A wet day out in Seaton and Beer, Devon

Following on from our Sidmouth post, day two of our trip to East Devon dawned grey and dismal. We’d known in advance it was going to be a wet one so I’d already decided on a couple of all-weather attractions, Seaton Tramway and Beer Quarry caves.

Seaton tramway

Seaton tramway
Seaton tramway

The Seaton tramway is a narrow gauge tram that runs for 3 miles between Seaton and Colyton. We boarded our bright pink tram in Seaton and were glad that we’d managed to get seats in one of the closed compartments. I felt sorry for a couple who decided to sit in the open part, they looked rather wet and wind blown by the end of the trip. However on a sunny day it must be great to sit up top.

In the drivers seat, Seaton Tramway
In the drivers seat, Seaton Tramway

The start of the journey, past the back of Tesco, isn’t particularly scenic but once it gets away from town the views improve. The tram runs along the River Axe estuary and past two reserves, Seaton Marshes and Colyford Common. The reserves have bird hides and look like they’d be a great place to explore further on a dry day. We saw a couple of little egrets whilst passing plus lots of wildfowl.

View from Seaton tramway
View from Seaton tramway

The journey to Colyton takes about 30 minutes. From the tram terminus it’s a 10 minute walk into the town centre but the rain deterred us. Instead we ate lunch in the Tram Stop cafe and had a look round the gift shop. The trams run every 20 minutes during high season so once we’d finished lunch we only had a short wait for our return trip.

At Colyton station
At Colyton station

The attraction is expensive for a family so despite being advertised as a wet weather option I’d suggest a visit is best saved for a dry day. The explorer ticket allows you to travel all day on the trams if you wish, and you could make a full day of it by spending time in Colyton or stopping for a drink in the pub at Colyford.

The rain came down even heavier once we’d got off the tramway. I’m sure Seaton is a lovely town on a sunny day but on a wet weekend it was pretty grim so we moved swiftly on to Beer Quarry caves.

Beer quarry caves

We escaped the rain by heading underground into Beer quarry caves. After donning our yellow helmets we joined a guided 1 hour tour which took us through the history of the caves from Roman times up until modern day. The caves are man-made as a result of quarrying Beer stone which is used in cathedrals and churches across the country. The tour focuses on the quarrymen who worked in the caves in dark, noisy and dangerous conditions.

Heading down to Beer Quarry caves
Heading down to Beer Quarry caves

Upon entering there is a small museum area which also showpieces a stone window made from Beer stone. After an introduction the guide took us through the caves and pointed out how the Roman part of the cave is distinguished by its arches. Saxon quarrying resulted in squarer arches, whilst the Norman area had been excavated the most as the stone was used for cathedral building.

Inside Beer Quarry caves
Inside Beer Quarry caves

Our guide demonstrated how noisy the caves would have been by banging on the walls with a hard hat to simulate the use of pick axes. The noise reverberated around the cave and when you realise they were doing incredibly manual jobs by candlelight I’m so glad we were born in another era.

In addition to quarrying, the caves have also been used as a place of worship, a smugglers refuge and (my favourite) for growing rhubarb and mushrooms. It’s also home to some bats which were pointed out to us. No flash photography is allowed because of the bats but I just about managed to get one successful photo of them.

Bats in Beer quarry cave
Bats in Beer quarry cave

The guide had lots of interesting stories to tell. There have been a couple of disasters in the cave so this included some ghost tales. The kids weren’t sure whether to believe him, and even I found myself wondering if they were true!

We really enjoyed our tour around the caves, and they’re well worth visiting if your children are of school age. I think younger children wouldn’t get so much out of it and the ground is quite uneven so it’s not suitable for pushchairs.

More info:

  • Seaton tramway is open from April to October, and on some additional dates during the winter. An adult explorer ticket costs £10, tickets for children age 3-15 are £5. Reductions are available if you’re only travelling to Colyford. We’d also received a discount voucher from the Donkey Sanctuary, but I forgot to use it, worth looking out for though.
  • Beer Quarry Caves are open from April to September. A family ticket costs £23.50, alternatively an adult ticket costs £7.50, children aged 5-16 cost £5.50. Children under 5 are free but ensure they’ll be happy to spend an hour on a guided tour. Entrance is by guided tour only, these run every half hour from 10.30am. There are no toilets in the caves, use the ones in the car park before you join the tour. The caves are not wheelchair accessible.
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A day out around Sidmouth, Devon

We recently spent a long weekend in East Devon. Despite living in the county a few years ago we’d never visited this area before so we had a lovely time exploring new places. Our first day was spent in and around Sidmouth.

Salcombe Hill walk

The morning started with a short walk on Salcombe Hill. We cheated and parked in the car park at the top of the hill, rather than walking up from Sidmouth, but if you’re feeling energetic and like steep hills I believe it’s a lovely walk from the town.

