A visit to the Forest of Dean: discovering its genius loci

 

The forecast said it would be overcast and dry, but the trip to Lightmoor in the Forest of Dean turned out to be rather damp. In fact we measured the relative humidity at over 95%. Pretty damp. Partly the result of a combination of weak fronts over southern England and partly because the forest generates its own microclimate: being at a fairly high altitude the cooling effect maintains a high humidity.

But it wasn’t all damp and miserable. The student group were able to experience a truly atmospheric forest environment: tranquil, calming, sheltered and comfortably warm (air temperature recorded at 17°C). The only other human life we saw were a few fishermen on the lake and a number of cyclists using the cycletrack in the west. Obvious animal life was a number of birds observed: mainly great and blue tits, a solitary buzzard and some ducks. Evidence of wild boar and deer was disturbed turf and tracks. Dusk is the best time to see them.

The former colliery landscape is really quite special evoking images of what it must have been like in its heyday: the noisy pithead gear pumping flood water from the mines into the lakes, the spoil being dumped in high heaps, the coal being exported down one of the railway mineral lines. The active timber yard at the southern end of the site provides all sorts of construction timber (probably formerly pit-props for the mines) and demonstrates that forestry is important to the local economy.

The dramatic topography of the ‘craters’ in the north of the site, with their steep and in places unstable slopes above the flat, ill-drained marshy bottoms, contrasts with the old oak woodland to the east and the coniferous plantations to the west. The main spoil heap alongside the upper lake is well vegetated, suggesting slopes have been stabilised (over time?) and whose soil has developed from a raw acid shaly constituency to something akin to the richer ‘brown’ soil under the sweet chestnut trees.

Overall, the visit was informative and inspiring. The hope is that memories and photographs (sadly too damp for fieldsketching) will be sufficient to motivate the creative design processes when the students start seriously to address the module brief.

 

 

About gloscape

Landscape Architecture @ University of Gloucestershire

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