Seasonal area

September 2009

Current Seasonal Area is here

The Forest of Dean is an area of incredible natural beauty and mystery; it frequently crops up in fantasy stories (either mentioned or simply used for filming) and offers a glorious wilderness, full of surprises, for showing off the wonders of imagination.

That paragraph was, of course, complete tripe (apart from the bit about the Forest constantly cropping up in fantasy stories, which it does at a rate of about one a week. None of the audience have ever been there but they know that it sounds impressive). The Forest was happily natural until sometime which nobody bothered to record; since then it has been subject to a great deal of exploitation. Trees were felled for charcoal and shipping; coal was mined for heating and iron smelting; iron was mined for weapons and machinery; limestone was quarried for converting iron to steel, for building and, eventually, for railway ballast. The boar, wolf and bear populations were exterminated; King William I made it a Royal Forest and hunted deer there; sheep amble around in a distinctly free-range manner and pootle across the road while paying no attention to the traffic. Canals never entered the Forest and even today the roads leave a lot to be desired, but the rail network developed into a densely-packed complex and there are few parts of the Forest where you are more than a mile from an abandoned railway or tramway (although, nowadays, there are also few parts of the Forest where you are within a mile of an active railway).

Shakemantle Quarry opened in 1911 and was served by the Great Western Railway's successful branch into the Forest (the unsuccessful one is detailed here). Forest industry operated sporadically at best and production of limestone ceased in 1948 after a period of quarrying interrupted by occasional lulls of 5 years or so. It replaced an earlier ironworks on the same site. Dereliction has allowed nature to begin to reclaim it with birches, buddleia, firs and brambles but it will be a few more years before the ruins of the concrete constructions around the quarry vanish. The huge cliff face is entirely artificial and, like all quarries in the Dean, is popular with rock climbers.

The last big colliery closed in the 1960s, although a few mines remained in operation. Quarrying in the area between the Severn and the Wye is still ongoing in a couple of locations. Tree felling continues, although not on the same scale; hunting has been reduced. A couple of boar escaped from a farm near Ross-on-Wye at the beginning of this century and tracks of the now very large population can be seen all over the place. Should you wander inadvertently into one of the quieter corners of the Forest, you may even encounter one - Ok, there are some surprises in the Forest and being trampled by Mrs Boar probably counts as one of them...

The animal and electricity themes are off for a bit now - we may find a new theme for side pictures in the Spring. Meanwhile, to celebrate the tenth birthday of the Order, we have started keeping a record of previous pages. See bottom.


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