Family days out in June 2015

I’m lucky enough to be writing this blog post whilst on holiday. Hopefully the sky will remain blue and the sun will shine on the June round-up of events below.

1. World Pooh Sticks championships, Oxfordshire

Last year I was runner up in the World Pooh Stick championships; you can read all about it here. This year Pooh Sticks has moved to a new location at Cogges Farm, Witney and takes place on 7 June. Find out about the championship here (I’ve also just discovered my prize presentation photo in the 2014 championship web pages!).

2. Magna Carta events

This year is the 800th anniversary of the sealing of the Magna Carta by King John.

Events are taking place across the UK but perhaps the most family friendly one is a celebratory river pageant along the Thames on the 13 and 14 June. Details of the route from Hurley to Runnymede, which will be led by the royal barge Gloriana can be found here.

3. Golowan Festival, Penzance, Cornwall

The Golowan Festival in Penzance runs from 19-28 June. The festival celebrates midsummer with the two main events being Mazey Day on 27 June and Quay Day on 28 June. Mazey Day is the centrepiece with thousands watching a procession of giant sculptures and floats  through the centre of Penzance.

4. Trooping the colour, London

Trooping the Colour takes place on Saturday 13 June to celebrate the Queen’s birthday.

Two hundred horses, four hundred musicians and more than twelve hundred officers and men will parade from Buckingham Palace along The Mall to Horse Guards Parade, Whitehall and back again.

5. Festival of nature, Bristol

The Bristol Festival of Nature is the largest of its kind in the country. Running over the weekend of 13-14 June the free festival takes place at Bristol Harbourside. You can visit a pop up butterfly garden, help make a large bug garden, listen to wildlife talks and meet experts from the main environmental organisations. A full programme is available here.

6. Edinburgh Festival of Cycling

If you enjoy cycling and will be in Edinburgh between 11-21 June then check out the Festival of Cycling. The event calendar includes a family cycling tour through Leith, cyclo speedway coaching for kids and a bike curious family workshop.

7. Sand angels world record attempt, Pembrokeshire

Ever fancied being a record breaker? Keep Wales Tidy are attempting to break the Guinness World record for the largest number of simultaneous sand angels on 6 June at Freshwater West beach. If you fancy taking part, you can register your interest here. The record attempt will be followed by a big beach clean.

8. Open Farm Sunday, nationwide

Hundreds of farms around the country will be open to visitors on Sunday 7 June. There will be opportunities to meet animals, go on a trailer ride and to tour the farms.

Look for a participating farm near you and find out more about Open Farm Sunday here.

9. International Mersey River Festival, Liverpool

The free Mersey River festival runs from 4-7 June with Tall Ships, air displays, street theatre and music amongst the many activities. Attracting more than 200,000 visitors in 2014 the festival has lots to offer the entire family.

10. Father’s Day events, nationwide

English Heritage are celebrating Father’s Day with a variety of events. You can take part in Dad’s Roman Army at Chesters Roman Fort, Hadrian’s Wall over the weekend of 20-21 June or Knights School for fathers on 21 June at Bolsover Castle. Further events are listed on the English Heritage website.

As always, if you have any further suggestions for days out in June please do leave a comment.

 

An amazing walk from Bourton-on-the-Water, Gloucs

This 4 mile circular walk from Bourton-on-the-Water takes in two Cotswold villages, a nature reserve and, not one, but two mazes. Hence the cheesy pun in the title!

Tourist literature describes Bourton-on-the-Water as ‘Venice of the Cotswolds’. Whilst the River Windrush flows through the village it doesn’t bear much resemblance to Venice except for the crowds of visitors. Once you’ve put the analogy aside it’s an enjoyable place to spend a few hours and, as we found, it’s easy to escape the tourist hordes.

Greystones Farm nature Reserve
Greystones Farm nature Reserve

As is almost always the case, a 10 minute walk from the village centre took us away from the day trippers. We left Bourton-on-the-Water via Greystones Farm Nature Reserve, which is managed by the Gloucestershire Wildlife Trust.

We followed the route through the farmyard past an unusual looking building marked with the words ‘Lely Astronaut’. I thought it might be an observatory but we found a small viewing window and realised it was a robotic milking parlour. We watched one of the cows for a while, hoping to see it getting milked, but the cow had other ideas so we left it in peace.

