£9 for a 10 minute bus ride? I thought the driver had misheard me so I repeated our destination, Milford-on-Sea. Yes, the figure was correct; £2.50 per child and £4 per adult for a single fare. It would have been cheaper to get a taxi, and quicker given the bus was running 25 minutes late. With gritted teeth I paid the fare and made a mental note to avoid buses in future.
Fortunately we’d had a better experience with the train. Taking advantage of our family railcard and off peak travel I’d planned a trip to Hurst Castle, a spectacularly located castle overlooking the Solent and Isle of Wight. It’s possible to walk to Hurst Castle from Lymington railway station but I thought the short bus ride to Milford would allow a linear walk and reduce mileage.
My mood lightened a little as we left Milford-on-Sea and attempted to run up and over the shingle bank which heads out to Hurst Castle. Easier said than done as the pebbles slipped away under our feet and the wind blew hair and sea spray across our faces. Across the Solent we could see The Needles, glistening white against the clouds.
It’s a 1.5 mile walk out along the shingle to Hurst Castle. It was surprisingly hard walking along the top of the spit, even with a stiff breeze blowing us along. After a few minutes we admitted defeat and dropped down to the sheltered side of the bank, away from the waves and wind. We walked beside the mud flats and salt marsh; they’re a haven for waders and wildfowl although the only bird I recognised was an egret.
As we walked Hurst Castle slowly came into focus. It’s a strange looking building, more of a fort really, with destructive gun batteries and protective lighthouses alongside each other.
The castle was built by Henry VIII to guard the western approach of the Solent and help protect the ports of Southampton and Portsmouth. Despite the threat of invasion the castle saw little action for much of its early history although it was used to imprison Charles I in 1648. Significant renovations and the addition of armaments were completed during the Napoleonic Wars but life at the castle remained uneventful. Further modifications took place throughout the Victorian era and up to the end of the Second World War.
Entering via the guard room we first explored the early part of the castle. The Tudor tower housed the garrison and marks on the floor outline the living accommodation. The roof was used as a gun tower but nowadays is best for its great views across the marshes and the Solent.
The original Tudor castle sits between two large wing batteries which were added between 1861 and 1874. Later in the week we visited the Isle of Wight and it’s only after seeing the castle from the seaward side that you really appreciate the positioning and structure of the building.
We continued our explorations of the remainder of the castle. We walked up and down stairs, searched nooks and crannies and balanced along old railway tracks. The two lighthouses shown above no longer work. Instead the Hurst Point lighthouse fulfils their role and there’s a small exhibition in the castle about them.
Before we left, and in the interest of research, we felt obliged to pop into the cafe for a drink. We’d already eaten our picnic but the food looked good and the cakes tempting.
Return to Lymington
I had planned to catch the ferry back from the castle through the marshes to Keyhaven but it was a busy summer day and the queue was long. In case you’re wondering, the term ‘ferry’ is probably a little optimistic. Think small boat with room for about 10 people rather than Isle of Wight Red Funnel car ferry!
There also appeared to be a drama happening in one of the channels as a boat was stuck in the mud. Our boat was called into action to rescue the passengers and take them back to Keyhaven. At this point I decided it was quicker to walk back rather than wait another 20 minutes for the next ferry. Fortunately the wind had dropped since the morning, making it a less arduous walk.
Our walk back to Lymington took us past more mudflats, the boats of Keyhaven Yacht Club and clouds of butterflies. I’d under-estimated how long it would take to walk this final stretch and we had to run to reach the railway station in time for our train. We arrived sweaty and hot with a couple of minutes to spare.
We really enjoyed Hurst Castle but if you plan to visit I would definitely suggest walking one way from Lymington or Keyhaven and using the ferry service as this looked like a fun way to travel.
Hurst Castle is open daily from the end of March to the end of October. Check the English Heritage website for exact dates and times. An adult ticket costs £4.40, a child ticket £2.80. English Heritage members have free access.
