It was an easy mistake to make: “If you’re good on the cycle and eat up all your lunch then we can go to the adventure playground at the end of the day”. Cue…. all-day whinging about going to the adventure playground. Parenting 101 epic fail.
But other than that this was a most awesome trip. Morts and I had so thoroughly enjoyed our last expedition to the Forest of Dean that we couldn’t wait to come back, this time with our own mountain bikes (last time we had hired them). We also had additional company – my sister, hubbie and two little ones Charlie and Harry and Mulberry the dog – all of whom were up for a spot of camping and some mountain-biking action.
Despite the best laid plans, at the very last minute poor Morts had had to go into work (boooooo). But Oskar was so excited about the prospect of camping with his cousins again and I was happy for some twin time, so we cracked on with our camping plans, leaving a sad-faced Adventure Daddy clutching his laptop and heading for home.
Sans Morts, we went back to the very same campsite that we’d stayed in before – Rushmere Farm – a simple but lovely place to call home for the night. The chickens were still roaming the farm and the fields around the camping field were full of beautiful horses of all breeds (the farmer here specialises in horse carriages for weddings/funerals and films). It was incredibly quiet with only two other pitches and made for a peaceful stay (if you discount our own rowdy, over-excited toddlers).
Having pitched our tent, and Cath and James having popped their camper, we headed 7 minutes drive down the road to Cannop Cycle Centre, the uber-cool hub of mountain-biking in the Forest of Dean. There’s something about mountain bikers and all their gear – they just look so cool! It gave me aspirations of investing a little more time and effort into my mountain biking (just so I could justify getting the gear!) but alas I fear I may never be that ruggedly cool.
Given we arrived fairly late, we just let the kids attempt the small ‘skills area’ for little people – with lots of bumps, jumps, graded bends and slopes for them to whizz around. Oskar had only learnt to ride his ‘big boy’ bike the weekend before (!!) so this was testing him a little bit and my heart was firmly wedged in my mouth as he flew round the corners, with me running alongside him. Luckily however, we both escaped the experience relatively unscathed (note to self – I really must teach him how to use his breaks!)
After this we headed to Beechenhurst Lodge – half a mile from the Cannop Cycle Centre, so that the kids could have a run around in the adventure playground and we could discuss our plans for the following day. It’s a great location – good café, great playground, great walking trails, Gruffalo trail, trees to clamber over, space to kick a ball around, and it generally has a good buzz of activity. With the boys sufficiently worn out we headed back to the campsite to make some dinner.
We had a lovely night at the camp – it was a beautiful sunny evening, the boys had great fun playing with the toy ride-on tractors that were there at the farm and we sat in the sun a little with a Pimms and relaxed.
Oskar woke early the next morning so we got up and spent a lot of time stroking the horses who were lovely and tame and quite up for a cuddle.
It was a gorgeous sunny morning and we enjoyed a leisurely start – multiple cups of tea (milk for O), a double brekkie (porridge for starter and then bacon and egg sarnies), a bit of tractor time and then we started the great pack down.
We headed back to the Cannop Cycle Centre, arriving there at 11am and it was only then that we perhaps realised the error in our leisurely ways… it was RAMMED! Clearly it was a race day and the car park was full to the brim of vans loaded with bikes and gear. We couldn’t find a parking space for ages and circled for a while, but eventually we found somewhere. Though again we realised our rookie error as we didn’t have change for the car-parking machines so had to queue up for ages in the busy café queue to get change to come back out and park. Note to future users – get there much earlier and bring change! (costs are £5 for up to 4 hours and £7 all day).
It took us so long to get organized that we ended up having lunch on one of the picnic benches outside the cycle centre before we left (more for the kids than for us). Cath and James also picked up the ‘tag along bike’ from the Pedalabikeaway Cycle Hire place that they’d order online the day before from (don’t even bother trying to oragnise this in person at the place, all bookings must be taken online). Anyway, eventually we headed off and hit the Family Cycle Trail.
Once back in the forest, the carnage of the car park and cycle centre faded and we whizzed along the lovely wide trails with only the sound of birds tweeting and Oskar whinging about going back to the playground.
The Family Cycle Trail was as perfect as I remember it – an 11 mile circuit through stunning forest on lovely wide, flat paths. Make sure you do complete it in a clockwise direction though as the loop is a very gradual ascent for the first half (so gentle you don’t even notice it) and then lots of whooshing lovely hills where you barely need to peddle on the second half. We encountered a few red-faced people who had made the decision to do it in the counter-direction and who were clearly very much regretting it!
We stopped a number of times enroute to have a poke around the forest, build dens, eat snacks and just appreciate where we were and we still completed the trail in three hours. Perfect for little ones.
None of ours were cycling this themselves; Charlie was on the Tag-Along bike, Oskar was on the back of mine and Harry on the back of Cath’s bike, but the path would be entirely do-able for slightly older kids. Mulberry was in her absolute element and spent the entire day galloping along beside us.
Having completed the Family Trail, we did head back to the Adventure Playground (much to Oskar’s delight) to give the boys another run around. We then celebrated our great weekend with an ice-cream before getting back in the car and heading home to a sad and hard-working Adventure Daddy.
Once again it had been an absolutely brilliant trip and I know that we will be heading back to the Forest of Dean again very soon… perhaps one time even without the little ones so we can have a go at some of the more challenging terrain (that will need some more gear right?!) ;o)