Prescott Hill speed climb, Gloucester

A couple of weekends ago we went to Prescott Hill speed climb, a racing event where cars compete against the clock to be the fastest to the top of a 200ft hill.  Prescott Hill is, according to their website, a prestigious motor racing venue and also home of the Bugatti owners club.

Readers who know me may think this a rather strange choice for a day out as I’m really not into cars. I don’t mind what I drive as long as it’s safe, economical and gets me where I want to go.

However, I have a soft spot for the big old American cars I used to watch in Dukes of Hazard and The A-team back in the 1980s. When I saw a half price Groupon offer for the autumn classic event, showcasing American cars I decided a visit would be fun.

£26000 for the red car!
£26000 for the red car!

Upon arrival we had an interesting moment trying to park the car on a slippy and bumpy hill. I was very glad we’d visited on a sunny day as the prospect of trying to get off the hill in muddy conditions was not appealing.

The main racing took place in the afternoon, so we used the morning to watch practise runs, wander around the cars and see some of the other entertainment on offer.

Haurel and Lardy
Haurel and Lardy

These Laurel and Hardy impersonators put on a silent show and mingled with the crowds, happily posing for photographs. There was also musical entertainment with a band playing 1950s American jukebox classics.

One of the non-racing attractions I enjoyed most was the Demon Drone Wall of Death motorcycle stunt show. After queuing for a while we were ushered up stairs into the wooden motordrome, overlooking the wall of death. The performers rode 1920s Indian motorcycles whilst performing various tricks such as riding side saddle, arms out and two to a bike. Each time the bike went round, the wooden platforms we were standing on wobbled a little, which scared my son as he thought it was going to collapse. Every other kid appeared engrossed by the show though!

Demon Drone Wall of Death
Demon Drone Wall of Death

If you’ve got eagle eyes you may recognise the man standing in the middle of the above photograph.  It’s Philip Serrell, an auctioneer and presenter of various TV programmes about antiques, who was filming during our visit. I’ve not got a clue about antiques though so had never heard of him until I looked him up after the event.

It was  tricky getting a photograph of the riders in action. The picture quality below isn’t great, but it gives you an idea as to the rather impressive stunts.

Demon Drone Wall of Death
Demon Drone Wall of Death

Of course, the main attraction was the cars.  The great thing about Prescott is the opportunity to wander around them freely, take photos and maybe speak to the owners. There are no barriers or restrictions which was refreshing, although you do need to keep a close eye on your kids in amongst all the cars.

View from Wall of Death down to start of calvacade
View from Wall of Death down to start of calvacade

After the practise runs finished it was time for the calvacade. This appeared to be a rather random procession of cars and motorbikes along the race route. It was our first chance to see some of the American classics and my son was so excited he took a blurry photograph of every car taking part.

The calvacade
The calvacade

After lunch, my daughter and I enjoyed looking around the cars on show. There were plenty to view with Chevrolets, Mustangs and big old Cadillacs on display. I was a little disappointed that more of the American cars weren’t racing, but that was probably just my expectation.

American classic
American classic

The  racing started at 2pm. There were a variety of different classes throughout the afternoon with Morgans, Triumphs, pre-war Aston Martins and Bugattis being some of those taking part.

As to be expected from the venue the course was well maintained, almost picturesque in appearance (never thought I’d say that about a motor racing track).  Spectators were able to stand next to much the track, which wound up the hill through woodland.  The course was quite short (1127 yards) with a hairpin bend and sharp corners to negotiate. Most drivers took about 50 seconds to complete it.

Morgan on the hill climb
Morgan on the hill climb

How would I describe the racing? Fast, exciting, noisy and great fun! Have a look at this short clip of a couple of the cars:

Overall we had a great day out, and I’d certainly visit again. I’d also be happy to recommend it to those who aren’t particularly interested in cars, as I really enjoyed myself.

More info:

  • Prescott Hill run a number of events throughout the year, further details can be found on their website.
  • The site is partially accessible, with dedicated parking and disabled toilets available. The spectators area around the race track itself would be difficult to access as there are steps and sloping areas to negotiate.
  • There are burger and chips type catering vans as well as a club house which provides meals. The English breakfast looked to be a popular option with the drivers, and cost around £7. A lot of people had taken picnics to eat on the hill overlooking the race track, and this would be my choice next time round as there’s not much available for vegetarians apart from chips.

