Greenwich tall ships festival, London

I’ve always had a soft spot for tall ships, probably a legacy of my 1970s childhood when The Onedin Line was prime TV viewing. When I heard the Tall Ships Festival was coming to London for the first time in 25 years I knew we’d be there.

Not a sight you'll normally see on the Thames!

Not a sight you’ll normally see on the Thames!

The festival took place at the start of September and encompassed a long weekend of events and sailing activities. More than 50 ships took part; these were handily spread out across several sites along the Thames. We spent a day wandering around three of the locations enjoying the festivities and exploring parts of London we rarely visit.

We started at North Greenwich where was a small area selling food and drinks and performances by sea shanty singers. We didn’t linger as we’d already seen some tall ships sailing past and were eager to see more.

Tall ships sailing the Thames

Tall ships sailing the Thames

Instead we joined the other Sunday strollers for the 1.5 mile walk along the Thames path to maritime Greenwich. It’s quite an industrial stretch of the river but there was plenty of interest, ranging from old wharves to rusting ships cut in half. Closer to the Old Royal Naval College you pass modern housing but you’re also treated to a cobbled area with signs and buildings that remind you of Greenwich’s maritime history. Some of the larger tall ships moored here were open to visitors although we managed to coincide our arrival with the lunchtime closure.

A giant lobster at the tall ships festival, Greenwich

A giant lobster at the tall ships festival, Greenwich

The main festival village was in Greenwich. There was lots to see, from costumed characters to dancers and pull along lobsters. I’m still intrigued by the lobster and I’d love to know what it does the rest of the year! There was also rigging to climb, model ships to sail and demonstrations to watch. This area was incredibly busy with long queues for everything; I’m sure most of London had decided to visit the festival that afternoon.

Making musket balls

Making musket balls

Our favourite stand was the man making musket balls. After melting pewter in a small pan he poured it into moulds and, when cold, released the balls and filed them smooth. The resulting musket balls were for sale and he had quite a production line going for all of the kids (including ours) who wanted to buy them.

Viewing the tall ships at Greenwich

Viewing the tall ships at Greenwich

Of course the main attraction was watching the ships on the river. It was great to see them sail past and imagine how the Thames might have looked in years gone by.

Tall ships at Wood Wharf, London

Tall ships at Wood Wharf, London

Our last stop of the day was at Wood Wharf, near Canary Wharf. This housed some of the smaller ships and thankfully wasn’t as busy as Greenwich. It was surreal to see the tall ships moored against a modern skyscraper background. A great way to finish our day out!

More info:

  • The Tall Ships festival in London has finished but Greenwich could easily occupy a day of your time. I’d love to go back and walk through the Greenwich foot tunnel, which takes you under the Thames to the Isle of Dogs. More obvious tourist destinations are the Cutty Sark and the National Maritime Museum, further details of all attractions can be found here.
  • One of the next opportunities to see the tall ships will be in Belfast in July 2015 when they’ll be visiting as part of the Titanic Maritime Festival.

Campsite review: CosyCamp, Chamaliéres-sur-Loire, France

We decided to venture to France for our holiday this year, and after much trawling of the internet came across CosyCamp. This campsite only opened in 2013 and already has plenty of positive feedback on the various review sites. Read on to find out how we got on.

Location

CosyCamp is situated on the outskirts of Chamaliéres-sur-Loire, a small village in the Haute-Loire department. It’s in central France, in the southern part of the Auvergne region. The area hasn’t been discovered by the tourist masses but there’s plenty to do locally; a separate blog post with suggestions will be published soon.

Getting to the campsite

We flew to Lyon with British Airways and took advantage of a combined hire car offer with Avis. It was a straightforward 1.5 hour drive to the campsite, although we did have a moment when the Sat Nav suggested a U turn on a dual carriageway!

By the looks of the car park, the majority of guests drive to the site, either from the Netherlands or the UK. According to Google it’s a 9 hour, 548 mile, journey from Calais.

