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Free mining in the Forest of Dean

Posted on 19th May 2017

The ancient title of ‘free miner’ has long been attached to the Forest of Dean area and has had a complicated history that has seen off industrial revolutions, invasions and royal interferences.  A free miner is a title given to those who eligible to mine their own gales (portion of land), paying royalty to the crown for each tonne of material raised. Dean Miners Laws and Privileges, a document known locally as the Book of Dennis dating from the early 1600’s, references much earlier originsinsinuating there was an original free mining charter.

Clearwell Caves Cart

The Dean Forest Mines Act of 1838 states the eligibility of a free miner must be:

“All male persons born or hereafter to be born and abiding within the said Hundred of St Briavels, of the age of twenty one years and upwards, who shall have worked a year and a day in a coal or iron mine within the said Hundred of St Briavels, shall be deemed and taken to be Free Miners.”

This was stated after the Industrial Revolution shook the traditions of the free miners to the core. The Industrial Revolution ensured that coal and iron were much sought-after materials, making the untapped reserves in the Forest of Dean enticing. Though the parliamentary act changed little in terms of eligibility, it did allow the free miners to sell their gales (personal plots of land) to non-free miners and thus open the area to outside investors.

During the 18th century, The Free Mining Law Court – the system that had regulated free mining for centuries – was put under enormous pressure as other coal mining families wanted access to the Forest of Dean. The court became inundated with disputes as well as constant stress to allow outside interest. This all culminated with the theft of the Mine Law Court records. Without these, the Free Mining Law Court was unable to continue. The records were later recovered in the possession of Crown Officials.

Since the tumultuous times of the 18th century, the Forest of Dean free miners have continued to this day. There have been recent pushes forward as the first female free miner was accepted in 2010 and since other applications for female free miners have been considered.

A great day trip while staying in a holiday cottage in the forest of dean is to Clearwell Caves where you can discover more about the area’s history of free mining. The working iron ore mine is open to the public and is a great educational experience for children, who can wander the museum and discover the industry of the Forest of Dean.

Image Credit: Ben Coulson (Flickr)

Surfing the Severn Bore

Posted on 24th April 2017

While the Forest of Dean is somewhere we associate with calm retreats, relaxing ambles through the forest and chilled afternoons in local pubs, the area has an adventurous side that is both surprising and exhilarating.

Surfers on the Severn Bore

If you wish to combine your relaxing Forest of Dean cottage holiday with an activity-filled itinerary, then bring your surfboards as riding the Severn bore is a rite of passage for any English thrill seeker. If you are expecting waves to rival Hawaii then you will be disappointed, however if instead you want to encounter a natural phenomenon on the front line and have an extended surfing experience, then this would be perfect.

The Severn River has the second highest tidal range in the world, measuring up to 50 feet. Due to the shape of the estuary and the conditions of the tides, a surge is created that ripples along many miles of river. The first person to surf the Severn Bore was Colonel ‘Mad Jack’ Churchill who made his own board and attempt on the bore in 1955 and it has attracted other adrenaline junkies ever since with growing popularity. It can get busy, with up to 30 surfers attempting to ride the wave at any time, so keep an eye out for others on some of the narrower stretches of river as people weave to keep ahead of the surge.

If you have little interest in participating, there are lots of places to view the spectacle from the safety of dry land. On the really high surges, there can be something of a party atmosphere in the different viewing spots, with people cheering on the surfers. The Severn Bore website not only gives you the best times to try and surf the Bore, but also the best locations to view it from and all the details on how to sign up to surf the Bore.

Image Credit: Tess (Wikimedia Commons) 

Fantastic pottery of every colour

Posted on 07th April 2017

If you go into the woods today you are in for a big surprise because, bordering the Forest of Dean and hidden behind the façade of an old-fashioned stone farmhouse, lies a storm of colourful ceramics. Mary Rose Young has settled on the outskirts of the forest, and brought all her creativity to bare.  Mary Rose Young

Bright tiles, striped beams and shelves of every colour display her vibrant and delicate pieces that, despite the retro patterns, still hold an organic element in their shape. While staying in a holiday cottage in the Forest of Dean, it is worth heading out to see this bright little gallery that makes you feel as if you are stepping into Oz.

