Forest of Dean foraging with Forest Holidays

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I’d only been to the Forest of Dean once before, and was impressed with just how beautiful that neck of the woods (so to speak) is – so when I was invited by Forest Holidays to join them for a bloggers’ foraging event a few weeks ago, I jumped at the chance. Arriving at Gloucester Station, a number of other bloggers and I shared a lift to the Forest Holidays site in Coleford, where we were to spend the next day getting up close and personal with nature.

What are Forest Holidays all about? Well, they have nine locations throughout the UK, all set within forest environments. The accommodation takes the form of luxury cabins – there’s a range of prices and sizes – complete with hot tubs. Sadly, I arrived too late to make the most of mine, but when I found my cabin, the other two bloggers I was sharing with (Emma and Amanda) were making the most of it when I arrived!

 

Forest Holidays - Cabin Exterior

 

While the cabin looked fairly unassuming from the outside, it was incredibly well-appointed inside. A large open plan living room and kitchen included large windows and a door out onto the terrace, featuring both the hot tub and a seating area. Wifi was included (perfect for a group of bloggers…!), you can order room service through the television, and the kitchens are stocked with all the crockery, cutlery and other kitchen items you need to enjoy a self-catered break.

Accommodation-wise, we had two twin bedrooms and one double, along with a bathroom that included plenty of towels and free toiletries too.

 

Forest Holidays - Interior 1

Forest Holidays - Bedroom

 

After exploring our cabin and spending some time relaxing, we met at the Forest Retreat – the main building that includes the reception, a shop and a restaurant – to enjoy an evening meal together as a group. The burger I’d pre-ordered was fantastic…and massive!

Our evening entertainment was in true forest style, and was our first introduction to Gerry, the forest ranger, and his owl – The Professor – for a guided night vision walk through the forest.

 

Forest Holidays - The Professor

 

We were all given night vision binoculars and, after some time spent setting them up so that we could see in the dark, we set off through the forest. While the Forest of Dean is known for its wild boar, we sadly didn’t spot any on the night – however, we did see a group of fallow deer, including a male with very impressive antlers. The night vision tours are something that Gerry runs for Forest Holidays guests on a regular basis.

After an incredibly comfortable night’s sleep, our next task was to forage for forest ingredients. A power cut had scuppered our plans for a cooked breakfast, but after pastries and cereal, we set out for a walk through the forest with Gerry and Nick Weston from Hunter Gather Cook. As Nick has previously spent 6 months living in a forest, living completely off the land, we were pretty sure that he’d know his stuff!

 

Forest Holidays - Nick and Gerry

 

Nick introduced us to a whole host of foraged goodies – some of which I’d heard of, some of which I hadn’t. Everything he pointed out was accompanied by information on how to prepare it and what to use it for: oak moss, which can be processed in boiling water, deep fried and used as a garnish; pineapple weed, related to camomile and great in cocktails; ground ivy, which can be used in place of herbs and more. We also found sweet chestnuts, ribwort plantain, camomile, rosehips, Himalayan balsam, nettles, wild garlic bulbs, sloes, elderberries, water mint and more. It was certainly an eye opening trip, making us realise just how fruitful the forest is as a source of food.

 

Forest Holidays - Nettles

 

Our haul was looking pretty impressive.

 

Forest Holidays - Our Haul

 

Reaching a clearing, it was time for Gerry to teach us how to build a fire. Using a specially designated area in the forest, with the firepits surrounded by rocks to avoid the fire spreading, we were showed how to build our fire using silver birch bark, bulrush fluff, cotton wool or even lint as tinder, before topping with small twigs and lighting. Fires lit (and kept going!), we were given mess tins and water and shown how you can make a simple tea from pine needles, simply by adding them to the water and boiling. It was pretty tasty too.

 

Emma and Amanda with our fire and pine needle tea!

Emma and Amanda with our fire and pine needle tea!

 

We headed back through the woods to our cabins, where we freshened up before our wild cooking session!

On returning to The Pavilion – the Forest Holidays meeting room which can be hired for functions, we were faced with a fantastic spread – a combination of our foraged ingredients plus a haunch of venison and several partridges that Nick had provided. We were also presented with a range of fresh fruit and vegetables, cheese, cured meat and more – including a large tub of black truffles that had been sniffed out on the South Downs by Nick’s truffle dog, B.

 

Forest Holidays - Ingredients

Forest Holidays - Truffles

 

Nick showed us how to butcher a whole haunch of venison, before demonstrating a smoked venison tartare recipe. Using the salmon cut, he used a blowtorch to sear the meat on all sides before mincing coarsely and placing in a Kilner jar, topped with an egg yolk. He added smoke to the jar, placed it on a slate and surrounded it with piles of finely chopped red onion, cornichons and capers, along with grated horseradish and black truffle – a DIY tartare that tasted fantastic.

 

Forest Holidays - Venison Butchery

Forest Holidays - Tartare

 

It was now our turn to come up with a dish using a combination of both foraged and non-foraged ingredients – the challenge being that the power cut that had scuppered us that morning was still an issue, meaning that any cooking had to be done on barbecues!

Some opted to make wild cocktails while others chose to go down the venison or partridge route. I chose to sear a venison steak and make a potato and wild horseradish rosti to serve alongside it, along with a rocket and foraged leaf salad and a blackberry and elderberry sauce.

 

Forest Holidays - My Venison

 

The Forest Holidays experience at the Forest of Dean site was fantastic: I love the fact that a Forest Holidays break is a chance to get back to nature while still enjoying all of your creature comforts, and was impressed to hear that the site is built in such a way that it could be easily taken down without any damage to the forest if needed. Gerry the forest ranger had a wealth of knowledge about the local area, and Nick provided a really interesting introduction to foraging and wild cooking that I’m keen to explore further. I’d certainly consider a Forest Holiday in the future – and will be putting my newly-found knowledge to good use!

 

Please note: our stay and all activities were received free of charge, but in no way impacted on our opinion. We were not obliged to write a positive review, and the venue did not see this review before it was put up on the site.

 

 

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