I’ve just spent a brilliant weekend in the Wye Valley and Forest of Dean. The area sits on the border of England and Wales, and I was invited there by the local tourist association. I was one of a group of bloggers who were there to experience some of the local outdoor activities. Here’s my pick of some of the great outdoor activities which you can try in the Wye Valley and Forest of Dean.
Puzzlewood, Forest of Dean
My cosy home for the weekend was the newly-renovated Puzzlewood House, a comfortable converted farmhouse which sleeps up to eight people. Puzzlewood is a unique attraction with 14 acres of ancient woodland where paths wind between astonishing rock formations and twisted trees. Iron ore was mined here over the centuries and the gullies of moss-covered rocks which remain have been used as sets for Star Wars, Doctor Who, Merlin and other films and TV shows. Puzzlewood is a great place to explore, and also has some rescue animals and a cafe.
Canoeing on the River Wye
The River Wye flows from Mid Wales to the Severn Estuary and is a popular place for canoeing. Instructor Paul took eight of us on a guided five-mile paddle from Huntshams Bridge in England to Monmouth in Wales. The river was very peaceful – we saw nobody other than the occasional fisherman and a few swans and ducks. I’d not been canoeing before and I was nervous about capsizing, but Paul attached the canoes together in pairs, making them so stable that I relaxed. We were kitted out with waterproof trousers and tops, life vests and helmets before we set off, but I was glad that I had a change of clothes with me because I got soaked as we paddled through the rapids of Symonds Yat. Paul offers tailor-made guided adventure trips through his company Inspire2Adventure.
Forest of Dean Adventure
Forest of Dean Adventure offer activities such as climbing, zip wires and archery in the forest. Helped by ever-cheery instructor Jo, we tried out the two-hour Adventure Challenge which consists of scaling a crate stack, climbing to a high platform then jumping across to a trapeze, walking along a high wire with only giant red balls to hold on to, and whizzing along on a zip wire. Obviously we had on safety harnesses and helmets throughout and Jo attached each of us to a safety rope before each activity. My favourite activity was the trapeze, because I wasn’t sure if I’d be able to do it, but I managed it.
The Adventure Challenge was probably the highlight of my weekend because it was a bit scary and (for me) quite challenging physically, so getting through it felt like an achievement. This would be a great activity to do with a group of friends or family – it’s open to children from eight years old.
Whitecliff Off Road Driving Centre is in an old quarry in the village of Coleford and offers a variety of challenging terrain to drive on. You can either have a lesson in your own 4X4 or in one of the centre’s Landrovers. I had a lesson with Whitecliff Off Road Driving Centre’s owner, Geraldine, in one of their Landrover Discovery vehicles, and I really enjoyed it. My car is a battered old 4×4 Volvo which feels like (I imagine) driving a tank, so it was a revelation to have a taste of a real off-road experience. It takes a lot of concentration to get around the various tracks but Geraldine is very good at explaining what to do. The centre offers training for all levels, from beginners to professionals – as long as you have a driving licence. They also offer junior driving lessons for 14-17 year-olds who know the basics of clutch control.
Pedalabikeaway in the Forest of Dean is known as one of the country’s top off-road cycling centres. It has marked trails through the forest to suit all abilities, including an 11-mile traffic-free family trail (look out for wild boar and roe deer en route). Pedalabikeaway offers coaching courses as well as events such as kids’ races. You can hire all sorts of bikes and equipment at the centre, from premium mountain bikes to kids’ bikes to wheelchair bikes. Some of the other bloggers on the trip spent a couple of hours cycling the trails here and they all seemed to really enjoy it – although they said that their legs were aching the next day!
Beneath the Forest of Dean lie Clearwell Caves, with mine workings dating from more than 4,500 years ago. Natural caverns here were mined for ochre pigment and iron ore, and mining only stopped in 1945. There are miles of passageways and two caving tours on offer here: Deep Level and Semi-Deep Level. Both are led by experienced mine leaders, and visitors are equipped with helmets, lamps and any protective clothing and equipment which is required. Semi-Deep Level visits involve crawling, scrambling and getting dirty in the disused mine workings. Deep Level visits involve clambering over rocks and crawling through narrow passageways, down to around 200ft underground. Judging from the bloggers who tried caving at Clearwell Caves, make sure you have access to a hot shower afterwards if you go!
Clay pigeon shooting
If you’d like to try clay pigeon shooting, or if you’ve already tried it and would like to improve your skills, you can do so in the Forest of Dean. DCB Leisure offer clay pigeon shooting as well as archery and air rifle shooting at their base on a farm in St. Briavels. They provide the safety tuition and equipment that you need in order to take part in these sports.
For a first-hand account of the biking, caving and shooting experience, check out this blog post by Imogen Tinkler, who was on the same blogger trip as me and who tried out those activities.
Forest Activities Festival: April 23rd 2017
If you’d like to try out some of the many and varied activities which are on offer in the Forest of Dean, then head to the Forest Activities Festival on April 23rd. It’s taking place in the grounds of The Speech House Hotel, and there are ‘have a go’ sessions (many of which are free) with a wide range of activity providers. you can try archery, segways, forest bushcraft, rocket science, rugby, cycling skills, climbing, golf, Thai boxing, walking football and more. The festival also has arts & crafts sessions such as felting, photography, lace making and spinning, as well as children’s workshops, African drumming, clog dancing, ukulele playing, singing, brass bands, street food, a dog show, and a chill out zone with yoga, acupuncture, flotation and complementary therapists.
Over to you
Have you been this area, or would you like to? Is there anything that you’d like to ask about my trip there?
Disclosure: I was a guest of the Wye Valley and Forest of Dean Tourist Association on this trip. All words and opinions are my own.