Out of ideas for a birthday present? Hire a guide!

A photo of A group of guests from Whitemead at the Geomap at New Fancy
A group of guests from Whitemead visit the Geomap at New Fancy

“I arranged to have a private walking tour for my husband’s 60th birthday with (a Forest of Dean & Wye Valley Tour Guide). She was a great tour guide. She knew lots about the area of the Forest of Dean where we were walking and offered a wide range of information on the industrial architecture, local history and geology-everything we had asked for! Thank you!

When a family from Bristol wanted an imaginative birthday present for their husband/father, they simply hired a tour guide to take them on a 2-2.5 walk through the Forest, with an introduction, and plenty of chatter along the way.

They first discussed this with the guide who immediately thought that the ideal starting point for industrial architecture, local history and geology was New Fancy, with the Geomap, the sculpture, the viewpoint and the screens. The guide designed a walk through windy, twisty paths that eventually reached Speech House Lake. The group came back via Spruce Ride and the ex-railway line — another one of the family’s interests! The group finally got back to New Fancy and climbed up to the viewpoint. They decided to have a picnic of bagels there. Being a bagel aficionado, the guide was even able to inform the daughter from Manchester where to find good bagels.

Dinton Walking Group visit Forest of Dean

An energetic walking group from Dinton visited the Forest of Dean during a June week of glorious sunshine. Before starting out on their treks, they listened to a talk from a Forest of Dean & Wye Valley guide, who introduced them to the area and prepared them for what they would find.

The coordinator Gordon Lupton said afterwards: “Our group enjoyed your talk and several of the sites you mentioned were visited during the week of dry sunny weather“. He also highlighted the welcome from the Dean Heritage Centre after their walk at Mallards Pike.

The group stayed in the magnificent Speech House Hotel, where they were comfortable after their walks in the sun.

A photo of the Royal Spades in the Speech House
The Royal Spades in the Speech House, Verderer’s court

Robin Hood to the rescue

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!

Robin Hood coach tour
Waiting to board at Tintern Abbey

Tour guide learns from Churchdown Horticultural Society

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!”

Honesty is the best policy!

Pottering around

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.