A Year in the Forest of Dean

A secret gem, sitting in South West England, nestles in hills between the southern mountains of Wales and the wide River Severn. The Forest of Dean is a location many around the world may recognise, since it’s been a location used in several popular movies, including Star Wars and the Harry Potter franchise.

You’ll find it easily on Google Maps.

My wife and I moved here around 3 years ago, when we fell in love with the place during our search for a new home in which to spend our retirement. The following pictures depict a small portion of the forest through a year. All were taken within a mile radius of our house.

January:

01 JanLong winter shadows lead the way over fallen beech leaves with their bare branches above.

02 JanAir trapped in a frozen puddle produces an abstract design along a sheltered pathway.

03 JanThis plantation of fir trees, devoid of much of the undergrowth that spreads beneath the broadleaved trees, carries a magical air where walkers may wander free of tracks and pathways.

February:

o1 FebWinter sunlight haloes a tall beech standing on the edge of an ancient quarry, long abandoned by the delvers of stone who once made the hills ring with their hammers.

02 FebIvy, and a few russet leaves, decorate the smooth bark of a beech with the tangle of smaller trees in the background.

03 FebA muddy trail, frequented by dog walkers, wild boar and deer runs between a stand of firs and a patch of mixed forest under winter sunshine.

March:

01 MarMature beeches will keep a steep hillside free of bracken and brambles once those bare boughs bear the dense canopy so typical of this species.

02 MarA less frequented trail leads around and between rough birch, young oak and growing beech trees.

03 MarA wide track, used by cyclists, follows the route of what was once a railway line. Signs of the industrial past of the forest are often hard to see now.

April:

01 AprThe roots of an ancient beech tree covered with moss soak up the early spring sunshine as a boar path curves around them.

02 AprSilver and rough birch trees contrast their black and white bark against the fresh green of spring foliage and undergrowth.

03 AprBluebells grow in profusion in many areas of the forest, their startling colour often providing a carpet beneath the trees.

May:

01 MayPonds reflect the trees that surround them, and small platforms of wood await the arrival of fishermen to catch the wild denizens that live in these bright places.

02 MayHere and there the history of the forest declares its industrial past. Mireystock Bridge takes a track over what was once a railway line leading to a tunnel, now a waterway and no more in use.

03 MayBracken unfurls as the spring sun brings this ancient plant back to life.

01 JunAn old and weathered oak dwarfs younger pines as the summer sun dapples the tracks.

02 JunFoxgloves grow wild among the bracken and shrubs that fill many of the small clearings.

03 JunAnother part of what was once the railway line, now used by walkers and cyclists. The wall to the right is a sign of the endurance of Victorian building work.

July:

01 JulThere are tracks both sides of the steep valley that houses our village. Sometimes, a gap opens up to display the opposite side under the summer sunshine.

02 JulIn summer, the fishing ponds fill with the leaves and flowers of water lilies, attracting frogs, demoiselle flies and bright blue and green and orange dragonflies.

03 JulThe mud of winter is hardened by the summer sun as a trail passes through tall fir trees surrounded by bracken.

August:

01 AugThe setting sun of an evening sky shows evidence of the trails of earlier planes taking their passengers to lands across the sea.

02 AugEven in the dark shadows under the older firs, the bracken thrives, providing cover for the shy deer and the wild boar that roam freely.

03 AugHorton Bridge carries the wide track over an ancient water course that generally disappears in the summer months.

September:

01 SepThe broadleaved trees begin slowly to turn green leaves through the autumn spectrum as daylight shortens and temperatures slowly lower.

02 SepAn early mist shrouds the distant path as deep shadow lends an air of mystery to the trail beneath the trees.

03 SepSeptember evening sunshine makes walks a real pleasure as the shadows and patches of light dapple the way.

October:

01 OctFallen beech leaves cover the trail whilst smaller trees keep their green coats awaiting the cooler weather.

02 OctAn old beech spreads its heavy boughs over rocks on the floor of a long abandoned quarry.

03 OctFaint mist lingers among the many colours that autumn presents.

November:

01 NovThe cooler days and nights have yet to detach the leaves from this tree at the edge of one of the fishing ponds.

02 NovStout fences guard unwary walkers and cyclists as they cross one of the bridges over a wide track beneath.

03 NovA spreading beech still bears green leaves, though the carpet beneath declares that many have already fallen.

December:

01 DecThe days are shorter, shadows longer, but winter sunshine continues to brighten the forest.

02 DecAs the sun goes down in late afternoon, dark clouds threaten a storm.

03 DecSnow comes at last, weighing down old branches and threatening the trees with breaks.

It’s difficult to imagine that until the 1950s this small valley was home to iron and coal mines, metal working, and a thriving, busy railway. Since industry left, the Forestry Commission has taken control of the land. Ancient trees that once stood alone, amongst the noise and smoke of heavy industry, are now surrounded by wild native trees and those planted by the foresters.

Walking the valley these days, most visitors are unaware of the busy past; little remains of that history on the ground. Though, if you know where to look, and what the signs are, you can still detect remains of that busy period. Now, however, the pervading atmosphere is one of calm and serenity; a place to forget the troubles and noise and bustle of the world and to enjoy the peace, watch and listen to the wildlife, stand in silence enhanced only by the wind, birdsong, and the gentle burble of small brooks tumbling down the hills.

This year, 2018, is expected to see the introduction of British beavers into a small part of the forest, just a half mile from our home. It’s intended they’ll regulate the flow of the brook with their natural dams and prevent a repeat of the floods that last assailed the village of Lydbrook in November of 2012. They’re also expected to alter the habitat of small area they’ll inhabit and encourage new wildlife, maybe even kingfishers to skim and fish in the clear waters they’ll produce. Let’s hope so, anyway.

I hope this wander through the forest I walk in almost every day has given you a flavour of this small patch of our precious planet. We’re custodians of this wonderful world and can do much as individuals to help it remain a pleasant place for our children to inherit.

I welcome your comments, observations and will do my best to answer your questions.

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Stuart Aken is a writer of (mostly) fiction in many different genres. His books can be found via his website, here.  He also posts on language use for both writers and those students learning the English language. You’ll find him on Facebook, here. And on Goodreads, here.  He’s active on Twitter, here. And has many contacts on LinkedIn, here. He is very happy for interested people to join him on any or all of these social networks. His early career was as a photographer, a passion he continues as a semi-professional maker of pictures these days. If you’ve enjoyed his photographs here, you might like to explore those he has for sale at very reasonable prices on the Picfair.com site, here.

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