Heritage open day at Buscot Park gardens, Oxfordshire

Last weekend thousands of buildings opened their doors for free as part of the yearly Heritage Open Days event. We had an afternoon spare so after browsing the events website for inspiration I decided on a walk around Buscot Park gardens. The grounds around the house cover over 100 acres and encompass formal gardens, woodland and lakes

Clock house, Buscot Park
Clock house, Buscot Park

If you’ve read much of this blog you’ll probably realise I prefer ruined castles to stately homes. And mountains and wild beaches rather than manicured gardens. But I was pleasantly surprised by Buscot Park. It was quirky enough to hold my attention; or perhaps I’m just reaching the age of garden appreciation!

Four Seasons Walled Garden

Walled garden, Buscot Park
Walled garden, Buscot Park

We started with a walk around the Four Seasons walled garden, where each section represents a different season. Transformed from a redundant kitchen garden by Lord Faringdon it mixes flowers and shrubs with ornamental vegetables. We had probably missed it at its summery best but roses and dahlias provided plenty of late season colour.

Dahlia in the walled garden, Buscot Park
Dahlia in the walled garden, Buscot Park

There are a variety of sculptures and features around the grounds which add interest. The kids enjoyed posing alongside replica terracotta warriors. In the Swinging Garden we had a family swing on one of four large swings that surround a sycamore seed sculpture. Elsewhere there are urns and obelisks, a sundial and pyramid to discover.

Terracotta army imposters at Buscot Park!
Terracotta army imposters at Buscot Park!

The over-riding impression of the grounds was, for me, symmetry. From woodland avenues to clipped hedges I loved the straight lines, replication and long vistas.

Terracotta urn, Buscot Park
Terracotta urn, Buscot Park

Buscot House

Our walk took us up to the open parkland directly in front of Buscot House. The house was built between 1779 and 1783, and is today managed by Lord Faringdon on behalf of the National Trust. From the outside it looks rather austere and imposing. Inside there are many notable works of art, added to over the years by Lord Faringdon.

Buscot House
Buscot House

I decided it best not to visit. The kids were busy rolling down slopes and giving each other piggybacks. It wasn’t long before one of them took things too far and I could just imagine some delicate piece of art being damaged by a mistimed push!

By avoiding the house I belatedly realised I’d missed seeing the frescoes near the outside swimming pool. Painted in the 1930s, these depict friends of the family, including the intriguing Lord Berners who we learnt about when we visited nearby Faringdon Folly.

Peto Water Garden

My favourite part of the estate was the Italianete style water garden designed by the landscape architect Harold Peto. Water flows through a canal, under bridges, past statues and hedges to reach the Big Lake.

Buscot Park water garden
Buscot Park water garden

I loved this statue covered in moss. It blends in so well with its surroundings and is much more atmospheric than a sterile stone sculpture.

Camouflage statue, Buscot Park
Camouflage statue, Buscot Park

Wandering around the Big Lake we discovered a rolling bridge linked to a small island. Part of the bridge was missing, presumably locked away to stop inquisitive people getting on to the island. Although almost everyone we saw pulled the chain and tried to discover how it worked.

Peto water garden, Buscot Park
Peto water garden, Buscot Park

From the lake we headed back up to the house via Monkey Puzzle Avenue. I had been looking forward to walking between huge rows of monkey puzzle trees. Little did I know they were only a metre or so high! I’ve since read that they are very slow to mature and only grow around 35 cm per year.

Fountain, Buscot Park
Fountain, Buscot Park

We rounded off our afternoon with a visit to the cafe. I’d read one Trip Advisor review bemoaning the lack of National Trust cafe. Personally I much preferred the small cafe. It wasn’t the slickest of operations but our cakes were yummy and half the cost of the usual NT fare. The perfect way to round off the afternoon!

More info:

  • Buscot Park is open periodically from April to September, check the website calendar for full details. Opening time is usually from 2pm. Entrance is free for National Trust members. Otherwise the adult price is £10 to visit the house and garden or £7 to visit just the garden. Children aged 5-15 years old are half-price.

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Visiting the Old Bailey and Inns of Court, London

Have you ever watched a court case? I’ve wanted to visit the Old Bailey ever since I realised the general public were allowed to observe trials. When a recent child free day came along I jumped at the opportunity to see the Old Bailey and other law related places in the city.

The Old Bailey (Central Criminal Court)

The Old Bailey deals with major criminal cases, mainly from the Greater London area. There are eighteen courts covering serious cases such as murder, terrorism and drug related crimes.

