Things to do near Tavistock, Devon

According to Wikipedia, the average age of a Tavistock resident is 44 years old. That’s the same age as myself, so in theory the town should have appealed. I’m sure it’s a lovely place to live in but as holidaymakers we were in need of a little more excitement. It was time to head out of Tavistock and find out what else the area had to offer.

Lydford gorge

Our first stop was Lydford Gorge, the deepest gorge in south west England. We chose to do the 3 mile circular walk which takes in its two main attractions, the White Lady waterfall and the Devil’s Cauldron.

The path through the gorge is well maintained but isn’t suitable for those with mobility difficulties. It’s pretty uneven in places with handrails to help in some parts. Our kids are older so it was fun for them but I’d imagine that families with toddlers would want to choose one of the shorter walks.

Lydford Gorge, Devon

Lydford Gorge, Devon

The route took us alongside the River Lyd. We visited after rain and the paths were fringed with ferns and mosses, water dripping from them like some primeval rainforest.

Further on, the swirling waters of the Devil’s Cauldron are as impressive as its name sounds. Wooden walkways lead you to the whirlpools which are incredibly noisy and ominous looking. You wouldn’t want to fall in!

Lydford Castle

Lydford Castle

At the halfway point we detoured into the local village to visit Lydford Castle. This was built in 1195 to use as a prison, possibly the first purpose built one in England. Over the years it gathered a grim reputation and was the scene of military executions in the English Civil War. Nowadays it’s one of those places where you need to use your imagination and wonder what it would have been like.

Inside Lydford Castle

Inside Lydford Castle

After our explorations we headed back into the gorge and walked the other half of the route. This took us high above the river, on a much easier path, back to the start near the White Lady waterfall. At 90 ft this was another impressive sight although a very busy one too.

Brent Tor, Dartmoor

We hadn’t planned to visit Brent Tor but we’d seen it silhouetted on the landscape whilst driving to Lydford Gorge and couldn’t resist a stop on the way back. We parked nearby and took the short walk up.

The church of St Michael de Rupe sits atop of the volcanic outcrop and is still used for some services. It was supposedly built by a merchant who’d been caught in a storm at sea and vowed to build a church on the first land he saw. However there are several variants to this story, including battles with the devil, so who knows?

St Michael's Church, Brent Tor

St Michael’s Church, Brent Tor

It was a cloudy day but this didn’t detract from the view. Stretching across Dartmoor in one direction, through to Cornwall in the other it was spectacular. Although the kids were more interested in pretending to fly as it was incredibly windy too!

View from Brent Tor, Dartmoor

View from Brent Tor, Dartmoor

Tamar trails centre

Our final visit was to the Tamar Trails Centre. This opened in 2013, and is the starting point for many of the walking and cycling trails which have been created as part of the Tamar Valley Mining Heritage project.

The industrial history of the site is fascinating. Copper, tin and arsenic were mined in the 19th Century and there’s plenty of evidence of this, with chimneys, tracks and spoil tips to spot. Display panels in a former mine office building provided more information about the families and work involved.

Tamar Trails

Tamar Trails

We picked up a trail map from the information point and walked out to the arsenic calciners via the Mineral Railway trail. I enjoy walking through reclaimed landscapes but it’s scary when you see a skull and crossbones warning you to stick to the paths as the area is heavily contaminated with arsenic!

On the way back we stopped at Blanchdown Adit to look at its bright orange waters. This isn’t caused by pollution, but iron oxide, and makes a rather colourful stopover.

We only had time for a short visit but it’s a place I’d like to return to, perhaps to hire a bike or walk some of the other trails. They also have a high ropes course, canoeing and special events so plenty to keep kids entertained.

More info

  • Lydford Gorge is free to National Trust members; alternatively a standard family ticket costs £17.20. It’s generally open 10am-5pm throughout spring to autumn but closes during the winter so check details before you travel. The path along the gorge is not accessible for wheelchairs or buggies.
  • Lydford Castle is open during daylight hours; there is no entrance charge.
  • To visit St Michael’s church park stop in the signed car park and head up the path on to Brent Tor. This is not suitable for buggies or wheelchairs. Entrance is free; donations welcome.
  • The Tamar Trails Centre is open weekends and during school and Bank holidays from 9am-5pm. Entrance is free; parking costs £1 for 2 hours or £2 all day. The Mineral Railway trail is suitable for buggies although we visited after some heavy downpours and it was muddy in places.