Our walk was a 1 mile loop out to the coastal path and then back inland through the woods. It’s easy walking and once you reach the coastal path you are treated to fabulous views along the Jurassic coastline.

View from Salcombe Hill towards Sidmouth
View from Salcombe Hill towards Sidmouth

We hadn’t brought a map with us and I was slightly concerned that our basic directions said to turn inland again when we reached the ‘frog stone’. However we need not have worried as it was immediately obvious when we reached it; whilst it’s recognisable as a frog shape more noticeably it’s the only large rock in the area. We stopped for a while to admire the view, wow!

View from Salcombe Hill
View from Salcombe Hill

As we walked back inland and through the woods to the car park we had the first indications of just how severe the winter storms had been. There were so many recently uprooted trees that I gave up trying to count them. It was hard to imagine how scary the storms must have been, given the calm sunny day of our visit.

Sidmouth donkey sanctuary

After our walk we hopped back in the car and drove the short distance to Sidmouth Donkey Sanctuary. The sanctuary is home to around 500 rescue donkeys and is a popular tourist attraction. You can easily spend a few hours wandering around the fields and looking into the barns.

Sidmouth donkey sanctuary
Sidmouth donkey sanctuary

Everything at the sanctuary looks spick and span, with neatly tended grounds. Most of the donkeys are out in the surrounding fields and you’re free to wander as you wish. Each field has a board which shows you donkey details, along with some of their history.

Donkey details, Sidmouth Donkey Sanctuary
Donkey details, Sidmouth Donkey Sanctuary

My mum had recently sponsored a blind donkey, Teddy, as a present for the children so we set out on a mission to find him. We found him in a group of other blind donkeys and their companions. We also found quite a few people with the same sponsor donkey, he’s obviously a popular choice!

Teddy, our sponsor donkey
Teddy, our sponsor donkey

We ate lunch in the Hayloft cafe, which was reasonably priced and good quality; the kids particularly enjoyed their ‘donkey bags’. There are plenty of picnic spots too, but as the sanctuary is free to enter it felt right to spend money in the cafe and shop.

Sidmouth Donkey Sanctuary
Sidmouth Donkey Sanctuary

There are plenty of donkeys to stroke out in the fields; you can also take part in a grooming session for a small extra charge so it’s a great place to visit if you have donkey-loving kids.

The only thing I found a little strange was the large number of memorials to people and dogs that had passed away and had donations made in their name. It almost felt like we were walking through a garden of remembrance rather than a donkey sanctuary.

It’s possible to walk to the beach from the donkey sanctuary, but for our last stop of the day we headed a few miles east to Branscombe instead.

Branscombe beach

Branscombe village is in a picturesque location at the meeting point of two valleys (combes). It’s a long strung out village, some parts of which are NT owned.

We parked at the village hall then walked along a flat track (fine for buggies) a mile or so down to the beach at Branscombe Mouth. It’s also possible to park at the beach but we rather enjoyed our stroll down.

The view along Branscombe beach
The view along Branscombe beach

There is a small shop selling beach paraphernalia and ice creams, although we found it quite expensive. Instead we wandered along the pebble beach, enjoying the views and practising skimming stones into the sea. A couple of children were braving the water but there’s no way I’d have gone in!

Anchor from MSC Napoli, Branscombe beach
Anchor from MSC Napoli, Branscombe beach

Branscombe hit the national headlines when the MSC Napoli was beached nearby in January 2007. It became infamous for the looting that took place, including that of several BMW motorcycles.The ship was finally broken up and removed, all that remains now is the anchor which was presented to the people of East Devon.

Storm damaged chalet on Branscombe beach
Storm damaged chalet on Branscombe beach

Along the beach were further reminders of the winter storms. I felt sorry for the owner of this chalet as the foundations beneath it were completely gone. It looked like quite a lot of repair work had happened to the other chalets so hopefully it’ll be restored before long.

Heading back I almost regretted not parking at the beach but it wasn’t long before we were back in the village and on our way home.

More info:

  • We parked at the NT Salcombe Hill car park and followed this walk. The walk is mostly flat and takes about 45 mins, assuming you stop to admire the views and take photos.
  • Sidmouth Donkey Sanctuary is open every day of the year from 9am until dusk. There is no entry charge but please do leave a donation.
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Donkeys and sand sculptures at Weston-super-Mare

Over the last few years we’ve started a family tradition of an August day trip to the seaside town of Weston-super-Mare. I usually prefer quiet beaches and exploring rock pools, but I make an exception for Weston, and each year we have a fun day out.