Despite being on the right side of the law I was a little nervous walking towards the public gallery entrance. I rang the doorbell, hidden down Warwick Passage, and waited to be called up for the security check. After passing through security I asked one of the guards about the best trial to visit.

The Old Bailey, London
The Old Bailey, London

The courts were relatively quiet on the day of my visit and the only option was a terrorism trial. The case related to four defendants, accused of supporting the funding of terrorism. The case had already been ongoing for several days; I entered the public gallery as the prosecutor was giving his closing speech to the jury.

The court room was smaller than I expected but familiar from TV court dramas. Visitors sit in a small balcony area, opposite the jurors. To my right sat the four defendants, to the left the judge. In the middle sat the Court Clerk and barristers. Their wigs intrigued me. Made from horsehair, evidently the older and grubbier they look the better!

The Old Bailey, London
The Old Bailey, London

It was really interesting to listen in and watch the workings of the court. I’m not going to write about the trial itself as it impacts real lives. Suffice to say the evidence was compelling and the subsequent outcome wasn’t a surprise.

Once in the courtroom there is a 30 minute minimum stay. However time passed quickly and I stayed for a couple of hours. Leaving as quietly as possible I crept out of the galleries and headed to my next destination, Temple Church.

The Temple Church

It’s hard to imagine that the serene Temple Church is just a couple of minutes walk from Fleet Street. Founded in the 12th Century by the Knights Templar it’s modelled on the Holy Sepulchre in Jerusalem. In 1608 the Temple was granted to two societies of lawyers, the Inner and Middle Temple, who look after it to this day.

Knight effigies, Temple Church, London
Knight effigies, Temple Church, London

The most distinguishing feature of the church is its round nave. Certainly impressive but I enjoyed the interior stonework just as much. On the floor of the nave lies the effigies of nine knights, whilst all around are grotesque gargoyles!

The nave contains a lot of display boards detailing the history which I really should have read.  But I was more interested in climbing the winding staircase to the clerestory for views back across the church!

Inns of Court

The area around Temple Church is surrounded by two of the Inns of Court. These are the professional associations for barristers; every barrister needs to belong to one of them. There are four Inns in London; Gray’s Inn, Lincoln’s Inn, Middle Temple and Inner Temple; I explored the lanes and gardens of the latter two.

Middle Temple Lane, London
Middle Temple Lane, London

Wandering down the lanes it was hard to believe I was in central London. Lined with barristers’ chambers and intercepted by gardens and courtyards it feels more like a film set. I half expected Sherlock Holmes to walk down the street. There are maps dotted around the area but it’s more fun just to stroll around.

View from Middle Temple Gardens
View from Middle Temple Gardens

The buildings themselves are off limits to casual wanderers. Fortunately I didn’t need to be a barrister to enjoy the gardens. The borders were in full bloom, perfectly demonstrating the beauty of high summer. If I ignored the background sound of car horns, I could almost imagine I was enjoying a town garden.

Temple gardens, London
Temple gardens, London

As I reached the front of one garden, bordering Victoria Embankment, I realised the last time I’d been near here was whilst running the London Marathon. I’d struggled the last few miles and this section didn’t hold particularly good memories! It was good to reminisce in less painful times.

Temple gardens, London
Temple gardens, London

Royal Courts of Justice

Close by is one of the other major legal buildings, the Royal Courts of Justice, and my last stop of the day. The Law Courts house the High Court and Court of Appeal and preside over civil, not criminal, trials. It’s a huge Victorian Gothic style building on the Strand, just opposite Temple Inn.

Royal Courts of Justice, London
Royal Courts of Justice, London

Although there was an airport style scanner to pass through once in you appear to be free to wander. I picked up a self-guided tour leaflet from the entrance desk; it’s also possible to book guided tours. I walked around the Main Hall, past a small costume display to the Painted Room and then along past court rooms.

In a similar way to the Old Bailey it’s possible to watch trials. Although personally I think criminal trials sound much more interesting! I’d definitely like to visit another Old Bailey trial at some point, and I highly recommend it to anyone interested in the workings of our legal system.