Bristol balloon fiesta

If you look up and see a Smurf or a huge daisy floating through the sky it’s a pretty good bet that you’re in Bristol for the annual balloon fiesta. Held over 4 days each August it attracts half a million visitors who flock to see the morning and evening balloon ascents.

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We visited on the opening day of the 2014 fiesta. I’d provisionally planned to go on the Sunday but given the wet and windy forecast I decided that might be a foolish decision! The only downside to our early visit was that many of the additional events, for example the air displays and the BBC World War 1 experience (which looked fantastic), weren’t on until the Friday. On the plus side, the weather was perfect for ballooning.

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The fiesta is held at Ashton Court Estate, a couple of miles from the city centre. We walked to the site from Bristol Temple Meads railway station along the dedicated Festival Way. This included a detour to walk under Clifton Suspension Bridge which I’ve only ever seen from afar; it was as impressive as I’d imagined.

The special shapes

The special shapes

I hadn’t realised quite how big an event the Bristol Balloon fiesta is. In addition to the balloons there’s a huge fairground and lots of show stands. These included a kids section with a Lego imagination station, a Little Tikes play area and a Nintendo gaming area. We wandered around these for a while, before heading over to one of the viewing hills for the main event.

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There is no mass ascent on the Thursday evening but there were still a lot of balloons in the arena. The highlight is the unveiling of the special shapes and it was good fun trying to guess what the shapes were going to be. The Smurf was a popular shape with the audience although my favourite was the ‘Up’ balloon.

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It was quite exciting watching the pilots and support staff getting the balloons ready for lift off. There seemed to be a lot of balloons squeezed into a small area and as the balloons inflated they’d jostle with the ones around them for space.

Take off at Bristol balloon festival

Take off at Bristol balloon festival

Moments later a loud siren went off which signalled that the balloons were allowed to take off. The kids were incredibly excited and we had great fun spotting which balloon would take off next. There was a cheer each time a balloon took off with everyone on the ground waving them off.

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Some of the balloons gained height quickly and disappeared off over Bristol. A few others took a while to get going, and one in particular looked like it landed in a tree just over the brow of a hill before rising into the sky again. It was an amazing spectacle seeing the balloons heading off, one I hope the kids remember.

Heading over to Bristol

Heading over to Bristol

We left around 7.30pm which seemed to coincide with thousands of people arriving for the night glow (when the balloons are lit up to music) and fireworks. We hopped straight onto a shuttle bus back to the railway station. I dread to think what the queues would be like later in the evening, I was rather glad that I wouldn’t be finding out.

Our balloon viewing wasn’t quite over…..we spotted ‘Daisy’ from our train window as it had landed in a field a few miles out of Bristol. A perfect ending to one of the highlights of our summer!

More info:

  • Bristol Balloon fiesta is held at the start of August each year. Entrance is free, although there is a charge for car parking (£6 if you book in advance). There are plenty of food stalls (not much for vegetarians) but expect to pay festival prices.

Should children visit art galleries?

Jake Chapman, one half of the Chapman brothers, courted controversy this week by suggesting that children shouldn’t visit art galleries. In an interview with The Independent he stated “taking children to art galleries was a total waste of time”.

His comments are hardly surprising given the Chapman brothers have a certain reputation to uphold. Their art consists of delightful pieces such as mannequins of children with genitalia instead of faces and decaying corpses. Although he forgot to mention one of their previous shows; a macabre art exhibition for children and their families. Accompanied by a £5 colouring book.

I’m sure his aim was to provoke the middle classes and generate publicity. Yet when I read the comments associated with the various online articles he’s not alone in suggesting that children should stay out of art galleries.

Nobody would ever suggest children shouldn’t visit libraries because they’re too young to appreciate Shakespeare. Yet art galleries are generally the preserve of the more mature. Kids have their own spaces in libraries and shelves of books dedicated to them, but how many art galleries really go out of their way to attract children? And should they?

In Jake Chapman’s defence, I can see where he’s coming from. I don’t generally take my kids to art galleries yet we went to the Matisse exhibition at the Tate Museum last week. This wasn’t because I wanted to further their knowledge of art. It’s just because it had great reviews and I selfishly wanted to see it.

Chapman could have used my children to demonstrate his points perfectly. Within 5 minutes of entering the exhibition my youngest was bored, leaning up against one of the walls asking how much longer he had to be there.

