Fantastic Activities in The Awesome Forest of Dean & Wye Valley
I recently had the pleasure of being invited back to the Forest of Dean and Wye Valley on the border of England and South Wales by the tourism board there. This was to take part in an action packed weekend with a group of other really great bloggers to experience some more of the amazing things to do in the Forest of Dean and Wye Valley. I had only just began to scratch the surface on my previous visit to the area but I had a wonderful time and was already beginning to realise what a hidden gem this area of the UK is! Full of natural beauty, history, tradition, and loads of fun things to do with brilliant independent accommodation providers and places to eat, I can’t imagine this gem will remain hidden for too much longer!
The excitement built during the week…we were kept in the dark about the activities we would be taking part in until a big reveal on Friday night! Forest of Dean and Wye Valley Tourism gave us some sneaky teasers on their Twitter page…I couldn’t wait to find out what I would be doing!!
When Friday finally came we started off by finding our accommodation, I was very very lucky and got to stay in a luxury wood cabin at Forest Holidays, in the heart of everything which was going on…this is an ideal place for groups or families looking for a break in the UK with plenty to do on the door step, equally though it is great for couples, I’ll be heading back to try out the hot tubs some time soon for sure! Read about my experience there here!
In the evening we were picked up by CDS Taxis and Private Hire (who deserve a special thanks for being brilliant taking us to all of the amazing activity centres…they also have an ex-rally champion driving for them!) and whisked off to Monmouth to meet up with the other bloggers and the organisers at Green and Jenks Gelato House. This was not your usual gelateria though! This was a very special place with lovely food, and the place where I had my first ever cider cocktail! Look out for my next post about the amazing foodie places we discovered coming soon!
The Big Reveal!
Over dinner the big reveal came! Us bloggers had been split into two groups…my group would be trying out Mountain Biking with Pedal A Bike Away, taking on Caving at Clearwell Caves, and then clay pigeon shooting at DBC Leisure! I was really excited about my activities, I had done some mountain biking in younger years…but not for a long, long time, and nothing serious, but I had never been caving or tried clay pigeon shooting…new experiences…it’s what life is all about!
(You can experience many of the best activities the Forest of Dean and Wye Valley has to offer for yourself at the Forest Activities Festival…find out more on their website.)
Mountain Biking With Pedal a Bike Away!
The landscape and the scenery of the Forest of Dean makes it an awesome place to enjoy cycling and Pedal a bike away really provide you with everything to make the most of this. This is a mountain biking centre which caters for every ability, from total beginners, to world champions! Not only do they cater for different abilities but there is also a range of biking activities and routes/courses. Here you can hire bikes and head off onto the 11 mile traffic free Forest of Dean Family Trail, or you can test yourself as much as you like on some great mountain bike trails and downhill lines.
We started off crossing a bridge heading over onto part of the Family Trail, it’s a lovely place to enjoy a bike ride, suitable for all the family all abilities and you don’t have to be super fit to enjoy this trail, it is a great place to enjoy being outdoors…this is the place to lose yourself in the forest, take in nature, and leave the stresses of every day life behind!
Then we began to step it up a bit, which involved some climbing…and for me…some sweating! The jacket soon came off and I started munching on a really nice Cliff Bar which had been kindly given to us to try as we set off…in the hope of an energy boost…I quickly realised the gym was calling for me when I got home! Our cool guide Cath from Muddy Mam helped me with my gears though and kept me going and I began to find the going easier, and remember, what goes up, must come down…and that’s the AWESOME part! Throughout the ride Tim, the owner of Pedal a Bike Away who had joined us for our ride, kept mentioning taking us to the Launch Pad so we could try the gravity downhill trail…this sounded exciting to me…when we got there this was the sign we were met with…
Any sign that tells you where the nearest hospital is can set the alarm bells ringing! BUT…this was one of my favourite moments of the entire weekend! This downhill trail with its switchbacks and humps was such good fun! I had not done anything like this before, the speed, the adrenaline…I was buzzing when we got to the bottom, we’re going back up to do it again right? I had all the energy in the world after that! Awesome!
I don’t think I stopped shouting all the way down! There were a couple of “Moments” especially one when I unexpectedly left the ground completely! This was a brilliant experience and has definitely given me the urge to pull my bike out of the shed and get out on it. At the bottom when we emerged from the trees the view opened up and everyone got their cameras out, although it was a bit misty, the view reminded us what a beautiful part of the UK we were in. Sweating…covered in mud…aching slightly…buzzing…all the signs of an awesome day outdoors!
At Pedal A Bike Away there are a whole host of guiding and coaching sessions provided, and given our little taster…I couldn’t recommend them highly enough. There are also groups specifically for women and the very popular Little Fodders mountain bike coaching classes for kids.