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More info

  • The Old Bailey is for those aged 14+ years only; you may be asked for photo identification. Court generally sits on weekdays from 10am-1pm and from 2-4.30pm but do check before you visit. Security is strict. Cameras, mobile phones, large bags and refreshments are not permitted. You can leave mobiles at the nearby Capable Travel Agent at a cost of £1 per device. Details of the cases are posted on the boards outside.
  • The Temple Church website details its varied opening times. It’s generally open on weekdays from 10am-4pm. Entry charge is £5 for adults, free for under 16s.
  • Middle and Inner Temple Gardens are open to the public from 12-3pm on weekdays during the summer. There is no entrance charge.
  • The Royal Courts of Justice is open on weekdays from 9am-4.30pm. Entry is free.

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Walking the Bath skyline with children, Somerset

Bath’s Georgian architecture, honey coloured stone buildings and famous Roman remains are a magnet for tourists. But hordes of summer visitors are not my cup of tea. Fortunately the National Trust have created an escape route, the Bath Skyline Walk.

Bath Skyline Walk

This six mile circular route skirts around the city, following trails through woods and across commons. We picked up a printed map from the tourist office; it’s also available on the National Trust website. The directions were straightforward and easy to follow once we eventually managed to find the start at Bathwick Fields.

Bath skyline trail
Bath Skyline trail

As we crossed the meadow of Bathwick Fields the city views opened up to our right. We stopped to try and work out the various buildings but as I’m not particularly familiar with the city we didn’t get far. As our walk continued I realised this was probably the best view of the Bath skyline so do savour it whilst you can.

Smallcombe Nuttery and Bathwick Fields, Bath
Smallcombe Nuttery and Bathwick Fields, Bath

We continued downhill, passing Smallcombe Nuttery. I cannot imagine there are many other cities with community nutteries! Visitors are welcome to wander around and view the cobnuts, walnuts, almond and sweet chestnut trees.

Bathwick Fields
Bathwick Fields

A steep uphill stretch followed. We were grateful for some tree cover as we sheltered from a short sharp shower. That hadn’t featured in the weather forecast. Not that I minded taking a quick rest on the way up.

If you’ve got time there are a couple of additional places to visit en route. We saw signs pointing to the NT Prior Park Landscape Gardens and I was very tempted by the cafe. But not by the steep walk back uphill to rejoin the route afterwards. Later on there’s also the option to detour to the American Museum.

Claverton Down

Whilst the Bath skyline walk is perfect for older children, those with younger kids may find some parts too hilly. However the National Trust have produced a separate Family Discovery Trail leaflet for a flat two mile stretch of the walk around Claverton Down. There are mini fairy doors in the trees of Long Wood, geocaches to find and an excellent woodland play area. I even joined the kids on a couple of the apparatus. It’s the perfect place to stop for a picnic. If I’d remembered to bring one.

Woodland Play area, Family Discovery Trail, Long Wood
Woodland Play area, Family Discovery Trail, Long Wood

Bath Cats and Dogs Home

The sound of barking signalled our approach to Bath Cats and Dogs Home. I knew from Trip Advisor that it had a small pet store which also sold drinks and snacks so we stopped for a short break.

After drinks my cat-mad son asked if we could pop in and see the cattery. The receptionist advised they do not usually allow casual visits but kindly allowed us in. Of course my son wanted to adopt every cat he saw. We emerged, thankfully cat-less, and continued our walk across Bushey Norwood to Bathampton.

Bathampton Wood

Bathampton Wood was a highlight for me. Despite the lack of recent rain parts were quite slippy and muddy making me wish I’d worn trainers. However the luxuriant greens of ferns and mosses and an entire tree trunk covered in small mushrooms made up for the slippiness underfoot.

Bathampton Wood, near Bath
Bathampton Wood, near Bath

As we walked through Bathampton Wood we crossed several small tracks heading off in various directions. Although the instructions stated we should maintain our height the path seemed to get narrower and less distinct. I worried that we’d gone the wrong way so it was a relief to pop out of the wood in the correct place. Rather ironically some lost walkers immediately approached me and asked for help.

Bath skyline trail
Bath skyline trail

We circled around Bath Golf Club, heading towards two radio transmitters, before a steep route downhill through more woodland. We emerged near a bench which was perfectly positioned to once again take in the Bath skyline view.

Sham castle

From the bench it’s well worth the five minute detour to visit Sham castle. This folly was commissioned by Ralph Allen in 1762 to improve the view from his townhouse. I don’t know where he lived but there’s a great view of Bath from the castle itself. Although there is nothing else to the castle apart from what you can see in the photo below!

