There is no doubt that 2021 looks set to be the year of the Staycation due to the pandemic travel restrictions. What better way to have a staycation than with a visit to the birthplace of tourism, the Forest of Dean and Wye Valley.
Here we share our top 21 things to do or places to visit in the Forest of Dean in 2021 (in alphabetical order).
All Saints Church, Newland
The church, which was built in the early 1200s and is known as The Cathedral of the Forest. There are several interesting artefacts to see here including medieval floor tiles, an effigy to the first Rector, Robert de Wakering, who was appointed by King John in 1216, the tomb of Sir John Joce and his wife who was the owner of the original Clearwell Castle, and Vestments and tapestries made by Beryl Dean MBE who was an internationally renowned twentieth-century textile artist.
The church is situated just 4 miles away from the hotel, you can find out more about the history here.
Beechenhurst Lodge and The Sculpture Trail
Beechenhurst is run and maintained by Forestry England. It is a fantastic place to visit for the whole family, from the Gruffalo spotters trail for the smallest family members to the Go Ape Treetop Adventure and climbing wall for the daredevils amongst you. There are ample picnic spots, places to have your own barbecue, walks and cycle trails so there is plenty to keep you occupied for at least a day but in all honesty, it will probably be worth a couple of trips to get the most out of it.
One of our favourite things to do at Beechenhurst is the Sculpture Trail. This 4.5-mile trail through the Forest is scattered with art that has been inspired by the Forest. There are 16 sculptures along the route of the trail, each one representing a different element of the Forest. The most striking of these must surely be ‘Cathedral’, a walkway lined by trees which is reminiscent of the aisle in a cathedral and at the end of the walkway is a magnificent piece of stained glass suspended in the air. You can download a map of the trail here.
Ochre and iron ore have been mined at Clearwell Caves for thousands of years and are still being mined today. There are 10 caves to explore on a visit to Clearwell and you will descend to a depth of around 100m. There is also a visitor centre, shop, café and picnic area on site. You can purchase a guidebook and explore the main route yourself or if you are feeling a little more adventurous then you can arrange to go on a semi-deep or deep-level caving expedition with a qualified guide.
Cyril Hart Arboretum
The arboretum was established in 1915 and is home to over 200 species of trees from all over the world. It was originally named the Speech House Arboretum as it is situated just across the road from The Speech House Hotel, the home of the Forest of Dean Verderers Court. In memory of one of the Forest of Dean Verderers, the arboretum was renamed as The Cyril Hart Arboretum. Like Beechenhurst, it is managed by Forestry England.
Dean Forest Railway
The Dean Forest Railway is a 4.5-mile typical example of a country branch line that winds its way through the Forest with 5 stops along the route allowing you to explore the surrounding areas. There are the shop, museum and café at Norchard in the middle of the line where you will also find a large car park. The railway runs from Lydney Junction Station, close to Lydney Harbour and Lydney mainline station, right through the centre of the town of Lydney and up to Parkend. Services usually run Wednesdays, Saturdays and Sundays from March through to November and the trains are a mixture of steam and heritage diesel. Throughout the year there are also special events such as murder mystery experiences, gin trains, fish and chip suppers, Santa specials and Mince Pie specials.
Dean Heritage Centre
The Dean Heritage Centre, situated in Soudley, is a varied day out for the whole family. The centre aims to preserve the history and heritage of the Forest of Dean by storing and displaying artefacts as well as providing educational opportunities to visitors. There is so much to see and do at the heritage centre in all weathers. Indoor activities include the Victorian schoolhouse, museum, free mine, craft hut, Forester’s cottage, working Beam Engine, gift shop and tearoom. Outdoor activities include the woodland trail, Gruffalo trail, playground, cider mill and press, and the charcoal camp.
Family Cycle Trail
We are huge fans of the family cycle trail which is a 9-mile route around the Forest along the site of old railway lines. In one of our recent blogs, we talk more about cycling in the Forest and the other different routes you can take. The reason we love the family cycle trail so much is that it is a gentle and level route, so it is easily manageable for the young and old alike. It’s such a great way to explore the forest from a different perspective. You can download your trail map here.
