On the beach with Antony Gormley

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Antony Gormley “Another Place”, Crosby beach

Most people know Antony Gormley as the creator of the “Angel of the North”, but being a southerner I tend to associate him with a solitary statue on top of Exeter College in Oxford.

I was keen to see more of his work so on a recent trip to Liverpool our first port of call was Crosby Beach.  This is the site of “Another Place”, an installation which has been exhibited in Norway, Germany and Belgium but now has a permanent home at Crosby.

Antony Gormley statue
Antony Gormley statue

The kids were initially excited about visiting the beach but when I mentioned it was to see some statues, rather than to go paddling (it’s a non-bathing beach), it lost some of its appeal.  Never mind that it was a freezing cold day with a biting wind!

We took the train from Liverpool to Blundellsands and Crosby station.  From the station it’s a 5 minute walk down to the beach front.  I’d seen quite a few photos of the statues beforehand but even so I was suitably impressed on arrival.

There are 100 statues, along a 2 mile stretch of beach, facing out to sea.   They’re made from casts of the sculptors own body so are realistic to a level of detail which made the kids snigger (if you get where I’m coming from).

A few statues are sunk into the sand and that’s a warning you should heed – the mud is particularly sticky so don’t attempt to walk out to the statues away from those closest to the promenade.

joeandmanSome of the statues have been dressed or painted.  Others are covered in barnacles. Most have a liberal dosing of seagull poo. We visited at low tide so you can see the statues stretching out into the distance.  Every so often your eyes play tricks and you think it’s a real person out on the horizon.

We walked alongside the promenade until we reached the coastguard station, and then followed the signs to Hall Road station, the next stop along on the railway. It’s only as I write this that I realise our tickets were only valid to the stop we got off at. I’ve no idea if there is a price difference but best to check in advance if you plan to do a similar walk!

Kids view:

We liked seeing the statues stuck in the sand, although it would have been better if it was warm and sunny.  The statues must get really cold!

General info:

  • I wish we’d bought a pair of binoculars with us.  In addition to the furthest statues, there are plenty of birds and large container ships to look out for.
  • Wellies might also have been useful. Although the tide was out, and we didn’t venture far from the promenade, we still got wet feet visiting some of the statues.
  • The train takes about 20 minutes from the centre of Liverpool. You can also drive to Crosby and then follow the brown tourist signs to Antony Gormley’s Another Place.
  • There’s not much in the way of facilities en route apart from an ice cream van and a stall selling drinks and hot snacks in the car park at the lifeguard station.
  • The promenade runs alongside the beach and is fully accessible.

Costs:

  • The statues are free to visit.  The ice cream van was  rather pricey, but I guess it’s a captive market.
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London with kids – a day out with the Travelcard

My kids have been wanting to ride the new Emirates Air Line (cable car across the Thames, in plain speak) in London ever since they first heard about it. My difficulty was trying to work out what else to combine the trip with. It doesn’t really link up with much in the way of attractions, unless you happen to be visiting its next door neighbour, the O2 arena.

Taking the “it’s better to travel than arrive” approach I eventually decided we should do exactly that – spend a day travelling in London using as many different types of transport as possible. Whilst my 7 year old son was excited, it was a harder sell to my tween daughter, but the prospect of a hearty fried breakfast, a boat trip and a ride on a cable car won her round.

So, what did we do?

Underground from Paddington to Embankment

You can start near enough anywhere in London. Our arrival station was Paddington, so it should have been a relatively straightforward trip on the Bakerloo line to Embankment.  However we made a detour to the Regency Cafe in Pimlico for the aforementioned fried breakfast.  This added a fair amount of walking, and more than a few minutes trying to decipher Google maps, so whilst the cafe was first class I wouldn’t try to combine it with this trip again.

Thames Clipper from Embankment to North Greenwich

We boarded the Thames Clipper at the Embankment.  The Clipper is a regular everyday commuting boat so there’s no tourist commentary, which from my perspective is no bad thing. It’s also a heck of a lot cheaper than a dedicated sightseeing cruise.  You buy your tickets before you get on the boat, from a booth alongside the pier.   Once on board there’s a snack bar and toilets.

View from the Thames Clipper
View from the Thames Clipper

We were the only passengers for most of the journey so the children had a front seat view. They were incredibly excited to begin with, pointing out the attractions they knew such as HMS Belfast and Tower Bridge, although this tailed off a little when we reached a long stretch of river with no obvious landmarks.  Fortunately the pilot sped up and the trip took on a more exciting, James Bond-like, feel! At Greenwich you can see the restored Cutty Sark and then it’s just a short hop to the cable car.

Emirates Air Line from Emirates Greenwich Peninsula to Emirates Royal Docks

View of O2 arena from the Emirates Air Line
View of O2 arena from the Emirates Air Line

Despite its glorified name the Air Line is a cable car built, as you’ll probably guess, with sponsorship from a major airline.  Opened in 2012, the journey across the Thames takes about 10 minutes, although this is reduced to 5 minutes at peak travel times.

Even though it was half term there were no queues, and we were able to have an entire car to ourselves.  Boarding is straightforward, and then you’re off into the sky.  For the first minute or so the kids were a little nervous, unwilling to move in case they rocked the car.  However they soon realised it was pretty solid and that the doors were unlikely to open mid-flight to deposit them into the Thames.  The views over the O2 and back towards the City are fantastic and even though we visited on a gloomy day it’s well worth the money.

Docklands Light Railway (DLR) from Royal Victoria to Tower Gateway

Front seat on the Docklands Light Railway
Front seat on the Docklands Light Railway

For those of you unfamiliar with the DLR, the trains travel above ground, often on elevated stretches.  It is operated through a computer system so there are no drivers.

