Tag Archives: Gloucestershire

Lincolnshire to Cornwall, The Wye Valley

River Wye

When I was a young boy we used to go quite regularly to Cornwall on family holidays. I last visited Cornwall for a holiday (I have been there since for work) in 1975 when I stayed in a bed and breakfast at Crantock village near to Fistral Beach at Newquay.  On that occasion to get there I drove a route through the Wye Valley, an area of Outstanding Natural Beauty and this time I was keen to replicate the journey.

We were staying with Lindsay (my sister) and Mick in Lydney in the Forest of Dean so this made the quest quite easy to achieve.

I especially wanted to visit two places on the route, Symonds Yat in England and Tintern Abbey in Wales.

We started at Symonds Yat and drove to the visitor centre at Symonds Yat Rock which is a high vantage point with wonderful panoramic views of the River Wye.  The river is the fifth longest in the United Kingdom after the Severn, Thames, Trent and Great Ouse and for part of its course provides the natural border between England and Wales.

Two pictures at Symonds Yat Rock, forty-five years apart…

symonds yat

That black shirt was always one of my favourites but it wouldn’t fit me now that’s for sure!

Symonds Yat Rock and View

From the visitor centre we followed a footpath through the forest and down to the fast flowing river and then took a gentle walk along the English west bank and back to the car park to the car that we had left there earlier.

From there we drove along the side of the river, along the route of ancient Offa’s Dyke, eventually crossing over the river and moving into Wales.

Some things in life stick in the memory like velcro and for me one of these was my first ever visit to Tintern Abbey.  As the road follows a sinuous course from the north it enters the attractive stone built village and after negotiating several turns quite unexpectedly the Abbey comes into view and rises majestically at the side of the river.  I remember it as a wonderfully powerful WOW moment.  This can never be repeated of course and I was ready for it this time but I still found it to be a special moment.

Now, I might be mistaken but I seem to recall that in 1975 you simply parked the car by the side of the road and just walked into the grounds of the ruined Abbey which was in the middle of an empty farmer’s field but you cannot do that anymore.  The Abbey is managed by the Welsh Government, welcomes seventy-thousand visitors a year and has all of the trappings that can be expected at a tourist attraction; a pay and display car park, souvenir shops, a café selling cream teas and a massive pub and restaurant and a forest of invasive signs.

Tintern Abbey

The Abbey cost £8 to go inside which seemed rather expensive so we didn’t bother, we saw what we could from the outside and then went to the pub for lunch instead.

There was more experience that I was hoping for before we left the Forest of Dean and that was to see a wild boar.  These days there are wild boar in several places in England but the Forest of Dean is the easiest and best place to spot them.  They had been extinct in England for four hundred years or so but sometime in the 1990s someone released the boar into the forest and they have flourished in conditions that suit them perfectly (rich, deciduous woodland, agricultural land nearby and the occasional household rubbish bin to raid) and it is estimated that there may now well be almost two-thousand roaming the forest in various sounders, the term for a herd of wild swine.

There is evidence of them everywhere in the forest.  Every few yards, the earth has been gouged up and pushed aside, the undergrowth freshly disturbed. At the base of the beech trees are long, raking scratches where the pigs has ripped over the topsoil, looking for something beneath. Bluebell roots lay limp against the earth where they’ve been pulled up and cut through, and around the base of the larger trees are deep, pale craters, as if the forest had recently been hit by a massive hail storm.

Lindsay is always telling stories of encounters with the animals and we had seen plenty of evidence that they were nearby and all around but so far we had not seen one but then in the evening driving to a pub in a nearby village we spotted a sow with some youngsters quite close to the road and I was happy about that.

And, the following morning as we left the forest on the first leg of our journey to Cornwall we glimpsed sight of a magnificent male beast foraging close to the road.  A lot of people in the forest consider them to be a pest but to be honest we considered ourselves to be very lucky to see them.