Unusual gate at Greystones Farm nature Reserve
Unusual gate at Greystones Farm nature Reserve

Leaving the farmyard we encountered this gate which had a convenient person shaped hole in it. It wasn’t so convenient for the people behind us who had multiple dogs, one of whom they were pulling along in a cycle trailer!

Further on we found some badger setts. The badgers were tucked up underground as it was the middle of the day but it would be great to stake out one of the setts.

Checking for badgers
Checking for badgers

We walked on through meadows before crossing the River Eye and River Dickler. Otters and water voles evidently frequent these rivers but we searched in vain for footprints on the banks. Even though we didn’t see signs of these elusive animals it was great to explore the incredibly clear rivers.

River Dickler, Greystones Farm
River Dickler, Greystones Farm

We managed to take a wrong turning after crossing the bridge. As we walked on the instructions started to differ from the route and when we reached a road it became obvious we’d gone the wrong way. Whoops. Fortunately we’d bought an OS map so we could work out where we were supposed to be, just a pity I hadn’t checked it sooner. On the positive side we did hear our first cuckoo of the year.

We reached the village of Wyck Rissington via our unplanned road detour. This unspoilt Cotswold village is a complete contrast to the tourist honeypot of Bourton-on-the-Water. We only saw one other person in the village visiting its picturesque duckpond and Cotswold stone buildings.

Wyck Rissington
Wyck Rissington

Wyck Rissington does have a couple of claims to fame. The composer Holst worked as an organist in the church in 1892. Holst enthusiasts can follow the 35 mile Gustav Holst walk which passes through places associated with the composer and ends at the church.

Of more interest to us was a story I’d heard about a maze in the rectory garden. It turned out we were 30 years too late as it was dismantled when the rectory was sold. However there is a mosaic inside the church which is a copy of the original maze. Can you complete it?

Mosaic maze in Wyck Rissington church
Mosaic maze in Wyck Rissington church

Our walk back to Bourton-on-the-Water was almost scuppered when we encountered a dog walker who told us about a herd of cows blocking our access ahead. Neither my daughter or I are fans but after checking the map we realised we’d either have to retrace our earlier route or brave the cows. With some nervousness we settled on the latter. We had several fields to cross; each one was carefully checked but there were no cows to be seen. Either they’d gone in for milking or the dog walker had imagined them. I was relieved!

The final stretch of walk took us past fishing lakes back into the village and onto our second maze of the day.

Dragongly Maze, Bourton-on-the-Water

One of the reasons Bourton-on-the Water is so popular is because of its many attractions. These include Birdland, a model village, motor museum and a maze. We had time to spare after our walk so decided to explore the Dragonfly Maze.

Dragonfly Maze, Bourton-on-the-Water
Dragonfly Maze, Bourton-on-the-Water

Dragonfly Maze is a yew maze with a twist. In addition to finding the centre of the maze we needed to solve clues along the way in order to fully enjoy the attraction at the centre (I’m trying not to give anything away here).

The clues are picture based, similar to the top left hand photograph above. We didn’t manage to find one of them but were still able to solve the puzzle. The maze took us about 30 minutes to finish; it’s not particularly big but the added puzzle made it an entertaining way to finish our walk.

Smiths of Bourton tearoom

In my view, a walk can only be perfect if there’s a good tearoom somewhere en route. We were spoilt for choice in the village but settled on Smiths of Bourton tearoom.

We initially visited for lunch before our walk; I had a Ploughmans, the children sandwiches and my partner a fish finger sandwich. They were all delicious although my partner hadn’t expected either tomato ketchup or mushy peas inside his sandwich. This was rather unfortunate as he doesn’t like them; fortunately both kids do so after some sandwich swapping everyone ended up with something they enjoyed.

Smiths of Bourton
Smiths of Bourton

We returned after our walk for cake and coffee. My daughter was embarrassed to see one of her school teachers sitting on the table next to us, particularly as we were a good hour’s drive from home. I, on the other hand, was happy to see that the tearoom offered a selection of 3 smaller size cakes for £3.95. Perfect for me as I can never make up my mind. I chose fruit, carrot and chocolate cakes to share with the kids. If I’d been a proper food blogger I’d have Instagrammed the cakes, but I only thought about this after I’d ate them. You’ll just have to take my word that they were all delicious, a perfect end to our afternoon walk.

