I've been a regular visitor to the Severn Vale and Wye Valley areas of Gloucestershire and Herefordshire for the best part of 30 years, and yet the leafy bit in the middle that makes up the Royal Forest of Dean remains something of a mystery to me. It's a place I've viewed from afar and even driven through on occasion, but I've yet to get a handle on the forests undeniable tourist appeal. Is it good walking country? A challenging cycling space? A happy hunting ground for those who appreciate industrial heritage? Or a slightly mysterious, ancient wooded hinterland, populated by hardy smallholders and dangerous Wild Boar? All of the above and a fair bit more I don't doubt.
Recently though, I've gained something of a foothold in the forest by visiting one or two of the areas better pubs, some of which are home to one of Britain's rarer regional pub games. I've examined Indoor Quoits (known simply as Quoits to those who play it) on this blog before, and if you've never seen or heard of the game before, it may be worth reading my short account of it here. Quoits can be found from Shropshire in the north, Warwickshire and the West Midlands in the East, and throughout Herefordshire and the Welsh Borders to the West. Gloucestershire, and the Forest of Dean in particular, represent the furthest south that Quoits is generally found, and these areas may well represent the historical limits of the game.
Quoits Boards like the one shown here at the Fountain Inn were probably as prevalent in the Forest of Dean during the games heyday as Dartboards and Pool Tables are now. Sadly a great many forest pubs have closed in recent years, and those that remain are more often than not lacking the local game. That's a great shame because Quoits lends itself so well to the casual afternoon or evening game. Easy to learn, and accessible to people of all ages and abilities. Indeed it's an ideal amusement (and curiosity) for tourists to the area, particularly on a rainy day or dark winter evening.
The Fountain takes full advantage of the forest tourist trade, located as it is just a stones-throw from Parkend station on the popular Dean Forest Railway, which runs daytime steam and diesel services on Wednesdays and weekends from the mainline at Lydney. As with many pubs in the forest, food and accommodation are crucial to the success of the Fountain, but that doesn't mean that the locals have been squeezed out.
The brightly painted Quoits Board shares an 'oche' with the Dartboard, and is usually folded down out of the way when not in use. Apparently this is the only wooden board still in play in the forest league, most venues preferring the heavy pre-formed concrete variety found in Hereford and elsewhere. Many of these concrete boards are also painted all-white rather than the traditional red and green seen here at the Fountain, though why this might be I've yet to discover. Quoits and Darts can be found to the left of the bar counter, and these include a set of the earlier concave rubber Quoits as well as the more common black and white variety. League play at the Fountain is in the Royal Forest of Dean Quoits League, which operates Summer and Winter competitions at around seven venues in the Forest area.
Other than the Hereford league where scoring follows a similar pattern to Darts, league Quoits play is scored on special scoreboards like the one shown above. I've seen several of these now, and despite the fact that Quoits Boards and the rubber quoits themselves have been manufactured from the early 20th century to the present day, these scoreboards are always homemade affairs, and therefore entirely unique to each pub or club venue. This one is numbered up to 12, which is I think the standard for the Forest of Dean League.
The next time I visit the Forest of Dean, I'm hoping to catch a league game. I play Quoits quite regularly at home and in our own local pubs, but it would be interesting to gauge how good these regular players are in comparison to our own more casual efforts. A better understanding of how the scoreboard contributes to tactics in the game wouldn't hurt either. Minor mysteries for another day in the Forest of Dean...