The best things to do in this atmospheric natural reserve over a week-end!
Located less than one hour away by car from Cardiff, Bristol and Bath, the Forest of Dean is the perfect woodland escape for nature and sports lovers and it’s part of the Wye Valley area of Outstanding Beauty! This lush green area holds a special place in my memories since I spent many outdoor days walking in nature, exploring trails and enjoying stunning views over the river Wye.
As every self-respecting ancient woodland, the Forest of Dean is the perfect setting for myths and legends involving witches, dragons, ghosts mysterious creatures etc.. Have a look at this link to know them all!
If you love walking as much as I do, then the Forest of Dean is going to become your favourite place on earth and you will come back multiple times to check out all the interesting things to see and do: castles, caves, ruins, churches, picturesque villages, hiking trails etc.
If you plan to visit this area with family or you are an amateur walker then check out these 12 easy trails on the Forest of Dean official website. Fans of art and nature will love this Sculptures trail in the woodland and the bravest could even organise a whole holiday walking the 218Km Wye Valley Walk crossing valleys and forests at the border between England and Wales: a full immersion in Mother Nature to disconnect from our busy lives!
Here is my list of the main things that I recommend you to visit in the River Wye Valley Area. If you need the complete list of the things to do in the Wye Valley visit the official website:
1. Chepstow Castle and Village
This Norman sturdy castle built in the 11th century dominates the cliff overlooking the river Wye. From here you can enjoy some of the finest views over the river and the valley. It was one of the first Norman strong holds built in the area and the residence of powerful families in the Tudor Age. Have a stroll in Chepstow too, the first Welsh village coming from the English border, which conserves the structure of a traditional market town dotted with small independent shops and historical pubs in the colourful streets.
Chepstow was once famous for oak and timber trade but also for shipbuilding and salmon fishing. In the 18th century this market town became popular with visitors following Britain’s first tourist trail, the Wye Tour, which attracted poets and nobles in search of Picturesque places to inspire their writings and paintings such as Turner and the renowned poetry celebrity Wordsworth.
2.The Eagle’s Nest
Continue to drive past Chepstow and stop for a picnic with striking views over the hills at the Eagle’s Nest Viewpoint! As the name suggests, you have to earn the panoramic view (and your packed lunch!) climbing up a steep woody cliff that will lead you to a memorable countryside panorama that you surely will remember for a while! Here are the indications to know where to stop and how to get there.
3. The Devil’s Pulpit
The name can be daunting but don’t be scared: this rocky viewpoint is the perfect spot for a romantic packed lunch and for taking the best Tintern Abbey pictures of all times! The curious name is linked to a folk story: according to the legend the Devil himself created this rock to preach to the local monks and tempt them to convert to the “dark side”. Here are the directions to follow a picturesque hike around the Devil’s pulpit.
4. Tintern Abbey and the Old Station
This romantic landscape inspired the local poet William Wordsworth to write one of the most recited British poems of all times. He returns to his beloved village after five years – “Five years have past; five summers, with the length, Of five long winters! and again I hear These waters, rolling from their mountain-springs With a soft inland murmur” and he describing the sound of the river waters gargling down the valley with great affection.
Tintern Abbey is the title of the most famous of his poems taking the name after the ruined church dating back to the 13th century standing besides the Wye river.
Have a look at the little Old Train Station of Tintern village and the park around taking advantage of the green area for eating or let the kids play around!
5. Clearwell Caves
As if the Forest of Dean wasn’t mysterious and “enchanted” enough, below the surface lies an intricate system of caves near Coleford village. The Clearwell caverns formed 300 millions years ago and became during the Industrial Revolution one of the main iron sources of the country. These caves are home to a colony of bats and they are the perfect location to try out caving at all levels wearing proper suits and lamped helmets to make your way in the depths of the Earth and know more about local mining history!
The caverns have been used for concerts, as a wedding venues and events of all sorts. Many different films have been shot here: you may recognise Doctor Who” scenes, Cursed, Britannia, Dr Who, Merlin, The Chronicles of Narnia, Da Vinci’s Demons and many others.
“Once upon a time, in the middle of a land of myths and legends, there was an enchanted thick forest called Puzzlewood” – this could be the perfect beginning of an old fairy-tale, but it’s actually the way you feel when you step into this dense and ancient woods where musk, ferns and evergreen trees prevent the light to intrude into this natural world that feels miles apart from civilisation.
It’s not casual that many blockbusters fantasy films have chosen to set here their best scenes: Star Wars: The Force Awakens, Merlin, Jack the Giant Slayer, Doctor Who etc. Visiting Puzzlewood is definitely a great day out for all the family and you can choose to extend your stay booking a wooden cottage nearby and complete your perfect getaway weekend!
7. Symonds Yat
One of the best idyllic views of the river Wye can surely be seen from the Symonds Yat Rock: a wide and spectacular green scenery will open before your eyes! From here you can grab some refreshments at the nearby bar and follow the path that leads down to the village. Symonds Yat is divided in two parts: the West one where a campsite and the Butterfly Zoo is and the East one where the 16th century Saracens Head historical pub lies.
To pass from one bank to the other you can either take the car or use an ancient hand-pulled ferry for pedestrians across the river. I really suggest you a third option too: follow the directions walking down the stream and reach the scenic rope suspension bridge, the Biblins Bridge, and dare to cross the river. Here is the link to the popular circular walk which includes crossing the scary suspension bridge (one of the hardest things to do for those who are afraid of heights like myself).
The best way to enjoy your day trip to Symonds Yat is to picnic or have an hearty meal at the top rated Saracens riverside pub and then take off the extra kilos walking around this outstanding natural area or hiring kayaks.