We take the train as it’s a convenient and straightforward journey for us (trains run every half hour from Bristol). Walking from the railway station, the first impressions of the town are not particularly positive. It suffers from the blight of empty shops, grimy looking bars and down at heel takeaways that are found in town centres all over the country.

However, it’s only a 15 minute walk to the beach from the railway station. Before long you’re on the beach front, and you can understand why families flock here.

Grand Pier at Weston-super-Mare
Grand Pier at Weston-super-Mare

Grand Pier

The pier is the first place the kids want to visit when we arrive.  It was destroyed by fire in 2008, but rebuilt and opened again in 2010. I’d imagine some adults visiting without children would find this  place hell on earth but for most kids it’s the very opposite. It’s primarily a busy entertainment arcade with loud music, a variety of rides, food outlets and game machines.

Inside the arcade we enjoyed the crystal maze (a room full of mirrors to negotiate) and another maze where they had to climb through laser lights.  The 300m go-kart track looked great fun, but with a minimum age of 12 years the kids were too young to go on it. Instead we spent a happy half hour feeding 2p pieces into the pushing machines, and then a few unsuccessful attempts on the various grab and go machines.

Looking back down the Grand Pier, Weston-super-Mare
Looking back down the Grand Pier, Weston-super-Mare

For younger pre-school children, there aren’t that many rides that would be suitable but there is a soft play area, and also a small train that runs up and down the pier for 50p a ride.

Once the pier cravings were satisfied I managed to tempt them away with the promise of a donkey ride.

Donkey rides

Donkey rides on Weston beach are a popular and enduring tradition. The family running Weston donkeys have been operating on the beach since 1886. The donkeys are well looked after, and only work for around 7 months each year, with their holiday spent at local farms.

I was slightly worried my eldest would be too grown up for the donkeys, but she hopped on one of the taller donkeys without a second thought. Luckily they can take children up to the age of 14 years, so we could still get in a few more rides in future years.

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Maisie – a Weston donkey

The ride isn’t long at all, perhaps a couple of hundred metres, but the kids both enjoyed it and made a fuss of the donkeys afterwards.

2013 sand sculpture festival

For details of the 2014 sand sculptures please see my post here.

This year, for a change, we decided to visit the sand sculpture festival, which features Hollywood stars. The sculptures are made from just sand and water, and then sprayed with a solution to help repel rain.

Pirates of the Caribbean at Weston sand sculpture festival
Pirates of the Caribbean at Weston sand sculpture festival

There was a good mix of films and actors portrayed. Children’s characters included ones from Pirates of the Caribbean, Despicable Me and Madagascar.

Super heroes at Weston sand sculpture festival
Super heroes at Weston sand sculpture festival

My generation had Jaws, Titanic and James Bond sculptures whilst some of the older stars were Charlie Chaplin, Alfred Hitchcock and Marilyn Monroe.

Minions at Weston sand sculpture festival
Minions at Weston sand sculpture festival

The sculptures were very impressive. After we looked round there is an area where you can create your own sand sculpture. There are step by step instructions to follow but its not as easy as it looks!

Building sandcastles at Weston
Building sand sculptures at Weston

Finally, no visit to the seaside is complete without an ice cream. We opted for Tutto Gelataria on the sea front, this sells locally made ice cream with some interesting flavours (candy floss ice cream anyone?).

Before heading home we also picked up some sticks of sugary rock as souvenirs.  I don’t know why I do this as I always find them sweet and sickly, but I guess a seaside trip demands certain traditions!

Everything else

In the past we’ve played crazy-golf, but there wasn’t time this year. There’s also a water adventure play park, the museum, the Weston wheel (not quite the London Eye), a land train along the promenade and the aquarium. So, plenty to do on a day trip!

More info

  • The Grand Pier is open daily from 10am (except Christmas Day).  The closing time varies, but is usually early evening.
  • This years sand sculpture festival runs until 30th September 2013. It’s an annual event, so will run again with a different theme in future years.
  • Both the Grand Pier and Sand Sculpture festival are wheelchair and buggy accessible. However, inside the pier arcade area it was incredibly busy, and there’s not much space to manoeuvre around.

Costs

  • Entrance to the pier is £1 per person. Ride prices inside the arcade vary from £1 to £6, or you can buy a £15.00 wristband which allows access to all rides. Check height and age restrictions first as quite a few are only suitable for 8+ years. There are also loads of games for the kids to waste your money on. Whilst the prices are very reasonable (2p slot machines, 20p grab the toy machines) there are a lot of them so your money soon goes. Prices updated summer 2015.
  • Donkey rides cost £2 and last around 5 minutes (price updated summer 2015).
  • The sand sculpture festival costs £3.50 for adults, £2 for children or £10 for families. You can get a guide for £1 but all the information in it is also available on boards in the sculpture area anyway.
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