The Forest of Dean is an area of preserved land on the western area of England. It lies just South West of the city of Gloucester and almost directly North of Bristol. The forest has survived largely unchanged for over 1000 years due to the link with the monarchy and its use for Royal Hunting. The history here is incredible and has been well documented over the years. A story that I had been told a long time ago was that if you were born in one of the villages within the forest you were allowed to be a Free Miner. Free Miners were allowed to go out around the forest and collect coal which was abundant and sell it with no restriction or form of tax. This is of course not really a concern today but for over 1000 years coal has been used in industrial processes and the collection and selling of it did allow many families to have a livelihood.
My connection goes back a little ways. I originally knew this area as the home of my Nana James who was the only great grandparent I ever got the chance to meet. She lived in the town of Cinderford (right on the North Eastern section of the forest) and had moved here in 1920 as a war bride of my Great Grandfather. According to my mom, my Great Grandfather was born and died in Cinderford meaning that he probably did qualify as a Free Miner and in the year of 1888 when he was born that would have been a useful thing. My mom still talks fondly of her going for walks in the forest, with him telling her all about the things that she could see, and many I am sure she could not. He seems like he was a very interesting person.
In a unique twist of fate my Aunt (on my fathers side) has recently moved to Cinderford just down the street from where my Nana James lived and that is where I find myself along with my family for last night, tonight and tomorrow night before we leave for what I am calling part 3 of my European adventure.
Yesterday was probably one of the longer distances I needed to cover this trip by bike and for that reason it consisted mostly of motorway riding. Unusual for me, I got up early and was on the road to Calais to catch the ferry in good time which allowed me to get on an earlier crossing than I had reserved. A few chats with the other motorcyclists waiting in line for the ferry to load and then we were off. After about 5 hours of uneventful and rather boring riding (after this trip) I was in Cinderford for the mass arrival by train, car and motorbike of the Miller’s.
Today was much more exciting. My Aunt’s friend Jane is an exceedingly outgoing person and last night had shown Sarah (my sister) a Tree Top Adventure with a company called Go Ape so this morning we were off to give it a go. Jane, Sarah, Dad and I headed out to the forest to try the challenges up in the trees. After reading the rules, a safety briefing and some low to the ground training we headed off to our first rope ladder and set of obstacles. The course is amazing, full of off the ground challenges, rope swings and zip lines in the trees and we all had an amazing time. After 2.5 hours we completed the last zip line and arrived back at the registration hut very tired and very proud of our accomplishments.
The rest of the day was spent picnicking and wondering through the forest. The forest itself is a beautiful place full of a lot of life. It is also very well used especially now that it is summer break for school and there were many mountain bikers around on the trails.
I like this place. I am impressed with how the country has been able to ensure that it remains mostly in a natural state even though there are probably many pressures to develop it and I hope that they continue to do so. It is selfish, but I would like to continue coming back to this place to explore for quite a long time.