Inkpen Wild Walk, Berkshire

I’m pretty sure the best antidote to a dismal grey day is a walk in the countryside. Last weekend we ignored the clouds and drizzle and headed to Inkpen in Berkshire for a walk that combined a macabre gibbet and spring crocuses!

We followed a shortened version of the Inkpen Wild Walk, a walk designed by the local wildlife trust that links two of their reserves. Our 6 mile route started at Inkpen Common, the longer alternative being a 10 mile walk which joins up to Kintbury railway station.

Inkpen Common nature reserve
Inkpen Common nature reserve

At Inkpen Common villagers once had the rights to graze livestock and burn the gorse in their ovens. Nowadays the gorse sits alongside other heathland plants and the reserve is a haven for reptiles. However the likelihood of spotting lizards and snakes sunbathing on a cold March day was pretty minimal.

Along the Wayfarer's Walk
Along the Wayfarer’s Walk

We puffed our way up Walbury Hill, the highest hill in Berkshire and the starting point for two long distance walks, the Test Way and the Wayfarer’s Walk. A wide chalk track led us along the Hampshire Downs. The fields either side were full of sheep although we looked in vain for any lambs.

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Combe Gibbet

Combe Gibbet, at the top of Gallows Down, is a notorious local attraction. The original gibbet was erected in 1676 to hang adulterers George Broomham and Dorothy Newman. They had murdered Broomham’s wife and son after their illicit affair had been discovered. Today’s gibbet is actually a replica but you can still imagine the crowds gathering to watch the hanging.

From the gibbet we continued along Wayfarer’s Walk, taking in the amazing views and snacking on biscuits, before heading down steeply from Inkpen Hill. There was plenty of evidence of spring arriving; buds on twigs, plants peeking through the soil and stinging nettles starting to grow again. We found a muddy puddle with some great animal and bird tracks which we attempted to identify.

Inkpen Crocus Field Nature Reserve
Inkpen Crocus Field Nature Reserve

Inkpen Crocus Field Nature Reserve

The second reserve of the day was Inkpen Crocus Field Nature Reserve. Accessed via Pottery Lane (Inkpen was once home to several potteries) we first had to walk past a number of large and imposing houses; property envy was rife!

The meadow has the largest wild crocus population in Britain. Although we visited at peak viewing time (March) I was a little disappointed with the number of crocuses. I was expecting a field of purple but the flowers were rather more sparse. Perhaps my expectations were too high or maybe it hasn’t been a great year for the crocus. Crocuses aside, the meadows must be idyllic on a sunny summer day.

Pooh sticks in the wood
Pooh sticks in the wood

The drizzle started so the last mile was walked pretty quickly. There was still time to throw a few twigs into a woodland stream, and admire an amazing treehouse in a back garden.

Despite some initial moans from the kids (we’ve got to walk 6 miles?) we had a great afternoon walking and I’m glad we made the effort to get out rather than lazing around at home.

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Family walks near Abergavenny, Monmouthshire

Abergavenny_walks

We stayed near Abergavenny in the Brecon Beacons late last year and spent several days exploring the local hills. There are three focal points for walkers heading out of town; Sugar Loaf, Blorenge and Skirrid Fawr. All make excellent half day (or longer) walks and are generally suitable for families used to walking.

I’ve added links at the bottom to the walking routes we followed.

Sugar Loaf mountain

You’d never normally think of Wales as a wine producing country so it was rather surprising when we drove past Sugar Loaf vineyard on our way to the start of this walk. Just a pity it was closed, I’d love to know how they manage to grow grapes in the Welsh climate.

Starting out on Sugar Loaf
Starting out on Sugar Loaf

Our plan for the day was to walk up the west ridge of Sugar Loaf; a slightly less trodden option on this popular hill. The first mile or so was an easy walk along a broad track fringed with bracken. A short steep downhill section followed which is always a little disconcerting when you’re trying to reach a summit. We crossed a stream and then our route took us uphill again.

Into the mist
Into the mist

At this point we walked into some typically Welsh weather. I’m sure the views on a fine day are fantastic but what can I say? We saw mist, bracken and sheep. At the summit we clambered over some rocks to the trig point. Of course we still took the obligatory ‘top of the mountain’ photo but we could have been on just about any hill.

Lunch - in the Sugar Loaf car park
Lunch – in the Sugar Loaf car park

I’d originally hoped to eat lunch near the summit but the weather wasn’t conducive to a picnic. Instead we hot footed it back down the hill and found a convenient spot in the car park. We ate our sandwiches in relative comfort and enjoyed the view!

