Gloucestershire – you are the chosen one!
Note to self… when going on a cycling micro-adventure, remember the padded shorts! OK, so my derriere may be a little bruised, but try to stop me smiling!
This momentous weekend marked the official beginning of our self-imposed Cross County Challenge and the big decision of which county to head to first. With Autumnal colours all around us it seemed an obvious decision to head to a forest and with Oskar loving his balance bike so much at the moment, we decided upon a biking adventure. Put those ingredients together and within a few hours radius of Oxfordshire you have the stunning Forest of Dean; hence Gloucestershire became our first county!
At this time of year, not a lot of campsites are still open so definitely check before you head out (Cool Camping is always a great place to check). We stayed at Rushmere Farm at Coleford, on the western fringe of the forest and it was a great option; small, quiet and family run. We were welcomed by the lovely Margaret who showed us to our available pitch (the whole field!). With horses in surrounding fields, chickens clucking about, and even a small ride on John Deere tractor, Oskar approved of our choice. The wash block was absolutely spotless, with hot showers (not that we used them!), a well-equipped washing up area and baby-change facilities. It was a simple but lovely campsite, and well-located for some forest-adventures.
The Forest of Dean attracts mountain-bikers of all abilities from miles around, and the Cannop Cycle Centre is where they all congregate. With a hire venue, café, shop, outdoor coffee bar, and repair centre, it is an absolute hive of activity. The place is full of mud-splattered bikers with the latest gear, meeting, drinking coffee, eating some great looking food, planning their trip, doing repairs, and either beginning their ride, or finishing up and sharing the highs and lows of their adventure. It just had such a cool vibe about it, that even though we were utter novices on hire bikes and with a toddler, we enjoyed the buzz and felt part of this fun sport.
We hired our bikes from Pedalabikeaway based at the centre, who were highly efficient and clearly had a great system going, catering for the continual stream of adventure-seekers. Hire online in advance as there is no capacity to do so at the centre itself. You can hire bikes for half a day (3 hours for £14) or a full day (£19). We also hired a toddler seat for my bike for £4.
We cycled the Family Trail, which does exactly what it says on the tin. It is an 11 mile circular route that is well surfaced and perfect for families and kids to cycle. The route takes you along the old Severn and Wye railway line, passing former stations at Speech House, Cannop Wharf and Drybrook Road. There’s loads to stop off and explore en-route, endless den-building opportunities, and some cool little tracks and activities you can dip into, such as tree slalom paths and a skills track. The trail was stunning during autumn and I basically spent the whole route uttering “this is beautiful…. look at the colours….”, while in between demands for snacks, Oskar kept saying “this is nice Mummy”.
If you don’t fancy 11 miles and want something slightly shorter then try the Hicksters Way Loop, which uses a section of the Family Trail. This circular trail is 5 miles long, and also starts at the Cannop Cycle Centre.
On the Sunday we also stopped off at Beechenhurst Lodge (about 5mins cycle from the cycle centre) to follow the Stick Man Trail and to let Ozzie loose in the great little adventure playground, which was a great way to wrap up our cycle and let Oskar stretch his legs.
We couldn’t recommend the Forest of Dean enough – it is totally accessible for bikers of all ages and abilities and has something for everyone. Indeed, if you don’t even want to cycle, the family trail would make a great loop walk, with hundreds of other options to explore.
For further information, check out: http://www.wyedeantourism.co.uk/outdoors_family_cycle