Life in a forest can be so rewarding. Valerie and I moved to the Forest of Dean just over a year ago and began exploring our new home area almost at once. But we’ve kept largely to the laid down paths provided by the Forestry Commission and those that have been made by dog walkers over the decades. Just occasionally, we’ve wandered into the trees and away from the trodden ways.
But, this year, we wanted to get down and dirty and plunge into the depths of the forest to discover what lay hidden. So far, we’ve had a few adventures amongst the older trees and in the deeper valleys, the steeper slopes, the denser woodlands. It’s been a rewarding time, as the forest provides so many varied landscapes and micro-environments.
Everywhere we find signs of the fierce work of the wild boar that inhabit the forest and the gentler nibbling of the deer that hide amongst the trees. The birds are numerous and we’re generally surrounded by their bright songs. Spotting them in the tangle of branches isn’t always easy, but we frequently see the more common robins, blue tits, great tits, sparrows, blackbirds, wood pigeons, jackdaws, crows and the majestic buzzards. More rarely, we see chaffinches, tree creepers, wagtails, woodpeckers, jays, kingfishers, and goldfinches. We’ve had odd sightings of families of wild boar and a few close encounters with deer. So, the walks have been rewarding.
This morning, we decided it was time to explore one of the valleys that has fascinated us since we arrived. The village is named after a brook that winds its way from the top of the valley through the trees and then follows the road for a while until it’s confined by culverts to prevent flooding to the properties that lie in the danger zone. Eventually, after another run through an open walled channel, it joins the River Wye at the bottom of the village. The Lyd Brook has quite a few small tributaries, many seasonal, that flow through tiny waterways to join its merry babble through the main valley. It was our intention to follow part of the route of the stream from the upper source and down as far as the small road through the village.
We started with our usual route up the steep public footpath that leads into the forest a hundred yards from our front door. We then walked the wide, flat track that follows the route once taken by the railway that served the people and industries of the area. The place was once a hive of activity, with ironworks and coal mining amongst the industries. Looking at the valley nearly a hundred years after this activity finished, you’d be hard pressed to know it was ever so busy, unless you know what you’re looking for.
Some distance along the path the remains of a quarry loom over the track. Trees have long since softened the severe lines of the rock cutting but the quarry remains an identifiable feature of the landscape. This morning, we took a slight detour to explore it a little more closely and were rewarded with some interesting and beautiful sights.
We continued along the track a little further until we found the place we’d decided was our best way down the steep slope to where the brook flows, often out of sight from the path. We were now no longer on the well-worn tracks and paths and into the forest proper. Brambles, fallen trees and thorn bushes provided challenges, which we either skirted or stepped over. Eventually, we found the beginning of the stream, where it emerges from a stone culvert built over a century ago to take it under the railway line. There remain odd bits of stonework and signs of long disused buildings here and there amongst the trees. Sure enough, the small tunnel that allowed the stream to surface and flow freely over its natural course bore small signs of its previous use in driving water wheels to power activity long forgotten.
We followed trails set by wild boar, the imprints of their cloven hooves easy to spot in the frost stiffened mud. Down in the depths of the valley, the sun was no longer visible and the blue sky was only glimpsed through the dense canopy of winter branches and twigs. It was still ice cold down there beside the gurgling water. We followed its track along the winding way over small falls and through small pools to places where the boar had made wallows to cool them in the summer warmth. There was evidence of the recent rains that had swollen the stream to make it overflow onto the banks either side.
Down there, isolated from the world around, the only sounds were natural: birdsong, gurgling water, the occasional soft soughing of wind through treetops. Real serenity. We stopped frequently to listen to the silence, drinking in the natural peace and standing hand in hand to absorb the wonder of the nature around us. That we could do this only a mile or so from our front door was a wonder and a delight.
Eventually, our expedition took us to the place where the stream flows out of the trees and runs beside the road for a short distance. Here, we could walk the narrow road, with its inherent danger of traffic, or take another small path up along the valley side, skirting one or two of woodland properties until it joins again the old railway track path. That was our choice. We reached the natural end of that walk at the top of the fenced public footpath that ends at the gate leading into the forest. There, a couple of local dogs, Samoyeds, I believe, stood on the far side of their fence, noses pushed through for the usual fussing we gave them.
And then back down the steep and rather muddy path that leads to the road where our house sits. We’d been out for about two hours and covered only about 3 miles, but climbed, clambered and scrambled our way through places most people never even see. A wonderful way to spend a sunny morning.
I hope you enjoy looking at the pictures of our expedition as much as I enjoyed taking them.