As the Princess and the Duchess passed gracefully by, sunlight reflecting from their perfectly preserved bodies, they flattened the grass beneath their vast weight and belched dark smoke from their tall stacks. Their compound engines hissed and putted as steam escaped through various valves. Other engines followed them around the show ground, the engineers and drivers working at the wheels and levers, smiles beaming from the faces of their passengers. The air was filled with of a heady mixture of oil, coal dust and steam while the easily recognisable sound of traditional fairground music provided the soundtrack.
We’d joined the Wildcamping forum for their annual camp at the Ram public house in Brandon, timed to coincide with the Weeting steam rally and country fayre. The rally attracts many steam powered vehicles, but also other vintage vehicles, tractors and military vehicles. We spent the day watching various demonstrations from the age of steam, the engines being put to an array of uses, including stone breaking, forestry work and ploughing. More steam engines ran generators which powered the fairground rides, while a steam powered bus ferried visitors around the large site. At the edge of the event a couple of Shire horses looked on at the technology that replaced them.
The van screeched to a halt in the darkness, the dim headlights just about illuminating the startled family of wild boar sprinting across the road ahead of us. They were lucky, it was late and we were tired, but were travelling slowly as we were looking for somewhere to sleep. We pulled into a secluded parking area, put the beds down and fell into a deep sleep, dreaming dreams of bacon rolls and crispy pork scratchings.
As well as wild boar, the Forest of Dean is also home to some pretty decent mountain biking trails. We had planned to ride them earlier in the year when we visited the area to watch the Severn Bore but a broken bike meant we had enjoyed the forest on foot instead. Back now with two working bikes we parked at the Cannop Cycle Centre to start our ride. After spending some time playing in the skills area we headed off for a lap of the much acclaimed Verderers’ trail.
In the late morning heat we rode up the first fire road climb, desperate to get some shelter from the sun and soon enough we were under the cover of the trees and racing back down the flowing swoopy bermed track. The day progressed, up and down, in and out of dappled sunlight, riding more interesting switchback climbs up hillsides and more flowing descents, culminating in a steep set of rollers and fast bermed corners on stoney ground.
Hot and dusty we made use of the centre’s shower facilities before looking for another spot in the forest to spend the night, eventually settling near a lake with a motorhome for company. There was evidence all around of wild boars’ nocturnal foraging, but we weren’t treated to a more sedate boar sighting.
The next day followed pretty much the same pattern with another lap of the Verderers’ trail under the same bright blue skies. In the height of summer the forest was a vibrant green and as we raced along the trail we were accompanied by a soundtrack of birdsong. We stopped for a while to catch our breath and watch a bird of prey that we’d heard circling above us.
We were just as hot and dusty as the previous day so made use of the van’s own cold water shower in the carpark before heading south for a weekend of campervans in Sommerset with the California Owners Forum.