Caput Apri Defero – A Blog about the Forest of Dean
This will be similar to  Slimbridge and  Pittville Park, my other blogs about birdwatching haunts. I will treat it as a walk round with pictures mixed from summer and winter just to confuse you. It’s slightly different because it covers a large area so I will stop at a few places.
The Forest of Dean
I will explain the first picture later but you are probably wondering who Dean was. There are several theories. It could come from ‘din’ meaning ‘hill-fort’ in either Welsh or Old English but an old reference to ‘Danubia’ suggests that it may come from early Viking (Dane) settlements.
It’s an area of about forty square miles of mixed woodland in the west of Gloucestershire roughly between the rivers Severn and Wye. Reserved for royal hunting before 1066, it’s an ancient woodland, in size second only to the New Forest as a crown forest.
Historically its main economic functions have been to do with forestry including charcoal production, iron working and coal mining. Now it acts as a nature reserve and is an area for leisure activities, especially walking and birdwatching.
There are many places within the forest where you can park and take a walk. I will concentrate on my main stops.
As for many of these places you probably won’t find Woorgreens on the map. You park on a bit of cleared mud by the road through the forest, big enough for about six cars, and walk on an unmarked footpath about a quarter of a mile.
The sign is new. I came here for several years before I discovered the name from someone else. Just beyond this gate and sign you come to the lake.
You can walk round a sometimes muddy path to the right to a spot with a little beach area (for dogs to splash into the water) and closer views of the island.
[That’s another very new sign!]
The lake is a good place to spot Goosander visiting in the winter and in theory it’s a haven for Dragonflies because it has no fish. But anglers like fish. They put them there to catch them. Every few years the lake has to be emptied to remove the fish.
The two Cannop ‘Ponds’ and the marshy area further north are special areas for wildlife. It is a short drive from Woorgreens to the northern lake with its winding car park within the woods. (I can’t call them ponds. They are much too large. They are lakes.) I start near the car park by the bird feeder area. As well as the more common birds you may see Nuthatch, Coal Tit, Marsh Tit, Jay, Treecreeper or Reed Bunting here.
It’s a very short walk from the car park to the bridge over the water leaving this lake.
Before going round the lake I head left down into the trees and the fast flowing water. Grey Wagtail are common here and Dipper may be seen occasionally.
The lake itself is always an impressive view.
We head next up the far side of the lake.
The Mandarin Duck is now quite rare in the Far East but a growing population of feral birds in England is now almost as large. They are water birds but they nest in trees which makes the forest an ideal habitat. You may see them anywhere in the Forest but especially at Cannop.
At the far end we meet a bridge and a narrow strip of land separating the lake from the marshy nature reserve. You may find the mixture of seasons confusing but there are other changes. I think of this strip of land as a thin muddy path between two rows of trees but on my last visit trees had been cut down!
We finish the loop round back to the feeders and the car park.
It’s a short walk following the water or a longer drive round a circuitous route to get to the South Lake. Created in the early Nineteenth Century to feed the now disused Parkend Ironworks, this lake is now used for the stoneworks at its southern end. There is a car park here by the lake and a small lay-by also used as a car park.
The lake itself is very similar to its nearby twin but it is less used by the public. There are walks into the forest from here.
There are bird feeders within the stoneworks maintained by someone inside. You can just about guarantee seeing Siskin at any time of the year.
I don’t go far here. I just look at the water outlet down to the stream which is the River Cannop, sometimes the haunt of Dipper.
My next two points to visit are not actually in the forest. They are on the Severn. Next on my schedule is usually the pleasant little town of Newnham with its clock-tower.
(The last building above is a house hat backs on to the river. It has been empty for over fifty years.)
One of my reasons for going to Newnham is the excellent George Café. It always seems to be coffee time or lunch time – I have been known to go there twice in one day.
But the river is also worth a visit. It is very tidal here.
The road from Gloucester to Newnham follows the river and I head next further downriver to Lydney. Instead of turning right to the town of Lydney I turn left down along a mile long road – over level crossings, past lakes to a fairly desolate industrial estate and Lydney Harbour.
There are notices about redeveloping this site but at the moment you go down what looks like a private road to a car park. You can walk round the muddy locks at the harbour entrance. I have only just discovered that this is the end of the River Lyd.
You can walk (carefully!) to the end where you have an extensive panoramic view. To the north is the muddy bank of the Severn by the Yacht Club. As you turn to the east, south and west you see more of the river and the landscape behind it.
At low tide much of this is mudflats so you may see waterfowl, gulls or waders. There are also the remnants of some wrecked ships.
I do a little loop round passing a pale imitation of Stonehenge that is much more modern! The harbour at the centre of my loop is full of little boats.
Here is my attempt at a better panoramic view of the river just using cut-and-paste.
New Fancy and others …
For hundreds of years there has been free-mining of coal in the forest and there used to be some extensive mines in the Nineteenth and Twentieth Centuries, with some influence on the landscape. Not far from the Cannop Ponds is the New Fancy Viewpoint where the spoil heap from a former colliery has been turned into a hill. You can climb to the top for views of the forest all round you. It is visited by birdwatchers as an ideal point for viewing Goshawk.
There are dozens of other sites through the forest, many accessible only on foot but some with small parking areas. They have names like Boy’s Grave and Crabtree Hill and you can see more birds not often seen elsewhere – Crossbill, Hawfinch and Nightjar.
The forest is also home to lots of other wildlife. You often see sheep on the roads and there are many wild boar. Generally the boar are elusive but sometimes they are fairly tame in areas where people try to feed them. They breed profusely and are regularly culled by the Forestry Commission. You can often see the damage they do to grass as in my first picture above.
Ok, I was desperate. I needed a quotation for a title. You will recognize it from the Boar’s Head Carol. At least you will if, like me, you used to sing it every year in the Sixties around the streets of Ilford.
As always, most of my information is from Wikipedia. This macaronic carol describes the very old Yuletide custom of eating a boar’s head probably predating its use as a Christmas carol. [It has always fascinated me that we have the word ‘macaronic’ for something so unusual. But it was common in mediaeval times when Latin was the language of scholars, universities and priests but songs and stories used the vernacular English. It comes from a Latin/ Italian word that is cognate with macaroni.]
The words used today were published in 1521 in one of the World’s first printed books.
The first of three verses is:
The boar’s head in hand bring I,
Bedeck’d with bays and rosemary.
And I pray you, my masters, be merry
Quot estis in convivio.
Each verse is followed by the chorus
Caput apri defero
Reddens laudes Domino.
[OK, if you didn’t do Latin at school, Caput apri defero means I carry the boar’s head.]