Although it's a challenge to get everyone together, I've been lucky enough to make friends who enjoy a camping trip as much as I do. Luke's invitation to sleep in the "garden" of his beautiful family home was just enough to rouse them into travelling across the country to the border with Wales.
At around 110km², the Forest of Dean is one of all too few remaining areas of ancient woodland that remind us of this island's original tree-covered state. Providing habitats for all manner of native wildlife and fighting a little of our carbon emissions, it's vitally important that we protect these areas of mixed woodland. The small village of St Briavels is just in the fringes of the forest, but we didn't find ourselves short of greenery and were pleased to escape from our city lives for a weekend of fresh air.
After a week of typically British wind and showers, we'd dragged all our warmest gear from our respective corners of England, but were surprised to wake up early on Saturday morning, melting into our sleeping bags. Having arrived at around midnight, I was excited to discover where we were... Our tents, pitched in last night's drizzle, occupied a tiny patch of the meadow next to a picture-book farm house. There were fluffy chickens, a well stocked vegetable patch bursting with rhubarb and even a living willow arbour built by Luke himself. Our camping party had the air of a mini-festival and we relaxed in the sunshine as the stragglers began to arrive.
In an astonishing feat of organisation, Luke and Beth had arranged for us all* to rent canoes. After exploring a little and finding the castle, we spent some of the afternoon drifting down the
river Wye. Stretching some 215kms, this flow of water is a fittingly majestic border to divide England from Wales- thankfully lacking in immigration controls...
There were nesting swans, fluffy ducklings and by a happy accident, it was bluebell season. The woodland floor was tinged with purple and in contrast our rainy May, followed by this gorgeous sunshine, had made the foliage more vivid than usual. We paddled past the riverbank feeling like the clumsy cousins Lord of the Rings characters.
Most of all, I'd like to thank Luke's parents, Clive and Jane, for all the delicious home-cooked food and for being such friendly hosts, Luke and Beth for working so hard to make it all happen and my friends for being as bizarre and fantastic as ever. I wish you all still lived down the corridor!
You can rent canoes and kayaks for around £15 a head from Monmouth here.
If you're looking for truly unique, character-filled accommodation try staying in St Briavels Castle which amazingly has been converted into a hostel. More information and bookings on the YHA website.
There is also camping at Beeches Farm which isn't too far away and the Forest and Wye Valley site. If you were sneaky you might be able to find somewhere free.
Transport: To get around with out a car you can catch a train to Lydney or Chepstow. From here (checking the timetable online) you may be able to catch a bus. The most hassle free options might be cycling or hitchhiking.
Useful bus timetable- http://www.monmouthshire.gov.uk/app/uploads/2014/04/69-Town-Country-Bus-Ltd.pdf
*I'm sorry Bryony... next time!