Walkers from Whitemead in Parkend had just entered the Nagshead RSPB enclosure after visiting Monument Mine, one of the few remaining coal mines run by Freeminers in the Forest of Dean. After a few yards they were confronted with a shiny, slimy-looking creature that remained rigid on the path. Snake? No, we decided, it was a slow-worm a type of legless lizard. It posed beautifully for photos, and we made sure that the dogs were kept well away from it.
The walk through the woods was particularly glorious, as late bluebells poked up through the ferns and bracken. Birdwatchers were out with impressive photographic equipment, but were looking up at birds rather than down at lizards!
A group of Rotarians spent an activity-packed break at Speech House. Part of their package included a short pre-dinner walk from Speech House, taking in a few notable pieces from the Sculpture Trail — Echo and Cathedral — as well as a tour around the Gloucestershire Wildlife trust enclosed area where the beloved Exmoor ponies still roam.
The ponies have been doing an excellent job grazing, keeping the wild grasses short and manageable. However, a corral has been built to enclose them when they will be rounded up and moved some time by the end of spring. They were never intended to be permanent residents at this nature reserve. They will be moved to another area, possibly Tidenham Chase, where they will munch happily there.
Fortunately the Rotarians were able to see them in this distinct habitat before they are moved off.
A new Sculpture has been added to the Forest of Dean Sculpture Trail in Beechenhurst.
The unveiling of the sculpture — Threshold by Natasha Rosling — took place on a sunny afternoon, where guests were able to view the new work and discuss it with the artist while enjoying a can of local cider.
The Sculpture Trail has existed for more than 30 years, but the sculptures are constantly changing. Old ones are taken down because, in their weather-beaten state they are no longer safe, or have decayed. New ones are then commissioned and revealed to the public.
The sculptures represent different features of the Forest of Dean, whether it be coal mining, stone quarrying, railways or local wildlife. Threshold, with its vivid red colouring, harks back to the mining or iron ore. The artist spent time underground in Clearwell Caves, which was once a important area for iron extraction.
Threshold is described in the artist’s handout as “a meeting of two environments, at the threshold between the inside and the outside, moisture condenses into droplets that cling to the ceiling of the cave”.
BBC Radio4 listeners will be familiar with the programme “Mark Steel’s in Town”. The infamous comedian visits a town or region in Britain and finds the funny side to local peculiarities. Mark recorded such a programme in Speech House in the Forest of Dean at the beginning of December in front of a packed audience.
Residents of Bream and Coleford were most indignant that he concentrated his talk on Cinderford, on Ruardean — which he found difficult to pronounce — and the Dean Heritage Centre. He was fascinated by “Vorrest” dialogue, expressions such as “Fern Ticket” (look it up!), long-standing Forest traditions, and VIP’s such as Dennis Potter. He felt safe enough in Speech House to ask “Who killed the bears?”, and was treated to tales from a resident who made that mistake in the old Roebuck pub in Ruardean Woodside.
At one time, wandering sheep would have featured in his talk. Now the wild boar — more precisely, the feral pigs — took centre stage. The audience was divided on its attitude toward the beasts.
If you found this post baffling, listen to the programme at 6.30 on BBC Radio4 on 14 February. All will be explained!
Guests at Speech House were treated to a Boxing Day walk. They viewed the oaks around Speech House, planted and dedicated to various members of the royal family, they admired a well-loved stained glass work called Cathedral, they visited Woorgreens Lake which was formed by open cast coal mining.
But the highlight of the walk was a visit to the Woorgreens Nature Reserve, developed by the Gloucestershire Wildlife Trust. This is an enclosed area of wild grasses, heathers, gorse, hardy trees, and a variety of wildlife. Insects and birds thrive in the area.
Unfortunately the resident English longhorn cattle had just been moved on. However the walkers were able to view the charming Exmoor ponies who act as a natural lawn mower. One of the walkers who lives locally has contributed a photo.
If you want to see the ponies, don’t put it off too long. They will be moved along to another site sometime in the spring.