Dean on the England south Wales border was probably one of England's earliest industrial areas, with iron production taking place here from around 500BC. A method was discovered for producing iron in small batches, with iron ore placed in pans, covered in charcoal and then blown with bellows. Charcoal was one of the few fuels which could reach the high temperature required to smelt iron. The Clearwell Caves near Coleford offer tours which give an insight into the very earliest iron workings in England - visiting details below. Eventually whole forests were cleared to provide charcoal for iron making. Even though Dean was managed for hundreds of years as a royal hunting forest, first created by the Normans, royal protection could not prevent felling of woodland. The Forest of Dean was perhaps the last refuge of the Wildwood which once covered the whole of ancient Britain. Oliver Rackham in History of the Countryside thinks the last of the true Wildwood survived in the Forest of Dean. But tree cover was almost all gone by the mid seventeenth century, chopped down to provide charcoal. From the Middle Ages until the eighteenth century Dean developed into one of the most important industrial regions in Britain. Underneath the Forest of Dean today is a worked out coal field. Abandoned iron workings can also be seen in some places. Hopewell Colliery Museum, commemorates the mining which was carried out here for centuries. There is also an ancient ironworks preserved at Whitecliff near Coleford. This site is owned by the Dean Heritage Centre Trust, and viewing is by appointment only. Contact details below.
It was during the Napoleonic wars of the nineteenth century that the Forest of Dean saw a return of widespread woodland. About thirty million acorns were planted to ensure future supplies of wood for building of Royal Navy ships. Ironically the oaks that grew were not needed, as iron and steel replaced timber in ship building. The huge oak plantations once destined for the navy can still be seen in the Cannop Valley, now one of the most beautiful parts of the Forest of Dean.
When Dean was part of the Wildwood, forests were viewed with fear by people who had to live beside and within them. Stories portrayed woods as dark and frightening places. Today, in contrast, forests are places of refuge and recreation. Perhaps it is fitting that the modern fairytale of Harry Potter, whilst having the usual dark forests full of dangerous beasts, should also have the Forest of Dean presented in a benign way. Dean is remembered by Hermione from a family holiday, and acts as the place of sanctuary where Harry, Ron and Hermione hide during their battle with Voldemort. Harry Potter author J.K. Rowling lived near Dean during her childhood.
Dean Heritage Centre is a good place to start exploring the forest. There are five galleries portraying forest history from the Ice Age to the present day. Displays outside include a forester's cottage, a charcoal burner's camp and a replica of a traditional Dean "free mine" dug into the hillside to extract coal. Maps can be obtained from the centre for Cannop Valley Trail, Hopewell Colliery Museum, and Clearwell Caves. The castle at St Briavels is also interesting. This was the headquarters of the constables of the forest, and a hunting lodge for visiting kings.
Dean Heritage Centre
Directions: Dean Heritage Centre is just off the A4227 at Soudley. Click here for an interactive map centred on the Forest of Dean Heritage Centre.
Opening Times: Please use contact details below.
Address: Dean Heritage Centre, Camp Mill, Soudley, Gloucestershire GL14 2UB
Access: There is level access to all galleries. Adapted toilet facilities are provided.
telephone: 01594 822170
Directions: Clearwell Caves are one and a half miles south of Coleford off the B4228.
Opening Times: 11th February to 4th November, seven days a week, 10am - 5pm. For Christmas Fantasy open 1st to 23rd December 10am - 5pm. On 24th December and from 27th December to 6th January 2013 open 10am - 4pm.
Address: Clearwell Caves, near Coleford, Royal Forest of Dean, Gloucestershire GL16 8JR
Access: Contact the site to discuss your needs.
telephone: 01594 832535
fax: 01594 833362
web site: http://www.clearwellcaves.com/index.html
Directions: One and a half miles west of Speech House on the B4226.
Opening Times: March to October, 10am - 4pm.
Address: Hopewell Colliery, Cannop Hill, Coleford, Gloucestershire GL16 7EL
Access: Contact the site for advice. Hard hats and lamps are provided.
telephone: 01594 810706