Secret Forest of Dean
- Mark Turner
15th June 2019
Gloucestershire’s majestic Forest of Dean lies within a triangle between the River Severn on its east side and the famous Wye Valley on its west. Evidence of the first humans here is provided by the presence of megalithic standing stones from the Bronze Age; several hillforts survive from the Iron Age; and there are numerous signs of Roman occupation as they set about exploiting the area’s natural reserves, iron-smelting and coal mining. In the medieval period, the Forest was used mainly as a royal hunting ground. By the seventeenth century, however, it was primarily used to provide timber for the ships of the Royal Navy. It was in this century, too, that the district became the setting for military activity and conflict during Civil War. From the eighteenth century, coal mining grew rapidly, providing employment for many. For most of the district’s inhabitants, however, the Forest was a place of toil, danger and grinding poverty.
A network of tramroads and railways through the Forest was created in the nineteenth century. As the twentieth century progressed, the economic mining of Forest coal became less viable, and by the mid-1960s the last of the big pits had closed. Most of the Forest’s railway lines, too, have closed. Today the district is a popular base for visitors seeking to explore the ancient Forest and neighbouring Wye Valley.
Secret Forest of Dean picks out significant aspects of the area’s history and landscape and explores its lesser-known episodes and characters.