Last Friday we packed up our bags, picked everyone up from school and nursery ready to hit the road and drive the short distance from Somerset/Bristol to the Forest of Dean. It couldn't have come at a better time, Rob had been away all week for work, our weekends have been all over the place and it really felt like we needed to reconnect as a family. Planning holidays usually takes quite a bit of effort for us (like most families!) but we really have to consider travel time as Rohan doesn't do very well in the car for long distances, so travelling for just over an hour to somewhere we've not really explored before was perfect.
We had the whole weekend ahead of us to unwind, explore and spend time together all in a beautiful setting. Whilst even though it's so close we've not really properly explored this area before, more skirted around the edges whilst visiting my Mum, who lives not too far away in Malvern. It's always been one of those places I'd heard of but not realised that it was quite so close as it is!
We were lucky enough to be invited to spend the weekend at the Forest Holidays Park near Coleford, which proved to be an excellent base for lots of exploring, as all of the places we visited were less than 15 minutes drive from here and there was so much to do. We were staying in a woodland cabin and realised that this meant it came with a hot tub, much to all of our excitement! I don't think we've ever quite been the family to holiday in places with hot tubs, or know anyone with one, so it was still a total novelty. The cabin itself was beautiful, with so much open space, floor to ceilings windows that perfectly framed the view of the forest behind. There was a wood burning stove, a fully equipped kitchen, and in our two bed cabin we had an en suite bathroom as well as a main with a bath. There was everything you'd need to stay a week or more! It definitely exceeded our expectations!
Once we'd settled in and unpacked we ordered some pizza from the main reception (which had it's own bar and cafe), to be delivered to our cabin so we could enjoy an evening in. We brought our own food too for the rest of the weekend, which really helps to keep costs down, but having one little treat on the first night was great. Once we'd settled Rohan into bed we enjoyed dinner, then hopped into the hot tub that had been warming up all day. It was a perfect way to unwind and really feel like we were on holiday, that and a glass or two of prosecco!
The next morning after a lazy breakfast we headed a short drive away (under 10 minutes) to Pedalabikeaway Cycle Centre to hire bikes for the morning and explore the forest on two wheels. The service was brilliant as they checked and fitted all of our bikes, including swapping to a trailer for Rohan as we felt he'd enjoy it a little more this way, and give Onyx a rest if he needed it! We were soon all set up and on our way, deciding to take the ten mile family trail round the forest. It was a great distance for us, taking around an hour and a half (with a few stops!) and provided us with such stunning scenery. The trail was also relatively quiet, with us being the only users on it for good portions, which was great to feel like we could spread out and go at our own pace. Onyx ended up running the whole way with us, he was definitely a tired pup at the end of the day! The views were just beautiful and it's so relaxing cycling through the woods, it really reminded me of a place we used to go to as a family for cycling over in Norfolk.
Once we'd returned our bikes we headed back to the cabin so Theo and Rob could head off for a forest survival session located onsite. They spent a good few hours with an expert who talked them through all sorts of skills, giving tips and advice as they walked along through the woods. Theo seemed to take so much of it in and came back chatting about all that he'd learnt, especially about fire lighting and wanting to get his own steel and flint. After building a camp fire and having a go to light it, they finished off with hot chocolate. I think they'd definitely recommend having a go at this! I just think it's so important for kids to get out in the woods and immerse themselves in it, and learn some new skills along the way.
Determined to explore as much as possible, once Theo and Rob had returned we jumped back in the car to go up the road to Puzzlewood Forest. Unfortunately they don't allow pushchairs on site, and the forest isn't accessible to wheelchairs, something which isn't very clear from their website and we were only told when we turned up, so something to bear in mind to plan for if you want to visit! It's a shame it isn't more disabled accessible, but I do understand that it's an ancient natural woodland. If we'd known we would've taken our back carrier so we could all visit the wood, but Theo and I just had a wander round instead. That being said there was a lot to do for Rohan without visiting the woods themselves, so he was happy. When we arrived we headed to the cafe for a late lunch, and sat outside in the lovely picnic area surrounded by trees. The area had a mini music garden and a great hill for rolling down which is perfect for keeping kids entertained whilst you wait for food, we stayed in this area for quite a while as it really relaxing in the late afternoon and not too busy at all.
After lunch (which was nice and well priced!) we wandered over to the playground and farm area and said hello to all the animals which was very fun...I always have a soft spot for goats! It was actually quite nice not to have the pushchair for a few hours as I think it encourages Rohan to be out on his feet and engaging in the world a little more, he is too heavy to carry in our arms constantly and I like seeing him wander about as much as possible. After the mini farm we headed to the barns where they have a few activities such as a maze that Theo and I tackled and a toddler area with lots of ride on cars and scooters which Rohan had a lot of fun on. Whilst he was entertained here Theo and I headed into the magical forest itself where we followed small winding paths taking us through the woods and off on tangents around and under the roots of these old trees. The woods was dark and mysterious, covered in moss and smelling of damp earth. We followed steps leading through between towering rocks and held hands as we explored round scary corners. It was so quiet and still, except for the occasional rustle of the undergrowth where we managed to spot little mice travelling through their tunnels and poking their heads out occasionally. The watched squirrels dart from tree to tree and just stood and marvelled the ancient trees and the magical surroundings. You can see why it's been used as a backdrop for so many films.
After we'd wandered around a while and managed not to get too lost we made our way out of the forest as it was nearing closing time. We definitely could have stayed a lot longer and explore more of the woods. I think we'll add that to our list of something to visit again, this time with a carrier for Rohan!
Come back for more soon!
We worked together with Forest of Dean & Wye Valley Tourism board for this post, in exchange for a review of local attractions and accommodation. Our cabin, entry to places and travel has been covered in exchange for the review, but I've not been paid for my time or opinions. All words and images are my own.