First published in: The Times Click here to view a map for this walk in a new window
The Sculpture Trail in the heart of the Forest of Dean was a pioneering project when it first opened in 1986. The artists’ brief was to respond to the Forest, an ancient mineral-rich woodland between Wye and Severn whose atmosphere is full of latency and ‘otherness’.
Some of those initial works have been absorbed organically by the place; twenty remain, with more planned, strung out along a winding path – a giant seatless chair on a hillock, charred boats in an old coal mine drain; a tall staircase to nowhere, then a whole oak tree felled, sawn and reconfigured into a neat jenga-stye pile. These artefacts in such a natural setting could be an intrusive annoyance, but somehow they work together to reinforce the air of secrecy and mystery that the Forest exudes so powerfully.
On a cold winter day under a blue sky netted with the bare limbs of oak, beech and silver birch we walked the circuit as far as the installation named ‘Cathedral’, a big stained glass window suspended between the pine trees and glowing with sunlight. From here we crossed the road that bisects the Forest and headed south past Speech House Lake among the Inclosures – areas where the growing trees were once fenced off against grazing animals. The Forest of Dean has its own laws and customs, enforced by traditional wardens known as Verderers, and Forest-born locals – the ‘Foresters’ – jealously guard their rights to graze their animals and to mine for coal, iron and stone as, when and where they see fit.
We followed forest paths and the trackbeds of old industrial railways between the trees to New Fancy Colliery, where the great spoil tip is now a greened-over hillock with a superb view from its summit across a purple and green ocean of treetops. The goshawks that hunt hereabouts were elsewhere today. But by the side of the homeward path we spotted what looked like a tight coil of rope, patterned with black diamonds – a male adder, still sunk deep in hibernatory half-consciousness as it waited for spring and the mating season.
Start & finish: Beechenhurst Lodge Visitor Centre, Speech House Road (B4226), near Coleford, Glos GL16 7EJ (OS ref SO 614121)
Getting there: Bus service 30 (Cinderford-Coleford). Road: Beechenhurst Lodge is on B4226 between Cinderford (A4151) and Coleford (A4136).
Walk (9 miles, easy, OS Explorer OL14): From Visitor Centre follow Sculpture Trail (leaflet map/guide available from Centre; blue-ringed posts/waymarks). From Sculpture 16, ‘Hanging Fire’ (624126), walk to B4226. Right for 100m; left into car park just east of Speech House Hotel. Ahead through gate (623122) into Cyril Hart Arboretum. Ahead for 150m to next gate; don’t go through, but turn right along path. In 400m, through gate (622118); left (SE) along Spruce Ride. In 300m, over a crossroads; in another 300m, right (627115) on path along left (east) shore of Speech House Lake. At end of lake fork left with ditch, then fence on left for 400m to T-jct (628109); right for 100m, then left for 300m to meet cycleway (628105). Path runs beside it for ½ mile to 6-way junction of tracks (631099). Right here along surfaced track. In 300m, right (630096, ‘New Fancy Picnic Site’); in 200m, fork left into car park. Follow ‘Viewpoint’ to summit lookout (629095).
Back to car park, and to road entrance (627095). Left along road for 150m; right through gate, and on west along trackway. In ½ mile descend to track (619097); left for 30m; at ‘Three Brothers’ sign, right (north) along rising grass track for nearly 1 mile. At junction, take 2nd right (618111) along waymarked ‘Gloucestershire Way’/GW. In 400m it forks left (618114, GW, yellow arrow/YA) off hard-surfaced track onto grassy/muddy ride. Continue north for 400m to cross stile (618119); left on path through trees, down to track; right to cross B4226 (take care!) to car park and Visitor Centre.
Lunch: Speech House Hotel on B4226, half a mile east of Beechenhurst Lodge (01594-822607; thespeechhouse.co.uk)
More info: Beechenhurst Lodge (01594-833057)
www.satmap.com; ramblers.org.uk; LogMyTrip.co.uk