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Puzzlewood is located in Gloucestershire
Puzzlewood in Gloucestershire
Part of Puzzlewood showing a typical scene of tree roots, rocks and moss
Puzzlewood (Andy Dingley).jpg

Puzzlewood (grid reference SO578092) is an ancient woodland site and tourist attraction, near Coleford in the Forest of Dean, Gloucestershire, England.[1][2] The site, covering 14 acres (5.7 ha), shows evidence of open cast iron ore mining dating from the Roman period, and possibly earlier.

Over a mile of pathways were laid down in the early 19th century to provide access to the woods, and provide picturesque walks. The area contains strange rock formations, secret caves and ancient trees, with a confusing maze of paths. Puzzlewood is said to be one of J. R. R. Tolkien's inspirations[3] for Middle-earth in The Lord of the Rings.

The site is listed in the 'Forest of Dean Local Plan Review'.[4]


The geological features on show at Puzzlewood are known as scowles. Scowles originated through the erosion of natural underground cave systems formed in the Carboniferous Limestone many millions of years ago. Uplift and erosion caused the cave system to become exposed at the surface. This was then exploited by Iron Age settlers through to Roman times for the extraction of iron ore. It is usually impossible to date open cast extraction precisely, although ores with a chemical signature consistent with those from the Forest of Dean were certainly used to make tools and weapons in the late prehistoric period.[5]

Evidence of Roman occupation of the area is supported by the discovery of a hoard of over 3,000 3rd Century AD coins which were found in the scowles of Puzzlewood. Bristol and Gloucestershire Archaeological Society Once the Romans left, nature reclaimed the old workings with moss and trees, to create the unique landscape. The historical use soon became forgotten, and the folklore of Puzzlewood began.

"The Puzzlewood Treasure"[edit]

Over 3,000 Roman era coins were found by workers in 1848. The coins were stored in three earthenware jars in a cavity in the rock formations. The origin of the coins is unknown.[6]


In the early 19th century the owner laid down a mile of pathways which meandered through the trees and gullies to open up this ancient forest, originally for the amusement of his friends and children. Then, in the early 20th century, Puzzlewood opened to the public, with an honesty box at the gate for the benefit of the local church. Since then it has remained essentially unchanged with the same pathways and bridges as in earlier times, but with the addition of visitor facilities on the Puzzlewood site. It has attracted thousands of visitors each year ever since.

Literary influences[edit]

J. R. R. Tolkien was a frequent visitor to the Forest of Dean. Puzzlewood was the inspiration for the forests of Middle-earth in The Lord of the Rings, such as the Old Forest, Mirkwood, Fangorn or Lothlórien. Tolkien may also have been inspired by the less well known scowles on the grounds of Lydney Park. When The Lord of the Rings was named Britain's favourite book in the "Big Read", Puzzlewood was used by Ray Mears to champion Tolkien's work.

Harry Potter author J.K Rowling has also visited Puzzlewood. The Forbidden Forest within the series bears some similarities to the geography of the area.

Filming location[edit]

Puzzlewood was used as a filming location for two episodes of BBC TV show Merlin, "The Labyrinth of Gedref" and "The Nightmare Begins",[7] and also the 2010 Doctor Who episode "Flesh and Stone" and the 2013 Doctor Who Christmas Special "The Time of the Doctor".[8] Puzzlewood was used in July 2014 as a film location for Star Wars: The Force Awakens.[9]


  1. ^ "Puzzlewood attraction". Retrieved 3 November 2014. 
  2. ^ "Area map with overviews". Custom dress shIrts. Retrieved 3 November 2014. 
  3. ^ Reference to Tolkien's inspiration
  4. ^ Forest of Dean District Local Plan Review, adopted November 2005, Appendix D 'Nature Conservation Site Designations Within the Forest of Dean District', Regionally important Geological Sites (RIGS), Item 22
  5. ^ "Gloucestershire County Council Information Sheet: The Scowles of the Forest of Dean". Retrieved 3 November 2014. 
  6. ^ "The Wood - a brief history". puzzlewood.net. Retrieved 30 November 2014. 
  7. ^ BBC Merlin filming locations
  8. ^ "Doctor Who: Behind the scenes at Puzzlewood". BBC. Retrieved 23 September 2013. 
  9. ^ "BBC News - Letter confirms Star Wars Forest of Dean filming". BBC News. Retrieved 3 November 2014. 

External links[edit]

Coordinates: 51°46′48″N 2°36′54″W / 51.780°N 2.615°W / 51.780; -2.615