JRR Tolkien is reputed to have taken his inspiration for the fabled forests of Middle Earth from Puzzlewood. Travel for less than an hour from Bristol and enter the fantasy world within this enchanting ancient woodland
Autumn’s cool, misty arrival had put a spring in my step – even if it meant skidding on damp leaves. Trekking to work along tree-lined Coronation Road was no substitute for the real deal: I wanted to go into the wood.
Not Leigh Woods. Somewhere further away, across the Severn Bridge where countries and counties blend hazily around the River Wye, and castle ruins reverberate to the crow’s call.
Puzzlewood, nestled deep within the Forest of Dean, had been used as a backdrop for fantasy productions like Merlin and was rumoured to be an inspiration for Tolkien’s Lord of the Rings.
It was less than an hour’s drive away so after railroading my other half into the driver’s seat on a bright Sunday morning, we shot up the B4228 to arrive for 10am opening time.
Many charming farm animal attractions were located near the wood’s entrance but the goats and donkeys only got a cursory glance as we headed into the dingle dell.
We found ourselves enveloped within a surreal world of collapsed lime, ash and yew branches, tangled vines, and rocks that looked like they had erupted out of the damp earth. Everything within its crazy canopy was coated in shades of mossy green, glistening from the previous day’s rain and shimmering in the morning sun.
There was no need to go ‘Bear Grylls’ and try to climb through the jungle-like terrain – old pathways maintained by staff meant we could meander between eroded caves used as long ago as the Iron Age, step gingerly along wooden bridges and peer from higgledy-piggledy vantage points.
Thanks to our early arrival we felt like we were the only ones there, stepping through a scene from a folk-tale book, hearing only the occasional call from a bird of prey. The resident badgers must have been snoozing feet below and we didn’t encounter another soul until families started arriving just before 11am.
The proximity of attractions within the Forest of Dean and Wye Valley enable more exploration beyond Puzzlewood. Canoeing and cream teas are only seven miles away at Symonds Yat, while the atmospheric mediaeval remains of Goodrich Castle are also less than 20 minutes away by car.
As they sky darkened in the late afternoon we headed south on the A466 beside the Wye River, stopping at the Anchor Inn for some roast lamb and a cider in the shadow of Tintern Abbey. Bilbo Baggins would definitely have approved.
Puzzlewood, Perrygrove Road, Coleford, GL16 8QB