Four family walks in the Quantock Hills, Somerset

The only good thing, from my perspective, about our impending winter is that it gives me a chance to catch up on blog posts. Take our trip to the Quantock Hills for example. We visited in late summer, the August Bank Holiday weekend to be exact. Remembering the weekend we spent walking the hills, eating cream teas and searching for fossils cheers me up no end on a wet and grey November day.

Located in north Somerset, the Quantock Hills cover an area of 38 square miles. They’re less well known than their nearby neighbour, Exmoor, but on a Bank Holiday weekend that’s a bonus. As usual we chose to explore on foot, walking along the coast, through heather moorland and wooded combes. We squeezed in four short walks, not too strenuous and all less than 4 miles so perfect for families.

1. Kilve beach and East Quantoxhead

Whilst some people enjoy golden sand and blue seas I prefer interesting beaches. Give me rockpools, fossils and shells any day. Kilve beach ticked these boxes. Whilst it isn’t the most beautiful to look at, particularly on a grey murky morning, it’s a fantastic place for fossil hunting.

Rock strata, Kilve beach
Rock strata, Kilve beach

The cliffs at Kilve beach are formed from oil rich shale, with the different layers of rock clearly visible. Back in the 1920s, plans were afoot to extract the oil but fortunately proved unprofitable. I hope it remains this way.

We spent a good hour mooching around the beach, turning over the rocks in our search for fossils. We found plenty but what impressed me most were the huge ammonite fossils; it’s incredible to think these are 200 million years old!

Ammonite on Kilve beach, Somerset
Ammonite on Kilve beach, Somerset

The kids were disappointed to leave the beach and go on a walk; they wanted to carry on fossil hunting. Tearing ourselves away we headed up onto the cliff to continue our walk along the coast path. All around us were the gifts of late summer; blackberries, golden fields and swallows.

View from Kilve beach walk
View from Kilve beach walk

Turning inland we passed through the tiny village of East Quantoxhead with its manor house, duck pond and mill house.

As we neared the end of the walk a small ford offered some fun. We all had a go jumping over the stream; much more exciting than walking across the bridge.

No need for the bridge! Jumping the ford near Kilve
No need for the bridge! Jumping the ford near Kilve

It was a fortunate coincidence that our walk ended back at Chantry Tea Gardens. How on earth did that happen?! Sitting outside in the sun we enjoyed sandwiches and a cream tea, accompanied by a cheeky robin demanding crumbs.

2. Beacon Hill

Our second day started wet. The forecast was an improving one so after a lazy morning we headed to Beacon Hill. The rain wasn’t quite done with us so we lingered in the car park waiting for the showers to pass.

View from Beacon Hill - between rain showers
View from Beacon Hill – between rain showers

I’d originally planned a longer walk but decided a quick trip up to Beacon Hill summit would be drier. It didn’t take too long to climb and from the top we had great views in all directions. Of rain clouds that appeared to be heading towards us. We didn’t stop to admire the views! Straight back down to the car. Just before the rain arrived, again.

3. Lydeard Hill and Wills Neck

Fortunately the weather cheered up as the day progressed. Aside from the threat of one further heavy shower where we decided to take refuge in a house offering cream teas. Two cream teas in two days, yum.

Heather path up to Wills Neck, Quantock Hills
Heather path up to Wills Neck, Quantock Hills

Our afternoon walk took us onto the highest point of the Quantocks, Wills Neck. This was another straightforward out and back route, up and down a hill; good job really as I didn’t have a map. From the car park we walked to the left of Lydeard Hill, down into a small plantation and up again.

The colours of the Quantocks really are stunning in late summer. The pink and purple heathers and the yellows of the gorse. At least I think it was gorse; the problem with writing a post three months after a visit is that I cannot see from my photos whether there are prickles on the bush (and is therefore gorse) or not (and is therefore broom). Either way, it’s beautiful.

