Wednesday, April 13, 2011

Searching for Ents in the Forest of Dean

Oye! Escucha!!!

It's me!! I'm over here behind this massive moss-ridden trunk. 

It warms my heart to see you so far off the beaten path, just to find me.  I would blush but my face does that when the wind blows so it wouldn't really mean anything.

We're coming to the middle point of my UK voyages.  For this outing Jess and I thought it was about time we strayed away from the tourist guidebook and tried something a little out there.  What we came up with was the Forest of Dean, an ancient royal wood located in western England, near Gloucester(Pronounced Glouster...I don't know why either).

An oasis of wilderness in a rather wood-less country, the Royal Forest of Dean has provided inspiration for generations of British writers, spewing hagrids and hobbits alike.  It's also used constantly as backdrop for many tv shows and movies, British and otherwise.  Being 42 square miles it is also a bit much to handle in a weekend.  However I felt like I could use a bit of isolation after all the touristy crowd mugging I'd done recently.

It turned out to be one of the coolest things we did while I was here.  In the top three at least.

This coolness didn't dawn at first though.  You see our journey to the forest was fraught with much difficulty, confusion and general stress.

We begin in Ely.  Under the cathedral's shadow we booked a train to Peterborough.  After a brief respite we continued from Peterborough to Gloucester. Here's where it gets fun.

So far the trip has taken roughly four hours so it's about five in the afternoon. We knew we would have to take a bus from Gloucester to get to Ross-on-Wye, the village in which we had booked our b&b, "The Bus Inn."  The bus stop was super skeezy.  Lots of nervous travelers surrounded on all sides by tagged concrete and closed convenience shops(It was after five and everything in Britain closes after five...I swear.)  If some cockney thugs were gonna have a sideways gun joust, this seemed like the place to do it.

So yeah after an infinite span of time that turned out to be around half an hour a bus arrived that could take us to Ross-on-Wye.  Lovely little market village next to the Wye river.  Hence the "on." A talkative local told us some war stories and by the by mentioned that we'd need to take a taxi to get us to the aforementioned b&b, which was waaaaaaaaaaay out of town.

Called the taxi company.  Upon reading our infallible google earth directions, the taxi driver pronounced that he had never in his life heard of our destination.  However he was adventurous and didn't want us to be stranded so he took a chance and headed in the general direction where we were supposed to be.  After about a twenty minute drive we arrived at Symond's Yat, a lovely collection of Inns and vacation houses within the Forest of Dean.  The b&b had to be here somewhere we figured, since this area matched with the postal code.

An hour and a half later it was getting close to 8 p.m. and we still hadn't found the Bus Inn.  None of the locals knew what it was, and though it showed up on google, there was no phone number to be found.  Tensions were rising as was the taxi fare(about 50 pounds now.)  Our taxi driver was reasonably sure we'd been had, but he did everything he could to get us to our destination.  Then we made a phone call back home to check if we had written down the right name.  Guess what? Our b&b was in fact "The Royal Inn." And we had driven past it about a dozen times.  Nice.

The place was worth the struggle.  Waiting inside this lovely little inn was a fantastic room...
A damn good meal complete with ice-cold cider...
Cider is my favorite cold British beverage.  Nothing cools aching feet better.
And views that would make Voldermort adopt a kitten.

Though our entire first day in the area was spent traveling, we were excited to explore this wilderness before us.  We even attempted some pitch-black night hiking.  Attempted being the key word.

The next day made up for any transgressions the first day dealt us.  It also made up for any sweets we may have consumed in the previous week.

Beginning around 8 a.m., we grabbed some English breakfast and set out to explore.  The man at the desk had told us that we could find bikes about an hour into the woods at a campsite "that way."  The walk from our riverside abode to the campsite probably took closer to two hours because of all the stopping, gawking and shutter snapping.

Quite the nice shift from vacationing in London.  Not a sound but the birds and the wind.  Plus these woods were quite different than the North Western U.S. fare that Jess and I were used to.  Deep, dark, and incredibly varied in the kinds of greenery that surrounded us.  Many of the trees seemed to be composed of more ivy and vines than wood.  Walking around here, I'd be less surprised to see someone in a tunic toting a staff than someone sporting travel shorts and a backpack.

Arriving at the campsite, we bargained with the locals for a couple bikes.  Turns out renting to non-residents wasn't common but they were very nice about it and only requested my credit card as backup in case we died.  Not that it would get them too far.


With dorky helmets donned, we pedaled like mad for a particular piece of magic in these woods.

The place is called Puzzlewood. An ancient swath of forest, home to secret caves, twisting paths and 3,000 year old open air ore mines.  It is this place that supposedly made Tolkien think of Fangorn forest and Ents and the like.  It is without a doubt one of the strangest places I've visited in my life.  I mean that in the best possible way.

 We spent about an hour and a half wandering slowly through this labyrinth of stone, moss and wood.  The difficulty did not lie in getting lost, but on choosing which fascinating path to take.  The paths were actually reasonably crowded.  Many sojourning families and wandering children.  Though I did initially wince when I heard them coming, it was cool to see the twinkle in their eyes.  I remember creating a place like this in my head when I was that young. Any garden or piece of green turf I found could be transformed. Maybe that's why these kids seemed less in awe and more at home.

After an entrancing hour and a half, we had mastered this ancient maze and found ourselves back at the start.  After a quick break and a hot sandwich, we set out to our next destination.

About a mile and a half down the road lay the village of Clearwell, and nearby were some old caverns that had been mined for various ores over the past couple thousand years.  Currently it's mined for paint pigment but is also an open exhibit for tourists to explore it's historical dusty depths.


Pretty creepy cool.  I have no problem with musty smelling, bat-infested tight spaces.  Jess however was feeling just a tad bit claustrophobic.  We were the only tourists in the cave at the time, and traveling through the cave without a guide, just kinda wandering the tunnels, that was a little bit unnerving I have to admit.  The thought that we could get stuck and that no one would hear us...did occur to me a couple times.  Still it was a very interesting cave, though we did breathe a bit easier once the brightly-lit gift shop came into sight.


Stepping into the "light" of English day, we stopped to grab some coffee and some sugar to power us up for the return bike ride to our hotel.  The trail was mostly up-hill and I admit there was some walking of the bikes taking place....

On the way back we ended up taking a different route by mistake and ended up reaching this viewpoint that allowed us incredible views over the entire area.  Like "take a photo and put it in my den" kinda views.

Watch the trailer for the 7th harry potter film to see this river in action!

After that lovely climb, we sped down the asphalt toward our little river abode.  Dinner was just as excellent that night before(switched beef for fish though) and was followed up by some lovely Oban scotch at the hotel bar.  Jessica had a bloody mary.  I'm not much for tomato juice but she said it was fantastic. 

The following day was more or less a repeat of the first.  An hour long hike to return the bikes, then a leisurely stroll back to take a taxi back to Gloucester.  After all the trouble we really only had one full day to enjoy the woods but I wouldn't have done anything different.  Except maybe stayed longer.  Like two weeks maybe.  Waaay too much to see.  But next trip I shall return to this mystic glade.  Maybe in a tent this time.

Here's a link to the ridiculous amount of pictures I took...

Forest of Dean

Next on the roster is my favorite part of the trip: my four day excursion to Scotland.  Mythic landscapes, enthralling histories & crazy pub parties await!!!

So meet me in Edinburgh!!! You know you want to!


1 comment:

JoAnn said...

I've been printing these off for your "other Moms" at the Food Bank, they love it!