Here at the hotel, you can join one of the foraging excursions which run throughout the year. We work with a few different foraging experts to bring you the best knowledge and experience to meet the needs of the changing seasons. In spring it’s all about the hedgerows, summer will be mainly fruit and flowers and in the autumn and winter, the focus will be on mushrooms, berries and nuts. As well as taking part in a unique foraging adventure you will then return to the hotel to enjoy one of our delicious and locally sourced lunches prepared by our chef.
Goodrich Castle is one of the finest preserved medieval castles in the UK. Its fascinating history dates back to the 11th century when the first castle was built on the site by Godric Mappeson but what remains today mainly dates back to the 13th century. Goodrich Castle is home to the only remaining Civil War mortar, Roaring Meg.
One of the previous owners of the castle, William Marshal, was responsible for organising the coronation of 9-year-old King Henry III at Gloucester. William Marshal was also a member of the famed Knights Templar.
The castle had a relatively peaceful existence until the English Civil was when it was held siege by the Parliamentarians who had burned down the stables. After the Civil War, Goodrich Castle was left in ruin and by the end of the 18th century, it had become a tourist attraction.
Hillside Brewery Tour
Hillside Brewery in Longhope was founded in 2014 to be truly local. Not only do they love the area they source as much as they can locally and employ local people to create a strong community bond. Even the used hops go to feed local cattle whose milk is then turned into beer ice cream.
Hillside hosts two different types of tour; The Classic and The Ultimate. On the Classic Tour, you spend one and a half hours being shown around the site, seeing all the different processes that go into brewing the beer and you get to sample four classic ales. On the Ultimate Tour, you will have the same experience as The Classic but with the addition of four bottles of ales and a limited edition Hillside Brewery glass to take home with you.
Hopewell Colliery is a working mine and visitor centre in the heart of the Forest. The 45-minute tour will take you down into the mine which dates back to the 1820s where you can see for yourself what mining is really like. You will be accompanied by an experienced Freeminer who will talk you through everything you can see and will be able to answer your questions. After your tour, you can then explore the museum where you will be able to see many mining artefacts or stop off at the Café for refreshments.
The International Centre for Birds of Prey
The International Centre for Birds of Prey located in Newent is the oldest dedicated bird of prey centre in the world. It was opened in 1967 by Philip Glasier and his family, as a falconry centre and a way to make a living from his expertise and passion. At the time it was the only dedicated bird of prey centre in the UK and one of only two in the world. Over time and under the watchful eye of Philip’s daughter, Jemima Parry-Jones, it evolved from being a falconry centre to the bird of prey centre that it is now and in 2015 it became a charity.
At the centre, you will see over 150 birds of prey living in 12 acres of gardens, fields and woods. They also offer experience days and courses such as the half-day bird of prey encounter, owl evenings, an incubation course and a six-day falconry course.
Lydney Harbour on the River Severn was an important dock as part of the Industrial Revolution. There used to be a rail bridge crossing The Severn Estuary to Sharpness which carried both freight and passenger trains. It was built in the 1870s but in 1960 it was hit by two barges which caused a partial collapse of the bridge, the damage of the main gas line which bought gas to the Forest, a fire on one of the barges and the loss of five lives. The damage to the gas main meant that large parts of the Forest were cut off for months while it was repaired. British Rail intended to repair the bridge but the following year it was hit by more barges causing more damage, by this point the bridge was deemed uneconomical to repair so demolition started in 1967.
In 2015 the outer gates of the harbour failed and have remained stuck in the open position meaning that the harbour is filling with silt from the River Severn and is now cut off from the open water. It is currently undergoing a multimillion-pound regeneration and will have a café, toilets and heritage information point as well as art installations. Funding is being sought to repair the outer gates.
Lydney Park Estate Gardens
Lydney Park Estate has been home to the Bathurst family since 1719, in 1935 Charles Bathurst was created Viscount Bledisloe in recognition of his service as Governor-General of New Zealand. His grandson Rupert is the current, and fourth, Viscount Bledisloe.
The estate is set in a large deer park with stunning pleasure gardens which are open to the public in the spring. The gardens are home to a wide variety of Azaleas, Rhododendrons, Corylopsis, Pieris, Magnolias, Acers, flowering Cherries and Cornus. On a visit to the estate, not only can you explore the gardens, but you can also explore the Roman Ruins which were excavated in 1850 and the museums, including the New Zealand museum.