Only one of the rooms grasped his attention, namely that of the Blue Nudes. Nothing to do with the art works of course; anything with the word ‘nude’ in it will have my 9 year old son sniggering.

So what do children gain from visiting art galleries?

I saw another family at the Matisse exhibition. A family whose kids who were carefully drawing some of the art works in their sketch pads. No doubt they would get the scissors out when they got home and start creating paper cut outs. Whereas mine would probably be outside having a water balloon fight. It bought home to me that every family is different. Some children will be inspired by visiting art galleries; they will become the artists and art lovers of the future. We cannot deny them this inspiration.

This brings me nicely on to another point that Chapman made. Namely that it would be insulting to stand a child in front of a Jackson Pollock artwork. He doesn’t think children understand the significance of it. Personally I don’t either, but I’m not sure that’s anything to do with my age.

The arts can be appreciated on many levels, there is no need to be over complicate. I love reading but hated Shakespeare at school. I couldn’t stand the in-depth analysis of each and every line in his plays. It took away my enjoyment. Yet I’d happily go and watch one of his plays nowadays. Similarly, is there anything wrong with just looking at an art work and enjoying it without knowing, for example, what a specific shade of blue indicates?

I’ll leave you with this. The item that has pride of place on my son’s bedroom wall is a Jackson Pollock inspired painting that he created for a school project.

art We looked at some of his paintings online (a visit to an American art gallery being outside of our budget) and watched a film for background information before he started his creation. Did this lead to his greater enjoyment of Pollock’s paintings? No, but he sure had fun dripping paint on his canvas!

So what do you think? Should kids visit art galleries?

Our family microadventure: pin the spot on the map

A few weeks ago I published a post suggesting some family microadventure ideas. One of the ideas was to randomly pin a spot on a map and then visit the location without using a car. Last week we attempted this, read on to find out how we got on.

Waiting for the (delayed) train

Waiting for the (delayed) train

My son had the job of choosing the spot to visit. Blindfold on, he marked the map with a pencil to indicate our target….a field between a couple of villages in Oxfordshire. On first viewing our destination didn’t look that exciting and my initial thought was to get my son to have another go. But that would have been cheating!

Our trip started with a train journey to the village of Cholsey. I was glad my son picked somewhere relatively near a railway station as I wasn’t sure how good the bus services would be in the area. The station was still a few miles from our intended spot so I planned a walking route to take in our destination.

Cholsey

Cholsey

Whilst checking out the area beforehand I’d found out that the crime writer, Agatha Christie, had lived locally. She is buried in the graveyard in Cholsey so we made a brief visit to her grave (after I’d spent some time explaining who she was to the kids).

I also discovered that Cholsey has lots of geocaches, including a trail of them named after Agatha Christie books. Yet despite searching for several in the village, and on the walk, we never found any. I blame the nettles!

The never ending field!

The never ending field!

We were soon heading out on the road, in this case literally, as there were no footpaths out of the village that took us where we needed to go. Fortunately the road was quiet and it wasn’t long before we reached our path.

The footpath led across a seemingly never-ending field. We walked through the golden cornfield in the heat of the day desperately wanting to reaching the other side. Eventually  we emerged with scratched legs and slightly frayed tempers on to a much nicer track. There were plenty of grasshoppers around us so we spent a few minutes catching them, and we even managed to take some photos before they jumped off.

Our destination (almost)

Our destination (almost)

At lunch we stopped for a picnic next to a stream. There were loads of dragonflies flitting by but they weren’t as obliging as the grasshoppers and zoomed off anytime I got close to them with my camera.

We reached our ‘spot on the map’ just after lunch. It was in the middle of a field on the opposite side of a deep stream and I knew we wouldn’t be able to get to the exact spot as there was no public footpath access. Instead we contented ourselves with a photo in front of the field.

In the fields around Cholsey

In the fields around Cholsey

The rest of the walk was pretty uneventful although I’m glad that a bunch of inquisitive  cattle we met were safely on the opposite side of a fence. I’m not sure how we’d have coped if we’d have had to walk through their field.

So what did we think of our microadventure? We all enjoyed the challenge of finding the spot and it meant we went somewhere that we wouldn’t really think about visiting. We’ll definitely do this type of microadventure again but I wouldn’t repeat the actual walk as it was a bit of a trudge!