Most of us have been disappointed that our holidays have been cancelled due to the restrictions on movement caused by the pandemic Covid-19.
Robin Hood Coach tours, however, still managed to bring two coachloads of hearty visitors from Staffordshire to visit the Forest of Dean and Wye Valley.
The coaches were set up so that social distanced seating took place. There was ample disinfectant and sanitizer, and all customers wore masks. As did the tour guide, who still managed to talk non-stop, even through a mask.
The coaches started from Bells Hotel in Coleford, visited Tintern Abbey, rode through the Wye Valley, and made a special effort to cover routes through the Forest that showed off the brilliant autumn colours. Most people enjoyed the glorious views from Yat Rock, where they were treated the sight of to two large military helicopters swooping up and down, practicing manoeuvres .
Fortunately the weather allowed all to sit outdoors for a mid-day snack at Beechenhurst, so that there were no concerns about getting too close!
It is not unusual for a tour guide to learn something new from the participants on a walk or talk.
So it was when a FoD guide delivered a talk to the Churchdown Horticultural Society on “A Walk in the Forest from your Armchair”. The guide was asked whether it was true that, when the new Globe Theatre was built on the southbank of the Thames in the early 1990’s, Forest of Dean Oaks were ordered by Sam Wanamaker. It is always prudent for a guide to admit ignorance and chase up the answer, which is what happened.
The guide promptly checked with another guide who had been working for the Forestry Commission at the time. Yes indeed, it was the case that Forest of Dean Oak — along with oaks from other forests — were used.
The guide got back to the contact from Churchdown and cheerfully confirmed that this was the case. The guide was relieved at the comments made by the secretary:
“We had such positive feedback after your talk which was informative, entertaining and easy to follow as you spoke so clearly – even with the aging microphone system!”
Students from a number of American universities in the mid-west states visited the Forest of Dean as part of an exploration of the Harry Potter phenomenon. J K Rowling spent many childhood years in Tutshill and was clearly influenced by that experience when she used the Forest of Dean as an important refuge for Harry and his friends when they were hiding from the forces of evil. He even found an extremely important wizard artifact in a pond in the Forest!
The students also visited London, Oxford, Edinburgh, and the Warner Brothers Harry Potter experience in Hertfordshire. The Forest, however, helped them contextualize the books.
The guides met the students who were driven from Chepstow, through Tutshill, around the Forest — stopping for a slap-up meal in the Orepool! — to Symonds Yat, via Berry Hill. At Berry Hill, the guides spoke enthusiastically about the Forest’s original Potter — the playwrite Dennis Potter — whose plays electrified the nation. After a visit to Yat Rock, the group went to New Fancy, from where they then hiked to Cannop Ponds. From Cannop they came back to stay at the most haunted building in the Forest — St. Briavel’s Castle, now a youth hostel.
They were then treated to a presentation by the Forest of Dean & Wye Valley tour guides, rounding rounding up everything they had discussed and seen.
More than a dozen walkers enjoyed an end-of-year morning walk from Speech House Hotel.
The walk from Speech House led to the Forest’s favourite piece from the Sculpture Trail, the hanging stained glass window known as Cathedral. After gasps of appreciation and many photos, the walkers moved on to the site of the Rewilding Project, which had been shown in a recent episode of BBC1’s Countryfile. The project aims to introduce tradition crafts such as weaving, tannery, foraging back to the Forest. It holds events, workshops, training sessions, and even has its own shop which you can find on its website.
The walkers were told about two exciting rewilding schemes within the Forest. The first was the reintroduction of beavers to Greathough Brook near Brierley. Their job is to dam up the brook, to protect Lydbrook from flooding. Second, they were told of recent release of 18 pine martens, whose job it was to control the grey squirrels, with a view to reintroducing the native red squirrels.
The next stop was Woorgreens Lake, which is a beautiful remnant of open cast mining. This is typical of the Forest of Dean, where industrial archaeology is transformed into something beautiful for all to enjoy.
The group then went back to the other side of the busy road towards Spruce Ride. Walkers saw relatively new spruces at different points of growth, both on the way, and on Spruce Ride itself.
After a visit to Speech House Lake, the group divided into two. Those who wanted to relax before lunch retreated back to Speech House Hotel, those who wanted to continue enjoyed the old railway line, which is now a cycle track and walking track.
What a wonderful way to start the last day of the year!
When an enthusiastic hotel guest at Speech House said that he wanted to join the scheduled Boxing Day walk but, unfortunately, had a broken leg, immediately solutions were found. Speech House provided him with an extremely robust mobility scooter, and the resourceful walking guide changed the route so that all could join in.
In the same group, there was a walker who was visually impaired. He was ably assisted by his partner but — again, it was the accessibility of the route that made it enjoyable for him as well.
The walk zig-zagged from the access path known as Spruce Ride, taking in Speech House Lake, Trafalgar Way, Nelson Grove, Reform Bridge, and the old railway line going over Central Bridge.
There are maps available at Speech House that show which paths are suitable for mobility scooters and wheelchairs. The vehicles have to be of a sufficient standard to withstand the rocky surfaces and, as on December 26, 2019, the extreme mud.
Nevertheless, it was heartening for all the walkers that no one was left behind.