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British woodlands beyond bluebells

Posted on 08th May 2017

A spring stroll in a blue carpeted wood is a tradition so British it should be served with strawberries and cream, and has even been immortalised in verse. However, there is more to our woodland floors than these spring bulbs. Every child who grows up somewhere rural or enjoyed a Forest of Dean cottage holiday will know the joy of running through the dew-soaked flowers, but while they are pretty to enjoy en masse, there are other plants to seek out this spring. Here are a few of our favourite flowers to scout out during the British springtime.

Bugle

Common Bugle

Another purple flower that can easily get lost among the bluebells, the Bugle is an evergreen with a ground cover habit. The lowly Bugle had its place as a medicinal herb historically, used to cure everything from liver ailments to ulcers.

Coltsfoot

Yellow Coltsfoot

Part of the daisy family and native to Europe, Coltsfoot has long been visible in our woodlands.

The flowers appear some weeks before the leaves which gives this plant many of its common names, such as horse hoof or bull’s foot. It is also known as coughwort as the leaves were once used to make a tea that was thought to soothe colds.

Ramsons

Ramsons or Wild Garlic flowers

Ramsons are also known as wild garlic and you will be able to smell these before you see them. Related to the onion family they look a lot like the alliums you can grow in your own garden. They are edible and taste strongly of garlic and spring onions – the perfect addition to fresh salads, garlic mushrooms and much more.

Toothwort

Toothwort flowers

This is a parasitic plant, and, having no green stems or leaves, it will only be found on the bases of certain trees. It is often found at the base of alder, hazel and beech where it taps into the root systems. Often overlooked by longer-stemmed flowers, it is a sign of old forests.

Image Credit: Katja Schultz, Shenandoah National Park, Jerzy Opiola, Mark Coleman

Beavers to return to the Forest of Dean

Posted on 18th March 2017

After the unintentional but successful introduction of boars back into the Forest of Dean, the Forestry Commission intends to build upon this success by reintroducing another native species. Beavers were hunted so voraciously that by the end of the 16th century, they were no longer found wild in Britain. This is mainly due to the wealth that could be found in their fur and Castoreum oil which is found in their bodies and once enjoyed popularity.

Beaver in natural habitat

The beavers are being proposed for re-introduction for multiple reasons, one of these being to reduce the flood risk. After 2012 saw Lybrook devastated by flooding, it is hoped that the beavers will be a natural and cheap alternative to managing Britain’s waterways. Mr Gow was a prominent figure in the Devon beaver trial and fully supports the newest location for beaver habitation, believing that they will successfully manage the waterways, “Beavers have been managing water for millions of years; they’re adapted to do a far better job than us.”

Beavers have been let loose in other managed areas of the UK including Scotland, Wales, Devon and The Cotswolds. This has caused a great deal of interest in their local tourist industries and there are beliefs that a similar increase will be seen in the Forest of Dean if the plans go ahead. There are also reports of increased wildlife in the areas that are home to beavers, with more sightings of butterflies, dragonflies, frogs and birds.

If you have a Forest of Dean cottage holiday organised for the autumn, when the introduction is expected to go ahead if approved, you will see that initially the beavers will be kept in a fenced area of 16 acres. This is due to complaints from locals who already share their landscape, that beavers can be detrimental to farm land. There are already provisions put in place in order to avoid such occurrences

Image Credit: U S Department of Agriculture (Flickr)

The Legacy of the Dymock Poets

Posted on 16th February 2017

This year is the centennial of the death of Edward Thomas, who was killed during the battle of Arras on the 9th April 1917. Prior to his military service, Edward Thomas was part of the Dymock Poets, and though he never resided in the village itself, he held a firm friendship with famous poet Robert Frost. In fact, ‘The Road Not Taken’, Frost’s most famous poem, is based on Thomas’ indecisiveness on their walks together.

Daffodils near Dymock

The village of Dymock sits in The Forest of Dean area of Gloucestershire and rose to fame between 1911 and 1914 when it became the home of the literary group that inherited its name. The group’s members were Lascelles Abercrombie, Rupert Brooke, John Drinkwater, Robert Frost, Edward Thomas and Wilfrid Wilson Gibson, all of whom lived around or visited the village during that period and contributed to their own quarterly named New Numbers.

It was an advance copy of ‘The Road Not Taken’, a friendly satire of Thomas’ character that led to his enlisting in the military, though Frost had not meant it to have such an effect. After Edward Thomas’ death two years later, the community went their separate ways. The group, while thriving in Dymock and after their parting, found much inspiration in the landscape of the Forest of Dean, as it continued to influence their work.

While staying in a holiday cottage in the Forest of Dean, visiting Dymock and the surrounding areas that these literary giants once walked is a beautiful way to spend a day. Relax and take an afternoon to revel in a countryside that inspired some of the most famous poetry of its time.

“The Sun Used to Shine” by Edward Thomas

The sun used to shine while we two walked

Slowly together, paused and started

Again, and sometimes mused, sometimes talked

As either pleased, and cheerfully parted

 

Each night. We never disagreed

Which gate to rest on. The to be

And the late past we gave small heed.

