Monday; the weekend over, a new week starting. Here, in Lydbrook, we’d had a pretty busy few days and were missing our usual walks in the Forest of Dean. The sky, alternately threatening and promising, made us wonder about our best option.
The village has two very good, and reasonably-priced, pubs that serve food and we’d already decided we’d walk to the farther one for a pensioner’s lunch tomorrow. (There is a third, the Forge Hammer, but we’ve never eaten there as Valerie can’t eat spicey food. I hear it’s a good eatery, though.) But the uncertain weather had me checking online for the outlook. Glad I did. Tuesday’s destined for wall to wall rain, so hardly a day to walk the mile and a half of steep forest tracks to the higher pub. We quickly decided we’d go today instead. A quick phone call to May and the table was booked for lunch.
Around 11:50 we set out, walking boots and rainproofs donned, casual shoes in the small backpack, camera over my shoulder. Our walk takes us along a decent level track that was once a railway line and then up 151 steps to a steep lane that eventually leads beside the playing fields in Joy’s Green. From there, a short walk through the village takes us down Gooses Neck Lane (actually a narrow, curving set of steps) onto Coppice Lane, a road so little used there’s grass growing in the centre of the narrow carriageway. From the end of there, a nip across Vention Lane and we’re at the Royal Spring.
We sit on one of the benches outside and swap walking boots for ordinary shoes, to avoid traipsing mud into the bar. May is ready with a welcome and the menu and sits us at a table overlooking the quiet road and the valley beyond. We share a bottle of pleasantly chilled Prosecco and order our meals. Spinach and Ricotta Cannelloni for Valerie, Beer-battered Cod and chips for me. The pub is quiet on a Monday and we indulge in some lively conversation about the state of the world and our place in it.
The food arrives along with May’s usual friendly smile and easygoing manner. It’s good, and we eat in silence for a while. An elderly man and two women arrive and order their meal. A couple of locals prop up the bar and watch the horseracing on the quiet TV round the corner. The pub will be busier tonight but it suits us when it’s peaceful like this.
We have our sweet and a coffee each. I have the white chocolate cheesecake and Valerie indulges in a banana split. The bill is under £25.00, which is very good value for the quality of the food and wine.
Outside, we change back into our walking boots and set off down Vention Lane, a steep and narrow tree covered slope leading to the River Wye. But we take a left at the old stile and enter the edge of the forest to walk along what was once clearly a walled cart track. It’s decades since any wheeled vehicle braved this ancient trail, with gnarled old trees and occasional cliffs of local stone rising on the left and a steep drop over the much interrupted dry stone wall on the right.
There’s a magical air to the place. Tranquil, it carries a feeling of mystery and gentle isolation and we stop frequently to breathe in the peace and quiet. A pair of buzzards ‘kee’ to each other overhead, heard but unseen through the canopy. The only other sound, when we stop walking, is the light breeze and some small bird song. Here and there are signs of the activity that once rendered this valley a noisy and smelly site of mining, ironworks and heavy industry. That all stopped long ago and the trees and nature have quickly concealed most of the ruins left behind.
We stop to watch the sudden sunlight playing over fields almost hidden by the boughs and leaves of tall beech and oak and spot what we think is a buzzard resting on the grass. A short spell of observation convinces us this is actually a tree stump, until the bird takes off and flies away! Along the track and into the trees much of the ground has been churned by wild boar in search of hidden food, but we aren’t privileged with a sighting of these fascinating creatures on this occasion.
Eventually, we pass out of the forest and wander a narrow lane until we reach another path that leads us down to follow the old railway line that used to run above and parallel to Lydbrook village before the rails were torn up and replaced with a rough walkway much beloved by locals and visitors alike.
At last, we emerge on the road that leads from the local church down past the football field and towards the other local eatery, The Colliers, where good food and drink are also served for locals and visitors at reasonable prices. We reach our house just after 15:30. We’ve had a truly rewarding time. Nothing out of the ordinary, but a lovely way to spend a few hours of our retirement in this place we chose for its tranquillity and abundance of local walks.
So many people seek the material things in life, look for manufactured pleasures, when there are natural delights out there waiting to be explored and appreciated. Still, I won’t dwell on what so many are missing: after all, we love the solitude of our forest walks!