Sham Castle, Bath
Sham Castle, Bath

From Sham Castle we walked downhill back into Bath. We found ourselves on a road of mansions so passed the time oohing and aahing at the houses, wondering how much they cost. Rightmove quickly provided the answer, and some impressive interior photos; what did we do before the Internet?!

Bath
Bath

Back in the centre of Bath we ate a very belated lunch and reminisced over the walk. If you’re visiting the city I highly recommend it, but do it for its countryside appeal rather than city views!

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Exploring Uphill, the quiet end of Weston-super-Mare, Somerset

Weston-super-Mare may not be the most fashionable or upmarket of resorts but whenever we visit we have a great day out. This time we did something a little different. The kids are too old for donkey rides and building sandcastles (sob) so we explored Uphill, a village on the outskirts of Weston-super-Mare.

We walked south along Weston’s promenade, passing Funland, an outdoor theme park, which has replaced Banksy’s Dismaland. After a short beach stretch we turned inland just before the golf course. This road took us almost directly to Uphill, only 20 minutes or so walking but a world away from Weston.

Uphill Nature Reserve
Uphill Hill Nature Reserve

Arriving in Uphill we passed the sweetly named Donkey Field. In years gone by this has been used as a retirement field for a local donkey and as pasture for the Weston beach donkeys. We didn’t see any donkeys but a few Dexter cattle were grazing in one corner. Despite their horns the kids thought these miniature cattle were very cute.

Uphill Hill Local Nature Reserve

We were aiming for Uphill Hill Nature Reserve. However I somehow managed to walk past the main entrance and arrive at the boatyard instead. Conveniently home to the only cafe in the village so we stopped for a drink and bite to eat.

Suitably refreshed we followed the sign past the boats to Uphill Hill Nature Reserve. As befits its name, the reserve is primarily a hill; its limestone grassland covered in flowers each spring. An old windmill tower and partially ruined church top the hill.

Windmill Tower, Uphill Nature Reserve
Windmill Tower, Uphill Hill Nature Reserve

There are fantastic views from Windmill Tower; Brean Down and Weston Bay in one direction, inland Somerset the other. I didn’t realise at the time but it’s possible to climb the tower for even better views. Although the kids were keen to avoid the cattle grazing near its entrance.

The Old Church of St Nicholas stands on top of the hill. This Norman building dates from around 1080AD and consists of a tower, chancel and roofless nave. Nowadays it is cared for by the Churches Conservation Trust and although not complete seems to be in pretty good condition given its exposed aspect.

St Nicholas' Church, Uphill Nature Reserve
Old St Nicholas’ Church, Uphill Hill Nature Reserve

From the church we walked down the steep hill back into the village and turned left towards the coast. I didn’t have a map so we simply followed the path alongside the River Axe, as it flows out into Weston Bay.

View over to Brean Down from Uphill
View over to Brean Down from Uphill

The view out to Brean Down was tantalising; however it’s not possible to access from Uphill. Despite various warning signs we still saw several people on the horizon paddling at the water’s edge. We’ve watched a rescue from the mud further down on Weston beach, why ignore the signs?

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Uphill beach

Uphill beach was very windy, which I guess explains its popularity for beach wind sports. We watched a man zooming up and down in a land yacht (I think, but I’m no expert). Wow, did he go fast.

Drinks on the beach bus, Uphill Slipway Beach
Drinks on the beach bus, Uphill Slipway Beach

Despite the wind we couldn’t resist a drink on top of the double decker cafe bus that’s parked on the beach. We had to hold on tight to our cups and try to ignore the sand blowing into our eyes and hair!

The quiet end of Weston-super-Mare beach
The quiet end of Weston-super-Mare beach

It was a sunny day but this end of the beach was almost deserted. That is until we reached the beach car park. From that point on the crowds walking into Weston thickened, until there was hardly room to move on the pavement.

Walking towards Weston-super-Mare
Walking towards Weston-super-Mare

We walked past the sand sculptures which we’ve visited previously. No time to visit this year! However there’s no way we’d escape Weston-super-Mare without a trip along the pier to feed 2p pieces into the arcade machines. Family tradition also dictates stopping for ice-cream at PJ’s Ice Cream Parlour on the seafront. Highly recommended.

Ice creams in Weston-super-Mare
Ice creams in Weston-super-Mare

We all agreed that this year’s trip had made a great change from our usual day out. Next time we’ll walk north to Sands Bay, returning via the Pier of course!

More info:

  • Find out more about the Uphill Hill Nature Reserve in this leaflet. Access is free.

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