Tuesday, 26 Mar 2019

The Forest of Dean

The Forest of Dean is a beauty and a beast. It is an ancient wood with many secrets, both old and new, but its sylvan glades are draped over some very hilly terrain. That makes cycling hard here, but it brings rewards, and not just the satisfaction and glow of crossing hard terrain using your own power. The highest hills are clear of trees in places, so you see the forest undulating away all around you, and in the west there are views of the Welsh mountains. The Forest is a leafy bridge between England and Wales. It lies west of the River Severn and east of the Welsh border. The ride has three main sections. The first is flatter and heads down the Severn. Then it visits the spectacular Wye valley, saving an exploration of the Forest of Dean for the final 50 hilly miles.

The Forest of Dean - photo 1

The Forest of Dean

It starts in Cinderford, a former coal-mining town with terraced streets laid out as if they are in the Welsh Valleys. There has been a lot of industry in the Forest of Dean for a long time. Charcoal was made here even before the Romans came, and they had the locals mine coal for them and smelt iron. Iron and coal production grew here during the Industrial Revolution, and in later times steel was produced in the Forest of Dean. That has all gone now, but there are several interesting heritage sites that help support tourism here. A number of high-tech companies are also based in the 21st-century Forest.

The Forest of Dean - photo 2

The Forest of Dean

The main purpose of the opening River Severn section is to ride across the old Severn Bridge. Every cyclist should do it, because the cycle path next to the road platform is high and spectacular. Just ride over, then head back to Chepstow, where you cross the River Wye by the old bridge near the castleThe Wye valley is gorgeous. Winding, steep-sided and stacked with trees, it’s a deferred pleasure for the moment as you climb Hart Hill towards St Brievels in order to make the best entrance, which as with any valley is from above. You cross the Wye by Brockweir Bridge, with the spectacular Tintern Abbey in the valley bottom on your left.

The Forest of Dean - photo 3

The Forest of Dean

The route runs towards it, then climbs away in order to ride along the valley but above it for a short while, because it’s just a better way to see it. You join the main valley road later to skirt Monmouth and begin your exploration of the Forest of Dean, and it begins with a hill. The road climbs the side of Coal Pit Hill in sweeping bends and wriggles, the first of which is called the Fiddlers Elbow. The Forest’s second big town, Coleford, comes next, then Berry Hill, before a long descent back to the Wye opposite Symonds Yat for two crossings of the Wye where it makes a huge sweep across a suddenly wider valley bottom.

The Forest of Dean - photo 4

The Forest of Dean

Then there’s another climb into the trees. This is Worral Hill, which takes you through Lower and Upper Lydbrook and on into the thickest part of the Forest of Dean. There are abandoned mines here, and you might notice the road verges have been rooted up in many places by wild boar. You leave this straight road in Parkend, and I’ve saved the best till last. The final leg rides one of the most beautiful roads I’ve seen. It winds along tiny, steep-sided stream valleys, then explores the hills around Cinderford. It’s a world of its own, a world sealed from outside by the forest, so you only hear the sounds of water, birdsong and the rhythmic swish of a cyclist’s tyres. Follow the A4151 south then east to the A48 and turn right. Turn left in Blakeney and follow this road to Purton, then return to the A48 and turn left. Turn right just after Aylburton and keep left until the crossroads, where you turn right to climb to Hewelsfield.

The Forest of Dean - photo 5

The Forest of Dean

There, turn left, then right in Woolaston Common and left in Woolaston Woodside to go right onto the A48 to Chepstow. Go through Chepstow and turn left onto the A466, then follow directions to the Severn Bridge cycle path, cross it and return. Turn right at the second roundabout, then turn left in the centre of Chepstow to cross the Wye by the old bridge, and then turn left onto the B4228 in Tutshill. Follow this road to Coldharbour, turn left and descend to Brockweir. Turn left onto the A466, then right next to the hotel and follow this road to a T-junction, where you turn right down a steep hill to turn left onto the A466.

The Forest of Dean - photo 6

The Forest of Dean

Follow this road to Monmouth, turn right onto the A4136 and then right onto the B4228 to Coleford. Turn left to Berry Hill. Join the B4432 going north and continue over the Wye through Goodrich to cross the Wye again and turn right onto the B4234. Follow this road to Parkend, where you turn left. Turn left in Blakeney Hill to Ruspidge, turn left onto the B4226, then right onto the B4227, then left onto the A4151. Go straight at the A4136, continue through Drybrook to East Dean, and turn right onto the B4224. Cross the A4136 in Mitcheldean and follow directions to Cinderford.

The Forest of Dean - photo 7

The Forest of Dean

Start and Finish. The Forest of Dean: Cinderford.
Getting There. The Forest of Dean: Cinderford is just west of the A48, 11 miles west of Gloucester and 17 miles north-east of Chepstow and the end of the old Severn Bridge.
Bike Shop. The Forest of Dean: Winner Bikes on Forest Vale Road.
Cafe. The Forest of Dean: Sadie’s Cafe on the High Street.
Local Delicacy. The Forest of Dean: Elvers from the River Wye.

“Best 100-Mile Bike Routes”

Chris Sidwells

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