Blorenge

Blorenge is within the Blaenavon Industrial Landscape World Heritage area; you can still see the remains of a tramway which linked a a quarry on the mountain with the ironworks down in Blaenavon.

This was an easy walk because we cheated and parked in the Keeper’s Pond car park near the summit. If you’re looking for a more challenging walk you can take the steep path up from Abergavenny but this is only for fit families with older children.

Towards the summit of Blorenge
Towards the summit of Blorenge

From the car park, we headed towards the radio masts and another car park. Here there’s a memorial to Foxhunter, a horse that won gold at the 1952 Olympics, but we somehow managed to miss it. Fortunately we found the path to the summit. It’s a very gentle walk, with minimal ascent, although the ground was pretty boggy either side of the path. The summit view consisted of (you’ve guessed it) mist, but this lifted as we walked down and around the hill.

Heading off of Blorenge summit
Heading off of Blorenge summit

Below the mist we were treated to some glorious views over Abergavenny and Skirrid (the hill on the right in the photo below).  We headed downhill slightly and then followed a circular route around the escarpment which eventually led us back to Keeper’s Pond. This second part of the walk, after we’d escaped the mist and radio masts, was so much more scenic and definitely worth extending the walk for.

View from Blorenge
View from Blorenge

Skirrid Fawr

The standalone hill of Skirrid Fawr (Ysgyryd Fawr) is on land owned by the National Trust. There are many myths and legends attached to it; evidently a landslide on the north of the mountain occurred when it was struck by lightning at exactly the same time that Christ was crucified.

The walk up Skirrid Fawr
The walk up Skirrid Fawr

This was my favourite hill walk of the week. We took the main track up through the woods and then skirted around the hillside on a rather muddy track until we reached the northern end of the hill. This was followed by a rather steep, albeit relatively short, climb up the hill using footholds in the path.

Scarlet waxcaps, Skirrid Fawr
Scarlet waxcaps, Skirrid Fawr

On the way up we passed some amazing fungi. I’ve subsequently found out that the picture above is of a scarlet waxcap. Despite its bright red colour it’s not poisonous but I’d still never consider eating it!

On the summit of Skirrid Fawr
On the summit of Skirrid Fawr

We arrived almost directly on the summit and were treated to fabulous views of Sugar Loaf and Blorenge. No mist, the strong wind had blown it all away.

The route back to the car park was along a broad grassy ridge which descended back down to the woodland. This was obviously the popular track as we passed several families and dog walkers coming up this route. If you don’t mind the short steep climb I’d personally recommend the hill using the route we took.

More info:

  • We followed the AA Sweet Walking on Sugar Loaf walk.  The route is 4.5 miles with 1,150 ft of ascent. We own the AA book of walks, but you can also download the route here.
  • We also followed the AA Bird’s-eye view of Abergavenny walk whilst on Blorenge. The walk is 3 miles long with an ascent of 530ft. We walked it in reverse; details of the original walk here.
  • Our walk to the summit of Skirrid Fawr was 4 miles long and took a couple of hours. We followed the route suggested on the National Trust website. Navigation was straightforward; be aware there’s a short but steep ascent up a grassy hill which was pretty muddy and slippy. Those with younger children might like to take the more gradual route and go up and down the main path.

These walks were suitable for our family; please do ensure you are appropriately equipped and prepared before heading out onto the hills.

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15 things to do on the Lizard Peninsula, Cornwall

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.

Lizard lighthouse, Cornwall
Lizard lighthouse, Cornwall

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!

View over Lizard lighthouse holiday cottages
View over Lizard lighthouse holiday cottages

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.

View from the Lizard lighthouse, Cornwall
View from the Lizard lighthouse, Cornwall

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.

Sea thrift on the coastal path, Lizard Peninsula
Sea thrift on the coastal path, Lizard Peninsula

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.

3. Geocaching

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).

Geocaching near Lizard Point
Geocaching near Lizard Point

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.

Kynance Cove, Lizard Peninsula
Kynance Cove, Lizard Peninsula

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.

Walking the coastal path, Lizard Peninsula
Walking the coastal path, Lizard Peninsula

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.

Marconi Centre, near Poldhu Cove
Marconi Centre, near Poldhu Cove

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.

Trebah Garden
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 Garden
Trebah Garden

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.

Watching the koi carp at Trebah
Watching the koi carp at Trebah

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.

