A group of walkers aiming to complete the 100 of St Briavels walking challenge are half way to becoming ‘Freewalkers of the Forest of Dean’.
Once a month, on the first Sunday, they set out from a different location in the Forest of Dean and Wye Valley under the guidance of an official Forest of Dean and Wye Valley Tour guide
Over a year they will have clocked up 100 miles and will be rewarded with a badge recording their achievement, and the added status of becoming a ‘Freewalker of the Forest of Dean’.
The 100 of St Briavels walks are the brainchild of David Ballard who wanted to set up a walking challenge in the Forest of Dean and Wye Valley that would provide participants with a goal and a chance to explore the wonders and secrets of the area.
“I’m a keen walker and, when I trained to be a local tour guide, I realised just how much there is to discover by exploring on foot. There is so much history and wildlife,” explains David.
“Being a ‘Free Walker’ relates to the tradition of free mining when you had to work for a year and a day in a mine to qualify. I know it’s not the same, but, by undertaking the St Briavels 100 mile walk, we are certainly taking on a challenge “
Imogen Hinton one of the regular walkers, has been sponsored to complete the 100 miles, raising funds for the Forest Fitness Centre,
“I do enjoy the walks and hope to complete them all (in order) not only because ‘now I’ve started I’ll finish’ but because of my sponsorship for the Forest Fitness Centre! I enjoy walking anyway, it’s a good way to keep fit, the more so when there is good company, the chance to learn about the Forest history and a degree of effort in the walk itself,” said Imogen.
“Dave has found us interesting routes, with more than the occasional challenge. The 16 miler at the end of August is daunting but I am looking forward to completing it, as it is something I would never have contemplated but with the support of the rest of the group feel very safe in doing it.”
“The Fitness Centre is always looking for support and it seems to me to be a good way to repay the help I’ve been given over the years to keep me fit through hip and shoulder replacement operations and ‘creeping’ arthritis.”
One of the great advantages of the scheme is that if you miss one of the walks you can come back next year because it is an ongoing programme. Although they are half way through the first run of the programme, anyone can join in at any time. As you complete each section you can tick off that walk and view your progress on-line at www.ftg.org.uk . It might take some people a few years to complete!!
The next walk entitled ‘Paper, Scissors, Stone’, takes in amazing scenery while exploring the industrial heritage of the Wye Valley. Beginning at Redbrook, it is on 1 August and is 11miles long. The following walk called ‘Milos’ Revenge’ at 16 miles is the longest walk in the series. That one takes in May Hill, Wigpool and Flaxley on the eastern side of the Forest of Dean. Some of the other walks are a good deal shorter.
You don’t have to do all of the walks. Everyone is welcome. It is essential to book by contacting the tour guides on 01594888197. All the details of the walks, and an online booking system, are available on the web site, www.wyedeantourguides.org.uk.
Each walk costs £10 – that covers the cost of the guide and all the research undertaken to provide a fascinating day out discovering some of the hidden gems of the area.
“Having explored the Forest of Dean by horse, bike and on foot, it is still a pleasure to be taken on footpaths that I did not know exist. Our guide is a wealth of knowledge and so our walks are a combination of history, interesting facts and of course walking,” explains Alison Bassett another one of the walkers.
“I would recommend these guided walks to those that already have an interest in the Forest and for those who would like to gain knowledge of a very interesting beautiful and historic area.”