Sunday, 28 December 2008

Away From it All

It's my second day back at work after Christmas and I'm on my way to the small town of Coleford in Gloucestershire to deliver a VW Golf to a dealership there.

Coleford is easily accessible by main roads but my sat nav has chosen a more adventurous route and is leading me up a winding country lane through the Forest of Dean.

About five miles from Coleford there are signposts for Symonds Yat Rock, a beauty spot I have heard of but never visited. It's just after nine thirty and the bus I'm intending to catch out of Coleford doesn't leave until half past eleven, so on an impulse I turn off the lane and follow the signs down a track that leads into the forest.

The visitors' site lies about half a mile away and contains a parking area, an information centre (closed), toilets (open), picnic tables and, surprisingly, a pay-and-display ticket machine. Parking is charged at a discouraging flat rate of £3 per day. As far as I can see there are no staff around, and it's hard to imagine an inspector turning up here in the middle of the Christmas holidays to issue penalty tickets. However there is a notice next to the machine explaining that the money goes towards the upkeep of the site, so I grudgingly pay up.

Next to the notice about parking is another, warning that a herd of 'semi domesticated boars' have been illegally dumped in the forest and are to be treated with caution if encountered. I can think of any number of things that an unscrupulous person might try to secretly dispose of in the seclusion of the countryside, but a whole herd of boar? Whatever their reason for being here they are nowhere to be seen today.

There are a couple of viewpoints nearby, where steep drops down to the distant River Wye are fenced off, and the fences decorated with 'danger' signs.

symonds yat

At one viewpoint there is a display about the peregrine falcon, which can be seen flying around here in warmer months. With a top speed in excess of one hundred miles an hour these are apparently the fastest animals in the world, which is something to bear in mind for the next time anyone tells you that this accolade belongs to the cheetah.

The site is kept in pristine condition, with not one piece of graffitti or litter to be seen anywhere. There is hardly anyone else around, just a couple of family groups, a couple of dog walkers, and a guy jogging. All are dressed appropriately in sensible walking gear (or running gear) and seem far more purposeful than me. I'm in my everyday black coat and white jeans, and have neglected to shave for over a week.

I'd always thought that the proper etiquette when walking past people in out of the way places like this is that you exchange a glance and then a one word greeting - 'morning,' 'alright,' 'hi,' etc. But apart from one chipper man in one of the family parties, people seem reluctant to meet my eye. I feel as if I should have smartened up a bit before coming, and ought to have a better reason for visiting here than simply having a spare hour to kill.

In the end I stay only about half an hour and then drive into Coleford to drop the car off before walking into the town centre to wait for the bus. The air is not quite so clean here and the views not so long, but it seems far more relaxing to be strolling around these streets amongst other casually dressed guys who could be up to anything or nothing, and nobody cares much either way.

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