The ferry runs every 20 minutes between Keyhaven and Hurst Castle during castle opening times. A single ticket costs £3.50 for adults, £2 for children.
St Davids is Britain’s smallest city (population 1800) and makes an excellent base to explore Pembrokeshire. Despite being a city St Davids is the ideal place to visit if you enjoy the outdoors, be it walking the Pembrokeshire coastal path, surfing or coasteering. Read on to find out things to do in and around St Davids, Pembrokeshire.
1. Bishop’s Palace, St Davids
Located adjacent to St Davids cathedral, Bishop’s Palace was built in the 13th Century to house the bishops and entertain guests. Nowadays it’s a ruin but an impressive one and well worth an hour of your time.
Inside there are plenty of areas to discover, up and down winding staircases. The dark undercrofts were great for hiding and jumping out on the kids, whilst the towers provided great views. Information boards are dotted around the site to give you an insight into how life would have been.
Check the CADW website for Bishop’s Palace opening times as they vary according to season. A family ticket for 2 adults and 2 children costs £10.50.
Just a couple of miles from St Davids, Solva wins my award for the most picturesque harbour in Pembrokeshire, possibly even in Wales. It’s particularly lovely when the sandy beach is revealed at low tide. Wander along Trinity Quay for a spot of boat and people watching or head into the village to visit cafés and galleries.
We walked from Solva over Gribin ridge to the pebble beach at Gwadn. The kids messed around in the stream before walking inland up the valley. At this point we discovered the stream the kids had been playing in earlier was the (treated) outflow from the sewage works! Despite this late discovery we all enjoyed the walk and the sudden need to wash our hands was a good excuse to visit a cafe.
3. Enjoy an ice cream at Gianni’s, St Davids
It’s not the cheapest but you get what you pay for. £2.50 buys you a cone of Gianni’s organic home-made ice cream in a huge variety of flavours. We sampled many of these throughout the week, including salted caramel, raspberry dodge and mango sorbet. There’s a daily alcoholic choice, a dairy and sugar free option and even bacon flavour ice cream for your dog! Gianni’s is located in the High Street in St Davids; easily identified by the queues in sunny weather!
4. Whitesands Bay
Looking at the photo below you could almost imagine it was taken in sunny California. Although you can guess from the lack of people sunbathing that it was taken in colder climes.
If you’re a fan of golden sandy beaches then you’ll love Whitesands Bay, just outside St Davids. This large beach is popular with families and is one of the best in Wales for surfing. There’s a large car park, cafe, toilets and lifeguard service throughout the summer months.
If you prefer smaller beaches take a short walk north along the coastal path to Porthmeigan. There are no facilities here but it’s a quieter choice if Whitesands is too busy.
5. Walk around Ramsey Head
Just about any walk along the Pembrokeshire coastal path will reward you with spectacular scenery and wildlife sightings. If, like me, you prefer circular walks, you’ll enjoy a walk on the Treginnis Peninsula.
We started at Porthclais, a couple of miles from St Davids, and followed the coastal path around Ramsey Head. We headed inland near St Justinian’s back to our starting point. A highlight of this walk are the views over to Ramsey Island, which is separated from the mainland by a treacherous reef called The Bitches. Popular with experienced kayakers, the tides race through the channel creating whirlpools and eddies.
6. St Non’s chapel
St Non’s chapel is a 20 minute walk (or short drive) from the city and is said to mark the birthplace of St David. The small ruin and holy well are located in the middle of a cattle field.
There’s not much to see but it’s a peaceful place to spend a few minutes. From the chapel you can walk down through the field to reach the coastal path. Bring a picnic and enjoy the view.
7. St Davids cathedral
The cathedral is the reason for St Davids city status. Although we didn’t go inside we walked down through the cemetery to reach Bishop’s Palace so were able to appreciate its architecture.
It’s in a beautiful location, evidently built in a dip to hide it from invaders coming from the sea. It survived an earthquake in the 13th Century but was almost destroyed by Cromwell’s forces. Fortunately it has been restored and visitors can enjoy its splendour. Find out more details here.