From tiny bowls to chandeliers, Mary Rose has an ideal range for those looking for anything from a gift or keepsake to a statement piece for their home. There is an element of fairytale in many of Mary Rose’s pieces. Crowned tea cups are the norm, while roses cluster on many of her pieces, adding a hint of the romantic. She explains, “I wanted my pottery to have a cross between childlike wonderment and a fun party, and you see that when people walk into the gallery”. While there are sets of gold and white dinner plates available for traditionalists, there are also those with polka dots, stripes of every colour and the geometrically patterned for those who want to take a slice of Mary Rose’s fantastical designs home with them.

Mary Rose’s initial success was with department stores in the United States, such as Barney’s. Now, however, she makes an effort to keep it local. When asked why she lives in the Forest of Dean, she responded:

“I was brought up round here, and I have been here so long, always living around Gloucestershire, that now I almost feel like a local. In some ways, living in the forest, away from other creative people, stops me from feeling self-conscious. It is a good place to hunker down and look at what you are doing as an artist.”

Though she works on mainly smaller pieces, she does like to set herself the challenge of a larger project, creating chandeliers that are worthy of exhibition, but are instead commissioned for private estates.

Pottery Chandelier

Image Credit: James Young

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) 

Gloucester’s wet November – Rainy day activities in the Forest of Dean

Posted on 22nd November 2016

Various regions of the British Isles have encountered flooding in the past couple of weeks, and today the Gloucestershire City Police among other organisations have released safety recommendations for residents and visitors travelling in the area. As of yet, the Forest of Dean has not seen any significant incidents, and luckily the area is well-prepared for extreme weather. However, if you are headed on a Forest of Dean cottage holiday, it is worthwhile keeping some basic measures in mind before setting out on the roads to allow you to enjoy your visit to the full.

Forest of Dean Lake

On Twitter, the Gloucestershire City Police reminded county residents, “Please be aware of standing water on roads. If you come across a flooded road, drive through highest section slowly. If in doubt don’t enter”. According to Gloucestershire Live, the RAC also released recommendations for drivers, including pointers such as ensuring windscreen wipers are fully functional, filling up with fuel before travel, carrying a mobile phone in case you encounter any difficulties during your journey and checking that your tyres are of the recommended tyre tread depth. If you are travelling up to the Forest of Dean area at this time of year it is good to keep these protocols in mind.

The Forest of Dean is a beautiful location to visit at this time of year, regardless of the weather. Get your wellies on and head out into the woodland to enjoy the rich colours of the leaves on the trees, and to catch a glimpse of the diverse local wildlife going about their daily lives. The Environment Agency are currently advising walkers to avoid rivers such as the River Lyd and Cinderford Brook during heavy rain, as these can flow quickly and occasionally flood.

What to do in the Forest of Dean on rainy days

Luckily, there is plenty to do in the Forest of Dean on a rainy day. Why not visit a local museum such as Gloucester City museum, where the kids can dress up as a Roman soldier and you can discover all about the background of this fascinating region? The Dean Heritage Centre is the perfect day out for art and history lovers, with five galleries exploring the history of the area from the Ice Age to the present day and a Victorian school room to spark children’s imaginations! Alternatively, Gloucestershire is full of fantastic theatres such as The Playhouse, and Cotswold Farm Park is full of adorable farm animals in warm, dry barns. For the adventure-lover, there are plenty of climbing walls, go karting centres and even a laser tag arena in Gloucester. Or, to while away the hours on a rainy afternoon whilst gaining a new skill, get creative and paint some pottery whilst enjoying a coffee at shops around the county.

So, whatever the weather, you’ll never be short of ways to spend some delightful days in the Forest of Dean!

Image Credit: Andrew Callow (Visualhunt)