Oxford Jericho and canal treasure trail review

Oxford is a great city to visit but it’s good to escape the tourists and head to less well known areas. Whilst in Blackwell’s Bookshop recently I discovered a Treasure Trail covering Jericho and Oxford Canal and knew it would be the perfect opportunity to discover a different part of the city.

If you’ve never done a Treasure Trail before the aim is to find the location of treasure by following directions and solving clues. Each trail contains around 20 clues and involves 2-3 miles of walking. The clues are relatively easy to solve and are suitable for primary school kids; most involve hunting out signs or carrying out simple sums. At the end you should be left with one answer which you can text to a central number. If correct your entry is added into a yearly prize draw to win £1000!

Worcester College, Oxford

Worcester College, Oxford

Our trail started in Worcester St car park in central Oxford. This part of town is currently full of roadworks, buses and tourists so it was a relief to get past the first couple of clues and into a slightly quieter area.

St Giles war memorial. Oxford

St Giles war memorial. Oxford

We stopped to look at the war memorial and solve a clue. The memorial has no names but is dedicated to soldiers from Oxford who lost their lives in the First and Second World Wars. Nearby we found a sign indicating the location of a Big Game Museum which housed hunting trophies back in the early 1900s. I need to be careful not to give away any clue answers here!

The kids loved this cat!

The kids loved this cat!

The trail then led us through Jericho. Nowadays this area is a desirable place to live, full of character with lots of cafés and independent shops. My kids discovered a cat snoozing in a shop window and were desperate to go in and stroke it, a great sales tactic!

Back in the 1800s Jericho was slum central when open sewers and poor drainage resulted in cholera and typhoid outbreaks. In the 1950s the area was notorious as a red light district, and more recently it was the scene of fictional murders in Morse and Lewis.

St Barnabas Church, Oxford

St Barnabas Church, Oxford

The Venetian style campanile of St Barnabas dominates the area and looks a little out of place (albeit in a nice way). There are plans to develop the area around the church and in the nearby Castle Mill boatyard; these have been subject to much controversy over the last few years.

St Sepulchre's Cemetery, Oxford

St Sepulchre’s Cemetery, Oxford

We’d have never found St Sepulchre’s Cemetery without the trail. Situated down a rubbish filled alley next to a convenience store it’s not a place you’d immediately rush to visit but once you pass through the iron gates it’s as if you’ve stepped back in time. The cemetery closed to new burials in 1945 and had become overgrown and unloved until a group of volunteers took charge and helped restore its beauty. Nowadays it’s a wildlife haven and peaceful corner of the city.

Oxford canal

Oxford canal

The last part of the trail took us along Oxford Canal back into the city centre. The 78 mile canal links Oxford to Coventry and was once an important transport link but nowadays is primarily used by pleasure boaters. The canal path was busy with locals, dog walkers and the occasional tourist and took us right back into central Oxford.

Bridge 243, Oxford Canal

Bridge 243, Oxford Canal

We’d managed to solve almost all of the clues although one had got the better of us. Nethertheless it was a great way to see a different side to a city that I thought I knew well.

More info:

  • Treasure Trails are available for most locations in the UK, check out the Treasure Trail website for a searchable map of locations.
  • Trails are available from the website or they can sometimes be found in local shops and Tourist Information Centres.
  • Both the printed and download version cost £6.99 which is a little strange as you’d assume an online version would be cheaper.

A day in Le Puy-en-Velay, Haute-Loire, France

It has taken a while to write but this is my final post about our holiday in the Haute-Loire region of central France. I’ve already reviewed our CosyCamp lodgings and written a round up of Things to do in the Haute-Loire but felt the town of Le Puy deserved a post of its own.

View from Rocher Saint-Michel d’Aiguilhe

View from Rocher Saint-Michel d’Aiguilhe

Le Puy-en-Velay is the most popular tourist destination in the Haute-Loire; it’s enjoyably busy rather than overrun with visitors. The town is famous for lace, Le Puy lentils and its rather unique geography. Situated in a caldera the main tourist sites sit atop volcanic plugs and tower over the surrounding streets. So what did we see?