Rock pooling at Kennack Sands, Lizard Peninsula
Rock pooling at Kennack Sands, Lizard Peninsula

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.

Pasties on the beach, Lizard Peninsula
Pasties on the beach, Lizard Peninsula

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.

Loe Bar, Lizard Peninsula
Loe Bar, Lizard Peninsula

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.

Coverack beach
Coverack beach

The village has a picturesque harbour area complete with brightly coloured fishing boats so its good for photo buffs too.

Boats in Coverack harbour
Boats in Coverack harbour

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.

Lizard Point, Cornwall
Lizard Point, Cornwall

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

Mullion Cove
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.

Mullion Cove, Lizard Peninsula
Mullion Cove, Lizard Peninsula

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.

More info:

  • 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.
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The great fire of London walk

Both of my kids enjoyed learning about the great fire of London at school. We visited some of the places below when the kids were younger but as they were both eager to revisit the Monument I devised a themed ‘Great fire of London’ day.

Museum of London

We started with a visit to the Museum of London to see their Plague and Fire gallery. The best place to begin is by watching the 6 minute video which gives an overview of the fire and a day by day account from some of the eye witnesses. You might also like to pick up the War, Plague and Fire family activity sheet from reception (or download in advance from their website).

Afterwards take a walk around the gallery and see some of the objects relating to the fire. Our favourites were smoke blackened tiles unearthed in a cellar in Pudding Lane back in the 1970s. You can also try on a fire fighters leather helmet and compare it with our modern day equivalent.

St Paul’s cathedral

St Paul's cathedral
St Paul’s cathedral

After leaving the museum we walked to the Monument past St Paul’s cathedral. The previous cathedral, known as Old St Paul’s, was one of the casualties of the fire. Many people had put their belongings into the crypt, believing they’d be safe from the fire but sadly it was not to be and the cathedral burnt. The current cathedral was designed by Sir Christopher Wren and rebuilt after the fire once attempts to restore Old St Paul’s were stopped.

We’ve visited St Paul’s Cathedral before so didn’t go in this time but if you’ve never been it’s worth it for the climb up to the Golden Gallery. It’s not cheap but you can get slightly reduced prices by buying tickets online.

Monument to the Great Fire of London

Monument to the Great Fire of London
Monument to the Great Fire of London

On to the Monument, which was designed by Wren and his colleague Dr Hooke, as a memorial to the Great Fire. This stone column is 61.5 metres high which is the exact distance from its location to the start of the fire.  It’s fun to climb the 311 steps to the top and take in the view over London although you may need to queue for a while to get in.

View from the Monument
View from the Monument

The view had changed significantly since I last climbed the Monument as the new Walkie Talkie skyscraper now dominates the area! You can always pretend it’s not there and look out to the Thames and Tower Bridge instead. There is wire fencing all around the viewing area which can make it a little tricky to take photographs (hence no photo of the Walkie Talkie) but at least you’re safe.

Once you’ve squeezed back down the stairs you can pick up  a free certificate to show you’ve climbed the Monument.

Certificates from the Monument
Certificates from the Monument

Pudding Lane

Just down the road from the Monument is Pudding Lane, the source of the great fire. The only reminder nowadays is a small plaque on one of the buildings. The road itself is nothing special, I think a new bakery would be a great addition!

Pudding Lane
Pudding Lane

All Hallows by the Tower

All Hallows by the Tower is the oldest church in London. It’s location next to the Tower of London means that it received plenty of beheaded bodies from the executions.

It’s also the church where Samuel Pepys climbed the tower to view the progress of the great fire. The church survived thanks to surrounding buildings being demolished to create firebreaks. It didn’t fare so well in the second world war though and in the crypt you can see lead which melted from the roof during the bombings. In the under croft you can also find an excavated Roman pavement, dating from the second century.

We finished our tour with a quick trip to Borough Market. This has a tenuous link of existing at the same time as the great fire, but we only really visited for its yummy food!

More info:

  • The Museum of London is free although a donation is appreciated. The museum is open daily from 10am-6pm. It’s a short walk from either Barbican or St Paul’s underground stations.
  • The Monument costs £4 for adults, £2 for children. The stairs are the only way to get up and the staircase is pretty narrow, as is the viewing platform. It can be a bit of a squeeze when trying to pass people. I wouldn’t personally recommend it if you have pre-school children but we did see a few being carried up.
  • All Hallows by the Tower is free to enter. It’s open 7 days a week except during services. The nearest tube station is Tower Hill.
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