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This Family Forest Retreat is a Hidden Gem, Without the Center Parcs Price Tag and Crowds

woodland lodge

If you’re looking for a family forest retreat, without the Center Parcs price tag and crowds, then get your derrieres along to the Forest of Dean’s hidden gem, Whitemead Forest Park.

The resort appears to be guarded by more sheep than I have ever seen with my bare eyes, as we drive through sleepy, green Bream. 

Sheep and lambs fill the pavements, chewing grass outside pretty, sandstone pubs; dozing in bus stops and ambling across people’s lawns.

The area is famous for its free roaming sheep - a Forest tradition dating back more than 800 years, when every free man was given the rights of common pasturage for their sheep, as well as permission to release pigs into the Forest to graze, which led to the release of wild boar. There are now more than 1000 boar roaming the Forest, but you are more likely to encounter them on local pub menus, from boar sausage rolls to burgers.

Our car stops at the Whitemead Forest Park welcome pod, where a jolly receptionist gives us our welcome packs and key cards. Then we drive off, past families on bikes, through the resort, which is flanked by tall, ancient trees, to our dog-friendly woodland lodge.

family forest retreat

It’s spotlessly clean, comfortable and simple. There's neutral decor, with a kitchen, dining area and lounge in one room, which opens out onto a pretty balcony, with an outdoor dining set overlooking the rolling green Forest and pond.

woodland lodge

There’s a bathroom, double bedroom with ensuite shower room and a twin room - our children will excitedly sleep in each of these beds over the next four nights.

Whitemead has a range of accommodation, from apartments and bungalows with hot tubs to luxury glamping pods (complete with underfloor heating) and log cabins with hot tubs nestled within the trees.

glamping pod

Our dog is given a welcome pack with blanket, ball, treats and poo bags and since he’s been so good on the journey here and hasn’t eaten a single sheep, we decide to kick off the trip with a dog walk.

First, we check out the Furry Friends Play Park, where he and our children enjoy the mud and obstacle courses in its enclosed area.

dog agility course

Then we head into the site's beautiful, historic woodlands. It’s a moss carpeted, magical trail through towering oaks, flowering willows, yews, beech and sweet chestnuts, spliced by beams of dappled light.

We keep our eyes peeled for wild boar, but seem to have the tranquil woods to ourselves, and the only sounds (beside our endlessly chattering children) are the assorted birds, singing to each other.

Forest of Dean

There’s also a warm dog shower on the way back from the woods, which deserves a blue plaque for being the first place our dog has happily been de-mudded.

The Club House is the main base for the retreat, housing a pool, sauna, steam room, restaurant, bar and rooms for their entertainment programming. Only its outdoor terrace is dog-friendly, so we leave our dog at the lodge, and head back for dinner. 

whitehead forest restaurant

The menu serves comfort food classics - pizza, burgers, fish and chips in the evening and a Street Food menu, from which we order their Spiced Sweet Potato Falafel and Chicken Fajitas.

It serves up all the usual kid-pleasing dinners, although the biggest hit is the Unicorn Waffle - Belgian waffles with luminous blue ice cream and marshmallows. 

There’s a more relaxed area, which we use for light lunches, where our children play on free computers, toys and gaming tables, chomping their way through woodland themed lunch packs, while we grab a jacket potato or baguette.

We return to the Club House in the evening for the Kids’ Games Night in their entertainment room, where we relieve the bar of drinks, while our children get off their chops on various sugary prizes, excitedly won in various games held by the entertainment team. 

There’s a good variety of activities that can be booked, and many are held in this space. We bring our children back here for the slime making class and an arts class, which are big hits, as well as the free kids’ disco and karaoke nights, where they enjoy screeching along to Frozen hits far more than the grimacing parents, applauding them. Pleasingly, none of these activities are crowded, so all children receive plenty of attention from staff, prizes and opportunities to get involved.

whitehead forest pool

The lack of crowds in the busy Easter holidays is a huge plus, for a London family used to being poured into attractions with a horde of sweaty children and pointy elbows.

Even on rainy days at peak times, there is no problem finding a family changing room and there is plenty of space in the pool and Jacuzzis.

Our children’s highlights are the water activities we book in here, from Water Walkerz - where my daughter bounces across the pool in a giant ball, like a delighted hamster - to both children zipping around the pool on mini jetskis. 

water walkerz

The soggy weather offers occasional moments of sunshine and blue skies, allowing us a taster of how lovely the outside spaces are in the sunshine. 

There's a Gruffalo themed play park with tree houses and swings, which our children tear about in, while we drink coffee/wine (depending on the hour and how loud they’ve been) beneath swinging, pastel sun sails at the Forester’s Terrace.

tree house

The tranquil terrace has a kiosk serving drinks, ice cream and waffles, surrounded by rolling green countryside, trees and near an intriguing gravestone with “Satan” carved into it - fear not, it apparently marks the remains of the late, Deputy Surveyor of Dean Forest, Philip Baylis’s beloved Daschund, buried in 1906. There’s also an agility course play park near our lodge, which the kids love. 

food pod

Everything is tastefully, woodland themed, including its fabulous Adventure Golf, filled with hooting owls, squirrels and water features - the children particularly enjoy standing on the raft and pulling a rope to take us across the water to the penultimate hole. For older children, there’s also outdoor archery and Go-Carts.

adventure golf

The retreat makes an excellent base from which to explore the area, which is steeped in fascinating history - Normans and Tudor Kings hunted here, freeminers dug for coal and iron for centuries in the 600 acres of natural caves and passageways beneath the Forest, and Verderers still meet at the 17th century Speech House to discuss the protection of the “vert and venison.”

We visit the Perrygrove Railway Adventure, which is a five minute drive away. It’s an impossibly cute, dog-friendly steam train, which drops us off at various spots, to discover play areas and beautiful walks, from adventures in tree houses with bouncy bridges and slides, to an indoor Twilight Village, filled with secret doors and passages; parks and a brilliant, underground warren adventure, crawling through various green pipes with lookout towers and slides.

perrygrove railway

A range of traditional, dog-friendly village pubs are also a short stroll away. We check out The Fountain Inn, a lovely, 16th Century pub, serving quality, seasonal dishes - we enjoy their honey glazed salmon on garlic potatoes and the creamy, whisky chicken. We also eat at The Woodman, a cosy, stone-walled spot serving gastropub classics.

It’s a peaceful, pretty retreat away from the crowds, filled with family activities and offering excellent value - prices start from £153 for a two-night midweek stay in a Mega Pod X on select dates between May and September.

And we all leave feeling genuinely rested after some remarkable sleeping wins for a family with one night owl child and one early-rising skylark… perhaps it was all the sheep counting?

Whitemead Forest Park, Parkend, Lydney GL15 4LA. Prices start from £153 for a two-night midweek stay in a Mega Pod X on select dates between May and September. Two-night midweek stays in a Mega Pod X are priced from £162 in June and July and from £265.50 in August.


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