Le Puy-en-Velay market

We visited on Saturday which is market day. The produce stalls were full of cheeses to sample, giant bulbs of garlic, weird and wonderful mushrooms as well as fresh fruit and vegetables. There was even a stall selling live rabbits and chickens. I assumed these were for the pot but a young girl appeared to be buying one as a pet so perhaps not.

Le Puy-en-Velay market

Le Puy-en-Velay market

You can guess which stall was my daughter’s favourite though……

The best thing about Le Puy market!

The best thing about Le Puy market!

Cathédrale Notre Dame du Puy

After the market we tackled our first steps of the day and walked up to the Roman Catholic cathedral. Le Puy is the starting point for the pilgrimage to Santiago de Compestela and pilgrims gather at the cathedral each morning to be blessed.

Steps to the Cathédrale Notre Dame du Puy

Steps to the Cathédrale Notre Dame du Puy

The striped facade makes for an impressive entrance but I found the inside pretty austere.

Cathedral of Notre-Dame, Le Puy-en-Velay

Cathedral of Notre-Dame, Le Puy-en-Velay

Statue of Notre-Dame de France

From the cathedral it’s a 10 minute walk, up more steps, to the statue of Notre-Dame de France. This pink statue has an impressive history; it was built from melted down cannons seized during the Siege of Sevastapol.

Statue Notre-Dame de France, Le Puy-en-Velay

Statue Notre-Dame de France, Le Puy-en-Velay

You can walk up a spiral staircase inside the statue and peek out through the top. The final part is up a narrow ladder. Be prepared to queue as only one person can go up and down at a time.

View from Statue Notre-Dame de France

View from Statue Notre-Dame de France

Even if you don’t fancy climbing inside the statue there are impressive views from the surrounding grounds. You can look down over the terracotta rooftops and across to the cathedral.

Steps down from statue of Notre-Dame, Le Puy

Steps down from statue of Notre-Dame, Le Puy

Rocher et chapelle Saint-Michel D’Aiguilhe

Our final visit of the day was to the chapel of St Michel. This was built over 1000 years ago when men thought it was possible to get closer to gods by putting places of worship on top of rocks. For modern day visitors this means yet more steps, 268 to be exact, which wind up around the rock.

Chapelle Saint-Michel, Le Puy-en-Velay

Chapelle Saint-Michel, Le Puy-en-Velay

My son decided he’d had enough walking at this point, fortunately there are several benches to sit and rest on as you climb the rock.

Rest stop in Le Puy

Rest stop in Le Puy

It’s definitely worth making the effort as there are yet more great views and an atmospheric chapel to explore on the summit. Inside we found stone arches, ceilings adorned with frescoes and stained glass windows.

Inside the Chapelle Saint-Michel D'Aiguilhe

Inside the Chapelle Saint-Michel D’Aiguilhe

If you have walking difficulties or young children you’ll find it hard to negotiate all the steps. An alternative option is to make use of Le Petit Train, a tourist train which takes you on a 45 minute circuit of the major sights.

As we headed back into town, past the tourist lace shops, we came across a wedding party in the Place du Clauzel. There were some impressive ‘Just Married’ decorations on the back of the wedding car.

Just married

Just married

We had a great day out in Le Puy and definitely recommend a visit, just remember to wear a good pair of walking shoes!

More info:

  • It’s relatively easy to find your way around the main attractions but it’s worth picking up a free map from the tourist office. Alternatively you can download one here.
  • We drove to Le Puy from our campsite. We found a parking spot pretty easily in the Place du Breuil; pay at the ticket machine when you leave.
  • The Cathédrale Notre Dame du Puy is open daily and free to visitors.
  • You can see the statue of Notre-Dame de France from many places across town but if you wish to visit there’s a charge of 4 euros for adults, 2 euros for children. It’s open from mid-February to mid-November.
  • Adult entrance to Rocher Saint-Michel D’Aiguilhe costs 3.50 euros, children aged between 6-18 years pay 2 euros. It’s open from February-mid November; check the website for opening hours as these vary according to season.

