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Meander through an ancient forest, where Nelson ordered the planting of oaks to build British man-of-war ships.
Minimum time 2h30
Distance 9.25 miles (14.9km)
Suggested map OS Explorer OL14 Wye Valley & Forest of Dean
Start/finish Car park, Pedalabikeaway Cycle Centre; grid ref: SO 606124
Trails/tracks good surfaced cycle trails
Landscape forest and woodland
Public toilets at Pedalabikeaway Cycle Centre (also showers & changing rooms)
Tourist information Coleford, tel 01594 812388
Bike hire Pedalabikeaway Cycle Centre, New Road, Forest of Dean, tel 01594 860065; www.pedalabikeaway.com
Recommended pub The Speech House Hotel, Coleford
Notes Gradual climbs and descents, one steep descent, 4 road crossings, overhanging twigs; route shared with pedestrians
© Automobile Association 2008. © Crown Copyright Licence number 100021153
Pedalabikeaway Cycle Centre is in the Forest of Dean, 3 miles (4.8km) north east of Coleford beside the B4234.
1 The cycleway is signed from beside the hire shop along a track that drops steeply to the B4234. Opposite, there is a brief but steep pull to a junction. Go left and left again to join the cycleway in the direction of Drybrook Road Station, gently rising along the course of a disused mineral railway. At Whitegates Junction, fork left, dropping with the main track to another obvious junction at which, turn sharp right. Where the track then divides, bear right, still following signs for Drybrook Road Station. Keep going, passing beneath a graceful horseshoe-shaped bridge before shortly encountering a tarmac track at Drybrook Road Station.
2 Cross and carry on along the cycleway, which is now signed to Dilke Bridge, the earlier gradual climb rewarded with a gentle descent. Soon, the forest clears and the scars of former coal workings become evident. Hazard signs warn of a crossing track hidden in a dip, the way continuing beyond the former Foxes Bridge Colliery. After a moderate descent (watch for a bend at the bottom), carry on past a junction for Cinderford Linear Park and then the outbuildings of Dilke Hospital to arrive at Dilke Bridge.
3 Beyond, more hazard signs announce a junction where a broad track joins from the left signed to Cannop Wharf. After a traffic barrier and the former Lightmore Colliery, a gate forces you to dismount. There follows a short but stiff pull, the track then bending sharply left before dropping once more past a couple of warned junctions, at the second of which, Spruce Ride to the right, offers a short-cut back via Speech House.
4 Otherwise, carry on to Central Bridge across Blackpool Brook, later reaching a crossing of tracks where Cannop Wharf and the Cycle Centre are signed right. After a turning to New Fancy picnic site, the track swings to a gate, a little distance beyond which is a road crossing.
5 Through another gate at Burnt Log, the track winds down to a fork. Keep ahead, before long coming to a notice warning of a steep descent. The main track drops through a sharply twisting 'S' bend, passing a massive ancient oak, the last survivor of The Three Brothers, where men from the nearby collieries gathered on a Sunday morning for their union meetings. Beyond, the descent continues more easily, eventually ending at a T-junction beside Cannop Wharf.
6 The Cycle Centre is signed to the right beside a couple of artificial lakes, at the top of which a car park and picnic area are laid out. As the metalled drive bends towards a road, branch off right to a crossing point over the B4226. Speech House lies 0.5 mile (800m) to the right, although you may wish to return later in the car, whilst the way back is with the continuing track. Fork left when you reach a split, gently losing height to a second junction. There go left again, dropping steeply to the road. Go slowly for there is a sharp bend at the bottom. The car park is then at the top of the rise opposite.
In 1938, the Forest of Dean was designated England's first National Forest Park, and notwithstanding its wonderfully peaceful and unspoiled setting, it is a working forest from which hundreds of tonnes of timber are harvested annually. It has also been a source of coal, and almost everywhere within the forest bears some evidence of its industrial past.
The criss-crossing leisure paths often follow the network of rail- and tramways that serviced the collieries, while heaps of spoil mark the site of the deeper workings. Contrasting with the luxuriant growth of the surrounding forest, many of these are still uncolonised except by the hardiest plants, the barren shales providing little nutrient despite the weathering of 50 years or more since they were last worked. At one time there were more than ten large pits, with countless small drift and bell mines being worked from antiquity. Although large-scale mining came to an end in 1965, anyone born within the Hundred of St Briavels, over the age of 21, and who has worked for a year and a day in a mine is still entitled to work a 'gale' in the forest as a Free Miner. The privilege was bestowed by Edward I, after forest miners helped ensure his victory at the Siege of Berwick by undermining the castle walls.
Decreed a royal hunting forest by King Canute in 1016, the Forest of Dean is steeped in a long history. Iron was smelted here before the Romans arrived and they valued not only the timber but also the abundant mineral reserves here - good-quality building stone, coal and iron ore - and began industries that continue to the present day.