The Royal Forest of Dean, on the border of Gloucestershire and Wales, is a wonderful place to explore if you’re in a wheelchair or on a mobility scooter that is just a little bit rugged. It is one of the few areas of ancient woodland in England, and was the special preserve of the King, so he could indulge in his passion for hunting without having his picnics ruined by wandering serfs and vassals.
Much of the forest is managed by the Forestry Commission now, rather than the king, and these days they have developed a much kinder approach to their woodlands than was true after the Second World War. The Commission now welcomes people and wildlife into the woods, and you are able to wander for miles along forest roads and tracks.
These trackways are so extensive that it is unnecessary to specify any route in particular. You can drive along any road and find dozens of forest tracks, all of which are worth exploring.
We have just got back from a week in a cottage in the middle of the trees, near the village of Yorkley, on the south-east edge of the Forest. Here, you can find silence, solitude, and real darkness at night, all difficult things to find these days.
Wheel yourself down any of these paths and you will experience that strange forest-thing – a world where every step creates a new view and, at the same time, where every view is the same. This is why it is easy to get lost in a forest, and why it touches a deep and ancient heart of fear in us all.
If you move slowly and quietly, you may well see wild boar. If you ask locals, they will have seen hundreds of them just where you were walking. Last week. I didn’t see one, but then, my eyesight is not too good, and it gives me an excuse to go back!