8. Watch the jumpers at the Blue Lagoon, Abereiddy
The Blue Lagoon, a few minutes walk from the beach at Abereiddy, is an old slate quarry. Popular with coastering groups, the quarry has several high ledges that brave souls can dive from into the incredibly blue waters. Alternatively, scaredy cats (like me) can just sit and watch.
9. Climb Carn Llidi
If you’re feeling energetic the 595ft summit of Carn Llidi makes a good destination for an afternoon walk. We parked at Whitesands Bay and walked north along the coastal path around the headland before walking up the shoulder of Carn Llidi.
The last few feet to the summit requires a scramble which I opted out of as it was quite windy on top. Fortunately the views are just as good a few feet below. You can supposedly see Ireland on a clear day but I was quite content with views of the coastline and Whitesands Bay.
10. Go on a boat trip
There are several boat operators vying for business in St Davids. These offer plenty of choice, from landing trips on the RSPB reserve of Ramsey Island to evening wildlife cruises and jet boat rides.
We chose to visit Skomer island which necessitated a longer drive to the boat departure point at Martin’s Haven. It was worth the extra effort and early start; you can read about our trip here.
11. Have a BBQ on the beach
One of our most memorable evenings was spent barbecuing chocolate stuffed bananas and toasting marshmallows on the beach. We carried foil wrapped bananas and a disposable barbecue down to the beach. I kept watch whilst the kids went off to play on a rope swing in the woods behind Aber Mawr beach.
The chocolate bananas took a while to cook but were definitely worth the wait. Although next time I’ll remember to bring some tissues as they were rather messy to eat!
If you’re going to do something similar remember to take all litter home with you and leave no trace of your visit.
12. Rockpooling at Caerfai Bay, near St Davids
We joined a sea safari at Caerfai Bay organised by Pembrokeshire National Park. Starting from the top of the beach our guide pointed out the different rocks, mosses and flowers. We walked down towards the sea, stopping often to explore the different creatures in the rock pools. We learnt lots about barnacles, sea anemones and limpets; a couple of the group got to taste seaweed too.
13. Enjoy the wildflowers along the Pembrokeshire coastal path
Spring and early summer are a great time to enjoy the wild flowers. Thrift and brightly coloured gorse bushes line the coastal path and helpfully cheer up photos on dull days.
We found groups of heath spotted orchids whilst walking on Carn Llidi, bluebells on Skomer and campion, spring squill and foxgloves almost everywhere along the coast. There were also plenty of others that I didn’t get around to identifying!
14. Visit the art galleries
Pembrokeshire is home to a large number of artists and many villages have galleries and craft shops. Whilst keeping an eye out for child related breakages isn’t the most relaxing way to spend your time we do enjoy picking up mementos of our stay. St Davids in particular has a couple of good options including Oriel y Parc and Oriel y Felin. Some of the artists also have their own galleries, including one of our favourites, Chris Neale.
15. Seal spotting
We only saw one seal on our most recent visit; however if you’re visiting in autumn you’re in for a treat. The seals come ashore to pup so keep an eye out for them from the coastal path or alternatively visit Skomer or Ramsey islands.
Have you visited the area? If so, let me know if you’ve any further suggestions for things to do with children in Pembrokeshire.
We recently spent a week at Henry’s campsite on the Lizard Peninsula in southern Cornwall walking the coastal path, exploring beaches and eating cream teas. It’s a fantastic place for a family holiday so, in no particular order, here’s our list of great things to do in the area:
1. Lizard lighthouse
Lizard lighthouse, located at Lizard Point, is the only lighthouse you can climb in Cornwall. The lighthouse is automatically controlled nowadays but still provides an important service to vessels navigating the offshore waters.
We visited the Heritage Centre which is located in the old engine room. This details the role of Trinity House (who run the lighthouse service) as well as providing hands-on exhibits for children and stories about some of the wrecks offshore. The kids enjoyed blowing a fog horn, I’m glad I don’t live nearby!