Wild Boar Forest of Dean

Lincolnshire to Cornwall, Pub Philosophy

Somewhere along the way I spotted this sign which I thought was rather witty…

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Good, but not as funny as this one that I spotted a couple of years ago in Westport in Southern Ireland…

Double Espresso and a kitten

Lincolnshire to Cornwall, The Forest of Dean

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On the long drive from our home in Grimsby on the east coast of England to our holiday cottage in Cornwall in the South-West we stopped over for a couple of nights in the Forest of Dean in Gloucestershire.

To put things into some kind of  perspective, four hundred miles is not so far if you live in Australia, just short of driving from Melbourne to Adelaide or in the USA, Phoenix in Arizona to Los Angeles in California.  I live in the UK and like most other people that live here I just think that four hundred miles is a long way!

The UK is the second-least wooded country in Europe and only Ireland has less trees. There are not any forests where we live in Lincolnshire, it is the most treeless county in England where the land is mostly given over to arable farming which produces almost all of the vegetables for the entire country.  According to a recent survey Surrey is surprisingly the most wooded County in England.  The nearest to us, I guess, is Sherwood Forest in Nottinghamshire but there really isn’t much of that left either, Robin Hood wouldn’t be able to hide in it for long these days that’s for sure!

My sister lives in the Forest of Dean and we were staying over with her for the first time.  She lives in Lydbrook, close to one of my favourite towns in England, Ross-on-Wye, and has a lovely house and garden which stretches into the boundary of the forest.

Lindsay's House

The forest is an area of about forty-five square miles of mixed woodland, one of the few surviving ancient woodlands in England. A large area that was once reserved for royal hunting after 1066 and until quite recently remained the second largest crown forest in England.

Forest Law finally came to an end during the second half of the seventeenth century but by then newly secured enclosures had taken a large bite out of the forests which were also sources of fuel for a rapidly growing population.

The forest was used exclusively as a royal hunting ground by the Tudor kings and subsequently a source of food for the royal court. Later its rich deposits of ore led to its becoming a major source of iron. Forest of Dean timber was particularly fine and was regarded as the best source for building ships.

The navy had, for many years, depended on English forests for their ships. According to legend, the Spanish asked one of their ambassadors during the reign of Queen Elizabeth I to sneak up and set fire to the Forest of Dean, hoping it would give their Armada an advantage.

As England’s navy grew larger and Brittania ruled the waves the need for timber began to seriously pick away at the woodland and from an estimated land coverage of 15% in 1086 as recorded in the Doomsday Book, England’s forests and woods had reduced to just 5% by 1905.

Forest od Dean 2

Where did all of these trees go? Well, for example It is estimated it took six thousand trees to build Nelson’s battleship HMS Victory, five thousand of which were oak. There were twenty-seven ships of the line at the Battle of Trafalgar in 1805 so that was an astounding one hundred and sixty thousand trees.  The French and Spanish fleet had thirty-three ships.

In the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries the Forest was a complex industrial region with deep coal mines, iron mines, iron and tinplate works, foundries, quarries and stone-dressing works, wood distillation works producing chemicals and with a sinuous network of railways but these are all gone now.

The Forest of Dean is not a big forest, the three largest in England are Kielder in Northumberland, The New Forest in Hampshire and Thetford Forest in Norfolk.  Kielder and Thetford are both recent forests both planted in the 1920s as part of a UK project of reforestation following the First-World-War but the Forest of Dean like the New Forest and Sherwood is an ancient forest of medieval England.

We managed a couple of rural walks in the Spring sunshine,  I liked it, a place of retreat and reflection with statuesque trees, pregnant leaf buds and gently shifting branches with brief glimpses of the clear blue sky above, a place deliciously cool and damp with the diffused sun casting mysterious shadows over tiny clearings.

Living in Lincolnshire I don’t get to stroll through forests very often, I mostly walk through wide open fields.  Quite a contrast.

Forest of Dean 2