So if this has whet your appetite find out more on the Pedal A Bike Away website where you can book your hire bike (from £19 for a half day for adults or £15 for kids) and find out about coaching and guided days.
There is also the Hidden Heritage App, which adds a fun and interesting twist to following the Family Cycle Trail. The App tracks where you are along the trail through GPS and at numerous points notifies you of points of interest and shows you a fading then and now picture of the location, a great idea, you can download the app on Android or IOS through links here on the Forest of Dean and Wye Valley Tourism website.
Caving at Clearwell Caves!
What a thrilling experience! When I was told I would be having a go at caving I was really excited, this is one of those activities I have always seen advertised and thought how I would like to do that one day but have never really got round to doing. It was something I’ve never done and something I knew I would enjoy, something that would be fun and at the same time a bit of a challenge! Clearwell Caves turned out to be the perfect place for my introduction to caving!
When thinking of caving my thoughts initially went to the physical side of the activity, squeezing through tight spaces, climbing up and down through the cave system in near total darkness, this was really cool and great fun, but what left a huge impression on me afterwards was the history of the place and the stories of the people who would of worked in the mines here, the conditions they would have faced.
The caves here were first naturally formed by an underground river network and were then mined for ochre, the oldest known natural earth pigment. Mining for ochre is thought to have begun here over 7000 years ago and stone tools have been found here dating back over 4500 years. Many uses have been found for ochre over time, one such use was for ceremonial puropses, face paint worn during events or as war paint. This of cause lead us all to put our war paint on when we were shown some deep in the caves! We were ready for anything! Ochre is still mined by hand at the site and can be bought here as well. Later the caves were mined for iron ore deposited here. With mining starting so early at the site the conditions would of been pretty horrific, mining by candlelight, the eyesight of the miners would have been effected. One of the methods of mining here was to light fires to heat the rock face, smoke filling the caves with very little ventilation, and then throw water over the rocks to cool them rapidly causing it to crack, not enjoyable!
When we arrived at the site we had a little bit of time to look round the lovely gift shop and then were kitted out in our overalls and helmets with lamps on, wellies are provided if needed as well…it’s a messy activity! We were looking every bit the miners by the time we headed off to the entrance. When we got there it was magical! I couldn’t help but think of the rabbit hole from Alice and Wonderland, a huge tree marked the entrance with fungus sprouting from the bark, the entrance tucked away surrounded by leaves…I was so excited to see what was hidden beyond!
We climbed down into the entrance and began our underground adventure, the first biggest test for me…avoiding the European Cave Spiders which were everywhere!! I am a huge wimp when it comes to spiders, it runs in the family, I have been known to freak out on the odd occasion, there is a shed load of funny spider encounter stories involving my family, mostly my dad! These ones kept themselves to themselves though and I actually found myself oddly fascinated by them! We also spotted numerous lesser horseshoe bats hanging upside down throughout the caves still sleeping wrapped up in their wings, so cool.
We climbed further and further down crouching through tunnels, lowering ourselves through passageways, and the first test came with the corkscrew! A narrow tunnel we had to twist and turn our bodies down through to get to the lower sections, I was a little nervous when I thought of these tight enclosed spaces beforehand, but when I was actually doing it, the challenge, and problem solving involved in getting through these spaces was good fun! I was told that it was tougher for me being so broad shouldered (overweight!).
Jonathan was a great guide, it was his father Ray who opened the caves to the public in 1968. Jonathan’s knowledge of the site, the history, and love of the area made the visit so interesting, he was able to answer all the questions asked and made it really entertaining. Telling us the ghost stories at one of the deepest points on our visit by candlelight…I’m not sure how I ended up at the back of the group after that but I wasn’t too happy about it!!
Our next challenge was the rabbit hole…this was tight…we had to lie on our fronts with our legs straight out behind and shuffle through this tunnel into the next opening. I began leaning on my forearms shuffling through, but just as I reached the exit I became wedged! The HGV reversing beeps went on, I slid back and had to put my arms out straight in front of me to get my shoulders through and wiggled through! Jonathan gleefully informed us that the next hole was named the mouse hole…comparable in size to the rabbit hole we had just been through!! Surely he was joking right?
It was amazing seeing the pick axe marks still present from miners of years gone by, the rails that the carts ran along, this all brought the history to life.
At one point Jonathan pointed out the roof of the part of the cave we were in which had a strange blue/green colour to it and explained to us that it was the fossilised sea bed! The list of things which amazed me about this activity grew longer and longer!
As we continued my confidence grew that he had been joking about the mouse hole! We passed over balcony ledges, past holes used by miners to access lower points, heard the underground streams still flowing by, a whole new world had been opened up to me!