The grounds

The campsite runs alongside the River Loire. There’s a grassy area between the tents and the river bank but it’s not fenced off so you need to keep an eye on young children. A big positive is that cars are not allowed on site. There’s a car park just outside the main entrance along with trolleys for transporting luggage and camping gear.

CosyCamp grounds

CosyCamp grounds

The different types of accommodation and tent pitches are mixed throughout the 4 acre site so there’s no regimented feel. The grounds are flat with well maintained garden areas, including herbs and vegetables.

Gardens at CosyCamp

Gardens at CosyCamp

Accommodation

Whilst most guests bring their own tents we decided to hire a safari tent for the week. This was the basic accommodation option but it was luxurious compared to our usual camping experience. The other lodgings include wooden cottages, luxury safari lodges, a treehouse and a gypsy caravan. There is a separate area for camper vans.

Our safari tent at CosyCamp

Our safari tent at CosyCamp

Our safari tent had two bedrooms, split between a double room and a kids bunk room. The bed was incredibly comfortable and I slept well the entire week. The kitchen area had a fridge, microwave, kettle and camping stove. We used the communal campsite toilets and washing up areas. Outside on the deck we had chairs and a small table.

Inside our safari tent at CosyCamp
Inside our safari tent at CosyCamp 

We took our own duvet covers and pillowcases, although you can hire them. We had a slight issue with ours, as the pillows were square but we’d brought standard oblong pillowcases, whoops! We managed to make them fit with a bit of fiddling.

For some reason our tent attracted earwigs and we had to clear them out every evening (sorry earwigs). On a positive note there weren’t any mosquitoes.

Campsite facilities

There are three toilet and shower blocks. These were unisex and contained a mix of showers, toilets and washbasins in cubicles. We sometimes had to queue for toilets, particularly if parts were closed off for cleaning. The showers were warm and free.

The campsite has a strong environmental ethos. We were given a recycling bag for plastics, glass, cans and cardboard. There were also compost bins for food waste, conveniently located near the washing up areas. The lights in the wash blocks were motion activated and the showers had push buttons rather than a constant flow of water.

Washing up facilities at CosyCamp

Washing up facilities at CosyCamp

There were plenty of dish and clothes washing sinks. The site also has a laundry room with washing machines, dryers and ironing facilities.

There isn’t a shop on site but we were able to order croissants, pain au chocolat and baguettes (all 1 euro each) for collection the following morning.

Campsite activities

We visited in August and there were lots of children on site. I’m sure that plenty of couples stay outside of the school holidays but the campsite is definitely geared towards families (kids up to about 12 years of age) and the activities reflect this.

Our kids found a badminton court, table tennis, basketball hoop and football area, all with equipment nearby. Some were in almost constant use but they managed to have a go on most things throughout the week. There’s  a small playground which looked good for younger children.

CosyCamp playground

CosyCamp playground

There’s an outdoor swimming pool and paddling pool, which were very popular (I had to wait until the evening to get a photo with no-one in). There’s also a heated indoor pool that can be hired for sole family use for 10 euro per hour; this has massage water jets, coloured lights and music.

Swimming pool, CosyCamp

Swimming pool, CosyCamp

The campsite offers free weekly organised nature activities for children; these are advertised on the information board in reception. Opposite our tent there was a den building area which was popular with kids building and demolishing structures.

Hut building area

Hut building area

There are also a couple of canoes (with lifejackets) to borrow for outings on the River Loire. Next door there’s a horse riding school. It’s not part of the campsite but appeared to be busy with kids every time we went past.

Evening activities

Evenings were low key, with many guests heading to the cafe bar for a glass of wine or two. We spent several nights here playing board games, which we never do in England! There’s a family room above the cafe with a TV, games and books to borrow. Downstairs in the reception area were tourist attraction leaflets, walking books (in French), maps and large coffee table photographic books of the area to help you plan the next day.