Family days out in October 2014

October is one of my favourite months. I love the changing of the season with its misty mornings and colourful leaves. And of course there’s a half term holiday too! If you’re looking for things to do in October or over the half-term break I hope you’ll find inspiration in the list below.

autumnleaves

1. Celebrate Science, Durham

From Tuesday 28 October to Thursday 30 October you can ‘Celebrate Science’ in Durham. Activities include glassblowing, making electricity from fruit and training a robot. The events are free and take place across Durham University visitor attractions. Click here for the programme.

2. Fungi foray, nationwide

October is a great month for fungi spotting; you’d be amazed at just how many varieties there are. To get you started there’s a family fungi foray at Moors Valley Country Park, Hampshire on Sunday 12 October (booking essential). You could also check out the listings for your area on the Wildlife Trust website, there’s sure to be a family oriented event near you.

3. The Big Draw, nationwide

The world’s largest drawing festival runs throughout the month of October. Galleries and museums across the UK offer drawing events which are generally free and suitable for all ages and abilities. There’s no specific theme, so you might be involved in anything from drawing a poppy to creating a large community artwork. A complete listing is available from the Big Draw website.

4. World conker championships, Northamptonshire

Fancy yourself as a conker champion? The world conker championships are happening near Oundle on Sunday 12 October; register here if you’d like to take part. Alternatively head along as a spectator (family ticket £10) and enjoy music, dance and craft stalls. There will also be a display highlighting the role played by conkers in the First World War. (If you’re as intrigued by this as I was, find out more on the English Heritage site).

5. National Apple day, nationwide

Apple day events happen throughout October and celebrate all things apple related. This usually means apple bobbing, juice pressing, themed arts and crafts and apple testing. It’s a great opportunity to visit your local orchard and find out more about this humble fruit. Many National Trust properties are holding apple related activities, you can also search for other events near you on the Orchard Network site.

6. Diwali, Leicester and London

Diwali, the festival of lights, is observed by Hindus, Jains and Sikhs and celebrates the victory of light over darkness. Leicester holds one of the biggest events outside of India and includes a lights switch on and fireworks display on Sunday 12 October, with a further fireworks display and cultural entertainment on Diwali Day, Thursday 23 October. You’ll also find Diwali celebrations in Trafalgar Square, London on Sunday 12 October with a street bazaar, traditional food and Asian music and dance.

7. Halloween events, nationwide

Not everyone is keen on Halloween but many of the half term events focus on pumpkins, witches and spooky trails. English Heritage has a great selection of half term activities, including ghost tours at Bolsover and Kenilworth castles and a medieval spooky fun week at Whitby Abbey.

8. Autumn leaf colour, nationwide

The shortening days of autumn cause leaves to turn bright red, orange and gold. Westonbirt Arboretum is probably the best known place in the UK for autumn colours but it does get incredibly busy. In past years we’ve enjoyed the leaf colours at Batsford Arboretum, Gloucs and Harcourt Arboretum near Oxford. Alternatively just head to your local wood to see autumn arrive.

9. Go Wild in Autumn, National Museum of Rural Life, East Kilbride

You’re invited to ‘Go Wild’ from 11-19 October at the National Museum of Rural Life. Visit the farming museum and then make a mini scarecrow, build a den or make an egg carton nose. A family ticket to the museum is £19 and includes all activities. Further details on the website.

10. Bonfire season, Sussex

Whereas the rest of the UK restricts its bonfire celebrations to 5 November the Sussex bonfire season runs from September to November. Held in different towns throughout the season these events usually include torchlit processions, fireworks and a bonfire complete with effigy. Some, such as the Seaford bonfire on Saturday 18 October and Littlehampton bonfire on Saturday 25 October, advertise as being suited to families. If you have young children you’ll want to avoid the livelier events such as the one in Lewes which gets very crowded. Further details here.

I hope this list has given you ideas for days out in October. If you have any further suggestions do add a comment below.

Things to do in the Haute-Loire, France

Our summer holiday was spent camping in the Haute-Loire region of central France (read our CosyCamp review). Named after the river that flows through it, the area is predominately rural with lots of small farms, meadows, cattle and forests.