Then we reached it…the mouse hole…he hadn’t been joking! Jonathan had to brush away some of the debris and rocks on the floor to make it accessible! It did not look possible to me that any adult would be able to squeeze themselves through this tunnel! But amazingly the ladies in our group all managed it! Some were really nervous about squeezing themselves into this enclosed space and did brilliantly to overcome their fears. I know I and most if not all of our group left Clearwell Caves with a nice sense of achievement. Unfortunately Ed and I had to take an alternative route, being broad shouldered and all that!
If like me you have ever thought caving looked like good fun and have never got round to doing it…jump in!!! It was awesome! Clearwell Caves was the perfect place for my first experience caving, visits here start at £15 per adult and £12 for kids, you can book a semi-deep visit or deep level visit, it can all be booked through their really interesting and informative website here. There are also show caves, a lovely gift shop, cafe, and a mining museum at the site. You can also camp in a field nearby which can also be booked on the website…what a way to enjoy exploring nature!
Clay Pigeon Shooting at DBC Leisure
After a delicious meal at The Farmers Boy Inn and one of the deepest nights sleep I’ve had in years, on Sunday morning we made our way to Lydney to try clay pigeon shooting at DBC Leisure. Another first for me, when we were talking as a group so many said that this was the activity they were most excited about trying.
I had never fired any type of gun (except for at the fun fair!) but David, the owner of DBC Leisure and our coach for the day went through everything with us so we new exactly what to do. We were measured up for our shotguns and everything was explained to us, the stance, how to aim (I was told you don’t aim with a shotgun…you look!) and David went through all of the safety aspects.
When we were fully briefed we headed outside and gave it a go! We took it in turns with David by our side and it was incredible that he was able to take a bunch of total novices to clay pigeon shooting and was able to coach us so that everyone in the group hit at least a couple of targets! He was able to point out why we missed when we missed, what we did right when we hit, it was another activity which gave everyone a sense of achievement! I almost felt like I had scored at Wembley when I hit that first target! Everyone was clapping and cheering each other on…there was a brilliant atmosphere…I can understand now why it is such a popular group activity.
At DBC Leisure again they cater for any ability level, as well as clay pigeon shooting you can also try air rifles and archery, no previous experience or qualifications are needed, no special equipment, everything is provided for you! I’ll definitely be channeling my inner Robin Hood and be returning to try out archery at some point!
DBC Leisure can provide a wide range of experiences, from stag/hen do’s or corporate events to small groups or couples wanting to have a go at a new activity. They are also mobile and can travel to you to provide a fun activity for an occasion or event. You can find out more information and make an enquiry through their website or by emailing firstname.lastname@example.org or by calling 01594 833 940.
So Many Fantastic Activities!
Once we had finished here we all met up at magical Puzzlewood where Helen the owner gave us a tour and pointed out some of the really cool spots in this awesome setting (including Morgana’s hide out from the BBC series Merlin!), check out the story of our previous visit along with exploring the Forest of Dean Sculpture Trail here. We got to meet up with some of the members of Forest of Dean and Wye Valley Tourism, and again I was reminded that so many of these amazing activities, places to stay, and places to dine are ran and independently owned by local people who’s love of the area is so clear through their enthusiasm.
We spoke to the bloggers who had been in the group trying the other activities and they had enjoyed themselves just as much as us….here’s a snippet of the things they got up to…
Canoeing with Inspire 2 Adventure
Off Road Driving with Whitecliff 4×4
The High Ropes at Forest of Dean Adventure
Check out the story of my previous visit to Forest of Dean Adventure here!
Forest Activities Festival!
Sunday 23rd April 2017 provides you with the perfect opportunity to find out more about the activities that are on offer in the Forest of Dean and Wye Valley. In the grounds of The Speech House Hotel many of the activity providers from the area will be holding taster sessions for free! There will be live music, entertainment for the kids, a street food market and stalls from food and drink producers…it will be amazing! You can find out more and get directions on website for the event here. Entry is just £5 for adults, £2 for under 18’s and under 5’s go free!
The Dean Wye Bloggers
Search social media for #DeanWyeBloggers to track down all of the great bloggers articles and find out what they thought of the acitivities as well!
I would like to thank Forest of Dean and Wye Valley Tourism for inviting me on this trip, they really did prove to us how incredible this little corner of the UK is.
A special thanks to David Broadbent who managed to capture so many of the magical moments we enjoyed in some awesome photographs…he also runs the Forest of Dean Photography School, you can find out more about his amazing work here.
Thanks to all of the activity providers who opened their doors to us and helped us enjoy ourselves so much!
I was a guest of Forest of Dean and Wye Valley Tourism during this weekend and experienced these activities without charge…but as always…my views and opinions are entirely my own!