CosyCamp cafe and family room

CosyCamp cafe and family room

We ate at the cafe a couple of evenings during our stay. It primarily serves pizza and salads, along with a daily speciality. Prices were very reasonable, with pizzas costing 8-12 euros. We really enjoyed our pizzas although there were quite a few flies in the dining area which was off-putting.

 Staff

Richard and Sophie own the site and do an incredible job, I dread to think how many hours they work. They were usually around the reception area, advising on places to go and helping with bookings. Issues were dealt with promptly, for example we reported a problem with our stove. Richard came almost immediately and fixed it (well, turned a valve, it wasn’t broken). Later in the week my daughter had an infected cut. As it was a Sunday everywhere was closed, again they came to the rescue with a loan of antiseptic cream.

The bar and cafe staff were also friendly and hard working. Everyone spoke English, or French, depending on your preference.

Summary

We loved our safari tent and the campsite. It might be too quiet (lack of evening entertainment) or too noisy (lots of kids) for some but it was perfect for us. We really liked the surrounding area too, even though there aren’t many ‘must see’ tourist destinations nearby.

Overall, it was one of the best holidays we’ve had in France.

More info:

  • CosyCamp is open from the middle of May to the start of October.  A basic tent pitch in August costs around £20 per night (for 2 people, small extra charge for children). A fully equipped safari tent costs £58 for 5 people per night. Outside of school holidays the prices are significantly lower.
  • Further details can be found on the CosyCamp website.

Things to do with the family in September 2014

streatley

The summer holidays are over and the kids back at school but there’s still plenty to do in September. Read on for some ideas:

1. Heritage open days, England

Heritage open day events take place across England from 11-14 September. Visitors are given free access to many buildings (more than 4500 in 2013) along with walks, events and family activities to celebrate British architecture. There’s a searchable map on the Heritage Open Days website, which allows you to find sites suitable for families. You’ll also find many National Trust properties are free during the weekend.

2. Tour of Britain, England and Wales

The Tour of Britain takes place from 7-14 September and is the UK’s biggest professional cycling race. The cyclists pass through many towns and villages during the race so why not pop out to support them if they’re passing nearby. A full list of times and dates is available here.

3. Royal Greenwich tall ships regatta, London

Royal Greenwich will host around 50 tall ships over the weekend of 5-9 September. The ships are sailing from Falmouth and will moor at four locations; Royal Arsenal Woolwich, Maritime Greenwich, Greenwich Peninsula and Wood Wharf, Canary Wharf. In addition to visiting the ships, visitors to the festival can watch a firework display, see a parade of Thames barges or listen to sea shanties.

4. Emergency services show, Wiltshire

Taking place on Sunday 7 September near Malmesbury, Wiltshire this is perfect for families with emergency vehicle obsessed kids! Last years show included police dog demonstrations, a parade of emergency vehicles, fire engine rides and a parachute display. Tickets are £6 for adults, £3 for children. Further details available here.

5. World stone skimming championships, Argyll

Held on Sunday 28 September on Easdale Island near Oban.There are categories for under 10s, 10-15 year olds and adults so everyone can join in with the stone skimming. You must pre-register here as the event is limited to 350 entrants, entrance fees are £5 for adults, £1 for under 10s.

6. Largs Viking festival, North Ayrshire

Held in the town of Largs (1 hour north of Glasgow) until Sunday 7 September the festival commemorates the 1263 Battle of Largs. Find out how Vikings lived, watch a torchlit procession, a re-enactment of the battle and the burning of a longship. Full programme available on the website; events are free although there is a charge to enter the living history Viking village (£5 adults, £2 children).

7. Family adventure festival, Peak District

This event, held in the Peak District on Saturday 13 September, sounds like great fun for adventurous families with children age 5+. Take part in activities such as mountain biking, orienteering, trail running and an obstacle course, some of which are timed with prizes for winners. A family ticket is expensive (£99) but given the activities on offer it looks like value for money.