Haute-Loire countryside

Haute-Loire countryside

Le Puy-en-Velay is the biggest town (population 20,000) and warrants a separate blog post as there’s lots to see. Aside from Le Puy, tourism is low key and it was hard to obtain tourist information in advance of our visit. Even TripAdvisor was woefully short on suggestions. However once there we found plenty to do, and this post will hopefully help future visitors.

1. Chamaliéres-sur-Loire

This small village is situated alongside the River Loire, and was our base for the week. It’s best known for its 12th century Romanesque church which is worth a visit, even if churches are not normally your thing.

The church at Chamaliéres-sur-Loire

The church at Chamaliéres-sur-Loire

The village has a couple of restaurants, a bakery and a tourist office which gives out free route maps of local walks.

Tourist office

Tourist office, Chamaliéres-sur-Loire

There are a couple of signposted walks from the village. We took the shorter route which led up into the hills behind for some great views. The route is way marked with yellow stripes but we managed to miss some so keep a careful eye on the map.

River Loire, Chamaliéres-sur-Loire

River Loire, Chamaliéres-sur-Loire’

We saw a fair number of people canoeing along the Loire although I’m a non-swimmer so this didn’t appeal. The river looked peaceful and calm during our visit but do take a look at the flood height markings down by the bridge; it’s hard to believe how high the river has reached when you visit during the summer!

2. Chalencon, near St André de Chalencon

I love castles so our visit to Chalencon Castle and its medieval village was one of my holiday highlights.

Chalencon castle

Chalencon castle

The parking area is on the outskirts of the village, about 10 minutes away, although longer on the way back when you’re walking uphill. We looked round the 11th century chapel first, although my son was more interested in photographing the lizards running up and down the outside walls.

Chalencon castle

Chalencon castle

The castle itself was abandoned around 1600, and much of it is now in ruins. You can still look round the battlements, peep up inside the tower and generally imagine what life must have been like for the Lord of Chalencon.

Chateau de Chalencon

Chateau de Chalencon

If you take the cobbled pathway down from the castle to the Ance river you’ll come to Devil’s Bridge. This is an arch bridge, probably around 600 years old, with a story attached to its name. The legend goes that the devil made a pact with the locals to help save Chalencon from flooding, where he would take the first soul to walk over the bridge. He hoped it would be the local lord, but it turned out to be a dog, much to his disgust!

3. Mont Mezenc, Les Estables

Mont Mezenc lies on the border of the Ardeche and Haute-Loire; it’s distinctive shape is visible from miles around. Whilst you can walk to the summit direct from the nearby village of Les Estables we drove some of the way up and parked on the outskirts of the forest.

Walking up Mount Mezenc

Walking up Mount Mezenc

It’s a relatively easy walk up Mont Mezenc from the car park, first through woodland and then across the stony plateau. We didn’t have a map but the path was straightforward and there were signposts on route.

Mont Mezenc

Mont Mezenc

The mountain has two summits, with the southern one slightly higher at 1753m. There are two orientation tables and it’s interesting to look at how the scenery differs on either side of the mountain. On one side you can see the Alps, and we may have seen Mt Blanc although I’m not convinced.

The village of Les Estables is the highest in the Massif Central and is worth a stop on the way back. It’s a ski centre during the winter months, and even in summer we passed some brave roller skiers on the surrounding roads.

4. Chateau de Lavoûte-Polignac, Lavoûte-sur-Loire

This chateau is spectacularly situated on a bend in the River Loire. I had no idea what to expect as I’d only seen it marked on the tourist map but it looked pretty impressive from the outside.

View from Chateau de Lavoute-Polignac

View from Chateau de Lavoute-Polignac

Entrance was via guided tour only (in French) although we were given some notes in English. The tour took us through six rooms in which the guide gave a talk about most of the objects in the room, along with a detailed history of the Polignac family portraits. There were several kids in the group but the tour was not aimed at families in any way, ours were bored and fidgety by the end. Suffice to say we wouldn’t rush back but others might enjoy it much more.

