Game of Thrones in the Forest of Dean
Why fans of the fantasy drama Game of Thrones are flocking to the Forest of Dean and Wye Valley
‘Tis spring time in the vale, and the Verderers, guardians of the Royal Forest of Dean, are besieged by local folk, wailing, worrying and begging for explanation. For some audacious interloper has besmirched the sanctity, indeed dignity, of a magical ancient woodland in Gloucestershire by placing a throne of iron slap-bang in its midst!
Now, fans of TV’s Game of Thrones are descending on the area in search of this spectacular piece of fantasy furniture in a real-life treasure hunt.
As the final season of the mega-hit show Game of Thrones approaches – the first episode will screen on April 14 – programme-maker HBO has hidden six Iron Thrones in six countries around the world and challenged super-fans to find them. A countdown timer shows how much time remains to ‘claim’ each one and cryptic clues are provided to lead the noble treasure seekers to their glory- further details.
On Wednesday, 20th March, the very first throne was discovered in the United Kingdom in Puzzlewood here in the Forest of Dean where it will stay until April 1, giving thousands of other ‘Thronies’ plenty of time to come down and take a seat for that all important picture.
The quest began on Monday, 18th March with a mysterious photo of a throne in a mossy wood and an instruction to ‘Seek the Weirwood in this Kingdom on Earth'. A symbol marked on one of the rocks showed a spiral pattern known to be used by the children of the forest and 'Find it amongst the children of the forest' was a caption used on a 360 degree video on YouTube. A second clue was released on 19th March: ‘Put together the puzzle pieces to go find this Godswood’ and soon rumours were swirling that Puzzlewood was indeed the secret location. Alex Bowring and Tom Maullin-Sapey travelled from Oxford on the morning of the 20th March convinced they had solved the riddle and were the first to claim the throne and be knighted by the guardians of the realm. They got to keep the crown!
The region has many other magical attractions, legends and untold mysteries of the ancient woodlands for fans to enjoy whilst they are there, as they discover the verdant valleys through which the mystic River Wye winds.
Puzzlewood itself is an ancient woodland encompassing meandering pathways, fantastic tree and rock formations, deep ravines and moss covered stones. It is a film star in its own right, having been used as a location for numerous TV programmes and movies, including Dr Who, Star Wars and Merlin.
Other wondrous sights you might see from the river on a canoeing trip on the Wye might be the Mother of Dragons. A green dragon lived near the village of Mordiford near Hereford at the confluence of the River Wye and the River Lugg, loved by a maiden named Maud. Sadly, villagers are said to have destroyed the creature after it wreaked a bit of havoc, leaving Maud most distraught. Let’s hope there’s no Night King around to resurrect this fearsome beast for we have no dragonglass – though we do have mines at Clearwell Caves, a system of nine awesome natural caverns that has been mined for iron ore for more than 4,500 years, iron that might be used in the construction of a fine throne for a snow-haired queen or raven-haired king...
What if you’re more Drogo than Daenerys? Bring out your inner Dothraki on an archery course with Forest of Dean Adventure (shooting from horseback not required).
The Forest of Dean may not have direwolves, but it does have a terrifying Moose-Pig – allegedly. The Beast of Dean resembles a boar but unlike the weedy creature that polished off Robert Baratheon, ours is large enough to crush hedges and make trees fall, according to legend.
There are certainly plenty of real wild boar in the area, and they can be chunky, so keep your eyes peeled. Join naturalist wildlife detective Ed Drewitt on an exploration the Forest of Dean at dusk to increase your chances.
We do have mobile signal in the Dean, so no need for ravens, but if you love raptors, don’t miss the brilliant International Centre for Birds of Prey, near Newent. Book a full-day Hawk Experience and you get to fly hawks, owls, falcons and kites.
Your best chance of a bird’s-eye view of the region’s incredible natural beauty – and possibly see a peregrine - is to visit the mysterious Symonds Yat Rock, 500ft above sea level and overlooking a spectacular gorge. The name is said to come from Robert Symonds, a 17th-century sheriff of Herefordshire, and yat, an old word for a gate or pass, but the site’s history extends far further back in time, to the Iron Age in fact, when a fort was established to defend residents from marauders - the region’s very own Casterly Rock, you might say.
The Saracen’s Head Inn, right beside the river in Symonds Yat East, has been a haven for weary explorers for many centuries, its title perhaps reflecting its role as a stopover for those on their way to Jerusalem to do their own bit of marauding during the Crusades in medieval times.
Today, guests are welcome to quench their thirst on a range of local ales with absolutely no need to invoke Guest right, the sacred law of hospitality in Westeros which forbids you and your host from slaughtering each other – the owners promise!
Night is falling, and it’s time to find a bed for the night. The Speech House, near Coleford, built in 1669 by King Charles II as a hunting lodge, is now a hotel and home to the Verderers Court, which still sits today. You can even dine in the very courtroom in which the laws of the land are decided, the only working courtroom-come-dining-room in the UK. Verderers are officials who deal with common land in certain former royal hunting areas. You can also learn about the Forest of Dean’s very own seating drama when the four ceremonial hand-carved dark oak thrones were stolen and lost for more than five years. They are now back in their rightful place, secured and alarmed. Not even Jon Snow himself could steal these thrones, and although weddings are held here too there’ll be no Red Weddings in our Forest of Dean.