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Foraging in the Forest of Dean

Over the last couple of years the once peasant practice of foraging has become popular again as a pastime, with the likes of Hugh Fearnley-Whittingstall and Antonio Carluccio showing us the feasts to be found in forest and field. There are few better places in Britain than the ancient Forest of Dean for such a jaunt, but for the uninitiated trying the fruits of fungi foraging is dangerous, so it’s well worth finding an expert guide – we list a couple below. And if you are not successful, there are plenty of hotels , restaurants and pubs where someone does the work for you. If you feel that’s cheating, self-catering may be the way forward and there are loads of options - how about Forest of Dean Cottages in Lydney ?

The Tudor Farmhouse Hotel tries to offer foragers the best of both worlds – its own restaurant where local produce features, including foraged gems like heady scented ramsons (wild garlic), and it also arranges foraging expeditions hosted by an expert, Raoul van den Brouke, whom you may have seen on TV’s The Wild Gourmet. Another good source of information is the forest’s recreation ranger. Provided you go in the right season you have a good chance of finding some interesting fungi specimens – there are over 400 occurring in the 35 square mile forest, and the broadleaved trees are famed for the ceps found there – but again, take no chances. Wild fruits including strawberries are also to be found at the right time. Wilderness Discovery in nearby Chepstow takes all this a bit further, organising ‘bushcraft experiences’ in the Forest.

For those wanting to investigate how life used to be lived in the forest – wild boar hunting, the Severn fisheries and all – the Dean Heritage Centre in Cinderford is the best bet. In September The Dean Fungus Group regularly arranges fungi study trips and forages from the museum – check in advance for times and availability.

There are a very few wild boar in the Forest again, reintroduced a few years ago. They would have been a real boon for our hunting ancestors, but for modern visitors they are something to avoid – foul tempered, aggressive, and potentially dangerous, keep away if you are (un)lucky enough to spot them.

Part of the Forest scene for centuries have been the Verderers and Freeminers, those locals with rights to graze animals or mine there. The beautiful Speech House , now a hotel, still hosts the Verderers’ Court in one of the rooms guests dine in.

Fishing in the Forest of Dean is another way to fend for yourself. Combine that activity with a stay in a top hotel – Malswick Mill in Tibberton has river and lake fishing (including for brown trout) free for guests; and Dark Barn Lodge in Rudford is another hostelry which can provide guests with similar piscatorial facilities.

Not exactly classical foraging, but a visit to the Three Choirs Vineyard , which has its own hotel and a renowned eaterie too, will give better results than crushing some berries and hoping for wild fermentation. Some of England’s best wines are produced here on their 100 acres of vines, and there’s a brewery too, so call in favours when designating a driver.

As with all breaks in Britain the weather cannot be guaranteed, but pubs like the Wyndham Arms Hotel , parts of which date back to the 13th century, mean that the attractions inside are just as interesting. If the weather is on your side, however, the Forest of Dean is a great place for walks and for cycling , with miles of paths free from motorised vehicles – and it’s far easier to spot a mushroom or wild strawberry from a bike than a car!

Forest of Dean Recreation Manager - (tel) 01594 833057 Wilderness Discovery - Alan Cree - (tel) 01291 628801

Places to stay nearby:
Wyndham Arms Hotel, Clearwell
Speech House, Coleford

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