Lavender fields and a cold war bunker, near Broadway, Worcestershire

The kids could barely contain their excitement when I told them we were going to visit a lavender field. Followed by a Cold War bunker. A strange combination perhaps but as they’re only a few miles apart I thought it was the perfect opportunity to visit two more places on my UK bucket list.

My youngest stated he’d prefer to stay at home on the Xbox and the eldest asked why we couldn’t just go to Thorpe Park instead (like normal people). Surely, I suggested to them, it’s more fun to experience an authentic Cold War bunker….

Cotswold Lavender Farm, near Snowshill

Lavender fields have become a ‘thing’ in the last couple of years. Similar to bluebell woods. Everyone jostling to get a photo of their loved ones sitting amongst the flowers. But there’s a reason for their popularity. They’re incredibly photogenic!

Cotswold lavender farm, near Snowshill
Cotswold lavender farm, near Snowshill

Cotswold Lavender is open from mid-June until the flowers are harvested in early August. We visited the first weekend in July, a good but busy time to choose.

Our visit began with a walk past some of the 40 different varieties of lavender grown at the farm. Ranging in colour from pale lilac to a dark purple I never realised there were so many different varieties.

We progressed to walking around the main fields. These were planted with homogeneous dark purple bushes; very pretty but I couldn’t actually smell any lavender.

Cotswold lavender farm, near Snowshill
Cotswold lavender farm, near Snowshill

Regardless of the smell the bees were loving the flowers. It was great to see, and hear, so many varieties. The fields were literally buzzing.

Visitors are free to walk as they wish around the fields. It was lovely to have this freedom but I would have liked the option of a guided tour to learn more about the farm.

Wildflower Meadow, Cotswold Lavender
Wildflower Meadow, Cotswold Lavender

Almost as photogenic as the lavender field was the wildflower meadow. The reds, yellows and blues of once common flowers nodding in the breeze. My enjoyment tinged with the sad recognition that I haven’t seen a single wild cornflower this year.

Cotswold Lavender, near Snowshill
Cotswold Lavender, near Snowshill

We ended with a trip to the gift shop and cafe. I resisted all of the lavender perfumed and flavoured items in the shop. But not the lavender brownie in the cafe. Although we played it safe and bought a non-lavender cake too just in case it tasted awful (it didn’t).

Cold War bunker, Broadway Tower

After lunch in Broadway we drove onto Broadway Tower. We climbed the tower a few years ago but missed out on its underground attraction, a restored Cold War bunker.

Climbing down into the Cold War bunker, Broadway Tower
Climbing down into the Cold War bunker, Broadway Tower

The bunker is a few minutes walk from the tower. Accessed via a ladder, down a 14 foot shaft, this is not for those with a fear of heights or claustrophobia. We descended one at a time; the family next to us helpfully shouting up encouragement to their children. Along the lines of “It’s a lot harder than it looks!”

Climbing down into the Cold War bunker at Broadway Tower
Climbing down into the Cold War bunker at Broadway Tower

Once we’d all descended our guide explained that the bunker was built in the late 1950s and operated until 1991. It formed part of a nationwide monitoring network of bunkers, all built to the same design and equipped with state of the art (as was) detection facilities.

The bunkers weren’t designed to protect occupants from a direct nuclear hit. Manned by volunteers from the Royal Observer Corp their aim was to help determine the location of bombs and direction of fallout.

Inside the Cold War bunker, Broadway Tower
Inside the Cold War bunker, Broadway Tower

We listened to a short recording as our guide pointed out the various pieces of equipment. I was strangely excited to see a nuclear warning siren!

In addition to the scientific instruments the room was kitted out with bunk beds, a separate toilet and sufficient food and water for three weeks. Minimal privacy though, you’d get to know your fellow workers very well.

I’m sure my kids thought this was all ancient history but I was a teenager in the 1980s and remember the threat of nuclear war. The bunker provides a fascinating insight into the Government’s emergency plans and precautions. Although with hindsight I do wonder how effective they’d be.

Despite the kid’s grumbles both loved the Cold War bunker, a definite hit. As was the lavender brownie!

More info:

  • Check the Cotswold Lavender Farm website for exact opening dates. Entrance is £3.50 for adults and £2.50 for children aged 5-15 yrs.
  • Entrance to the Cold War bunker is by guided tour only. These generally run hourly throughout summer weekends. There’s a maximum of 12 people and a minimum age of 12 years, tickets cost £4.50 per visitor.

