Day 2 - Parkend to Longhope
ANYONE who struggled with the navigation around Parkend Woods - and I include myself in that - might look at the Ordnance Survey map for today with some trepidation.
  If that is the case, be reassured that the swathe of green that represents the heart of the Forest of Dean is an altogether gentler experience than that short section around Parkend and should live long in the memory as a lovely day's walking.
  Picking up the walk once again at the information hut in the RSPB's Nagshead nature reserve, you get underway on a graded track which you soon leave to pick up a green ride and you can enjoy the deep silence of the woodland, punctuated by the chatter of birdsong and breeze through treetops.
  There is a bit of navigational headscratching when the path forks but any damage is repairable and that really is the story of this whole forest section - if you do go wrong, it is pretty easy to put right because the forest is criss-crossed with intersecting rides. So get a bearing with your GPS to work out where you are and then picking up the path again is fine.
  Your first milestone is the southern end of Cannop Ponds and there is a nice view of the water as you cross a weir and enter the area around Russell's Enclosure. The walking is very pleasant at least partly because the paths are wide and smooth, which reflects the fact that this is very much a leisure amenity, drawing people from both the local area and further afield.
  You will see other walkers, dog-walkers and quite a few cyclists around here, the cyclists in particular being well-catered for in this part of the forest. As a result, there is a pleasant energy to this section and before you know it, you will be nearing Speech House.

Cannop Ponds

Speech House is a real landmark in the Forest of Dean

Monument marking the geographical centre of the Forest of Dean

The path disappears slightly immediately before Speech House but once you hit the road, you can work out where you are and head for the stately building which is Speech House itself.
  This former 17th century hunting lodge is now a hotel and also still serves as the Verderers' Court, the 'parliament of the Forest'. Immediately opposite is an obelisk marking the geographical centre of the forest, one of a number of monuments dotted nearby, most recording royal visits from the likes of Prince Albert, consort to Queen Victoria, the current Duke of Edinburgh and, more recently, the Countess of Wessex.
  It is a pleasant place to take a breather before a slightly messy route past the car parks serving this beauty spot and then out into a much quieter section of the forest.
  Either side of Speech House, I ran into two examples of forest wildlife, one being a deer, which could be seen bounding off into the undergrowth as I approached. The other was a rather more controversial and modern addition - wild boar.
  I came across two piglets who set up a terrific squealing as they ran harum-scarum as I neared. Boar are now very much a reality of the Forest of Dean, as they were in medieval times, following escapes from farms. The forest is a good environment for them and the population has thrived, which has caused discussion over the damage they cause to the woodland and concerns around interaction with people and other animals.
  The adults are pretty big and quite alarming close up but you would be unlucky to blunder into them. Some simple advice can be found at www.wyedeantourism.co.uk/boar
  With Speech House behind me, it was suddenly quieter as I picked my way onwards towards the junction with the Wysis Way and a wander up an old railway trackbed. There are quite a few of these locally, many of them associated with the mining industry which was once such an important part of the local economy.

The Prince Albert tree near Speech House

Leaving Speech House, you hit a quieter section

Smooth and easy walking in the Forest of Dean

Soon you draw close to the A4136, one of the key roads through the forest, and you have a curious little section to navigate to avoid the road intersections - a scraggly bit of woodland and then some back gardens and around properties but in a short while you arrive at the A4136 again as it snakes up towards Plump Hill.
  Cross carefully and then head uphill for a loop avoiding the road through pleasant woodland - I stopped for lunch here having made good time. Then you hit the road again but immediately cross it and head steeply downhill passing a community of houses in the shadow of Plump Hill. There is a puzzler near the bottom which took me a while to unravel until I saw a path in the undergrowth but hopefully you will be more observant than I was!
  Downhill again and suddenly all thoughts of the Forest of Dean are behind you and you reach farmland. Very pleasant it was too in the sunshine with not a soul in sight.
  I reached the pretty hamlet of Abenhall, with a very nice church to admire, and was thinking that I was going at a terrific rate but perhaps I was lulled into a false sense of security because I came unstuck in the fields past Whitemoor. Round and round in circles again, watched with contempt by a flock of sheep, until I picked up the path again.
  I was tired now and thoughts were turning to a pint at the Farmer's Boy in Longhope but there was still a decent section to go because I wanted a stopping point at the now-closed Nag's Head to set me up nicely for the next stage.
  So onwards I went, through fields with Longhope away on my right and suddenly the end was in sight. Hitting a small lane, I could see Longhope Church 100 yards or so on my right and with it the road up to my destination.
  However, the path required a sharp left and then climb up through a field for a few hundred yards extra and I must admit it was a pointless detour too far. Silently cursing the route-planners for nit-picking, I plumped for the shorter option and I can't honestly believe anyone would blame me, not when a cold pint of cider on a hot day was so close at hand.
  Up the roadway and there is the former Nag's Head and the sign which points you right up towards May Hill, of which more in the next blog. Instead, let us trail up the road a little bit longer and there is the Farmer's Boy, where there is beer, food and a bed for the night - you will have earned it!

The pretty hamlet of Abenhall

An early view of May Hill with the crown of trees at its summit

Across the fields to Longhope