Costs

  • We paid £9 per adult for our tickets via a special offer on Groupon. The standard price is £18 per adult, but having looked back through Trip Advisor it looks like there are usually Groupon deals for most of the events.
  • If you’d like to become a member of the owners club a new Bugatti Veyron costs a cool $1.6 million! Although I don’t think you actually need to be an owner to join.
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Palms and peacocks at Harcourt Arboretum and Botanic Gardens, Oxford

We’re regular visitors to Harcourt Arboretum and the Botanic Gardens in Oxford as they offer lots to see in a relatively small space. The sites are part of the Oxford University estate, and are used for teaching, research and conservation purposes. Access is open to all, and there’s always something of interest whatever the time of year.

Botanic Gardens

Oxford Botanic Garden was founded in 1621, and is the oldest in the country.  There are around 5000 different plant species growing in a surprisingly compact area.

The outdoor gardens at the Botanic Garden are lovely, particularly in mid-summer, but it’s the glass houses that keep me visiting. Imagine a mini Eden Project in one of the busiest streets of Oxford and you’ll understand why I enjoy it so much.  In the depths of winter, when the outdoor beds look bare, it’s a pleasure to stand amongst tropical greenery in the heated greenhouses.

In the glasshouse at Oxford Botanic Garden
In the glasshouse at Oxford Botanic Garden

There are 5 different glass houses. They’re not big but they pack a lot into them. My favourite is the Palm House, which houses a variety of tropical plants, such as bananas, papaya, pineapple, ginger and sugar cane. I’m getting hungry just thinking about it! On our visit the Seville oranges were ripening, giving the glass house a citrus aroma reminiscint of Mediterranean holidays.

Beware! Fly eating plants at Oxford Botanic Gardens
Beware! Fly eating plants at Oxford Botanic Gardens

The kids love the insectivorous house, and when no-one is looking they like to tease the fly traps (should I admit this?). There are magnifying glasses available to look more closely at the plants.

Lily pads at Oxford Botanic Gardens
Lily pads at Oxford Botanic Gardens

The lily house has a raised pond with huge lily pads and hundreds of tiny fish to watch.

Water lily at Oxford Botanic Gardens
Water lily at Oxford Botanic Gardens

For once I’d brought my ‘proper’ camera with me, rather than relying on my camera phone, so I was able to take some close up shots.

Bee on dahlia at Oxford Botanic Garden
Bee on dahlia at Oxford Botanic Garden

The garden has inspired plenty of children’s authors, including Lewis Carroll, JRR Tolkien and Philip Pullman. Seek out the bench at the back of the garden which is famous for its appearance in one of Pullman’s novels. You can also listen to Philip Pullman on the garden audio trail, along with staff discussing their favourite plants.

The Botanic Garden is bordered by the Cherwell River. On a sunny summer afternoon there are always plenty of people attempting to punt which is fun to watch. Surprisingly, I’ve never seen anyone fall in yet!

Harcourt Arboretum

Harcourt Arboretum is about 5 miles from Oxford, in the village of Nuneham Courtenay.  It’s straightforward to reach by bus from Oxford, but if you want to visit both the Arboretum and the Botanic Gardens on the same day it’s much easier having your own transport.

Log balancing at Harcourt
Log balancing at Harcourt

The Arboretum is a collection of trees and shrubs from around the world.  It’s a great place to visit if you’re trying to complete an I-Spy Trees book, although I guess some would classify this as cheating! Whilst there are exotic specimens such as redwoods and acers there is also an area of native woodland and a wildflower meadow.

Harcourt Arboretum is definitely the wilder cousin, when compared to the manicured lawns of the Botanic Gardens, and it has plenty of space for kids to run around in. There are usually peacocks wandering near the entrance and often peacock feathers to find.

Autumn colours at Harcourt Arboretum
Autumn colours at Harcourt Arboretum

Our visit coincided with the start of the autumn colour change. Harcourt has a number of Japanese maples which put on a great display each year.

Trees at Harcourt Arboretum
Trees at Harcourt Arboretum

A speciality of the Arboretum are conifers from the north west coast of America, some of the trees are huge! Lay on the ground and look upwards for an interesting view.

Both the Botanic Gardens and the Arboretum have family activities throughout the year.  Each summer the Arboretum runs a geo-caching trail, and they always have activity backpacks available. Even if you just visiting for a family ramble you can be pretty sure you’ll find plenty to interest you.

