Route details, maps, pubs, features, local history and folklore for a wide variety of walks focusing primarily on Norfolk and Suffolk

Tuesday, 7 November 2017

Forest of Dean Sculpture Trail Walk

Bright autumn colours

A simple 3 mile circular route in the Forest of Dean on the sides of the Cannop Valley

A walk around the Forest of Dean in Gloucestershire roughly following a trail around a series of sculptures. Trees, sculptures, views, more trees and if you are lucky wild boar, deer and sheep can be seen in this wonderful piece of woodland.

Forest of Dean Circular Walk - Essential Information

Walk Statistics:

Start point
Forest of Dean View in OS Map | View in Google Map
End Point
Forest of Dean View in OS Map | View in Google Map
Total Walk distance
4 miles
Walk difficulty
easy
Terrain
Woodland paths
Obstacles
Do not approach wild boar

Walk Data

Date of Walk
2017-11-01
Walk Time
10:30 to 12:00
Walkers
Griffmonster, Kat, Jason, DaisyMay, Dan, Anita
Weather Conditions
Bright sunny warm day

Walk Notes

This walk is a little different to the usual documented walks on this site in the fact that this was merely a visit to the forest and not a specifically planned walk. In fact the day comprised of this short walk, a visit to the New Fancy View Point, a visit to the Dean Forest Railway and a meal at the Woodsman Inn, which is included in this review despite it being a few miles distance from the actual walk. This was really a whirlwind tour of the forest area in the short time available.

The Forest of Dean is absolutely full of paths and tracks and really one could spend a full day or even a full week exploring this ancient woodland. The are long distance trails passing through the forest, designated cycle tracks and other recognised routes and walks that are published and recorded in books, pamphlets and on the web. The paths chosen on this occasion were from the Speech House Forest Car Park which seems to be a popular location in the forest, located in the part of the forest known as the Cannop Valley. This was purely a first adventure into the forest without any clear idea of where to head for, or what routes to take. Armed with an OS map, we were open to suggestion from what was set before us.

Pretty soon it was very clear that this part of the forest was dedicated to a Sculpture Trail, its purple waymarkers being located throughout the tracks and paths. This is not marked on the OS map and trying to follow these is not as straightforward as it initially appears with the waymarkers appearing to conflict with each other as they attempt to find as many sculptures hidden in the forest as they can. There is a logic to all this and for those who want to follow the full Sculpture Trail route then there is a PDF map that can be downloaded at Forestry Commission Website. I have also included the full route on ViewRanger for those with such an app of their mobile device. This can be found at Griffmonster Walks ViewRanger Track.

The sculptures associated with the trail consist of many differing structures, large and small, some on the main tracks, others hidden off the trail. There are currently said to be 17 sculptures which can be viewed throughout the trail. A further 11 are no longer visible, or have been decommissioned due to safety reasons, or have returned to the forest floor. I have to admit I get lost in trying to work out the meaning behind such works of art. Even so, they present suitable landmarks as one navigates through this section of forest and full details can be found on the Forest of Dean Sculpture Trust Website.

Given a good fine autumn day with some sunshine such as this, the trees themselves are as good as the sculptures, the shades and hues presenting a cacophony of colours to ones eyes. There are occasional views across the valleys and the intermittent sound of running water as the many streams trickle through the woods. Then one can stand still, quiet and listen intently. Maybe a rustle, maybe a movement in the fallen leaves. A quick look and one can catch sight of a bird of prey swooping down to the forest floor, or a deer shyly hiding from human eyes or maybe even one of the renowned wild boars. What more could one want.

Although wild boar became extinct in England in the middle ages, they were accidentally introduced back into the Forest of Dean in the 1990s after an escape from a wild boar farm. This was compounded with an illegal release of 60 farmed animals in 2004 which has interbred with the previous population. These are huge animals and their evidence can be seen throughout the forest and its surrounding environs. Churned up soil is the usual evidence that boar have been about and for unfortunate residents in the area it can result in torn up lawns and flower beds. Therefore keep all gates and access points closed to prevent the boar from entering areas they are not wanted. Remember that these are wild animals with sharp tusks and one should not see them as friendly or cuddly. The official advice on encountering such a beast is

  • Do not approach them - give them a wide berth either retracing ones steps or find an alternative path
  • Keep dogs on a lead
  • Do not attempt to feed them

There is no official advice on what to do if one encounters the so called Beast of Dean, the legendary creature that is said to roam the forest and is said to resemble a huge wild boar. Firstly I would guess one needs to identify that it is indeed the Beast of Dean and not a common or garden wild boar. If it is merely a large boar then one should adopt policies stated above; do not offer it food, put your dog on a lead and give it a wide berth. This seems a calm and measured approach. One can return home and proudly state to friends and family of your encounter with a large boar.

However if one encounters a beast that resembles a cross between a boar and a large cow or a stag deer and issues an unearthly roar one should adopt a different policy. Do not get confused with an actual cow, which should not be in the forest but never say never, or an actual stag deer which may well be in the forest. It has to resemble a boar but I would guess either have horns or antlers or is just generally very huge and terrifying. I guess that the technically minded generation of the 21st century would immediately grab their phone and start taking photos of the beast and uploading them to Social Media sites. This is not a recommended action when it comes to the Beast of Dean. If it really is the Beast of Dean, judging by similar reported encounters, the guideline generally appears to be to swiftly turn to face the opposite direction and then run like hell screaming in terror. One can then either keep very quiet about the event or inform the local press about encountering the Beast of Dean. There is more about this legend in the main feature to this walk.