Whilst the Heritage Centre provides a useful introduction the 40 minute guided tour of the lighthouse is the main event. This was excellent as the guide was informative and knowledgeable. As we climbed up through the lighthouse he talked about how it worked, showed us the bulbs and fail-safe mechanisms and entertained us with interesting snippets. He managed to engage the kids with tales of giant jellyfish and of a great white shark heading to the UK.
The last part of the tour takes you up a steep ladder into the top of the lighthouse. It’s very warm up there, rather like being in a greenhouse on a summer day, so we didn’t stay long. A fantastic experience though and highly recommended.
2. Flower spotting
If you visit in spring or summer you’ll find the hedgerows, verges and coastal path ablaze with flowers. We were treated to displays of sea thrift, campion and foxgloves during our stay.
Living inland my knowledge of coastal flowers is limited so I bought a copy of “Wild flowers of the Lizard” which was useful. It suggests places to spot some of the flowers and is great for identifying the more unusual species.
The kids love geocaching, and they’ll happily head out on a walk if they think there’s the chance of finding treasure. There are quite a few geocaches and trails in the Lizard area, some of which are in popular locations so watch out for muggles (non-geocachers).
The only slight issue was lack of internet access which made it tricky to download the cache details. If you’re reliant on a smartphone geocaching app it’s worth making a note of the location and hint in advance of your visit.
4. Kynance Cove
According to Trip Advisor this is the number 1 place to visit on the Lizard Peninsula. It’s not difficult to see why as the location is stunning. We walked along the coastal path from the Lizard although you can also park in the nearby NT car park. There’s a good value cafe and toilets although no lifeguard cover.
However it is incredibly popular. On the day of our visit you could hardly see the beach due to the number of people on it. It’s best to go at low tide but if you’re looking for solitude you’ll need to visit out of season or perhaps early evening.
5. Walk the coastal path
This was the highlight of our holiday, and we tried to fit a walk in every day. All of the tourist shops have booklets with suggested routes, alternatively pick up an OS map (No 103) and plan your own. There are plenty of inland footpaths which allow you to construct circular walks or you could just do an out and back linear stretch of the coastal path.
Our favourites were the walk from Lizard to Kynance Cove and from Mullion village to Mullion and Poldhu coves.
6. Marconi Centre
This unassuming building on a hill next to Poldhu Cove marks the transmission of the first transatlantic radio signal. Manned by volunteer radio enthusiasts, visitors can watch a short video which tells the story of this historic event and its preceding history.
I learnt that the signal consisted of three dots (the letter S) as it was too difficult to transmit long dashes. My daughter had fun playing with the Morse code machines and received a certificate for tapping her name out. If you’re interested in radio communication this is a great place to visit but even if you’re not it’s worth half an hour of your time.
7. Visit a garden
Giant rhubarb, bamboo groves and native wild flowers nestle alongside each other in the sub-tropical surroundings of Trebah Garden.
The garden spills down a valley to a private beach where you’ll find a small cafe. Along the way you’ll find tree ferns, huge lilies and winding paths to explore.
Trebah has a couple of playgrounds, children’s trails and is dog friendly so an ideal family destination. The kids also enjoyed watching the koi carp in the fish pond.
There are other gardens in the area which are open to the public. Glendurgan Garden is nearby and a good alternative if you’re already a member of the National Trust.
8. Go rock pooling at Kennack Sands
Kennack Sands is near the small village of Kuggar. The beach suffered in the winter storms and much of the sand has been lost. However, visit at low tide and you’ll be rewarded with great rock pooling.
We joined an organised rock pooling session which I’d recommend as the leader identified our finds and told us interesting facts about them. I can now spot a velvet swimming crab by its red eyes and know not to pick them up (or to do so very carefully)! There are a couple of cafés, toilets and a car park next to the beach. If you fancy taking to the waves check out the surf school which operates from the Beach Hut.
