A couple of weekends ago, I had the absolute pleasure of being invited down to the Forest of Dean for a taster weekend of everything they have to offer, before their hugely successful Forest Activity Festival on Sunday 23rd of April.
Though the weekend began with a 7 hour drive, including sat nav issues, I knew it was all going to be worth it when I drove into Puzzlewood Patch. This beautiful farm has self-catered cottages, alongside and incredible woodland that is free to explore (plus a few farmyard friends you can say hello to!), and I was so happy that this was my home for the next couple of nights - and home is exactly what it felt like. A friendly greeting from Helen, before an introduction to the cottage I would be staying in, and my awesome cottage-mate and fellow blogger Immy, (also my fellow late-night-tea-drinker) and then I swiftly got ready for dinner pick-up at 6:15 on the dot.
Our driver for the weekend ex-rally driver who was known as King of the Dean back when the Forest was used for rally races (though thankfully we didn't have to experience his rally skills on the bus!). Meeting other bloggers on the bus was exciting, though safe to say I think I embarrassed myself with my excitement upon finding out we were heading across the border to Wales for dinner - three countries in one day was just too much fun for me!
Our first night of dinner was at the lovely Green and Jenks. Cheerfully greeted with gin cocktails, we all had a chance to meet each other before sitting down to a buffet-style dinner of seasonal salads, homemade tarts and gorgeous cheeses. Green and Jenks caters for teas and brunches during the day but can also be hired for special occasions such as this! Dinner involved an introduction to the weekend and the upcoming festival as well as getting our itinerary for the weekend! Eek!
We were split into two groups, and my group's Saturday morning activity was Mountain biking with Pedalabikeaway. Having not been on a mountain bike in years, I was a tad nervous I'd forgotten how to do it, but its true that you never forget! My fitness being low at the moment meant I struggled heading uphill, but the instructors were patient and encouraging! Every downhill part was entirely worth the slog up, and was adrenaline fuelled to say the least! The team were beyond fantastic - full of advice, no judgement on my fitness levels (or lack thereof) and brilliant humour and encouragement. I will write a full post about my mountain biking experience in next week's post!
After an awesome yet tiring morning, we headed to House of Bread for a bite to eat for lunch. A lovely tea-house that also offers self-catering accommodation, the owners had put out a huge spread for us to dig into, including the BEST leek and potato soup I have ever had in my LIFE. The House of Bread also runs pottery classes, both regularly for locals as well as taster sessions for visitors!
Post-lunch we were extremely lucky to have the unique experience of Caving with Clearwell Caves! The caves under the Forest of Dean are collosal in size, with various openings in random places around the forest. Having never done caving before, I wasn't sure what to expect but it was an absolutely incredible experience. The caves are entirely natural, and Jonathan, our guide, was full of knowledge about the history of the caves, including a mining history, as the caves are a natural resource for iron. Though there were a couple of hesitations from all of us at some of the tight squeezes, the group looked after each other throroughly and encouraged each other greatly, not to mention Jonathans dry humour kept us smiling! It was a hugely varied experience: interesting from a history viewpoint, incredible from a nature enthusiast angle to see lesser hanging bats, and a physically enjoyable and rewarding day out at 200ft below the surface!
Both groups joined later in the evening and our Saturday was rounded off with a well-deserved 3-course dinner at The Farmers Boy Inn. The other group had been enjoying Canoeing and High-Ropes Adventure Challenge, and equally needed the meal and rest too! The food was absolutely delicious, my choices being Cheese Souffle, Cod and Apple Crumble. I tried some of the lovely locally brewed cider, after a few tasters and a chat with the bartenders, and we enjoying this wonderful evening right by the fireplace - a perfect way to wind down for the night with the full group!
Our last activity, on the Sunday morning, was Clay Pigeon Shooting with DBC Leisure (with the second group having a shot at 4x4 Off Road Driving). Having never even thought of trying it before, I had no idea if I would enjoy it or not. But safe to say I loved it! Our instructor Dave was hilarious, and great at explaining everything from the guns themselves to different techniques and tips to his own experiences. Safe to say it was difficult, but I managed to get one or two and was delighted (see video below)! Definitely worthwhile doing with the family, it's not something anyone often gets the opportunity to do, and I promise DBC Leisure will make it an amazing experience! And you may come away wanting to do it all over again, like I did!
After our Sunday morning shooting session, we all headed to Puzzlewood to explore the magical forest there. The forest, which has been used for several film and TV locations, is full of towering trees and winding pathways, cute mystical bridges and its even greener than the photos show! They have plenty of activities around the Forest that are great for getting the kids exploring! We had a great little adventure through the forest, and were treated at the end to a delicious hog roast from The Forest of Dean Hog Roast Company! Right in the middle of the forest, we met the various members of the Forest of Dean for an outdoors hog roast picnic, which was a great way for everyone to meet each other on the last day. Safe to say everyone was so lovely, all with different accommodations and activities to offer through their own businesses. It's definitely a place that has something for everyone!
During my 7 hours drive back home to Edinburgh I had plenty of time to think back on the weekend. The sheer variety of the eateries, the accommodations and the activities was incredible, there is something for everyone's taste, from camping or self catered cottages to luxury hotels (links). The activities were great fun, and I have so much to say on them that I will be writing separate posts for each of the activities I took part in! Beyond the actual services on offer, each and every individual we dealt with were friendly and nothing was ever too much for them. The weekend was unbelievably organised and there is an incredible sense of community in the Forest of Dean. I'd definitely like to make it back down the the Activities Festival on April 23rd. If you are able, definitely check it out. The weekend will be filled with plenty of taster opportunities for different activities, as well as local food and drink!