It has to be noted that when in a forested area such as this it is very easy to become disorientated. An elderly couple of ladies we passed on this occasion were overheard to utter I don't know how we will find our way back which is very true. There were a lot of folk in the forest on this occasion which certainly was not a holiday period or weekend. Therefore we can either conclude there are a lot of folk with time to spare who know this part of the forest well or an increasing amount of folk who have been lost in the forest and have not found their way out, wandering aimlessly looking for some kind off semblance of civilisation. They may have been in there for days, weeks even. However, judging by their state of health, their clean shaven faces and happy and confident attitude, I conclude that they have either adapted to forest life in a Tarzan like manner or they know the forest tracks and are merely having a short walk. Even so, I dont give much hope to the two old ladies who were doubting how they would ever get out of the forest!

Path back to car park
Path back to car park

Directions

Simple walk through the forest. There are many tracks and paths and one can explore for as little or as long as time permits.

It would be difficult to provide specific directions for this walk other than one should attempt to follow the sculpture Trail waymarkers. There are many paths and tracks criss crossing the area and using an OS map or the ViewRanger Route provided is highly recommended. In general, follow the path westwards out of the car park and keep to this as it turns to head deeper into the forest. Keep to the path until it merges into a wider track and follow the distinctive Sculpture Trail waymarkers. There are short cuts and off shoots but they bring one back to the main route.

Tree root art
Tree root art

Pubs

The Woodman, Parkend View in OS Map | View in Google Map

Image of pub
Address
Folly Road, Parkend
Telephone
01594 563273
Food
Home cooked local produce
Website

A traditional country Inn located in Parkend opposite the cricket ground. Food available including wild boar burgers which are quite amazing. Three ales always on tap and a friendly and warm welcoming.

Review

The food here was awesome. One had spent the entire day wondering where it was possible to purchase some Wild Boar as food. We had been told of tales of such roadkill being thrown to the wayside when a trip to the local butcher with the carcass would have seemed a better policy. Then we came to the Woodmans Inn where it had been related that the chef is one of the few licensed butchers of wild boar. And there on the menu was Wild Boar Burger. It would have been rude not to have sampled such a delectation and having selected such a choice we were not disappointed. The burgers are huge and simply fall apart with their coarse delicious meat. I would highly recommend such a purchase (providing one is not vegetarian). There were three ales available and the Woodys Treat, an enjoyable light coloured ale and Downton Brewerys Pumpin ale both complimented the wild boar perfectly.

Sculprure Trail waymarker
Sculprure Trail waymarker

Features

Beast of Dean View in OS Map | View in Google Map

There appears to be many references on the internet and in popular folklore books to the so called Beast of Dean yet little in the way of citation or reference as to where the originating stories came from. Therefore the information presented here is little more than the reiteration of what is already available from other sources.

The general story states that the first reports of the so called Beast of Dean came in 1802 by the villagers of Parkend who claimed that a creature resembling a giant wild boar was felling trees, damaging hedges and flattening fences. The beast was said to issue what is described as strange beastly sounds or an unearthly roar. Depending upon the account one reads either there was no actual encounter despite organised hunts to capture the animal, or the beast was captured, killed and reported as being like no other boar. Whatever occurred, the encounters appear to have become dormant from this point up to the end of the 20th century.

The term of moose-pig has also been coined to describe the Beast of Dean, yet there appears to be no specific date when this term was adopted or from where it originated. It is an unusual name considering that the moose is not native to England. One would have thought that if this was a 19th century term it should have been a stag-pig which would have been a lot more familiar to residents around the forest at the time. It does sound like the term has been thought up by the more popular media orientated decades of the late 20th century.

The next encounter that many publications report comes from 1998 when two local men were said to have been walking through the woodland near Parkend when they were confronted by a creature the size of a cow but the resemblance of a hog. They naturally fled the scene.

Even later in 2005 it was reported that a witness encountered a beast described as a big black animal at the Pygmy Pinetum and Mireystock crossroads. Another witness reported encountering a wild pig as big as a horse.

Thus far I have found no supporting evidence of any of these accounts, or found any reports that mention the two witnesses to the 1998 encounter, namely James Nash and Marshall Davies.

This does appear to be a combination of stories that have grown out of nothing more than encounters with large wild boar. These can be huge beasts that can and do write off vehicles when they collide. Having said this, the original story from the 19th century was at the point in time when there were no wild boar in the country, their extinction occurring in the previous century.

The two accounts that have surfaced from this point in time are in conflict with each other, the second account, which states like no other boar, would indicate that boar were common at the time which is not the case, they having been hunted to extinction a century before. Some reiterations even go so far as to blatantly state that it was a wild boar that was terrorizing the area. Such tales do appear to have been embroidered over the centuries to make the story a lot more detailed when it was not. The more down to earth account from this period is no more than sounds and circumstantial evidence of a large beast which could equally have been a large deer.

However we probably should not discount the tales and stories totally. This may be a local legend handed down by word of mouth from generation to generation and not bandied around to visitors, other than a mention to heed the Best of Dean. Obviously more could be gained from talking with locals. Maybe another time and another place one could gain the confidence of an old timer and find the real tale of the Beast of Dean rather than the common plagiarism that appears to be adopted by most accounts.

References
Distant hills
Distant hills

Images

Below are a selection of images taken from from the photo album for this walk. Feel free to browse through these or click on any image to view a larger version in the Gallery.

Click on an image below to view the Image Gallery

Maps

Below is the route depicted on the OpenStreetMap, Ordnance Survey Map and Google Map. Links to full page versions are found in the Essential Information

Summary of Document Changes

Last Updated: 2017-11-15

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