When people talk about places for outdoor adventure in the UK, they tend to focus on the big hitters – The Lakes, Snowdonia, Dartmoor etc. However after spending a weekend in the Forest of Dean and Wye Valley with some of the lovely #OutdoorBloggers crew, I think it’s time that more people heard about the amazing adventure potential of this beautiful region. Here are just a few of the activities you can try.
Mountain Biking at Pedalabikeaway
Mountain Biking is one of the sports I’ve always wanted to try, but been too lazy to arrange. That might party have been due to the knowledge that last time I tried to cycle anywhere, I ended up lying on the floor wheezing thanks to a total lack of fitness and a few too many hills.
Fortunately the crew at Pedalabikeaway are used to newbies, so they started us off gently along the family-friendly trail and once I’d remembered how to balance I had great time bowling along through the trees. From there we progressed to the blue-graded Verderer’s trail which winds upwards through the woods – at this point I was pleased to discover that I’m fitter than I thought I was, though it still definitely felt like a good workout.
At the top we had a quick lesson from the lovely Cat on the ‘ready position’ (which allows you to stay balanced on rougher terrain) and then we were all set for the final descent down the aptly-named ‘Launch Pad’, an exhilarating gravity trail that’s also suitable for 4-wheeled adaptive bikes. All in all it took couple of hours to cycle up the hill, and just over a minute to get back down – now that’s how to have fun! MTB four-cross World Champion Katy Curd also trains and teaches here, so that’s a pretty good recommendation too.
Caving at Clearwell Caves
I love exploring caves, but up till now have only really experienced big show caves like the ones at Cheddar Gorge where you can potter around in plimsolls quite happily. I realised that the ‘deep level’ tour at Clearwell caves would be a bit different as soon as I was handed a boiler suit and a belt. Initially I thought the latter might just be to make the boiler suit slightly less voluminous, but our guide Jonathan then informed me that it was actually ‘in case he needed to grab onto it’. Not at all ominous then…
In the event I needn’t have worried –there are only two or three points that really test your mettle, namely the ‘Rabbit Hole’ which requires you to scramble through on all-fours, and the ‘Mouse Hole’ – which I’ll leave to your imagination. Safe to say the two six-footer guys in our group had to find an alternative route, but all six women made it through – and I’m pro-any sport where women have an advantage! I also discovered that I really love army crawling through tight spaces – who’d have thunk?
If you can deal with the odd tight squeeze, then you’re in for a treat. The caves themselves are an amazing space to explore, especially with Jonathan on hand to point out all the most interesting bits – like the ‘Confession cavern’ where one miner apparently told another that he’d been having an affair with his wife. Personally I wouldn’t choose to bring that up with someone when we were buried underground, but each to their own.
All in all we descended about 200ft, following the tunnels carved by underground streams from around 180 million years ago. These tunnels were then expanded when people began mining them for ochre and iron ore from around 100 B.C. Jonathan and his team still mine the ochre to sell to local artists – though we discovered that it also makes excellent war paint.
On the way back up Jonathan had us turn out our headlamps and lit a single candle to demonstrate the light levels that miners used to work in. Then he blew the candle out, leaving us in pitch blackness while he told us ghost story. If you ever happen to visit Clearwell Caves and see an old miner, beware! Fortunately not all residents of the caves are paranormal: they’re also home to rare lesser-horseshoe bats, though we only saw glimpses of these as we had to be careful not to disturb them from hibernation with our headlamps.
Although caving can be a test of courage if you’re slightly claustrophobic, but I’d still definitely recommend giving it a go at Clearwell. Especially as Sid the cat will give you cuddles as a reward for making it to the end.
Clay Pigeon shooting at DBC Leisure
As previous readers of this blog (and anyone who has met me) will know, I have a certain fondness for weaponry. I tend to keep it traditional with a bow and arrow, but on occasion do like to play (safely) with things that go ‘bang’. So I was pretty smug when I heard we were going clay pigeon shooting – it couldn’t be any harder than hitting a target from the back of a cantering horse, right? Wrong.
Suffice to say I was terrible and didn’t kill a single pigeon, clay or otherwise. That was definitely down to me though, as between them the rest of the group managed to explode several targets under the expert tuition of Dave, who also gave shooting lessons to Sean Bean and Rupert Friend when they were filming Outlaw. Fun fact: Sean Bean was apparently never taught to fire a gun when filming Sharpe and just had to figure it out for himself. Fortunately no-one ever noticed because they were too distracted by his torso – or was that just me?
Despite my ineptitude it was still a great way to spend a morning – and DBC do also offer archery so next time I’m in the area I’ll be able to try and reclaim some of my street cred. Hopefully.
I’ve barely scratched the surface of what’s on offer in the Dean/Wye area – in fact during the weekend a second group of bloggers was off trying some other activities including Canoeing on the River Wye with Inspire2Adventure, the high ropes Adventure Challenge with FoD Adventure, and 4×4 off-roading in Whitecliff Quarry. I also know that there’s some great rock climbing available at Symonds Yat, so I’ll definitely be heading back soon to practice my trad climbing skills.
If all the above has piqued your interest then you should definitely check out the Forest Activities Festival on 23rd April. Held in the grounds of the Speech House Hotel, the Festival offers the opportunity to try your hand at everything from mountain biking and rugby to archery and Segway taster sessions. If you’re after something less intense then you’ll also be able to try workshops on bush craft, cookery, photography and much more. Round it all off by listening to local musicians, or trying some of the amazing local food and drink – and if any of you want to bring me back some cider it will be very gratefully received!
Don’t forget to check out part 1 of my trip for tips on where to stay and eat in the Dean Wye area.
Disclosure: I was a guest of the Wye Valley and Forest of Dean Tourist Association on this trip. All words and opinions are my own.