More info

  • Follow the links for visitor information for Harcourt Arboretum and Botanic Gardens. Both gardens are accessible, with a dedicated wheelchair path at the Arboretum.
  • There are no refreshment facilities at either site. This isn’t an issue in Oxford as there are plenty of places nearby.  If we’re visiting the Arboretum and fancy a drink we usually go to Notcutts garden centre. It’s about a mile away, but I wouldn’t recommend walking as it’s along the side of a fast main road

Costs

  • Entrance for adults is £4.50, accompanied children are free. The ticket entitles you to visit both the Arboretum and the Botanic Garden on the same day.
  • If you live locally an annual pass costs £15.50 and is well worth the money.
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Roald Dahl museum, Great Missenden, Bucks

I had some reservations about visiting the Roald Dahl Museum as Trip Advisor reviews were split between those who really enjoyed the museum, and those who found it small and over-priced.  Added to this, I’ve never really been a fan of Roald Dahl’s books (am I the only one?) even though both my kids enjoy them.  However, as we were already in the area, it seemed a shame not to pop in and check for ourselves.

The Roald Dahl museum and Cafe Twit
The Roald Dahl museum and Cafe Twit

The kids started their visit with a Fizzlecrumper and Swishwiffler at Cafe Twit. They wouldn’t normally get to drink such sugary monstrosities (lemonade and coke with an ice cream float and sprinkles) but it seemed an appropriate treat. They loved them but they were way too sweet for me so I stuck to the coffee.

On to the museum. At the entrance the kids were given a story ideas book and a trail sheet. We were also given a map, and I picked up a village trail sheet for later exploration.

Inside the Roald Dahl museum
Inside the Roald Dahl museum

The Roald Dahl museum is small, with two main rooms dedicated to his life. The boy gallery detailed his early years at boarding school. I loved reading his letters home, detailing his love of chocolate. You can certainly understand some of his inspiration for ‘Charlie and the chocolate factory’.

The second room houses his writing hut. The kids enjoyed spotting and learning about the objects in his hut, particularly his ball made up of silver chocolate wrappers and part of his hip (from a hip replacement). However they didn’t really spend much time reading the rest of the exhibits, despite them being colourful and appealing to the eye.

The Story Centre at Roald Dahl museum
The Story Centre at Roald Dahl museum

The third room at the museum is the interactive Story Centre. This encourages kids to be creative, with dressing up clothes, art activities and magnetic words to create poems. The kids spent most of their time in here.

We also went to a short story time session, when one of the staff members read to the children. Whilst the rest of the museum was aimed at 6+ the story telling session actually seemed to be for younger children.

The museum offers great sounding workshops but you do need to book in advance. On the day of our visit they’d been decorating chocolate, but we weren’t organised enough to book beforehand and the workshops were full.

We had some time left after visiting the museum so followed the village trail. Roald lived in Great Missenden for 36 years and drew much inspiration from the area. The trail took us around parts of the village important to Roald and finally to the graveyard, where he is buried.

Roald Dahl's grave
Roald Dahl’s grave

There is a BFG footprint near to his grave which adds a note of fun. However, I felt that the pencils and museum leaflets left blowing around the grave, presumably as a tribute to Roald Dahl, made a bit of a mess.

You can also follow a countryside trail, which takes you on a walk through beech woods featured in his books. Both the village and countryside trails are available free of charge on the museum website.

Overall, I probably learnt more from the museum than either of my kids did. However, I generally prefer smaller museums which have a narrow focus, rather than ones which are so stuffed with exhibits that I just wander aimlessly past all of them.

Was it worth the admission fee? Mm, not sure.  The high admission cost is difficult to justify when other museums are free, but given its charitable status I can understand why the charges are there. Would I recommend it to others? Probably only if you were already in the area and had children of the right age, I wouldn’t make a special trip to visit.

More info

  • This museum is best suited to older primary school children who enjoy the Roald Dahl books.
  • As the museum is small it gets crowded pretty quickly so try and visit when other people are unlikely to.  We visited mid-afternoon on a sunny day, when most people were outside enjoying the sunshine. I would imagine that a wet day in the Easter holidays is the wrong time to visit!
  • The museum website details opening hours and workshops.
  • There is no parking at the museum, instead visitors are directed to a car park about 5 minutes walk away.

