We had a great time at Dean Heritage Centre earlier this month, as part of our stay in the Wye Valley.
The weather wasn’t so good, with on and off showers throughout the day – but we still managed to entertain ourselves for four and a half hours at the popular attraction.
An hour or so from Cardiff, the Gloucestershire centre is dedicated to exploring the history of the Forest of Dean, from the Ice Age, right through to the present day.
As such, it’s a real mix of everything, part museum gallery, part outdoor living history museum, part outdoor adventure playground and family-friendly woodland walk.
We arrived at around 11am and, as it was raining, decided to explore the five indoor museum galleries. The first of these depicts pre-historic and early history, with fossilised remains of the plants and animals that once inhabited the area, as well as pre-historic tools. The second explores medieval to 18th century history, including the history of the area as Royal Medieval hunting forest. The third is dedicated to industry and society, from Victorian times onwards, including much of its mining past. The fourth is from world war two to the present day, and the looks at power and transport from the 1800s, including working models demonstrating the use of steam power. I think this was my children’s favourite.
With the sun starting to appear, we headed past the working water wheel (which fascinated Little Man O, my 5½-year-old middle child), and on to the Gruffalo Trail. The depiction of Julia Donaldson and Axel Scheffler’s famous book is naturally one of the centre’s main attractions for families with young children and the trail was really well thought out.
The buggy-friendly trail ventures through the trees along the side of the river. I loved that the numerous wooden carvings not only depicted scenes straight out of the book but were also accompanied by the story itself printed on large boards along the way.
The end of the trail led us across a brilliant wobbly wooden bridge and into the children’s outdoor adventure playground. Little Miss E, 7, and Little Man O loved the wooden see-saw in particular, while Toddler liked the wooden hut and the fact that dotted around the playground were carvings of all the food eaten by The Very Hungry Caterpillar, which is one of his favourite books.
We learned that back in the 13th century, local people could claim to be a free miner, and would be entitled to mine for iron coal or stone in the Forest, in exchange for paying royalties for the minerals they dug from the ground.
We also found the charcoal burner’s camp. During the charcoal burning season, charcoal burners lived next to their stacks in small huts, watching the stacks while they burned.
There’s also a living history museum area, with an old Victorian school room, where children can dress up and sit on the wooden benches, and a reconstructed Victorian cottage showing what life was like for miners in the area. These reminded me of our own St Fagans National History Museum here in Cardiff, really bringing history to life in such a visual and interactive way. Miss E in particular loved them.
From there, we went to visit the pigs and then the rain set in again, so we ventured into the arts and crafts hut, opposite the cottage. This is used a lot by visiting schools for workshops, but we were pleased to see we could make our own trees from card and tissue paper, as well as little faces on circular discs of wood.
With so many different elements to the site, there will be something to appeal to everyone. However, the downside is that we felt certain aspects could be further expanded – so more of the reconstructed historical buildings, for example. (Or maybe we in South Wales are just spoiled from having St Fagans on our doorstep!)
That said, we were there for a good four and a half hours (including lunch at the onsite café, which we paid for ourselves) and the various indoor elements means the weather didn’t affect our enjoyment too much. I think we all learned a lot but in a fun and engaging way.
Dean Heritage Centre, Camp Mill, Soudley, Gloucestershire, GL14 2UB. See the website for details.
Entry (with gift aid) as of March 2017 is £8 for adults, £7 for children, £6 for children aged 3-16, free for under 3s. A family of four costs £25 and five £30.
Thanks to Dean Heritage Centre and Wye Dean tourism for inviting us along.
See also our other posts on our stay in the Wye Valley – the lovely Foxes Reach Cottage we stayed at, and our day at Wye Valley Butterfly Zoo and The aMazing Hedge Puzzle, and last year’s trips to Tintern Abbey, Puzzlewood, Perrygrove Railway and International Centre for Birds of Prey.
See here for all our UK family travel posts.