Yesterday was my birthday (68, for those who care) and Valerie and I had planned a visit to a local feature I’ve wanted to photograph for a while. The weather, however, had different plans. The morning forecast was pretty dire, with predicted heavy rain and the possibility of thunderstorms. Not ideal weather for the 9-mile walk we had in mind.
Never ones to allow such things to stop us completely, we decided on compromise. Instead of walking to the Sculpture Trail, we’d drive to the place we hoped to eat and then decide where we’d walk after lunch.
Speech House Hotel is set on the side of a good road through the Forest of Dean, and about 3 miles from home as the buzzard flies. The meal was very tasty, reasonably priced, and served by pleasant staff in a dining room overlooking the garden and the fields beyond.
Full of lamb, chocolate and orange cheesecake, and coffee, we looked at dark clouds scudding over the treetops and decided against the sculpture trail: I wanted sunlight to depict that place to its best advantage. Instead, we drove half a mile up the road and parked under the trees. It was new ground for us and we set off, map in hand, along one of the wider tracks.
Didn’t take us long to discover we were moving toward a nature reserve. The Woorgreens Nature Reserve covers a good-sized plot of land that, until 1980, was an open cast coal mine. You’d never know it today. Heath, forest, and a large lake have returned the land to nature in a most attractive way. There are trails around the reserve, but we didn’t know this at the time of our visit, so did the usual thing of simply exploring. We found the lake, though not at its most accessible point. We came on one of the ponds, catering to the protected crested newt, not far from a narrow path, and walked through paths among the heath. It was peaceful, natural, and we met only one other walker who passed us some distance away on a parallel track.
Interested in determining whether the track we’d followed would link up with another track, which would ultimately allow us to walk all the way from home to the hotel, we explored. It took us up and down hill and vale and through different types of woodland. Once near the place where we expected to come upon the old railway track that now features as a wide gravelled track, we came off-path and wandered through the trees. The weather had remained dry, but the clouds had continued to threaten. Wandering in the trackless trees, we were both struck by how wonderful it was to be away from the rest of humanity and surrounded only by sounds and sights of nature. At one point, we were fortunate enough to come upon a pair of Fallow Deer grazing on the forest floor. They gazed at us through the trees for a few moments before wandering off deeper into the forest. A real privilege!
We discovered we’d slightly misread the map only after wandering half a mile or so along the track at the bottom of the patch of forest we’d wandered through. But we had a reasonable idea of the general direction we needed to travel. Eventually, we came to a sign erected for the cyclists who hire bikes from a place where they cater for families who wish to cycle the paths together. That helped us locate our position and we wandered along a rough track, ending up exactly where we’d intended, even if via a slightly different route!
There, we came upon a metal container stacked with leaflets about the nature reserve. I took one and we returned to the car and home, having had a very pleasant walk and managed to keep dry throughout.
On return, we had to park in the nearby football field car park as a fire engine straddled the entrance to our cul-de-sac, attending a chimney fire! Our neighbour was obviously safe, playing with her dog as she waited for the men to complete their duties.
So, an interesting day, and a very pleasant birthday. The sculpture trail will have to wait for another day.