9. Eat a pasty
When in Cornwall it’s obligatory to try a pasty. I’m not really a fan (and being vegetarian doesn’t help either) but the rest of the family enjoyed their takeaway lunch from Ann’s Pasties in Lizard village.
I’d hazard a guess that every beach cafe has a pasty offering, just make sure you pick up one of the locally made options.
10. Pebble hunting at Loe Bar
The shingle beach at Loe Bar separates Cornwall’s largest lake (Loe Pool) and the sea. The surrounding area is owned by the NT and if you’re feeling energetic you can take the 6 mile walk around the lake.
Alternatively just relax on the beach. It’s not safe to go in the water here due to dangerous undercurrents and a steeply shelving shoreline but it’s great for pebble hunting away from the edge. We enjoyed the simple pleasure of sorting through lots of smooth round pebbles of varying colours and sizes.
11. Coverack harbour and beach
We visited Coverack on a damp cloudy day and even in less than ideal weather conditions I could see it was a place I’d like to return to. We didn’t spend long here but I’d imagine the beach is great in the sun.
The village has a picturesque harbour area complete with brightly coloured fishing boats so its good for photo buffs too.
12. Eat an ice cream at Roskilly’s
Roskilly’s is an organic farm which makes and sells its own ice cream. You’ll see it in a lot of cafés around the peninsula and you can also visit the ice cream parlour at the farm. It’s a popular outing with young families who can enjoy the farmland walks, pat animals and watch cows being milked.
13. Visit Lizard Point
Just about everyone who visits the Lizard Peninsula makes the trek down to Lizard Point, the most southerly point in the UK.
Take your binoculars as there are usually seals bobbing around in the waters off the Point. Whilst you’re there pop into the NT wildlife watchpoint to find out more about the choughs which inhabit the Lizard cliffs. When you’re finished head over to the cafe for a cream tea; the sun-trap garden has beautiful views.
14. Goonhilly Downs
The satellite dishes of Goonhilly Earth Station can be spotted from afar. It’s used as a centre for controlling satellites and although the visitor centre is currently closed their website indicates it will re-open after refurbishment. In the meantime why not enjoy a walk across the heathland and combine space age technology with Bronze Age archaeology.
15. Mullion Cove
One of my favourite coves. The piers suffered damage in the winter storms so are subject to ongoing repair work. Even so the area surrounding the harbour is beautiful and worth a visit. We walked down to the cove from Mullion village and made a short detour to the small Chocolate Factory en route.
I hope you’ve enjoyed this round up of activities. We didn’t get a chance to experience everything so if you’d like to recommend other places on the Lizard Peninsula please pop them into the comments below.
Opening times for the Lizard Lighthouse vary so check the website before you make a special journey. Adult entrance to the lighthouse and heritage centre costs £7, children are £4 although saver tickets are also available. The lighthouse is not suitable for young children (height restrictions apply) or those with mobility difficulties. If you’re wearing flip flops you’ll also need to change into black plimsolls, evidently a Health and Safety requirement.
The Marconi Centre has limited opening hours. Admission is free but please leave a donation towards upkeep.
The ice cream parlour at Roskilly’s Farm is open daily from 10am-6pm. Milking takes place at 5am and 4.30pm, visitors are welcome at both sessions!
The Lizard and Penrose NT blog is a great resource if you’re interested in conservation events and news across the peninsula. Read updates on the Lizard choughs and check out when the next rockpool ramble is.
Trebah Garden is open every day of the year from 10am. The entrance fee changes according to season, ranging from £4.50 to £9 for standard adult tickets and £1.50 to £3 for standard child tickets.
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.
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.
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 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.
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.
There was a good mix of films and actors portrayed. Children’s characters included ones from Pirates of the Caribbean, Despicable Me and Madagascar.
My generation had Jaws, Titanic and James Bond sculptures whilst some of the older stars were Charlie Chaplin, Alfred Hitchcock and Marilyn Monroe.
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!
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!
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!
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.
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.