Mountainbiking in the Forest of Dean last weekend was a real treat – acres of bluebells everywhere, sunshine and shelter from the gusty winds.
The oddest thing was the peace.
I’ve often pedalled around the Forest trails without seeing a soul – mostly in the winter, I admit – but I suppose it was the contrast between last weekend and the May Bank Holiday weekend – when the world was at play in the Forest – that made the utter solitude seem exceptional.
I had to stop occasionally just to take in the vast drifts of bluebells interspersed with tiny white stitchwort flowers.
It was 45 minutes before I even saw another person.. and another half an hour before I met two other cyclists, a guy and a woman, who stopped to ask directions to the Cycle Centre.
“Take the next left, hurtle down the hill and then wiggle around to the left before taking the left at the T junction – through the gate then right, then left, then right and along that track until you see a sign to the Cycle Centre,” I told him.
“You don’t come here very often then?” he replied.
“Nah, hardly ever.”
I likes bone-dry humour.
I got a bit lost several times, actually, but that’s what makes it an adventure. The trick is to embrace suddenly finding oneself in the ass-end of nowhere and keep riding until you recognise something… possibly Coleford, conceivably Cinderford, occasionally Lydbrook!
I haven’t been riding with Bob for ages but we’d find ourselves generally off piste, tonking on up hill and down dale when he’d see a bit of stonework sticking out of the grass and announce “Trafalgar!” or the name of one of the many other old colliery sites, long since destroyed and abandoned.
Last weekend, areas which had been familiar were no longer so because of forestry activity. Grassy lumpy old trails had been transformed into wide gravel roads suitable for massive vehicles – and oddly, ahead of me at one point near Mallard’s Pike was a cluster of a dozen people who looked like they’d escaped from an early 60’s sci-fi film. They stood straight and tall, daintily holding on to waist-high handlebars while rumbling along on their segways. They were all wearing helmets. I suppose it was always likely that some reckless fool would try to take a corner at 5mph.
If I had to choose between Forest activities, I’d prefer llama trekking to a segway safari. Segways aren’t really built for anything but paths whereas llamas are built for rough terrain, rocks, tantrums and spitting. Not unlike some mountainbikers, actually. Not me, though, I’m adding hastily. I only do rocks at the seaside.. and then they have to be flat.
Other surprises in the Forest recently included a snuffly amiable band of kune kune piglets and a parrot. The parrot was on a sign – something to do with a rainforest project, which is fine for kids but made me think that actually, let’s just teach people about the Forest of Dean first.
There’s something about the font and style of ‘You’re in the Forest of Dean’ signs that smacks of childrens’ TV and dumbing down. I don’t like it. The Forest deserves respect for the unique beautiful historic important place that it is… not just used as a tool to bang on about preservation of rainforests.
But enough of my stuffy pompous-sounding grumblings. At least the Forest is still here for all to enjoy, whatever your age or interest – apart from hang-gliding. It’s rubbish for hang-gliding.
Nature’s bike rack
Another bike rack. Not my bike though.
Not boaring you. This chap’s a kune kune.