Wandering through the Puzzlewood


The Puzzlewood, located within the Forest of Dean.

On a rainy day in March, I wandered into an ancient and magical tangle of trees and moss-covered rocks called The Puzzlewood. Located within the Forest of Dean near Coleford in Gloustershire, the Puzzlewood sits right on the edge of England and Wales, and is a great place for a solitary walk or a family day out. Interestingly, the word “forest” in the UK doesn’t necessarily indicate a place filled with trees; the Forest of Dean itself is simply a large area of land which used to be designated as a royal hunting ground. An area filled with trees is more often referred to as a “wood”, and this particular wood is unlike anything I’ve ever seen.

The rain did not hinder my explorations at all, for I had on sturdy walking boots and the canopy of trees overhead was thick. The sound of the raindrops which did make it through the canopy was musical on the leaves overhead, and birdsong filled the wood. One wanders in on a wide path which quickly grows narrow, and splits into several smaller paths, defined in some places by a set of rustic fences. Stairs are carved into the rocks, and a series of wooden walkways wind their way through and over the ground, some forming bridges high in the canopy. Walking between giant, moss-covered rock formations, one can spot hidden treasures throughout the wood: secret caves, rustic twig benches, and even a mysterious door! Paths continue to split, but no matter which path you choose, you are sure to find something magical within the fourteen acres of meandering walkways and stairs that make up the Puzzlewood.

The paths and steps were laid down in the early 1800’s, and are set over and around a geological feature known as “scowles”, or a system of irregular hollows in the earth, as well as caves which have eroded over time. The erosion exposed veins of iron ore which were mined by people in the area as far back as the Iron Age. J.R.R. Tolkien assisted with some archeological work in the Puzzlewood in the 1920’s, and the area is said to have inspired the mysterious forests of Middle Earth in his Lord of the Rings series. In addition, the wood has been used as a popular filming location for television shows such as Dr. Who and movies such as Star Wars: The Force Awakens.

Visitors who wish the opportunity to explore the wood after normal visiting times can rent out one of two cottages on the property. The cottages are located just outside of the wood in the middle of a farm containing Angora and Pygmy goats, donkeys, Shetland ponies, Highland cattle, Soay sheep, hens and ducks. Children who stay in the cottages and wake early can even help to feed the animals each morning. In addition, there is an indoor maze, and outdoor play area, and a living willow maze crafted out of over 4,000 entwined willow branches. The cottages also provide an ideal base for exploring the nearby Wye Valley. Whether you stay overnight, or are just looking for a remarkable day out, don’t miss this unique and magical adventure of a walk through the Puzzlewood!