Have you explored the Forest of Dean? England’s oldest oak forest is a place where kings once hunted, where wild boar with a semi-mythical status now roam and where maze-like mossy woodlands straight out of Tolkien rub shoulders with smart country hotels and romantic glamping sites. It’s also chock-full of adventure – clamber through caves, canoe down wide rivers and mountain bike along leafy paths before a well-deserved evening in a cosy forest pub.
A magical glen straight out of something by the Brothers Grimm, Puzzlewood’s maze-like, moss-covered gully is an enchanting place to stroll. JRR Tolkien is said to have been inspired by Puzzlewood’s otherworldly glens when writing about the verdant forests of Middle Earth, and if wandering here feels strangely familiar, that might be because crews filming everything from Dr Who to Star Wars have created fantastical scenes under these very trees.
Canoe down the River Wye
Spend a sunny day lazily paddling down the wonderful River Wye. There are plenty of places to hire canoes from in the valley, all of which will send you off downriver in a Canadian canoe with a map and a list of pretty places to tie up and have lunch. You’ll paddle past grassy meadows and under the towering rocky cliff face of Symonds Yat – a proper Swallows and Amazons adventure. I canoed the Wye a few summers ago – read the full blogpost here.
This one goes down as one of the scariest adventures I’ve ever undertaken. I always swore blind that caving was Not My Thing (my rationale was that it’s not technically outdoors), but I finally faced my fear in these caves, which are so beautiful and fascinating that they’re worth taking on a challenge to explore. Once an ancient iron mine and now home to rare lesser horseshoe bats (and, legend has it, a ghost), cavers have to face their fears in tiny, twisted passages such as the Corkscrew but are rewarded with incredible underground caverns. Plus, the caves have a lovely resident cat called Sid for you to cuddle afterwards.
Always fancied yourself a bit of an Annie Oakley? The fantastic instructors at DBC Leisure will show you how to load a gun, aim it properly and hit airborne clay targets like a boss. The adrenaline rush when you smash a target to smithereens (and the smell of gunpowder in the air) may have you hooked on a brand new hobby.
Go get muddy by hiring a mountain bike from Pedalabikeaway and hitting the trails which ribbon through the beautiful woodland at Cannop Cycle Centre. Routes range from gentle, family-friendly pootles through the trees to some seriously scary downhill tracks. If you’re comfortable on two wheels try the winding 11 kilometres of blue trails and then turn it up a notch on the challenging reds routes. The centre also offers coaching and guiding days just for women if you’re keen to join some like-minded ladies in the saddle.
PLACES TO EAT
A little bit of la dolce vita in Monmouth. Step inside a smart Georgian townhouse to drool over Green and Jenk’s gelato counter, groaning with pastel-hued homemade ices in tempting flavours. Leave choosing until after lunch though – the cafe serves hearty quiches, salads and a smashing afternoon tea.
The coldest, muddiest forest adventurer will feel no pain after stepping inside the warm and welcoming Farmer’s Boy for a huge bowl of stew or one of the pub’s famous pies, served up by the friendly staff.
A spot of tea and cake at the Hot Pot is sure to get your creative juices flowing – the bright, airy cafe is set in the pottery’s gallery, full of beautifully crafted plates and mugs painted in colours that echo the local landscape.
PLACES TO STAY
An age-old farmhouse, thoughtfully redesigned as a cosy hotel and complete with enormous pillowy beds and deep rolltop baths to sink into. And there are chickens! I loved the Tudor Farmhouse, a welcoming retreat in the village of Clearwell. Read my full review here. From £130 per night.
A great choice for families or gangs of friends. These rather swish lodges combine the ease of a self-catering cottage with the peace and quiet of a woodland campsite. Cosy cabins come complete with bubbling hot tubs, barbecues on the deck and huge windows look out into the trees or over the meadow. Three nights from £595.