We’ve been on the DLR a few times now, and the plan is always to sit in the front seats in the front carriage.  The kids liken the ride to a roller coaster, although it would be a pretty tame ride in my opinion!  Regardless, they enjoy throwing their arms up in the air at the slightest hint of a slope or bend.

Red heritage bus (route 15) from Tower Hill to Trafalgar Square

The number 15 heritage bus route uses the traditional Routemaster buses, with a conductor on board and an open back platform. The bus takes about 25 minutes to reach Trafalgar Square, passing the Monument and St Pauls Cathedral on the way. If I’m honest, the ride was rather bumpy and I’d probably opt for the modern buses in future, but it was a fun experience.

Underground from Charing Cross to Paddington

Back to Paddington for our mainline train home – standing room only for the entire journey!

Our travels lasted around 3.5 hours, although we were very lucky with almost immediate connections and an absence of any queues. You can really mix and match the transport options in any way you like – or even add in others, such as a London cab or a Boris bike (for the brave).  Whilst all of the transport options above are well signposted and connect well with each other it’s probably best to bring a map too, in case you want to make any detours.

Kids view:

We liked the Clipper because it went fast, and the cable car because it was high.

General info:

  • The Air Line doesn’t always run in poor weather. Check the website before you travel to save a wasted journey.
  • The DLR, Thames Clipper, Emirates skyline and some Underground stations are wheelchair and buggy accessible. The route 15 Heritage bus isn’t easily accessible, but you can travel on a standard route 15 bus as these (and all other) buses have low lift floors.

Cost:

Surprisingly affordable. We travelled to London on the train so our Travelcard included the underground, DLR and bus travel.  It also entitled us to discounts on the Emirates Air Line and Thames Clipper.

If you don’t have a Travelcard (or Oyster Card) an adult single ticket for the Air Line costs £4.50, and £7.15 for a one way journey on the Clipper. Accompanied children under 10 travel free on the underground, DLR, and at a reduced rate on the Air Line and Thames Clipper.

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Queen Elizabeth Country Park, Hampshire.

We’d originally planned a day trip to the New Forest but whilst browsing for inspiration came across the Queen Elizabeth Country Park and decided to change our plans.  The park lies at the western end of the South Downs and includes a large managed wooded area and chalk downlands.

Running through the woods
Running through the woods

We visited over a busy Easter weekend and were initially put off by the large number of visitors.  However, we soon realised that the majority were only there for the Easter egg trail around the visitor centre, and egg rolling on Butser Hill.  Away from these areas the trails were pretty quiet.

After a look round the centre and a drink in the cafe we decided on three activities – the Juniper adventure trail, orienteering and a walk up Butser Hill.  There’s plenty more to do in the park though, including  mountain bike and off road cycle trails which looked good fun.

Juniper adventure trail

Juniper Adventure Trail
Juniper Adventure Trail

This is a large circular course with lots of obstacles for older children. It has a variety of rope nets, logs to balance on and chains to hang from.   The kids raced round it a few times, and declared it awesome.

There are several picnic tables, and barbeque sites dotted around the trail.  There’s also a seasonal kiosk which sells hot drinks, ice cream and a small selection of snacks.

You can drive up and park almost next to the trail, which is handy if you’re bringing a large picnic.  However, we walked up from the lower car park.  Be warned, it’s a steep climb up through the woods!

There’s a smaller playground near the visitor centre for the under eights.

 Orienteering 

Orienteering at Queen Elizabeth Country Park
Orienteering at Queen Elizabeth Country Park

The park has three permanent orienteering courses, with varying levels of difficulty. We purchased an orienteering map from the visitor centre, and decided on the ‘yellow’ course.  This is the easiest of the three, and involves finding eight controls which are generally visible from the main paths.

The leaflet explains how to complete the course. I recommend taking some time to  decode the colours as they’re different from what you’d see on a normal OS map.  The  scale is also larger than usual, so the map includes a lot of detail.

We didn’t make a great start as we couldn’t find the starting marker in the car park! After a while we gave up looking, and started on the rest of the controls. Fortunately these were all straightforward to spot.  When you find a control you need to mark the number and letter onto the section on your map. If you complete your course you can download a certificate when you get home.

The kids really enjoyed the trail, and it was just the right level for them.

Butser Hill

We finished our day with a walk up Butser Hill, which is signposted from the visitor centre.  It’s difficult to get lost – just head towards the large radio mast on top of the hill!  Alternatively you can drive over  to the car park towards the top of the hill if you’re feeling less energetic.

View from trig point at Butser Hill
View from trig point at Butser Hill

Our kids were getting tired so there were a few moans as we headed up the bridleway to the 270m summit. Butser Hill is one of the highest points in Hampshire, and from the top there’s a great view over the surrounding area.  It was pretty cold and windy on the day of our visit though so we headed down quickly once we’d had the obligatory photo stop at the top.

Kids view:

The orienteering was great fun as you got to run around the woods. It was quite hard climbing the big hill at the end.

General info:

  • You’ll need to bring your own bikes with you if you’re going to ride one of the trails as there’s no cycle hire available.
  • You should pre-book if you want to use the on site BBQs.
  • The visitor centre and cafe are wheelchair accessible, but the surrounding terrain is pretty hilly and the woodland paths are not suitable for those with limited mobility.

Costs:

A bargain! £2 to park all day.  We also chose to spend £1 on an orienteering trail and £1 for a map of the park.

More info: http://www3.hants.gov.uk/qecp

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