More info:

  • We followed the Bourton-on-the-Water and Wyck Rissington Jubilee walk. It’s 4 miles long and flat so easy to do with children. There are loads of cafés, pubs and other facilities available in Bourton.
  • The Dragonfly Maze is open year round, depending on the weather. A family ticket for 2 adults and 2 children under 12 costs £9.

Linking up with:
Country Kids from Coombe Mill Family Farm Holidays Cornwall

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Discovering Dover Castle, Kent

Have you been to Dover Castle? It’s one of English Heritage’s top attractions, popular with visitors from across the world. Located above the white cliffs, the site occupies a prominent defensive location and is a microcosm of British history.

To give you just a flavour. First used by Iron Age inhabitants as a hill fort, the Romans built a lighthouse, the Saxons a church. Henry II is responsible for the stone tower, Henry III added gatehouses whilst Henry VIII just visited. Underground tunnels were built during the Napoleonic Wars; these became the headquarters of Operation Dynamo in World War II and a nuclear refuge in the Cold War. And now they’re invaded by tourists, including us!

Dover Castle
Dover Castle

With so much to see its difficult to know where to start but as we’d been warned about queues for the tunnels that’s where we headed first.

There are more than 3 miles of tunnels in the chalk cliffs, most of which are inaccessible to visitors. However the World War II Secret Wartime Tunnels and Underground Hospital are open. Although we’d arrived early we were disappointed to find there was already a 90 minute wait to tour the main set of tunnels. We reluctantly decided to skip these and just visit the underground hospital.

Entrance to wartime tunnels
Entrance to wartime tunnels

The hospital tunnels were used from 1941 as a triage centre for wounded troops. Medical dressings were applied and emergency operations carried out to stabilise the injured before they were moved further inland to recuperate. We joined a tour and followed the story of an injured pilot. This took us through recreated rooms complete with ‘real’ wartime sounds and dimming lights to make us feel as if we we’re under attack. The operating theatre was my favourite but it was also interesting to see the everyday dormitories where some of the women lived.

Dover Castle
Dover Castle

I’d spotted another set of tunnels on the map so after a coffee break we took a long walk round to the opposite side of the castle. Built during and after the 1216 siege to help protect the castle from attack is a maze of medieval tunnels. Dark and atmospheric in places, they give you a real feel for how life might have been. I’m pretty sure I wouldn’t have wanted to be a soldier!

Dover Castle great tower
Dover Castle great tower

By then we’d had enough of tunnels so headed above ground to see the star attraction, the Great Tower. This was used both to entertain visitors and as state apartments for the king. Many of the rooms, such as the king’s chamber, have been furnished and richly decorated to reflect this. I read that the walls are 6.5 metre thick in places, you could never imagine that in a modern building.

Inside the Great Tower, Dover Castle
Inside the Great Tower, Dover Castle

From the top of the Great Tower the views out across the Channel are impressive. It’s easy to see France on a clear day but even if the weather is cloudy it’s mesmerising to just watch the comings and goings of the port traffic.

View from the Great Tower, Dover Castle
View from the Great Tower, Dover Castle

Our next stop was lunch in the Great Tower cafe; a disappointing choice. It was a Bank Holiday weekend so you’d expect them to be prepared for a busy time but the cafe appeared overwhelmed with visitors. At 12.45pm we were queuing out of the door only to find that they’d run out of kids sandwiches and there was no bread to make any more. On the positive side, the cafe staff were flexible and allowed us to substitute an adult sandwich, split between the kids boxes. Upon sitting down we discovered our filter coffees were cold but at that point I had no desire to go back and complain!

Roman lighthouse at Dover castle
Roman lighthouse at Dover castle

We walked off our lunch with a wander around the battlements out to the church and lighthouse. The kids enjoyed a runaround at Avranches Tower which was once a multi-level tower used by archers firing crossbows.

I was particularly impressed with the Roman lighthouse. Almost 2000 years old it is one of a pair which once protected the Roman port of Dubris. Although you cannot tell from the photo above it stands right next to the Saxon church, rather a strange pairing!

