Travel: Marc Rath reviews Whitemead Forest Park, Forest of Dean
It's always been there – the ancient woodland just west of Gloucester and north of Bristol across the River Severn. But for some mysterious reason we had never visited the Forest of Dean, despite it being just a 40-minute car journey from our home. That's not to say it didn't appeal to us – we simply hadn't considered it a holiday destination. Perhaps we felt Gloucestershire was a little too close for a proper getaway.
So when we booked up a log cabin in the heart of the 27,000 acres of historic woodland, we were uncertain our break would leave us with that feeling of escapism a holiday should bring. But by the end of our stay, our reservations had melted away.
Our five-day stay-cation was lifted further by its coincidence with what transpired to be the only week of clement weather in an otherwise miserable British summer.
So we were brimming with expectation as we arrived at our destination along a country road shaded by trees gently swaying in the breeze. We also felt an element of smugness. We hadn't travelled halfway across Europe to find both fine weather and spectacular – yet unfamiliar – surroundings.
Business Cards From Only £10.95 Delivered www.myprint-247.co.ukView details
Our heavyweight cards have FREE UV silk coating, FREE next day delivery & VAT included. Choose from 1000's of pre-designed templates or upload your own artwork. Orders dispatched within 24hrs.
Terms: Visit our site for more products: Business Cards, Compliment Slips, Letterheads, Leaflets, Postcards, Posters & much more. All items are free next day delivery. www.myprint-247.co.uk
Contact: 01858 468192
Valid until: Wednesday, May 22 2013
Our accommodation at Whitemead Forest Park was in Parkend, a picturesque village situated 30 miles from Bristol and between the Forest's towns of Coleford, Lydney and Cinderford. The park was made up of wooden cabins and modern apartments, as well as caravan and tent pitches, set in 33 acres of pleasant woodland. On arriving at reception, we were handed the keys to our deluxe plus, two-bedroom cabin and given clear directions through the park's small network of roads to a car parking space directly outside.
The cabin overlooked a pretty pond and backed onto open forest bursting with birdsong. Although it was a quiet spot, there was a family-friendly buzz, with children playing outdoors in the first week of their school summer holidays.
Our self-catering accommodation was well equipped, with a television in the lounge and main bedroom, a modern fitted kitchen and tastefully furnished living area. The detached cabin accommodated up to six people and featured an en-suite shower room off the main bedroom as well as a separate bathroom.
But by far the cabin's best feature was its lovely veranda, which came complete with outdoor furniture and was extremely well used during our stay. Fully child-safe, our toddler son was able to freely roam around it while spotting the visiting birds, squirrels and even sheep.
Within a short walk of our accommodation was a plethora of facilities catering for our every need. There was an excellent swimming pool with Jacuzzi, sauna, steam room, bar, soft play area, games room, coffee shop, outdoor play area, gym and convenience shop.
Activities – some free and some paid-for – were on offer throughout the week. We opted to watch an entertaining bird of prey demonstration. One of the most impressive features of the park was its location with several terrific visitor attractions and sights. Our first venture out was to a bike hire centre in nearby Cannop, at the head of a number of cycle trails weaving their way through beautiful woodland. Pedalabikeaway hired out bikes for everything from downhill biking and mountain bike trails to easy-going family-friendly rides.
We embarked on a 12-mile traffic-free track with our son firmly secured in a child seat but we were forced to abandon the ride after only 200 yards. Our son – suffering with teething pains – made it clear in no uncertain terms that he did not wish us to go on. Undeterred, we decided to try something less energetic and headed to Beechenhurst Lodge, a Forestry Commission picnic site, and the starting point for the Sculpture Trail, a woodland walk featuring sculptures by famous artists.
We found the terrain was just about suitable for our toddler's pushchair and enjoyed discovering the pieces of art hidden away along the route.
Next day we took a trip on the Dean Forest Railway, a wonderfully restored heritage line which runs for four miles between Parkend and Lydney Junction.
But the highlight of our break, came when we visited the stunning Symonds Yat on the River Wye, a 30-minute drive from our accommodation. We visited Symond's Yat East, a lovely hamlet on the Gloucestershire side of the river. The main attraction was the delightful riverside setting. We whiled away our time watching cruise boats gently pass by, kayaks and canoes negotiate the river rapids and a hand-ferry operator use an overhead cable to pull passengers across to Symonds Yat West on the Herefordshire side of the Wye. Instead of traipsing uphill with our son in his pushchair to reach the Symonds Yat Rock viewpoint, we opted to drive the short distance there. Within moments we were at the top, and we weren't disappointed. There were breathtaking views high above the meandering river and we agreed the Forest of Dean had successfully married unspoilt beauty with an abundance of family-friendly attractions.
Whitemead Forest Park, Parkend, Lydney, Gloucestershire GL15 4LA. 0845 345 3425 / www.whitemead.co.uk.