8. Duxford air show, Cambridgeshire

Held over the weekend of 13-14 September the Duxford air show is a family friendly event taking place at IWM Duxford in Cambridgeshire. Over 40 aircraft are flying, including the Red Arrows, Spitfires and a Tornado. The museum is open throughout so there’s plenty of time to visit it before the afternoon display.

9. The world Wellington boot throwing championship, Somerset

Held in its namesake, Wellington in Somerset, on Saturday 13 September you’ll find a dog show, welly decorating and children’s activities as well as the throwing competition. Entrance to the event is free, with a charge of £1 for adults, 50p for kids to enter the throwing championships.

10. Great British beach clean, nationwide

Organised by the Marine Conservation Society, the Great British beach clean takes place across the UK from 19-22 September. Check out the map of events on the MCS website and register to take part. If there’s not one at your nearby beach why not organise your own clean up?

I hope you enjoy some great days out in September, please add any further ideas into the comments below.

California Country Park, Berkshire

There aren’t many places that have been used as a royal hunting ground, a brickworks, a holiday camp and a speedway track. I’d hazard a guess that there’s only one, namely California Country Park, near Wokingham.

Nowadays it’s rather more sedate but it’s still a great place to spend a couple of hours, or more if the sun is out. It covers a relatively compact site that consists of a lake, playgrounds, cafe and paddling pool alongside ancient heath and bogland.

Relaxing by the lake at at California Country Park

Relaxing by the lake at California Country Park

We attempted the woodland walk on our recent visit, which takes you through Longmoor Bog across a boardwalk. The walk was supposed to be 2.2 miles long but we went wrong somewhere as ours was much shorter. It would have been helpful to pick up a trail leaflet but I’m not sure if the park offers these.

Boardwalk at California Country Park

Boardwalk at California Country Park

Despite this our walk along the boardwalk was fun. I always find myself humming ‘Under the boardwalk’ when walking along these, and this one was no different, Bruce Willis has a lot to answer for!  The highlight was the orange coloured water of the ferroginous swamp, caused by a bacteria that deposits rust coloured iron hydroxide.

The 'Ferruginous swamp' at California Country Park

The ‘Ferruginous swamp’ at California Country Park

We extended our walk with a stroll around the lake. Possibly this was part of the woodland walk, who knows? The lakeside was popular with families, and busy with lots of greedy ducks and swans who were obviously used to being fed.

Swan and cygnets at California Country Park

Swan and cygnets at California Country Park

Next to the lake, there’s a paddling pool which is open during the summer months. It was rather showery on the day of our visit so wasn’t getting much use but I’d imagine it gets packed on sunny days. The pool is fenced off and has a couple of lifeguards on duty; there’s a small charge to use it.

Paddling pool at California Country Park

Paddling pool at California Country Park

The park has two playgrounds. The one for older children is like a mini assault course with ropes to hang off and balance along. There’s also a zip wire but my two weren’t impressed by it as the one in our local park is faster and longer. There’s a slide and swings area for younger ones which also had a small pirate ship in it.

Playground at California Country Park

Playground at California Country Park

We had lunch at Jacksons Cafe which has recently opened at the site. There’s quite a variety of food (we had fried breakfasts) and prices are reasonable. There are also plenty of areas outside that you could eat a picnic if you wish.

Geocaching treasures at California Country Park

Geocaching treasures at California Country Park

We rounded off our trip with a spot of geocaching. We’ve not had much luck finding geocaches recently so it was reassuring to find two at the park. The first was hidden behind a prickly holly bush so I sent the kids in to retrieve it. It was full of treasure so my daughter swapped one of her loom band creations. I’m sure geocache tins all over the country must be getting filled with these!

It’s worth mentioning that the kid friendly REME museum is just a short distance from California Country Park. It’s worth visiting as you can easily do both of these in a day; you can read our review here.

More info

  • California Country Park is free, although there is a small charge for parking (£1.80 for 1-4 hours). The paddling pool costs £1.60 each, it’s best suited to toddlers and young children.
  • Jacksons at California Country Park is open 9am-6pm daily.