View from Lydeard Hill, Quantock Hills
View from Lydeard Hill, Quantock Hills

4. Holford Combe and Woodland Hill

This was my favourite walk. The weather, in contrast to the previous day, was warm and sunny. Perfect for sitting on the M5 looking at the back of car bumpers queuing for miles. But I’ve jumped ahead to the afternoon. Our morning was idyllic.

The first part of our walk took us through Holford Combe, a steeply wooded valley. I was surprised to learn the video for the Bryan Adams song, Everything I do (I do it for you), was filmed around here. Back in 1991 it was number one for a gazillion weeks so in the interests of blog research I watched the video again. After the initial shock of how young Bryan Adams looked I could immediately spot Holford Silk Mills. Sadly not passed on this walk, but Kilve beach features too.

Crossing Holford Combe stream
Crossing Holford Combe stream

Two hundred years before Bryan some very different wordsmiths, the poets Samuel Taylor Coleridge, Dorothy and William Wordsworth lived and wrote in these hills. As our track opened out into a sunlit glade it was easy to see where they got their inspiration. The stream sparkled in the sunlight and I could easily imagine whiling away afternoons relaxing on the grassy bank. It was magical; if  I believed in pixies this is where they’d live!

On top of Woodland Hill, Quantock Hills
On top of Woodland Hill, Quantock Hills

We followed the stream until it reached Ladies Combe then headed out of the woodland up a steep track onto Woodland Hill. Along the familiar heather and gorse covered slopes to the top of the hill. There are fabulous views from the summit, if you exclude Hinkley Point nuclear power station (far right in the picture above) from your field of vision.

Descending Woodland Hill, Quantock Hills
Descending Woodland Hill, Quantock Hills

Walking back to the car park we found a large muddy pond teeming with tadpoles. I know very little about the frog breeding cycle but it seemed very late in the season. Indeed, as I sit here on this November night I start to wonder what happened to them. I do hope they reached frog-hood!

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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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Taking the kids to Dismaland, Weston-super-Mare

I’ve never known the train from Bristol to Weston-super-Mare to be as busy as it was last weekend. The usual assortment of day trippers had been replaced by hip twenty-somethings and American tourists; all left standing in the aisles as there were no seats available.

Dismaland
Dismaland

The reason? Banksy’s Dismaland bemusement park on the seafront at Weston. This antithesis of a theme park has opened for 6 weeks on the site of the old Tropicana lido. We didn’t have tickets but I’d heard that on the day tickets were available for those prepared to queue. We arrived just as they were closing the morning queue so the security man suggested we came back later for the afternoon session. That was fine for us as it meant we had time for a trip to PJ’s Ice Cream Parlour, a wander around the pier and lunch.

Get your programmes here! Dismaland
Get your programmes here! Dismaland

We were back queuing at 2.30pm. At 3pm the ticket office opened and a cheer went up. At 4.30pm we got our tickets. The kids were surprisingly good about queuing for so long and I knew the minute I handed the money over that it would be worth the wait. I thanked the ticket attendant and he replied that I wouldn’t be thanking him when we got inside.

Dismaland
Seagull Lady, Banksy, Dismaland

A few minutes later we’d passed through some pretend security and were standing in Dismaland. The exhibition is a mix of fairground attractions with a twist, large model exhibits, films and an indoor art gallery. Over 50 artists have provided works, with Banksy responsible for 11 of the exhibits, including the seagull model above.

Banksy describes Dismaland as a theme park unsuitable for children. My kids loved it, as I’m sure would most teens, but I’d think twice about taking younger children. You’ll spend half of your time explaining the irony behind the exhibits, the other half trying to avoid the liberal use of swearing around the site!

Dismaland
Horse meat carousel, Dismaland

The fairground attractions, which cost extra, included a carousel where a white suited figure is making lasagne from the horses, topple the anvil with a ping pong ball (and win the anvil) and a rotating caravan ride.

