The Forest of Dean and Wye Valley is a gorgeous, verdant and unspoilt corner of the country, straddled across the winding border between England and Wales.
This is a truly beautiful area to visit. The countryside is just so pretty and untarnished by development, with a rare secluded quietness, and many commanding views.
As you would expect in such a gorgeous natural environment, there is some sensational produce and many interesting, innovative food producers in the area, and so I paid a visit recently to explore the area and bring the very best food and drink from the area to you.
Where to stay and where to eat
Our base for this trip was the Tudor Farmhouse, near Clearwell. It is a small family owned boutique hotel with restaurant, run by husband and wife team Colin and Hari who left city life behind around a decade ago to set up the Tudor Farmhouse in this quiet and remote corner of Gloucestershire. The result is fantastic; it is a stylish and cosy retreat and makes a fantastic base for a weekend break. Guests when we stayed were a mix of weekend guests and those staying to attend nearby weddings, from what we could detect.
Despite its setting in a tiny rural village, the Tudor Farmhouse makes a good base to explore the area, providing a comfortable and restful base for a weekend away. Rooms vary a fair bit in terms of size and facilities (and of course, price), but we stayed in the Roost, a larger and newly refurbished room. The Tudor Farmhouse is set across a number of centuries old farmhouses, and rooms reflect the quirkiness of the buildings, with exposed beams, paneled walls and twisting staircases to get there.
Our room was beautifully furnished, spacious and extremely comfortable. The bathroom was fantastic, with a roll top bath, giant shower and gorgeous Bramley products. Small touches, such as fresh milk in the fridge, demonstrate the thought that has gone into the rooms and the service at the Tudor Farmhouse.
We found ourselves eating at the Tudor Farmhouse both nights. The restaurant here is exactly the sort of place I wish I had locally. The food is good, the wine list is superb, and the atmosphere is smart, but relaxed. What I particularly liked was the focus on local produce, with much meat, fish and fresh produce sourced locally, with suppliers listed on the menu. There is also a hotel kitchen garden, which is used as much as possible.
We found the food to be generously portioned, with plenty of meat and well-flavoured. The style of cooking is perhaps a touch too busy for my liking, but we had two really enjoyable meals. Do save room for the excellent locally sourced cheeseboard, if you can. It is really memorable. There are two dining rooms at the Tudor Farmhouse and we far preferred the older room at the back of the hotel for a more cosy, intimate meal. We also preferred the experience on a Friday night, which was quieter than Saturday. Do take the time before eating to have a drink in the cosy bar. There is a super range of cocktails on offer featuring local fruit juices and spirits. A must.
What to do
If you’re interested in learning more about wild food, you must try a foraging class with Raoul van den Broucke, who is one of the UK’s leading foraging gurus, and is based locally. The Tudor Farmhouse will book a session with Raoul for you if you are interested. We went out on a Sunday morning with Raoul and had a most informative trip. Born in Belgium, Raoul has lived a varied and interesting life, having sold foraged treasures to many leading chefs around the world for years.
Our session with Raoul was hugely informative, as participants are asked what they are most interested in seeing, and the trip is structured accordingly. We were taken across fields, up tracks, down lanes and along a river to source wild fruits, plants and fungi, which was absolutely fascinating. It really was eye opening to see what is growing wild in places where you’d never think to look. There is more wild food on most people’s doorsteps than you’d realize. We finished our morning by taking our basket of bounty to a local pub to cook, and we enjoyed our treasures freshly cooked with an excellent glass of local cider. Raoul is a complete fountain of knowledge for anyone interested in foraging and wild food, and I recommend an excursion with him most highly.
Anyone interested in wine will not traditionally associate South Wales with wine production, and as such, I was most interested to pay a visit to Ancre Hill Estate, situated just outside Monmouth during our stay in the area.
Ancre Hill is an absolutely fascinating place to visit for any wine lover, and I’d really recommend booking a place on their weekend wine tours and tastings.
Set up in 2008 by Richard and Joy Morris, with their son, David, a trained winemaker, having worked in Rousillon and a Plumpton College alumnus, they have transformed the fields adjacent to their home by planting acres of vines and building a state of the art eco winery, which was opened by HRH The Duchess of Cornwall in July 2015.
Ancre Hill mainly grow chardonnay, albarino and pinot noir grapes, and are making some really interesting and delicious wines, including an excellent Blanc de Noirs, a Chardonnay/Pinot noir sparkling rose, a Pinot Noir/Seyval sparkling and a Triomphe made from 100% Triomphe grapes. They have won a number of prestigious awards, including top awards from Decanter and IWSC. The Tudor Farmhouse are able to organise an excursion foraging or wine tasting for guests.
We found our visit to the Forest of Dean most interesting, and were thrilled to discover such a charming, peaceful spot for a quite weekend away from the hustle and bustle. We will certainly be returning very soon.
Thank you very much to the Tudor Farmhouse for inviting me to stay.