5. Ravin de Corbœuf, Rosières

The Ravin de Corbœuf is formed from multi-coloured clays and is nicknamed ‘Little Colorado’. Prior to our visit I’d copied a walk from a French hiking book which turned out to be useful. It started in the nearby village of Rosières and took in both ends of the ravine. You could probably figure out the walk without the book as long as you’ve got a better sense of direction than me.

Ravin de Corbœuf

Ravin de Corbœuf

The colours in the strata are impressive but the thing I was most amazed at was the total lack of other visitors. This would be a major tourist draw in other areas!

6. Chateau Artias, near Retournac

Situated opposite our campsite, but separated by the River Loire, the ruins of Chateau Artias tower over the valley. If you happen to be staying at the campsite at Chamaliéres-sur-Loire you can use their kayaks to cross the river, otherwise you’ll need to access it by road from Retournac.

Chateau Artias

Chateau Artias

The ruins are fenced off but you can walk around the edge to view them. They include a 12th century chapel which was the official parish church for many years. From the top you can look down and along the River Loire, but we didn’t stay long as the rain arrived.

7. Suc de Bartou

The rolling farmland of the Haute-Loire is punctuated by small volcanic hills, known as ‘suc’. These offer plenty of walking opportunities, and you can be sure of a good view regardless of which one you climb.

Walk up Suc de Bartou

Walk up Suc de Bartou

We booked on a nature walk through our campsite. Adrien, our guide, took us to the top of Suc de Bartou, walking through hamlets and along woodland paths. He pointed out items we’d never have known, for example the building in the top right of the collage is the communal village oven.

It took us a couple of hours to reach the summit of Suc de Bartou. It wasn’t difficult walking but the last section was quite overgrown and I’d have never worked out it was the way without a guide. We rested up top for a while, picking out the other volcanic hills in the landscape and watching a peregrine falcon swoop below us. An almost perfect view!

8. Vélorail du Velay, Dunières

This was great fun. As shown in the picture below, you pedal a cart along an old railway track; each cart seats two pedallers and two or three children. After a safety briefing (there are no helmets or seatbelts but you have brakes and lighting) you set off along the track for 4 km.

Vélorail du Velay, Dunières

Vélorail du Velay, Dunières

The first part is slightly downhill so you get a brief taste of your return journey but the rest of the outward trip is on a slight incline. The pedalling isn’t too hard, but I think my other half may have been doing more work than me. At the appropriate stopping point you dismount, turn around your cart and freewheel almost the whole way back to the station. This includes a rather scary stretch through a long dark tunnel and across a couple of viaducts but it’s an exhilarating ride and we all loved it.

The entire journey takes about 1 hour 15 mins. If you want to take photos, make sure you do this on the way out as you’ll be going too fast on the return journey!

9. Lac Bleu, Les Balayés

The incredible blue colour of this lake is caused by a type of volcanic rock called phonolite. The lake is very photogenic although rather small so I would only suggest a visit if you’re already in the area. Picnics and bathing are not allowed, but you can spend a fun few minutes spotting the fish.

At the entrance to Lac Bleu you’ll also find a miniature village with castles and scenes from the Auvergne. We didn’t go in as it looked more suited to families with young children.

Lac Bleu, Les Balayés

Lac Bleu, Les Balayés

I hope you’ve enjoyed reading this round-up of places to visit in the Haute-Loire, and that you’ve got some inspiration for your holiday. If you have any further suggestions please do leave a comment.

More info:

  • The best site to plan your Haute-Loire travels is here; it’s a pity I didn’t find this until after we’d returned home!
  • During August Chalencon Castle was open from 2.30-6.30pm at the weekend, and 3-6pm during the week. Adults cost 3 euros, children 1 euro. Pay in the chapel and then wait for the attendant to unlock the castle.
  • Chateau de Lavoûte-Polignac is open from April to October, generally from 2-6 pm although longer during July and August.
  • The Velorail costs 12 euros for adults and 5 euros for 5-12 year olds. Children under 5 are free but I’m not sure I’d recommend it for this age group as there are no restraints on the cart. The Velorail operates at fixed departure times, book in advance before you visit. Further details can be found here.
  • Chateau Artias, Ravin de Corbœuf and Lac Bleu are free and open year round.