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24 September 2014
Inside Out: Surprising Stories, Familiar Places

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  Inside Out - West: Monday September 27, 2004


Tessa Dunlop riding a camel
The new way to explore the Forest of Dean

"If you go down to the woods today, you're in for a big surprise …" It isn't teddy bears who are the unusual inhabitants of the Forest of Dean, but you may still get a surprise! It seems camels are the new locals - as Tessa Dunlop discovers.

Although you may immediately conjure up pictures of sandy landscapes and hot winds when you think of camels, you may be a little off the mark.

Deep in the Forest of Dean, a national park famous for its medieval English countryside and traditions, you can hop aboard one of the forest's resident camels for a trek you'll never forget.

Inside Out's intrepid presenter Tessa Dunlop hopped aboard one of the camels to find out more about this amazing park and its residents.

Shady character

Meet Taiphet. He's the new man in Tessa's life and will be carrying her across the land between two rivers in the Forest of Dean.

As the pair eye each other up suspiciously it seems Tessa is slightly more concerned than her new partner. "Does he bite," she asks.

Taiphet has been living at a farm near Chepstow where owner Alistair has been looking after him.

"They were working camels in Somerset but they haven't worked since foot and mouth," he says.

Now it's time for Taiphet to make the journey from the farm into the forest. He is due to arrive by the end of the day and will take up his role of being a Forest of Dean local.

Tessa becomes slightly concerned when she hears Taiphet hasn't been ridden for four years, but is assured he is "usually OK when he's away from home".

The voyage begins

Taiphet the camel
Taiphet's fiery temperament preceeds him
Image: Courtesy Nicholas Davis

Taiphet is moving to Speech House, where he will take visitors for treks along the forest paths where they'll get a different view of the area.

Visitors don't have to put up with the precarious Bedouin-style set up you may find elsewhere. Taiphet has his own designer seat, which Tessa is rather pleased about.

The journey is about to begin but our fearless explorers have got stuck at the starting gate.

Taiphet is more worried about his stomach and Tessa is given instructions to let him eat the nettle leaves if he wants.

The other camels are a bit miffed because their pal is heading off alone, well in theory anyway.

Still not quite sure where to find the accelerator, Tessa asks for some advice. "It's eight feet up, so don't fall off," A… says rather unhelpfully.

Finally Taiphet gets the hint and the journey begins. The pair have until sunset to arrive at Speech House, so Tessa plans to discover a bit more about the forest on the way.

Celebrated history

Lying between the Rivers Wye and Severn, the Forest of Dean is home to some of Britain's most spectacular countryside.

One of the few remaining Royal Forests in Britain, the forest has maintained much of its tradition and heritage.

Forest of Dean
The Forest of Dean is a walker's delight with paths and tracks leading you deep into the forest

In 1938 the forest was designated a "National Forest Park" - the very first in Britain, which means it was recognised as having cultural and environmental significance.

The Forest of Dean boasts plenty to do, even if camels aren't your cup of tea.

Tessa and Taiphet take a break from their journey as they come across a group of local children.

Tessa is given a lesson in camel control - apparently if you wave a branch in front of your camel you'll get some action - but she can't help but think that a few generations ago these children would be living a very different life.

Local tradition

Dating back to the 17th Century, the Forest of Dean had the highest concentration of iron furnaces and forges in the whole of the UK.

If you look around at the lush landscape it can be hard to imagine today, yet incredibly there are still some freeminers who live and work here.

As Taiphet sets out to eat his own bodyweight in leaves, Tessa finds out about mining from Dave Harvey, one of the few freeminers who keep the tradition alive.

"It's a privilege to say I'm a freeminer and I've been one since 1963"
Dave Harvey

Dave is a freeminer and fountain of forest knowledge. He has worked here most of his adult life and couldn't be happier.

Eight hundred years ago miners were granted the right to mine coal and iron ore within the Forest of Dean.

Although the numbers of miners today are dwindling there are some, like Dave, who wouldn't want to do anything else.

"The Forest of Dean is classed as God's own country… there's so much to learn. I was born and bred here and I love it," Dave says.

Back on the trail

Alas chatting isn't going to get a certain camel delivered on time so it's back on the road for Taiphet and Tessa.

Unfortunately for our pair of explorers the weather isn't bothered about their mission, but a bit of rain isn't going to stop these two!

Forest of Dean Facts

The Forest of Dean is one of England's last remaining ancient forests

The Forest occupies an area of 204 square miles (27,000 acres)

Around 20 million trees cover the forest including; oak, beech, ash, birch and holly trees

The forest was originally designated by the Saxons for hunting

The Forest of Dean has its own museum that houses a collection of artefacts that illustrates the historical importance of the area

As they continue their journey Tessa passes the Clearwell Caves, which boast nine caverns to explore, and takes a detour to look at Mallards Pike.

Taking its name from a tollhouse that used to stand at the site, Mallards Pike is a picturesque man-made picnic area surrounding a large lake.

The pair are slowly but surely making good ground, although Taiphet's dawdling is interspersed by regular "snack attacks" as he passes a barrage of tasty trees.

As they enter the final stages of their journey Tessa and Taiphet are stopped by Roger Drury from the Forest of Dean's own community radio station.

Taiphet has become bashful so it's up to Tessa to find out why a national park would need its own radio station.

Run by five paid workers and a group of volunteers, the community radio station was set up in 1995 when it broadcast to Cinderford during a three day festival.

Forest of Dean Radio now broadcasts once a week, and pretty well anyone can drop in to make a programme, though it seems they are drawing the line at Taiphet.

New home

And so our weary travellers mosey in to Speech House, a day full of adventures behind them.

Built in 1676, Speech House was originally a hunting lodge for Charles II, though it soon became known as the administrative heart of the forest.

Taipher and Tessa have a snack
Although the weather was against them Taiphet and Tessa made good time
Image: Courtesy Nicholas Davis

The largest room became the Verderers' Court, so locals knew it as the place you went to talk or to make a Speech - hence the name "Speech House".

Speech House is now a luxury hotel in the heart of the forest, and the new home of Taiphet the camel.

As Tessa dismounts she gives her travel buddy a word of advice. "As for your new neighbours - I've found they're fiercely loyal, charismatic and always put the forest first.

"So as long as you behave yourself, Taiphet, you should be just fine here," she says.

The pair part with a camelish "smooch" and Tessa bids farewell to her new four legged friend, thankful he has helped her find out some of the history and tradition hiding in this beautiful forest.

See also ...

On the rest of the web
Forest of Dean - Official Site
Severnwye Llama Trekking

Forest of Dean - Tourism
Speech House - History
Forest of Dean Radio

The BBC is not responsible for the content of external websites

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Readers' Comments

We are not adding any new comments to this page but you can still read some of the comments previously submitted by readers.

Alastair Fraser
Miss Hill please contact Severnwye Llamas and camels on the llama trekking web site

Inside Out Webteam
In response to Miss Hill - Please visit the Forest of Dean official website above. Follow the links to the visitors page and "how to get here":

Miss Hill
I would like to visit this camel farm one day next year, but haven't got any directions on how to get there. I love camels. Please advise address/directions on this web page. Thanks, Bristol person.

Alastair Fraser
many thanks to Kath & Tessa everyone who has seen it thinks the programme was fabulous.

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