One of my most enjoyable tasks as president of the Ramblers is to celebrate the successes of our brilliant volunteers. Last Tuesday I joined the Forest of Dean group to mark the completion of an impressive footbridge* over the River Lyd at Upper Forge, north of Lydney, and the creation of a public footpath across it.
It is a magic spot, the little Lyd sparkles through the trees only yards from a road but is completely hidden from it.
Nearby are the remains of the Upper Forge: this area was once a hive of mining activity.
The campaign took five years to complete and involved an enormous team effort, not only among Ramblers’ members but also with Gloucestershire County Council (the highway authority), Forest of Dean District Council (the bridge needed planning permission) and the Forest of Dean railway whose line, part of the former Severn and Wye Railway, runs close by.
The story began in 2009 when group members Rod Goodman and John Sheraton wrote a book, Exploring Historic Dean, which describes in excellent detail 14 scenic walks in and around the forest.
Walk 2 is a 5.5-mile circular walk which starts at Norchard station on the railway and goes anti-clockwise, coming back over an old bridge across the Lyd. This was not a definitive route although it had been used for many years.
The landowner, the Lydney Park Estate, no doubt fearing increased traffic from the book, claimed that the bridge was dangerous and closed it.
In 2012 the group decided to use the proceeds from the book sales (£4,500) to replace the bridge. However, this was not easy. It required the dedication of a new stretch of path over the river to join the B4234 Lydney to Whitecroft road and a diversion to enable the path to link into the network.
The county council raised problems over Japanese knotweed which had to be cleared, and dormice (although much of the area was flooded). Hence Rod Goodman provided a dormouse box complete with lifebelt.
The group obtained planning permission for the bridge in March 2013.
After many problems and setbacks, at last in June 2014 everything was ready for the installation of the bridge. This was another challenge because it was impossible to come in by road. The Forest of Dean Railway came to the rescue, delivering the parts by train. The operation required much organisation and skill, and those volunteers who couldn’t do the heavy work provided the tea and cakes.
And when the bridge was built Rod remembered the dippers which flit up and down the river, and thoughtfully provided a nesting box for them.
Then the group installed a boardwalk and flight of wooden steps down the bank from the road to the bridge. In fact, the group built everything except for the bridge itself which was provided by the county council.
And so on 9 June, to celebrate the completion of the project we congregated by the bridge, having walked the short distance from Norchard station, past a lovely waterfall on the Lyd.
The publicity secretary Barbara Fisher opened the proceedings; chairman Mike Ingleby told us how it was all achieved; the mayor of Lydney, Councillor Bob Berryman cut the ribbon, and I unveiled the plaque.
And then we drank a toast to a tremendous team effort and a wonderful band of volunteers.
* grid reference SO 624 049.