Costs

  • Entrance for adults is £6.60, for children £4.40 (under 5’s are free).  A family ticket is £21. Search for 2 for 1 voucher offers prior to arriving as there was a large sign on the door detailing all of the vouchers they accept.
  • Parking at the Link Road car park costs £1.80 for up to 3 hours on Mon-Sat, and is free on Sunday.
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Oxford University Parks spy trail

Oxford is my local city, so one I think I know quite well. However, after completing a Spy Trail around University Parks I’ve realised there are still areas left for us to explore and discover.

It was my youngest son who decided he’d like to do a treasure trail in Oxford. After looking through the ones available he chose a Spy Trail in and around the University Parks. The 3 mile walking trail consists of a small booklet with directions and 21 clues to solve. You transfer the answers to a grid on the back and then use the shaded letters to crack a code. Each trail has a back story; our mission was to stop a Cambridge student sabotaging the Oxford University Cricket Ground with mole hills by uncovering the code to thwart his plans.

Start of Oxford spy trail
Start of Oxford spy trail

The trail started at the University Museum, with a couple of clues in the museum grounds. If you have time, I recommend a visit to the Pitt Rivers museum, an anthropological treasure trove. From the museum we made our way towards the University Parks, solving a couple of clues along the way.

The University Parks have been run by Oxford University since 1853 and cover more than 70 acres of landscaped parkland. You can pick up a map at the entrance, which marks out points of interest and gives you an overview of the history.

Solving the clues
Solving the clues

The majority of the clues are in the park. Many involve finding an engraving, a memorial or (as above) a park bench and then answering the question posed. We often had to do simple sums, for example counting the number of park benches, or the number of letters in a name and then taking this number away from another one.

Oxford University Park - hopeful ducks
Oxford University Park – hopeful ducks!

I’d never been to the duck pond in this corner of the park before, but it’s obvious from the way the ducks followed us that plenty of people visit and bring them food. They were disappointed with us! After the pond, we walked alongside the River Cherwell for a while, watching a couple of groups attempt to punt.

Punt rollers, Oxford
Punt rollers, Oxford

Did you know these are punt rollers? I didn’t! They’re used to move punts between the rivers. These rollers are in an area known as Parson’s Pleasure, which is famous as the area where Oxford dons used to sunbathe naked up until quite recently.

Another area I’d never visited before was Mesopotamia, which is a narrow island between the upper and lower Cherwell River. There’s a footpath alongside the river, which takes you back towards the park, where there some final clues to solve.

Walking back through University Park
Walking back through University Park

After we’d completed the answers I took the trail home and forgot about it for a few days. Coming back to it, I decided it was about time to transfer our answers into the grid on the back and discover the secret code. If you complete this code correctly on the Treasure Trails website you are entered into a prize draw. Unfortunately for us, I belatedly realised that some of our answers were wrong as they didn’t fit into the grid. I really should have checked this whilst we were doing the trail! I tried to use the text service advertised in the trail leaflet, which sends you the correct answer if required, but for some reason I never received a text back. Never mind.

So what did we think of the trail? Overall it was very good, apart from the missing text answer. The trail was perfect for the kids age range (primary), and they were able to solve the clues themselves with only a little help from me. The kids did lose a little interest towards the end but this was probably due to it being lunch time. The only improvement I’d suggest would be the inclusion of a map of the area the trail covered.

If you’re interested in more things to do in Oxford check out my 25 things to do with the family blog post; there are plenty of ideas here to keep you all entertained!

More info

  • We purchased our spy trail from Blackwells bookshop in Oxford, but you can also buy them online from the Treasure Trails website. There are 5 different trails available for Oxford, and plenty more covering most parts of the UK. We’ve also done the Oxford Jericho and canal trail which you can read about here.
  • There’s lots of information about the University Parks here, including a list of all the trees you can find in the park!
  • There is no car parking at the park. I recommend using the Park and Ride services as parking in central Oxford is very expensive.

Cost

  • Our trail cost £6.99.
  • The cheapest council car park in central Oxford costs £14.70 to park for 4-6 hours on a Saturday.  The Park and Ride bus costs £2.40 per adult, children under 16 are free. There’s also a controversial charge of around £2 for all day parking at some of the Park and Ride car parks.
  • There is no entrance charge to the University Parks.
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