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A family walk in the Malvern Hills, Worcestershire

Back in the summer holidays we spent a day exploring the Malvern Hills. This range of hills extends for 15 kilometres across Worcestershire and Herefordshire and offers relatively easy walking for families with older children.

We arrived by train into the town of Great Malvern, having seen glimpses of the hills from our carriage. The station is about 15 minutes walk from the centre of town. It’s worth taking a quick look at its Victorian architecture, tea room and bookshop before you leave. A little twee but it’s lovely to see a station so obviously well cared for.

Great Malvern
Great Malvern

Although I’ve visited the Malvern Hills before I wasn’t entirely sure where to walk. Given the geography of the hills it’s hard to get lost but my natural sense of direction is terrible. Fortunately the tourist office provided a map showing the most popular walk options.

The route on to the hills is via ninety nine steps from the back of Rosebank Gardens which is a couple of minutes walk from the tourist office. We forgot to count how many steps there were but when you think you’ve finished there is a short stretch of uphill road.

Walking up the 99 steps to St Ann's Well, Great Malvern
Walking up the 99 steps to St Ann’s Well, Great Malvern

Our brief uphill exertion provided the perfect excuse to stop for a drink at St Ann’s Well cafe. Great Malvern was once a famous centre of hydrotherapy and visitors were transported up the hill by donkeys to drink the waters from the well. Water still flows from the well today and although there was a sign saying it isn’t currently safe to drink this didn’t deter one visitor who popped in to drink it during our stopover. My daughter was horrified that someone would ignore the notice!

Taking a break on the Malvern Hills
Taking a break on the Malvern Hills

Suitably refreshed we carried on walking towards Worcestershire Beacon. My son decided he needed another rest on a bench despite him being the youngest and probably fittest out of us.

We tackled a final steep stretch up onto the summit. At 425m Worcester Beacon is the highest point in Worcestershire so as you’d expect the views in all directions were amazing. Due to its location and height I’d imagine it’s the most popular destination in the Malvern Hills but even on a sunny summer day it was pleasantly busy rather than overcrowded.

Malvern Hills viewpoint
Malvern Hills viewpoint

It was also a convenient lunch spot particularly as there was a group of paragliders nearby who we hoped would entertain us. However, either the thermals weren’t sufficient or they were having a break too as they lay on their backs on the slope the whole time without taking off. We saw some later in the day though, circling high in the skies above Great Malvern.

Waiting for the paragliders, Malvern Hills
Waiting for the paragliders, Malvern Hills

After posing for the obligatory photo at the toposcope on Worcester Beacon we continued our walk south. We’d already tackled the highest point of the day so we enjoyed an easy downhill stroll towards Wyche Cutting. Whilst it’s possible to walk the full length of the hills in a day we were restricted by our return train time so I decided that from Wyche we’d return back to Great Malvern via a different route.

Summit of Worcestershire Beacon, Malvern Hills
Summit of Worcestershire Beacon, Malvern Hills

Wyche handily provides yet another refreshment stop at the H2O cafe which is part of the Malvern Hills Geocentre. This is a small visitor centre for the Geopark Way, a 109 mile geological route from Bridgnorth to Gloucester.  The visitor information is primarily provided by iPads but there are maps and some printed information available. We were only there for coffee and cake so it was perfect for us but I wouldn’t really visit it as a destination unless you’re planning to walk the actual trail.

Walking the Malvern Hills
Walking the Malvern Hills

Our return route provided a complete change of scenery as it skirted along the edge of the hills through woodland and past Earnslow Lake. This is the site of an old quarry. Tales abound that gold was mined nearby but the only certainty is that granite was once taken from these hills.

The Malvern Hills Conservators have landscaped the old quarry and it’s possible to walk part way around the edge of the lake. All very picturesque until the kids spotted a huge dead fish floating in the water!

Earnslow Pool, Malvern Hills
Earnslow Pool, Malvern Hills

Our path led us back to the cafe at St Ann’s Well. We had a much quicker descent down the 99 steps (which we still forgot to count) and into town. I managed to squeeze in one more cup of coffee before leaving; I think this walk broke a record in terms of number of cafés visited on a half day walk!

More info:

  • I previously linked to a leaflet outlining two walks on the north Malvern Hills  but this no longer appears available and there is no obvious replacement. Instead the website suggests purchasing walk leaflets from the tourist office.
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