I’m a sucker for quirky attractions and the Cotswold Sculpture Park fits the description perfectly. It’s a fabulous place to visit even if, like me, you’re not particularly into art.
Cotswold Sculpture Park
Upon arrival you’re given a leaflet detailing the sculptures and their prices. There are over 150 sculptures, created by more than 70 artists. The sculptures vary in size and sculpture medium; from Portland limestone to scrap metal. There really is a sculpture to please everyone, whether you prefer modern or traditional, abstract or figurative.
I’ve visited a couple of sculpture trails previously which have felt like outdoor high end art galleries. This trail was different, a fun wander around ten acres of woodland and garden. The grounds are a little rough and ready but that made it more enjoyable for me. Think wildlife friendly garden rather than manicured lawns and perfect borders!
The park is owned by David Hartland, who is also a sculptor. His pieces, mostly made from scrap metal, are instantly recognisable and include the Morris Minor on the tower at the entrance. The owner’s sculptures are the only permanent pieces and are not for sale. The other sculptures are either sold or returned to the artist at the end of the season.
I think we managed to spot all of the sculptures. Some blend in well into their surroundings. Others stick out like a sore thumb! It would have been good to learn more about the sculptures and artists as we visited them although I later discovered many of their profiles are on the website.
The sculpture park is Tardis like, there is so much to see. We reached as far as the toilet building (beware, it’s the opposite end from the entrance) and assumed we’d seen almost everything. How wrong we were! Leave yourself a good couple of hours to see everything.
We all had our favourites but I loved this sculpture. Not sure it would really fit my pocket sized back garden but I’d snap it up if I had a spare acre.
One other sculpture which garnered a lot of attention was a bronze statue of Icarus by Nicola Godden. It was superb, yours for just £33,000!
The sculpture prices ranged from £20 for a robin to an eye watering £60,000 for a bear made out of galvanised chicken wire. Most pieces were in the hundreds or low thousands range. Whilst I admired many of them I think they probably look at their best in a woodland setting, not a small town garden.
After you’ve finished head to the onsite cafe, The Poppin Tearoom, which serves hot and cold snacks and drinks. I highly recommend sitting outside and enjoying coffee and cake if the weather allows. It’s a great way to round off your visit.
The Cotswold Sculpture Park is in Somerford Keynes near Cirencester. It’s open from April to September, closed on Tuesdays and Wednesdays, entrance fee applicable. No dogs or picnics allowed onsite.
I’m not going to beat around the bush. Thistledown, an organic farm on the western edge of the Cotswolds, makes it onto my list of favourite ever campsites.
That said, if you prefer organised entertainment and extensive facilities it’s probably not the site for you. Read on to find out more.
You need to know…
No cars are allowed on the pastures, yay! Depending on where you camp it’s a 5-10 minute steep walk downhill with your gear. There are wheelbarrows to borrow. Or, for £5, you can have your gear transported to your chosen pitch in a buggy.
There are no flushing toilets. It’s compost only if you’re camping in the pastures. Three simple rules – men and boys must sit, you add a handful of wood chips after a poo and put the lid down after you’ve finished.
There are event style portable loos in the elderflower orchard (where cars are also allowed) if you really cannot cope.
There are no electrical hook ups. This doesn’t bother me one jot as we’ve never needed it. At least not until the teen discovered hair straighteners.
If you’re not fazed by the above then you will love Thistledown Farm. We did! As for the positives. Well, where do I start?
We camped over a Bank Holiday weekend. The site was rammed (as described by the chap who works there). You can see what I mean below. Hardly room to move.
There are three different camping areas, split between the car free pastures and the elderflower orchard. There are no designated pitches, campsite rules state you should leave six metres between tents. Yes, you read that correctly, six metres. Even though the 70 acres of woodland and meadow could accommodate many more tents the owners wisely choose to restrict the numbers that can camp.
For children there’s a tractor. Marshmallows toasted over the camp fire. A stream. Kunekune pigs and rare breed sheep. And rope swings in the wood. There’s no artificial playground. Why would you need it?
Camp fires are encouraged. Bring your own wood or buy a bag on site (£7.50). Just don’t collect it from the woods; it’s a habitat!
Remember to look up from your fire too. Once your eyes have acclimatised you’ll be amazed by the stars. The lack of light pollution allows you to spot many more stars than usual.
There’s a fabulous cafe on site (but do book in advance). It’s open for breakfast and lunch from Wednesday to Sunday. It also offers pizza on Friday and Saturday evenings from April to October. It’s not cheap but the food is mostly organic, local and incredibly tasty.
