A few weeks ago, I booked a weekend away in the Forest of Dean – a massive ancient woodland and beautiful part of the country. It’s about an hour and a half from Marlborough, so well within reach for an easy weekend trip. I hadn’t been there since I was a child! I had the weekend all planned out so well. No matter the weather, we had loads to do. Hike! Run! Rent mountain bikes! Explore Clearwell Caves! Visit the amazing looking Puzzlewood! Pub lunches! I stalked the weather forecast and planned it all out perfectly.
And then last week, the Husband and I both got sick. On Thursday, I got in from a fantastic long run with my new running buddy. I felt particularly shivery and achy, so I climbed back into bed, feeling somewhat shamefaced and guilty…and I barely got up for two days. Everything ached, my tonsils swelled up, my throat hurt so much I couldn’t sleep. The Husband was a day ahead of me with the same affliction! We were pathetic. Friday night came. We’d packed our bags, but he and I looked at each other in the hallway and neither of us could face the drive. This is NOT usual. So we cancelled that night’s youth-hostel reservation and went back to bed.
Saturday morning, we were ever so slightly better so we decided to go for it. If we were still grotty, we’d sit in our hostel room, drink tea and read books. We got in the car, in the rain. By the time we got to Symonds Yat Rock for our ‘hike’, the rain had stopped. It was overcast, grey, and threatened rain, but it was dry. So we put on all our waterproof layers and went for a walk.
The Symonds Yat Rock – the Biblins loop was perfect for our depleted state. We descended down a steep staircase through woodland to the pretty riverside village of Symonds Yat to take our very first Hand Ferry. This intriguing river-crossing has been in place for centuries. A metal ‘rope’ stretched across the river. We climbed into the boat and our driver basically pulled us across using a cable which was attached to the ferry. It turns out that, due to the height of the river, this was the very first crossing of 2018 and we had literally walked into it!
The hike then took us along the banks of the River Wye, rushing and cold, for a mile or so until we got to the Biblins suspension bridge, which was pretty awesome! Kate told me later that she recognised it from Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows which I am LITERALLY IN THE PROCESS OF READING! Basically that makes me Hermione.
We hiked back to the car via the Symonds Yat Rock Cycle Trail which wasn’t as steep as the original steps. I even found a redwood tree to hug (which literally made everything better).
After a four-mile hike, the Husband and I were pretty shattered (darn germs!!) so we went back to the Saracen’s Head for lunch, which was delicious. The rain, which had held off during the hike, descended during lunch which left us feeling smug!
Next we headed to fabulous-looking Puzzlewood…but DARN, it was closed until next week, the start of Half-Term. So we tried to go to Clearwell Caves…but DARN, they were also closed until next week. So we took ourselves off to Apex Outdoors, a local outdoors shop where I got a hot chocolate and the kind guy treated my son to a week’s worth of sugar in one tiny mug!
Our next stop was Goodrich Castle, perched on a dramatic hill near our Youth Hostel. We didn’t know what to expect, knowing nothing about the castle, but it was fantastic and we really enjoyed looking around. Lots to see and explore, a tiny (freaky) spiral staircase to climb, a good audio-guide…we had a great time.
We spent the night at the Wye Valley Youth Hostel, which I suspect is absolutely fabulous in the summer – there’s a fantastic 7 mile running/hiking route that goes right past it. I was heartsick to see those lovely paths but be too lethargic and germy to try them.
On Sunday, our plan was to rent mountain bikes at Cannop Cycle Centre. This was one of my 2018 goals and we were all really excited about trying MTB for the very first time. Frankly, when the time came, the Husband and I wanted to cancel (germs, lethargy) but the Dude was SO excited about finally getting on a bike with ‘suxpension’ that we couldn’t let him down. We got kitted out with MTBs and set off on the Family Trail, a 10-mile loop through the forest.
It was really fun. That trail is super-tame (I was grateful) but every now and again there are little ‘obstacles’ on the side for you to try. I found myself actually trying them out and felt surprisingly safe on my fat-tyred bike. Who was I?
We were freezing by the time we got back to the cafe for a quick lunch, but before we went home, we wanted to try the ‘pump track’ area where the MTB classes take place. My boys loved it, bouncing gleefully over the bumps. I struggled… I didn’t have the skills or confidence to ride them and I felt that familiar fear grip me. I’m such a flipping chicken.
But despite the cold, the intermittent rain, the extreme germiness and the grey skies, we had pulled off a surprisingly successful weekend! The fresh air and change of scene was so good for our spirits, we really enjoyed it. We all would love to go back in better weather and better health and explore this gorgeous part of the country a little more!