Talking Severn on the Thames?

Forest of Dean & Wye Valley Tour guides deliver talks in all sorts of far-flung locations, normally in Gloucestershire, Herefordshire, and Gwent. We were delighted, however, to be invited into Oxfordshire to address the Lechlade Gardening Club.  The group asked for a talk on the Forest’s two great rivers, the Severn and the Wye. The talk took place minutes away from the source of another great river — the Thames.

While the Thames may be more famous, the Severn is longer and more likely to be “vigorous”, to say the least. The talk included details of the Great Flood of 1607 which is still being debated. Tsunami, or very bad weather? The talk also made reference to Samuel Pepys’ visit, Civil War events in Newnham, the importance of Lydney Harbour, and other stories. Although an hour could easily be filled with tales of the Severn alone, the talk also contained tales of the Forest’s other great river, the Wye.

The Wye is famous for being the birthplace of British tourism, or the first “staycations” in the mid-18th century.  It also has the birthplace of King Henry V, or Henry Monmouth, famous for his stunning victory at Agincourt. A famous ghostly event took place during the civil war at Goodrich Castle, by the Wye.

And not one mention of the Thames!

Symonds Yat
View from Symonds Yat

Searching for Philip Baylis

Visitors from Alberta, Canada were on a one-day mission in the Forest of Dean to find out about an ancestor who was well known in the area. He was none other than Philip Baylis, once Deputy Surveyor of the Dean Forest, based at the Headquarters in Whitemead, now a CSMA site for holiday-makers. They had done research, and had already visited his birthplace of Ledbury. They knew that Parkend was an important place to visit, so they boarded the Dean Forest Railway  for a trip to get a “feel” for the area before disembarking to visit Whitemead. By coincidence, a Forest of Dean tour guide was also on the train, and was able to point them in the right direction, and also show them the book “Whitemead Park, a short history”.

Whitemead Park has a bizarre reminder of the colourful Deputy Surveyor. In 1906 Philip Baylis erected a stone monument with a sundial to mark the death of his beloved pet, Satan the Dachshund. The monument has carvings of uplifting slogans as well as quotes from Shakespeare. The dog was given a formal funeral as the monument was unveiled. Unfortunately the sundial and original plaque are long gone, but the stone with the weathered words is still there.

Monument to Satan
Monument to Satan the beloved dog


CSMA Boundless Break — the calm before the storm

At least 50 energetic walkers on a Boundless Break at CSMA, Whitemead, in Parkend enjoyed a Forest walk just before the “Beast from the East” arctic vortex hit Gloucestershire with swirling winds and heavy snow.

The group was divided into two, doing the same walk from two different directions. The walk covered the RSPB protected area, Nagshead, Monument Mine — a coalmine operated by Freeminers –, a statue commemorating the tragic death of young James brothers in the 1902 Union Colliery flood, the historic Bixslade tramway, Cannop Ponds, and the old Severn and Wye railway line leading back to Parkend.

Although bad weather was anticipated, walkers enjoyed sunshine and only a slight breeze.

The walk put a smile on everyone’s face, before they faced the beast. Or is it Storm Emma? Or both?

Statue of the James Brothers

Iron and Coal

Plaque commemorating accident in the Pludds Colliery

Members of The Narth Gardening Club experienced something very different from flowers and shrubs when they invited a speaker from the Forest of Dean and Wye Valley Tour guides to deliver a talk on Iron and Coal in the Forest of Dean. The enormous, wide-ranging topic was whittled down to cover some history, some VIP’s, and some hints on interpreting industrial archaeology.

Members of the club broadened their vocabulary with new words such as “scowles”, “leat”, “freeminer”, “gale”, “gaveller” to name a few. They were taken through the centuries, covering the iron age, the Romans, the Plantagenets, the Stuarts who set up the Kings Iron Mines to the disgruntlement of the privileged Freeminers. They heard about the Mushets, father and son, who were so instrumental in the iron industry and the development of steel. They heard about the antics of striking coal-miners during the 1926 General Strike.

They saw photos of important monuments such as the early 17th century Guns Mill blast furnace, Darke Hill Iron Mine, Whitecliffe Furnace, New Fancy geomap; commemorative art works from the Sculpture Trail, from Pan Tod, from the site of the Union Colliery, etc.

The session, followed by tea and homemade cakes — welcome refreshments after an in-depth topic.

Tour guides with seventy years worth of experience

“Seventy” is an important number in 2017. We have heard about the seventieth anniversary of the marriage of the H.M. The Queen and H.R.H. Prince Phillip; the 70th birthday of BBC’s popular programme “Woman’s Hour”.

The year 2017 also represents an accumulation of 70 years of tour guiding experience assembled by the Forest of Dean & Wye Valley Tour Guides. The individual guides have different strengths and interests. There are those who specialise in flora and fauna; those who know about castles, churches, abbeys, industrial heritage; we have railway experts. Some prefer to lead walks; others prefer to accompany coach parties. Then there are those who love to talk and deliver speeches to local organisations.

The year 2018 will be upon us soon. We hear there is a high-profile wedding taking place in Berkshire in May. If Prince Harry and Meghan would like a honeymoon with a difference, we suggest that they come to the Forest of Dean where we will lead them on our exquisite bluebell walks.

Bluebells by Parkend
Purple carpet of bluebells