A visit to Dean Heritage Centre, Forest of Dean

by Jan

On our visit to the Dean Heritage Centre, the first impressions were of its beautiful setting.  Dean Heritage Centre is in a charming 19th Century corn mill overlooking a picturesque pond in Gloucestershire, UK.  It has a backdrop of wooded hills from the Forest of Dean and this makes for a winning combination.

We visited during our recent trip to the Wye Valley, as it seemed like one of the best things to do on a rainy day.  Discover what we found to see and do on our first visit to the Dean Heritage Centre.

Exploring inside the Dean Heritage Centre

Firstly, we headed inside.

The Heritage Centre was established in 1981 to help celebrate the rich history and culture of the Forest of Dean and its people.  Today, it has over 20 000 artefacts, which are housed in 5 galleries, each depicting a specific era.

Wooden Sculpture at Dean Heritage Centre, Gloucestershire, UK

Our walk through history started in the Iron Age, with a visit to the first inhabitants of the Forest of Dean.  Gallery One has an impressive collection of archaeological remains, such as hunting tools used by Neolithic man.

Plus, there were also some stuffed versions of the animals which would have previously lived in the forest.  From as early as 1066, the Forest of Dean was a royal game reserve.  Even then, there were restrictions in place to protect its wildlife.

Nowadays, wild deer and boar still roam freely, but unfortunately, we didn’t spot any during our visit to the Wye Valley.

Despite lockdown restrictions there are still a few interactive activities, though I guess in normal times there are more.  Our favourite was identifying scents of the forest in the “smelling” boxes.  We didn’t do well and clearly need to get out more!

Water mill, Dean Heritage Centre, Forest of Dean, Gloucestershire, UK

Interpretation boards and exhibits in the next galleries provide the story of how local natural resources have shaped the area’s history and culture.

With such an abundance of wood, the Forest of Dean has long been an important source of timber in the UK.  It also has a long history of mining and was one of the main iron-ore producing areas in England for many years.

Exploring outside the Dean Heritage Centre

Forester's Cottage

Two Halloween Witches at the Forester's Cottage, Dean Heritage Centre, Forest of Dean, Gloucestershire, UK

Stepping outside to the rear of Heritage Centre we headed to the Forester’s Cottage.  This original cottage shows a typical forester’s home of the time.  The cottage has a traditional Victorian style with authentic furnishings and some very spooky inhabitants at Halloween!

There was actually a warning about how scary the characters are, but we didn’t see it until our way down.

At the back of the Forester’s Cottage is an original laundry room, with an old mangle and bygone cider mill.

From here you can see the restored water mill, which was impressive.  This water mill takes its water from the pond, which is fed by a stream running down from nearby Soudley Ponds.

The Freeminer's Mine

Freeminer's mine, Heritage Centre, Forest of Dean, Gloucestershire, UK

From the water mill a boardwalk leads round the mill pond to the Freeminers’ mine.  Harvey’s Folly is a replica of a Freeminers’ mine, so you can’t actually go in.  However it gives a good impression of what the mine entrance would have looked like.

For a more immersive mining experience,  head to Clearwell Caves near Coleford, where you can explore deep within the labyrinth of underground caves.

The Gruffalo Trail

The Gruffalo trail at the Dean Heritage Centre, Forest of Dean, , Gloucestershire, UK

After a quick look at the Charcoal Burners’ Camp, we headed towards the Gruffalo Trail.  This is a short scenic woodland walk by a stream.

Either side of the trail are wooden sculptures, which depict the story of Julia Donaldson’s Gruffalo and his friends.  No doubt this was intended for a younger audience, but the boys loved reliving one of their favourite toddler story books.

A visit to Soudley Ponds

No visit to the Dean Heritage Centre is not complete without a walk at Soudley Ponds, which is directly opposite.

Soudley Ponds, Forest of Dean, Gloucestershire, UK

Nature lovers will adore this picturesque nature reserve, with its 4 interlinked ponds and wooded hills.  The pathways round the ponds are flat and accessible, so it’s ideal for a family walk. Plus, there’s plenty of nature to spot.  One of the ponds had plenty of ducks and water birds and one visitor had just spotted a kingfisher.

It’s really up to you how far you walk.  Pretty bridges cross the ponds, letting you return whenever you’ve had enough.

Soudley Ponds is a tranquil spot for a walk and in autumn the colours looked spectacular.

Practical Information:-

Eating at the Dean Heritage Centre

There are plenty of wooden tables around the pond, where you could enjoy a picnic and watch the ducks.  However, it had been raining, so we headed for the tea house.  This café is in a modern extension on the side of the mill and serves drinks, homemade cakes and lunches.

Heritage Centre Halloween chair, Forest of Dean, Gloucestershire, UK

Directions to the Dean Heritage Centre

The Dean Heritage Centre is in Soudley, in the Forest of Dean, Gloucester, UK.  It has a big car park and parking is free.

The postcode is GL14 2UB.

If you are going by public transport, there is a bus number 717 which runs from Lydney to Cinderford.

Admission prices for the Dean Heritage Centre can be found here.

Have you been on a visit to the Dean Heritage Centre?  We’d love to hear your comments below.

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