Nagshead Nature Reserve
Nagshead Nature Reserve is situated in oak woodland and is a bird watchers paradise. It is maintained by RSPB and has two trails you can follow, two hides, a visitor centre, toilets, and a picnic area. On a visit, you are likely to see pied flycatchers, wood warblers, tree pipits, spotted flycatchers, lesser spotted woodpeckers, hawfinches, crossbills and goshawks. You may also see deer and wild boar during your visit.
In 1942 the first nest boxes were installed to encourage pied flycatchers to make the area their home to keep the oak leafroller moth larva under control and prevent them from decimating the 19th-century oaks.
Offa’s Dyke Path
Offa’s Dyke Path is a 177-mile-long trail that spans between Sedbury, just outside Chepstow, and Prestatyn. It follows Offa’s Dyke which is a bank and ditch constructed in the 8th Century to divide Mercia from rival kingdoms. Parts of Offa’s Dyke still form part of the England/Wales border. The path crosses the border twenty times and passes through eight counties and three Areas of Outstanding Natural Beauty. Some of the nearby sights to see along the path include Chepstow Castle, The Devils Pulpit in Tidenham, Monnow Bridge and Gate, White Castle in Abergavenny, and Llanthony Priory in Abergavenny.
Perrygrove Railway is a narrow-gauge heritage railway located just a couple of miles away from the hotel. Here you can ride the steam trains, walk through the woodland to build a den, have a picnic in one of several beautiful spots, play in the exciting treetop adventure or play area and take part in a treasure hunt then find your prize in the indoor village.
Once you have finished exploring the outside areas of Perrygrove, you can relax in the café with a coffee, ice cream or a range of hot and cold food, all freshly prepared to order.
Throughout the year Perrygrove runs a Teddy Bears Picnic in May; a Cider, Sausage and Steam event in July; a Vintage working weekend in September; Halloween free in October; and Christmas at Perrygrove in December.
Puzzlewood is another firm favourite with us and again is only a couple of miles away from the hotel. It is a truly enchanted woodland and has played host to a wide variety of filming which you can read more about in our blog.
In 1800 a local landowner laid down the tracks that you can still follow to this day but it wasn’t until the 1900s that Puzzlewood was opened to visitors. As well as exploring the woodlands where you can look out for local wildlife, you can also visit the other animals that live there including goats, donkeys, Shetland ponies, Highland cattle, Soay sheep, hens, ducks and rabbits.
Symonds Yat Rock
Symonds Yat Rock is the site of an ancient hill fort due to its location offering spectacular and world-famous views across the River Wye. There are several walks and trails starting out at Symonds Yat which head off to the River Wye, through the Forest and along the cliff tops. While out and about where you are likely to spot a Peregrine Falcon as it is one of the best places in the UK to view them. You may also see other birds of prey as well as the native woodland creatures. Why not stop for some refreshment at the Log Café or have a picnic at one of the several picnic spots.
Westbury Court Gardens
Westbury Court Gardens is one of the only 17th-century Dutch water gardens still in existence in the UK. It was originally designed and built in 1696 however changing fashions in garden design meant that by 1960 it was in ruin and facing destruction with plans to make way for new housing. It was saved by the local council and in 1967, The National Trust took ownership and started to restore it to its former glory. Now it is virtually identical to how it would have looked in 1720, due to a detailed engraving that was made in 1707.
Wildlife Safari *
Join Ed Drewitt, a naturalist, BBC broadcaster and wildlife detective as he takes you on a journey around the Forest. You will be on the lookout for bats, deer, badgers, foxes, voles, mice, hedgehogs, and wild boar as well as listening out for the many different songbirds that live in the area.
If you are particularly interested in birdlife, then why not join Ed for a Dawn Chorus Walk to hear the birds spring into life before returning to the hotel for a hot drink and breakfast to set you up for the rest of your day.
Book your staycation with us now. Bookings for tourism are open from May 17th, 2021 onwards and benefit from our flexible T&C’s so you can book with confidence now.