As we enter the Forest of Dean my daughter Sophie is highly amused by the place names. There’s Green Bottom, The Pludds and Shortstanding. She can’t wait to find Leg Tump and Wallsprings Wood, which she’s spotted on our map. She’s also keen to spot deer and wild boar – the latter preferably from a distance. There’s plenty of evidence of the grumpy boar in the churned-up roadsides. It’s reassuring to learn that they avoid humans.

Our first wildlife encounter is with something far more appealing. One of the Dean Heritage Centre’s main attractions for children, besides the Gruffalo’s Child Woodland Trail, is Albie, the cutest ferret. Sophie joins a queue of other youngsters eager to take him for a walk.

The forest is perfect for cyclists. The Family Cycle Path runs through the heart of it away from traffic. There’s a timeless feel to the place, though reminders of its industrial past appear in abandoned mines, disused railways, forges and mills. Then there’s the scowles, strange landscape features which vary from shallow hollows to deep holes.

It’s these scowles which help create the fantasy-world atmosphere of Puzzlewood. Fans of The Lord of The Rings liken this land of tangled trees with their moss-covered branches and rocky gulleys to Fangorn, the forest in Middle Earth. Sophie runs off down ‘secret’ paths, through narrow gorges, skipping across stepping stones and wooden bridges. For small children there’s a springy straw maze to bounce around in, a playground, donkeys and other animals and an under-fives’ racing track.

Just up the road is Perrygrove Railway and Treetop Adventure, where there are tree houses to explore and unlimited rides on a narrow gauge steam railway.

The Camping In The Forest site at Christchurch offers ranger activities for families including a night vision mission to see what wildlife lurks close by. Torches are banned. Instead we arm ourselves with night vision monoculars. A shadowy form rushes across the field ahead. “I’ve seen one,” I hiss, not exactly sure what it is. Suddenly there’s lots of whispering; …”to the right, three deer….”.

What Sophie had really wanted to see was a boar. Her excitement grows when ranger Chris Smillie uncovers their tracks during a Forest Survival expedition, a fun way to learn the basics of surviving a night in the woods, foraging for food, shelter building and natural medicinal remedies.

There are supposedly 300 boars about yet, to Sophie’s disappointment, they prove elusive.

A 1.5 mile (2.4km) stroll through the forest from Christchurch brings us out at one of the most famous viewpoints in the country, Yat Rock. RSPB volunteers are out in force to point out the peregrine falcons which nest there.

Until the 18th century when industrialisation of the forest began, local workers had no need for clocks and lived by ‘forest time’. Sophie certainly lost all track of time. She was tucked up much earlier than usual, happily tired out by this tree-climbing, cycling and walking paradise.

ESSENTIALS Tourist information www.visitforestof Where to stay Camping In The Forest Christchurch site has pitches for those with their own units (tents, motorhomes, caravans). Open all year. See www.campinginthe or call 01594 837165. Adjacent are Forest Holidays’ cabins with one to four bedrooms or you can sleep in The Golden Oak Treehouse, accessorised by Laurence Llewelyn-Bowen. www.forestholidays. 0845 130 8223