I loved the ‘Hook a duck from the muck’ stall. The prizes were inflated plastic bags with a piece of orange fabric in them, modelled to look like goldfish. Not that many people won them! As soon as someone got close to hooking a duck the unsmiling attendant would pick up a duck and throw it at the target, generally resulting in a large splash of water over the person. Or alternatively she’d grab the fishing rod and throw it on the floor.

Big Rig Jig, Dismaland
Big Rig Jig, Mike Ross, Dismaland

The staff, who had responded to an advert for film extras, played their roles perfectly. Unsmiling and disinterested, generally slouching in a corner or getting in the way of photos. I bought a souvenir programme and the attendant literally threw it, and the change at me. It was hard not to laugh.

There is no getting away from the Disney aspect. The staff wear ears which bear a strong resemblance to mouse ears. The entrance wristbands, logo and online advert are unmistakably modelled on Disney. How I’d love to be a fly on the wall in their lawyer’s office!

Dismaland
Outdoor cinema, Dismaland

There’s a cinema showing short films so we bagged some deckchairs and rested our feet. Perhaps we were just watching the wrong film but I found this part the weakest of the show. Wandering off after a few minutes we discovered a giant toilet roll sculpture and a killer whale jumping out of a toilet (the former by Michael Beitz, the latter a Banksy).

Dismaland
Dismaland

I loved the way the original lido had been incorporated into the exhibition. Although I am assuming that the crumbling stonework, uneven flooring and weeds weren’t added recently for effect!

The police riot van below was built for use in Northern Ireland but now stands in the middle of a lake adorned with a slide and fountain.

Dismaland
Police van, Banksy, Dismaland

We entered the burnt out castle and found a dead Cinderella falling out of her pumpkin carriage surrounded by paparazzi. This piece is probably one of the most controversial given the obvious similarities to the death of Princess Diana. The other exhibit to stir up emotions is that of the boat pond where visitors can control the crowded boats full of migrants. Bad taste? Certainly thought provoking.

Dismaland
Mini Gulf, Dismaland

We passed on the opportunity to play Mini Gulf but enjoyed checking out the variety of obstacles. There’s a huge sandcastle and windmill next to the children’s play area and pocket money loans shop. Not many takers for the 5000% interest rate!

Dismaland
Dismaland

There was a short queue of people waiting to take selfies at the selfie hole (oh the irony). I’d read a couple of reviews slating the queues inside Dismaland, all part of the experience I’m sure, but we were lucky and whilst a couple of exhibits had queues most of them didn’t. It actually felt relatively empty which was rather surprising given the long wait outside.

Dismaland
Selfie hole, Dismaland

The three large art galleries were excellent. We watched a Banksy offering, the grim reaper riding the dodgems to the soundtrack of the Bee Gees Stayin’ Alive.

There are a couple of Damien Hirst pieces including a unicorn preserved in formaldehyde but one of my favourites was Promise by Caroline McCarthy. This consisted of plastic plant pots and ready meal packaging with garnishes cut into the cardboard to suggest freshness.

Promise, Caroline McCarthy, Dismaland
Promise, Caroline McCarthy, Dismaland

The galleries were a fascinating mix of sculptures, paintings and objects. One gallery was dominated by a mushroom cloud tree house. The Spanish artist Paco Pomet had inserted the Cookie Monster into a picture of war lords driving a jeep. Whilst Jessica Harrison had porcelain figurines with tattoos. I’d love to have such creative thoughts.

Readers of a certain age will remember Jimmy Cauty, one half of the group KLF, and the man who burnt a million dollars. His contribution to Dismaland is a huge sculpture which initially looks like a large model railway set. Look closer and you’ll find almost 3000 model police figures in a post-apocalyptic world. The strobe lighting and staff shouting ‘Move along, there’s nothing to see’ are incredibly atmospheric.

Dismaland
Dismaland

The exit sign was exactly as I’d expect of a Banksy exhibition. Dismaland delivered everything I’d hoped for and more. Given the number of people visiting Weston for the attraction I really hope it’s delivered a great boost to the late summer tourist trade too!  

More info:

  • Dismaland was only open until 27 September 2015 and has now closed.
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