forest of Dean you’ll pass through Mitcheldean, Cinderford, Coleford and Newent, each filled with history, markets and traditional country pubs.

Where to stay

Ready to make your own memories in the Forest of Dean? We have some fantastic properties ready to be booked.

For a true forest escape off the beaten track, The Old Pump House has everything you need for a family retreat. Footpaths lead from the door and a large open fire welcomes you on your return. Sleeping up to six guests in three bedrooms surrounded by woodland and nothing but the natural noises of the trees and its wildlife The Old Pump House just outside Lydney is the perfect base.

If you’re a larger group, then Lodge Barn has nine bedrooms sleeping 18 guests with a large dog-friendly garden and hot tub. This rustic barn conversion is made for family gatherings where you can enjoy time together in this fantastic location. At the barn is a full-size snooker table and an external games room with table tennis and darts.

Quarry Lodge is a family holiday home sleeping up to six guests in a beautifully secluded cottage. Set in the same location as Lodge Barn there is a living room with high ceilings and a wood burner and the added benefit of a ground-floor bedroom. Walks from the door take you around the nearby lake so you can truly experience this woodland location.

For something more romantic, choose Bertha or Betty, two shepherd’s huts with wood-burning stoves which provide comfortable accommodation. Situated between Lodge Barn and Quarry Lodge these huts are well-equipped and have lovely views so you can get away and relax.

The Old Pump House
Lodge Barn
Quarry Lodge
Betty Shepherd’s Hut
Bertha Shepherd’s Hut

We hope you enjoy your stay, read our full Forest of Dean Guidebook for even more things to do!

Read more: Unique barn conversions to rent in the Cotswolds

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