Indeed I ate the best pizza of my life. A sour dough base, topped with spiced butternut squash puree, caramelised onions, goats cheese and wild garlic pesto. The pesto, made with fresh leaves from the wood, was out of this world. If it’s in season (April) when you visit you must try some!
The camping pastures are surrounded by mixed native woodland. In spring bluebells and wild garlic carpet the ground. Trails lead through the wood but get a map from reception otherwise you’ll probably end up following a badger track.
The whole site is set up to encourage wildlife. It’s a receptor (rehoming) site for slow worms and grass snakes. The pond by the cafe is full of newts.
There are badger sets throughout the wood; tidy your food away at night to stop the badgers helping themselves. Tawny owls might keep you awake; the dawn chorus will probably wake you up!
Sunrise is incredible. I’d got up early to look for badgers, but not early enough it seems. Instead I walked up to the pond and stone circle to watch the most magical sunrise. Aside from three geese and a couple of newly arrived swallows I was the only one there (well, it was 6am on a Sunday morning).
Later we ate breakfast in the early morning sun, watching the birds flitting between trees. Butterflies were out enjoying the warm weather. I couldn’t imagine wanting to be anywhere else.
We did tear ourselves away from the campsite as there’s plenty to see locally, including Stroud farmer’s market on Saturday mornings, Woodchester Mansion (walkable from the campsite) and the viewpoint at Coaley Peak. All coming soon in another blog post!
We paid £68 for a family of four for two nights camping in the 3rd pasture. It’s cheaper to camp in the elderflower orchard, but for the full experience head to the pastures. Further details and online booking can be found on the Thistledown Farm website.
There are more than 80 miles of Dorset coastline, much of it with World Heritage Status. We spent a couple of days exploring the eight mile section between Charmouth and West Bay, an area packed full of fossils, great walks and spectacular views.
Our first stop was West Bay, the village made famous by the TV drama, Broadchurch.
We visited out of season, early on a grey Monday morning. Although many places were open the village felt a little ‘closed for winter’. We mooched around the harbour, got buffeted by the wind on the pier and then lost ourselves in a huge building full of crafts and antiques.
However, it’s the cliffs which West Bay is famous for so, once we’d seen the village, we headed towards the beach and its towering golden sandstone cliffs.
Our walk started, as expected,with a steep uphill climb to blow the cobwebs away. Once up top we enjoyed a fabulous walk along a stretch of the rollercoaster Dorset coast. This area isn’t without its dangers. A short while after we visited a huge rockfall temporarily closed both the beach and the cliff path. After seeing the photographs it’s a sobering thought that we were walking beside the collapsed cliff section. Do visit, but abide by all warning notices.
We didn’t walk far. The weather wasn’t conducive to staying on the cliffs and we had a longer walk planned for the afternoon so we soon retraced our steps to the village to find a cafe for lunch. If it’s a nice day, and you fancy seafood for lunch, I’d suggest checking out the kiosks by the harbour. However it was too cold for us to mill around outside and most were still closed for winter so we opted for indoor comfort at West Bay Tea Rooms. This was a great choice with friendly service and good size portions.
Golden Cap walk
After lunch we drove over to Seatown, our starting point for a walk to the summit of Golden Cap. This is a flat topped hill that looked distinctly un-golden when we arrived at Seatown car park. Obscured by heavy rain I decided it best to shelter in the car whilst we waited for the rain to blow over. If you’re without a car and looking for shelter the alternative is a quick half in the Anchor Inn. Although you might be tempted to stay longer than strictly necessary…
At 191 metres Golden Cap is the highest point on the south coast. We followed the 4 mile AA Golden Cap in Trust route. As per our morning walk it started with a steep schlep up to the summit. The heavy rain had made it much muddier and slippier than I’d envisaged. Although when the sun came out a few minutes later all was forgiven. The route to the top took us around half an hour or so; by then we’d jettisoned our outer layers as spring appeared!
On a clear day it is evidently possible to see as far as Dartmoor from the summit. Whenever facts like this are pointed out to me I’m always disappointed as I can never see as far as some people obviously can. I could certainly see Portland Bill and, in the opposite direction, Lyme Regis. But not Dartmoor.
Our route continued down the far side, passing the ruins of St Gabriel’s Church. There are some fabulously located National Trust holiday cottages here if you fancy getting away from it all (or as much as you can in Dorset). These buildings are all that remain of Stanton St Gabriel, a village deserted in the 18th Century after residents moved to nearby towns for work.