The visit was wrapped up with a trip to the gift shop and an ice cream. Although we spent most of the day at the castle we didn’t see everything. So what are my tips for other visitors to Dover Castle? Definitely plan an entire day on site, take a picnic and try to visit on a quiet day.

More info:

  • Dover Castle is open daily for most of the year but only at weekends during the winter. Check the website for exact opening times. It’s run by English Heritage so is free to members, a family ticket for non-members costs £46.80 excluding gift aid.

Great Bedwyn and Wilton windmill walk, Wiltshire

This AA circular walk from Great Bedwyn is full of variety and at just over 5 miles is perfect for families. Encompassing a canalside walk, the option to visit two industrial heritage attractions and finishing with a woodland trail there’s plenty to keep kids occupied.

Great Bedwyn Post Office and shop
Great Bedwyn Post Office and shop

Our walk started from the village of Great Bedwyn. We passed the village Post Office, intriguingly adorned with stone plaques and monuments. They’re a legacy of Lloyd’s stonemasons who once operated in the village. My son couldn’t resist pressing the ‘Operate’ button on a pineapple shaped fountain; fortunately for him there was no water in it.

Footpath past St Mary's church, Great Bedwyn
Footpath past St Mary’s church, Great Bedwyn

Walking past the church we found even more stonework as the path was made of headstones! We crossed over the railway track (used by high speed trains so cross carefully) to reach the canal.

Kennet and Avon canal, Great Bedwyn
Kennet and Avon canal, Great Bedwyn

Our route took us alongside the canal for 1.5 miles. There weren’t many boats around but we did stop to watch one going through the locks. I often fancy hiring a canal boat for the weekend but I think I’d be a little nervous about crashing it.

Butterbur - not a rare orchid!
Butterbur – not a rare orchid!

The flower above lined the ditch beside the canal path. I’d never seen one before so hoped it was something rare. However my mum immediately identified it as butterbur, not rare at all. The plant has many herbal medicine uses and its leaves were once used to wrap butter, hence the name.

Kennet and Avon canal, Great Bedwyn
Kennet and Avon canal, Great Bedwyn

The Crofton pumping station marked the turning off point of our canal walk. Crofton Beam Engines were built around 200 years ago to help supply water to the upper stretches of the Avon and Kennet canal. The engines still work and are generally open for steaming weekends once a month.

Crofton Pumping station
Crofton Pumping station

From Crofton we walked into the village of Wilton. Wilton has the most pristine duck pond I’ve ever seen. Surrounded by picture postcard thatched cottages, one of the gardens had a small rowing boat temptingly moored next to it. My daughter has decided she’s going to live in the village when she’s older; I daren’t tell her how much it’s likely to cost!

Wilton Windmill
Wilton Windmill

It’s a relatively short, but uphill, walk to the nearby Wilton windmill. Wilton windmill was built in 1821 and was in use for 100 years before falling into disuse. The mill was subsequently restored and is once again used for making flour. We could only look from the outside as we hadn’t managed to co-ordinate our visit with its opening hours.

'Stick' fighting, Bedwyn Brail
‘Stick’ fighting, Bedwyn Brail

The last part of the trail took us back through the woods. Although we were never in serious danger of getting lost there were a few points where I wondered whether we were going the right way. Quite a few areas had been felled recently creating new clearings, which meant the walk instructions were harder to follow.

We knew we were on the right path when the village of Great Bedwyn came into view. A final downhill stretch, a short walk along the canal and we were back at the car having enjoyed a great afternoon walk.

And lastly a little request. If you enjoy reading this blog I’d be grateful if you could pop over and vote for ‘A family day out’ in the Best Family Fun and/or Family Travel category of the MAD blog awards. Thank you!

More info

  • Check the Crofton Beam Engines website for details of opening hours and dates. Adults cost £4.50 for static open days or £8 when the engines are in steam; children are free.
  • Wilton windmill is open 3-5pm on Sundays and Bank Holiday Mondays between Easter and the end of September. Adult tickets are £4 each, children are free. Even if the windmill itself is closed you can still walk around the site, view from the outside and use the picnic benches.