If you’ve been reading Cardiff Mummy Says for any amount of time, you’ll know how much I love days out in the great outdoors and writing about them here. However, I’m prefacing this blog post with a huge Covid-related disclaimer: please stick to current lockdown rules, respect local loackdowns, the latest rules on social gatherings, which are different in England to Wales, and maintain social distancing while visiting. If it’s not possible for you to visit Beechenhurst right now, you might like to bookmark this post for the future.
Beechenhurst, in the Forest of Dean, is a brilliant place to visit. Just an hour from Cardiff, it’s one of Britain’s oldest and largest woodlands, managed by Forestry England. There’s so much for families to enjoy, meaning it’s well worth the drive. Entry is free, you just need to pay for parking, which at the time of writing is £3 for two hours, £5 for four hours or £7 all day during peak season 1 April to 31 October, or £2/£4/£5 during the off peak season of 1 November to 30 March.
Beechenhurst is famous for its woodland trails, including a sculpture trail with a huge stained glass window hanging among the trees, plus a one-mile activity trail for younger children. The current activity trail is inspired by Roald Dahl’s story of James and the Giant Peach, but previously has featured activities inspired by The Gruffalo, Superworm and other Julia Donaldson characters.
There’s a large playground with plenty of wooden play equipment, plus the woods are filled with dens made out of branches for you to play in or build your own. There’s a café, toilets, you can hire a barbecue area and, for an extra charge, take on the Go Ape Tree Top Adventure or the climbing tower (currently closed due to Covid). We’ve visited Beechenhurst a few times over the years and have always had a really good day out.
Beechenhurst is also home to a family cycle route, which was the main purpose of our most recent visit earlier this month.
Family cycle trail at Beechenhurst
The family cycle trail at Beechenhurst is a nine mile/14.5K circular route, suitable for all ages and abilities, and a perfect adventure for active families.
You can start from the visitor centre at Beechenhurst, or from Cannop Cycle Centre or Mallards Pike Lake. There’s also a shorter 5 mile/8K Hicksters Way Loop, accessed from Beechenhurst or Cannop Cycle Centre (where you can also hire bikes).
The route has been especially surfaced, although its gritty texture means you’ll definitely need sturdy wheels so a mountain or hybrid bike are best.
My children are 10, nine and six and they managed the nine mile route absolutely fine. We saw families with much younger children, including one child who looked no more than four pedaling away on her little bike, another young child on a balance bike, and families with babies and toddlers on seats or tail-gators, which attach a child’s bike to an adult’s.
We started the trail from next to the visitor centre at Beechenhurst. The numerous signs all around the trail make it really easy to follow the route. There are a few diversions which take you away from the main trail to see viewing points and so on, and these are clearly marked with approximately how many minutes it’ll take you to cycle.
The route should take around 1.5 to 2 hours for families to complete, although there are plenty of places to stop along the way if little legs need a rest so it may take longer.
There’s an uphill incline to begin, but it’s mostly flat or gently sloping… until the very final section which is a brilliant downhill descent. My children loved it, although more cautious riders may want to take it slowly or walk this part. Beechenhurst advise completing the route clockwise, although we did see some people completing the route in reverse and cycling up the steep part. The route is also popular with runners and we saw quite a few quite a few during our visit.
There are a few ‘fun zones’ along the way; technical trail features alongside the main path where mounds of earths provide roller coaster or bobsleigh effects. We loved these and had several goes on a few of them.
We downloaded and printed a map of the cycle path from the Beechenhurst website in advance, although it’s well-enough signposted should you forget to do this.
The route was nicely shaded by all the trees and it was so calming cycling through the woods. Although the views weren’t as spectacular as our recent family cycle ride at the Millennium Coastal Path in Llanelli, for example, there were several interesting landmarks along the way, including stone railway bridges (the route is along a former railway line) and Cannop Ponds. We stopped for a while at the Ponds, which are a popular visitor destination in their own right.
Have you been to Beechenhurst? What are your tips for visiting? Let me know in the comments below or on the Cardiff Mummy Says Facebook page, tweet me on @cardiffmummy or see more from our adventure on the Cardiff Mummy Says Instagram channel.
Visit the Beechenhurst website here and discover more about the family cycle trail, including the downloadable map, here.