We turned from men or poetry

 

To rumours of the war remote

Only till both stood disinclined

For aught but the yellow flavorous coat

Of an apple wasps had undermined;

 

Or a sentry of dark betonies,

The stateliest of small flowers on earth,

At the forest verge; or crocuses

Pale purple as if they had their birth

 

In sunless Hades fields. The war

Came back to mind with the moonrise

Which soldiers in the east afar

Beheld then. Nevertheless, our eyes

 

Could as well imagine the Crusades

Or Caesar’s battles. Everything

To faintness like those rumours fade—

Like the brook’s water glittering

 

Under the moonlight—like those walks

Now—like us two that took them, and

The fallen apples, all the talks

And silence—like memory’s sand

 

When the tide covers it late or soon,

And other men through other flowers

In those fields under the same moon

Go talking and have easy hours.

 

Image Credit: P J Photography (Shutterstock)

Top place to propose in the Forest of Dean

Posted on 11th February 2017

Valentine’s Day has long been associated with romance. Though there is little known of Saint Valentine himself and less evidence to connect him with romance, couples around the world use the 14th of February as the perfect excuse to celebrate their love. Many believe that it was Geoffrey Chaucer who in fact created the association between St. Valentine’s Day and romance, purely down to the time of year, as it was a long-held belief in Britain and France that mid-February was the time birds paired off in preparation for mating.

Puzzlewood – Forest of Dean

Acknowledged as the most romantic day of the year, millions of people across the globe wind up proposing on February 14th. As with all important events in life, a proposal should be carefully planned and beautifully executed, which means not only must the speech and ring be polished, but the setting must be perfect, too.

The Forest of Dean has long held an appeal for its outstanding beauty. With many visitors revelling in the peace beneath the towering trees, it is a wonderful location for an intimate moment, let alone one of the most important questions you will ever ask. However, the real question is: where is the most romantic spot in over 40 square miles of near-pristine woodland?

An area mentioned time and time again for its popularity, Puzzlewood has been the source of inspiration for fictional settings in Lord of the Rings, while also providing locations for many films and British dramas including Merlin, Atlantis and Jack the Giant Slayer. The unusual geology as well as the ancient forest creates an ethereal and intimate atmosphere that is quite impossible to find anywhere else in the world. Helen O ‘Kane, a member of Puzzlewood’s staff, recounts some of the more thoughtful engagements that have happened in Puzzlewood:

“One lovely couple came here from the USA on holiday, they both loved Puzzlewood. So much so, that he flew her and their son, all the way back here to surprise her and propose! She said yes!”

Another couple who got engaged in the woods had actually visited the area before. Helen explains: “They noticed our Little House inside the woods and always wondered what it was like inside – the picket fence around it is kept locked. The gentleman contacted me, explained he would love to propose in there. So I hid a few personal items of theirs, left it open, and then they stumbled across the unlocked gate and went inside! She said yes!”

If you are visiting the Forest of Dean for a cottage holiday with the intention of proposing, or merely to enjoy the surrounding area and the other delights it has to offer, Puzzlewood is not to be missed and is worth walking through with your loved one.

Image Credit: GuyBerresfordPhotography (Shutterstock) 

Photographing wildlife in the Forest of Dean

Posted on 27th January 2017

Wildlife photographers are drawn to the Forest of Dean due to its extraordinary variety of animal and plant life. The region is home to an abundance of wildlife, from the humble hedgehog to more unusual species such as the long-eared bat. From February 1st, photographers are invited to submit their images to the revered British Wildlife Photography Awards 

Male mandarin duck

Each year, photographers showcase spectacular images representing all aspects of British wildlife. Categories include ‘animal behaviour’, ‘hidden Britain’, ‘wild woods’ and ‘botanical Britain’. So whether you’re focusing on the secret world of bugs or capturing unique animal behaviour, there is space for every subject and every species.

As well as foxes, dormice, voles and grey squirrels, the Forest of Dean is home to over 30 different types of butterfly. Avid wildlife watchers should look out for the remarkable purple hairstreak butterfly, the wood white and grizzled skipper. But don’t ignore common species such as the marbled white, small copper and common blue. Often a fresh approach to photographing a common insect or animal makes a worthy prize winner.

If you have your heart set on capturing some of the forest’s rarer species, the small but spectacular pied flycatcher bird can be spotted nesting in the natural cavities of old oaks. Also, look out for flashes of colour from the Mandarin duck which migrates between forest lakes.

The best time to photograph wildlife is in the golden hours, in the hour after sunrise and before sunset. Not only will you have a better chance of spotting resident species, such as fallow deer, you will also capture your subjects in the most beautiful light.

The British Wildlife Photography Awards opens for entries on February 1st and closes on June 3rd, so you have plenty of time to get snapping during your stay in a holiday cottage in the Forest of Dean.

 Image Credit: Christian Musat (Shutterstock)