The Forest of Dean is steeped in history, rich in wildlife and the place to go for some spellbinding views. Follow the new Hidden Gems itinerary, curated by Visit Dean Wye as part of its Find Your Freedom campaign, and discover those special spots, under-the-radar sights and secluded must dos that make your time spent in the Forest of Dean an unforgettable experience.
A good starting point is Lydney, the “Gateway to the Forest”, a thriving town with historic roots. Take a trip through 4.5 miles of idyllic countryside aboard a steam train on the Dean Forest Railway to relive a more sedate way of travelling from bygone days. Norchard Station has a museum to peruse and a café, with cream teas available to book as part of the trip.
Lydney Harbour has long been a cornerstone of Britain’s history and heritage. Take a walk around the docks, then follow the riverside path to enjoy its sculptures and spot the wading birds. Afterwards enjoy a hot drink at the new café and watch the world go by.
If you are looking for a relaxing experience that’s hard to beat, head for Float in the Forest in Whitecroft and climb into a pod filled with warm water saturated with Epsom salts for a feeling of dreamy weightlessness, utter stillness and silence.
Call into Taurus Crafts for a mug of warm milk and honey chocolate. Husband and wife team Mark and Maren hand-make all manner of confectionery at The Chocolate Bar using locally sourced ingredients. Book into the Chocolate Truffle Making Workshop to learn new skills and take home a box of tasty creations.
For an extra special stay, book a few days on the private Lydney Park Estate. Its Old Pump House is a large and airy self-catering space for six people. There’s also a stunning barn conversion sleeping 18. A beautiful private garden and deer grazing in the meadow make this spot even more idyllic.
Other towns well worth visiting include Newent, with its iconic 17th Century black and white-timbered Market House and over 100 listed buildings to its name.
For those who enjoy a pint of real ale, cider or perry, The Black Dog Pub comes highly recommended. This 18th Century half-timbered pub is listed in the Good Beer Guide and has a large, welcoming garden to relax in.
Head for Harts Barn Cookery School in Longhope for a special Afternoon Tea Experience learning how to make high quality cakes, pastries and petit sandwiches, before tucking into them.
Take a walk around peaceful ancient woodland with a llama at your side at Briery Hill Llamas while exploring on foot in the company of an expert guide, before rounding off the afternoon with a delicious homemade tea.
Just a mile or so out of the town you’ll find The Three Choirs Vineyard, which boasts 75 acres of south-facing slopes planted with 12 varieties of grape. Savour a meal while enjoying views of one of England’s oldest vineyards at its brasserie and book a night or two in a spectacular lodge or room overlooking the site.
Other great places to stay include Mrs Mills’ Yurts, which cater for up to five people and are fitted with woodburners and outdoor fire pits for cosy evenings. Wake up to incredible views of May Hill and enjoy exploring Mrs Mills’ six acres of glorious countryside.
Coleford is the Pride of the Forest of Dean. This picturesque market town close to the Welsh border has a busy schedule of festivals and fun outdoor events throughout the year.
Take a walk past Georgian buildings, through old streets, and browse a selection of independent shops and cafes. There’s a Hidden Heritage app to download that will bring the past to life with “then and now” photos.
For an underground adventure, head for Hopewell Colliery and learn about the fascinating Forest tradition of freemining, a unique local privilege which allows foresters to mine freely. Take the 45-minute tour through the dark tunnels of this working mine before emerging into serene woodland. The friendly Hopewell Café is a great place for a hot drink and bite to eat.
Start your engine for a few hours of heart-thumping adventure roaring over slopes, gullies and ruts with Whitecliff 4×4 off-roading experiences. Plough through mud and water and traverse the uneven terrain in an impressive old quarry.
Adventurous foodies will enjoy a bite of cheese and a slice of good old-fashioned service at Forest Deli, run by husband and wife Simon and Debbie. Try a piece of the notorious Stinking Bishop, made in Dymock in the north of the Forest, or a mellow slither of Single Gloucester. Order a delicious picnic to take away or create a personalised hamper for loved ones.
For full immersion in Coleford’s hidden gems, book the garden wing of a 17th Century Italianate villa. Tan House was built during the 1670s and enjoys views over 20 acres of land and a stunning formal garden. For the ultimate indulgence, add a private chef or book a unique dining experience.
Cinderford lies on the eastern side of the Forest of Dean and is surrounded by woodland, making it a walker’s paradise. It has a lively collection of restaurants, pubs and cafes, too.
Make the most of the opportunity to watch kingfishers at the scenic mill pond at the Dean Heritage Centre and savour the sight of a restored waterwheel. Step inside this museum of the forest to learn more about the proud history of the area and finish off with a lunch at its cosy café.
Watch a classic movie or blockbuster film in the comfort of one of the oldest purpose-built cinemas still in operation. The Palace Cinema dates back to Edwardian times and has won many awards for the quality of its restoration.
Call into the 16th Century Red Hart at Blaisdon for a delicious home-cooked pub lunch amid its flagstone floors, low beams and original fireplaces. This award-winning pub sells craft ales, is popular with locals and has an impressive beer garden and children’s play area with lovely views.
A luxury stone cottage tucked away in a private rural hamlet, with a hot tub, picnic under the trees or a falconry experience, awaits those staying at Forest Barn Holidays, located to the south of Cinderford.
The Forest of Dean is full of hidden gems, each contributing to a memorable break within this beautiful part of the UK. Find out more here: https://www.visitdeanwye.co.uk/gofindfreedom