The rest of the route took us on a tour of green and quiet lanes. We cut back beneath Langdon Hill, which is still part of the National Trust estate and offers an alternative starting point for the Golden Cap ascent. As you return to Seatown the views of the Dorset coast return too, it’s even more beautiful when the sun is shining!
Charmouth fossil hunt
The following day saw us in Charmouth, exploring a stretch of Dorset coastline marketed as the Jurassic Coast. The cliffs and beaches are full of fossils that reveal the Earth’s history, from prehistoric Triassic deserts to tropical Jurassic sea. Fossil hunting in Charmouth has long featured on my UK bucket list so I was looking forward to our next activity, a walk with a fossil expert.
We’d booked a walk with fossilwalks.com; at just £5 per head it was excellent value. They run most days during the school holidays or alternatively you can book a rather more expensive private walk. Whatever you choose, book early.
The walk starts with a half hour introductory talk about where to find the fossils, what to look out for and what you might find. Chris, our guide, passed around samples of the different fossils for us to handle. We also learnt how to use our hammers correctly (additional cost, book in advance through the guide).
After our briefing we set off to find fossils on the beach. This is a key safety point. Fossil hunting takes place on the beach, not the cliffs! I was sceptical at first to think that fossils would just be lying around on the beach. That was until I found my first ammonite on the sandy shore. Followed by further ammonites, belemnites and, what I’ll call, stones with fossils in. Perhaps not exciting finds in geological terms but I was happy with my haul.
Charmouth Heritage Centre
After the walk we visited Charmouth Heritage Centre which houses some larger fossil finds information about the area’s history and geology. Entrance is free (although do leave a donation) and highly recommended; they also offer guided walks and hammer hire.
If you haven’t managed to find any fossils on the beach there’s also a fossil shop next door. Shush, no-one need ever know you’ve bought one.
So, there you have it. Two days exploring the Dorset coast. I now need a few more months to explore the rest of it!
If you’re looking for a short quirky walk in Gloucestershire how about visiting a ship’s graveyard? We spent an hour discovering the Purton hulks, one of my British bucket list items, on the way home from an overnight stay at St Briavels Castle YHA.
Gloucester and Sharpness Canal
After parking opposite the church in Purton, we crossed the bridge and followed a sign directing us to the Purton hulks. This took us along a towpath, bordered on one side by the Gloucester and Sharpness canal and the River Severn on the other.
The 16.5 mile canal runs, as you’d expect, between Gloucester and Sharpness. Built to bypass a dangerous stretch of the River Severn it was once the deepest and broadest canal in the world. Nowadays it’s mainly used by pleasure craft and kayakers. In the not too distant past oil tankers and even submarines have navigated its waters!
After 15 minutes or so we reached the first few boats. Between 1909 and the 1970s vessels were deliberately beached along the River Severn to shore up the banks and protect the land between the river and canal.
Today there are over 80 vessels in the ship graveyard. Many are hidden under grass or silt. Some are in an advanced state of decay with just the rotting timbers and huge bolts remaining. You certainly need to keep your eyes on the ground, partly so you don’t miss anything but also to avoid the trip hazards.
There’s a huge variety of boats here, from schooners to concrete barges. The Friends of Purton group have investigated and published in-depth histories of each of the vessels on their website. Each ship has a name plaque which you can look up online.
In the same way that I loved learning about the residents of Highgate Cemetery on our recent visit, I enjoyed finding out about the vessels at Purton.
The ship below is Harriett, the last known example of a Kennet built barge. She spent her life in the Bristol docks area, carrying grain and wood pulp.
This is Edith, a Chepstow trow. She used to transport coal between Bristol and the Forest of Dean. Edith has an eventful past, with several collisions and groundings. She was finally beached in the 1960s.
There’s not a lot left of Sally, also known as King. Beached during a snowstorm in 1951 much of her history is a mystery although she may have originated in the Caribbean. Sadly she has suffered at the hands of arsonists who have burnt her timbers in order to extract metals from them.
Photographers will have a field day exploring the hulks. Historians and boat lovers too. I don’t particularly class myself as any of these but they’re well worth a visit. Just don’t leave it too long. They won’t be here forever!
After you reach the last of the accessible boats the path leads back up to the canal. From here you can return along the towpath. Or, if you fancy a longer walk, head into Sharpness in the opposite direction.
The Friends of Purton website is a mine of information with copious detail on the ships and their histories.
Wear wellies or boots after rain. It will be very muddy!