Things to do near Tavistock, Devon

According to Wikipedia, the average age of a Tavistock resident is 44 years old. That’s the same age as myself, so in theory the town should have appealed. I’m sure it’s a lovely place to live in but as holidaymakers we were in need of a little more excitement. It was time to head out of Tavistock and find out what else the area had to offer.

Lydford gorge

Our first stop was Lydford Gorge, the deepest gorge in south west England. We chose to do the 3 mile circular walk which takes in its two main attractions, the White Lady waterfall and the Devil’s Cauldron.

The path through the gorge is well maintained but isn’t suitable for those with mobility difficulties. It’s pretty uneven in places with handrails to help in some parts. Our kids are older so it was fun for them but I’d imagine that families with toddlers would want to choose one of the shorter walks.

Lydford Gorge, Devon
Lydford Gorge, Devon

The route took us alongside the River Lyd. We visited after rain and the paths were fringed with ferns and mosses, water dripping from them like some primeval rainforest.

Further on, the swirling waters of the Devil’s Cauldron are as impressive as its name sounds. Wooden walkways lead you to the whirlpools which are incredibly noisy and ominous looking. You wouldn’t want to fall in!

Lydford Castle
Lydford Castle

At the halfway point we detoured into the local village to visit Lydford Castle. This was built in 1195 to use as a prison, possibly the first purpose built one in England. Over the years it gathered a grim reputation and was the scene of military executions in the English Civil War. Nowadays it’s one of those places where you need to use your imagination and wonder what it would have been like.

Inside Lydford Castle
Inside Lydford Castle

After our explorations we headed back into the gorge and walked the other half of the route. This took us high above the river, on a much easier path, back to the start near the White Lady waterfall. At 90 ft this was another impressive sight although a very busy one too.

Brent Tor, Dartmoor

We hadn’t planned to visit Brent Tor but we’d seen it silhouetted on the landscape whilst driving to Lydford Gorge and couldn’t resist a stop on the way back. We parked nearby and took the short walk up.

The church of St Michael de Rupe sits atop of the volcanic outcrop and is still used for some services. It was supposedly built by a merchant who’d been caught in a storm at sea and vowed to build a church on the first land he saw. However there are several variants to this story, including battles with the devil, so who knows?

St Michael's Church, Brent Tor
St Michael’s Church, Brent Tor

It was a cloudy day but this didn’t detract from the view. Stretching across Dartmoor in one direction, through to Cornwall in the other it was spectacular. Although the kids were more interested in pretending to fly as it was incredibly windy too!

View from Brent Tor, Dartmoor
View from Brent Tor, Dartmoor

Tamar trails centre

Our final visit was to the Tamar Trails Centre. This opened in 2013, and is the starting point for many of the walking and cycling trails which have been created as part of the Tamar Valley Mining Heritage project.

The industrial history of the site is fascinating. Copper, tin and arsenic were mined in the 19th Century and there’s plenty of evidence of this, with chimneys, tracks and spoil tips to spot. Display panels in a former mine office building provided more information about the families and work involved.

Tamar Trails
Tamar Trails

We picked up a trail map from the information point and walked out to the arsenic calciners via the Mineral Railway trail. I enjoy walking through reclaimed landscapes but it’s scary when you see a skull and crossbones warning you to stick to the paths as the area is heavily contaminated with arsenic!

On the way back we stopped at Blanchdown Adit to look at its bright orange waters. This isn’t caused by pollution, but iron oxide, and makes a rather colourful stopover.

We only had time for a short visit but it’s a place I’d like to return to, perhaps to hire a bike or walk some of the other trails. They also have a high ropes course, canoeing and special events so plenty to keep kids entertained.

More info

  • Lydford Gorge is free to National Trust members otherwise admission charges apply. It’s generally open 10am-5pm throughout spring to autumn but closes during the winter so check details before you travel. The path along the gorge is not accessible for wheelchairs or buggies.
  • Lydford Castle is open during daylight hours; there is no entrance charge.
  • To visit St Michael’s church park stop in the signed car park and head up the path on to Brent Tor. This is not suitable for buggies or wheelchairs. Entrance is free; donations welcome.
  • The Tamar Trails Centre is open weekends and during school and Bank holidays from 9am-5pm. Entrance is free; parking costs £1 for 2 hours or £2 all day. The Mineral Railway trail is suitable for buggies although we visited after some heavy downpours and it was muddy in places.

Bristol balloon fiesta

If you look up and see a Smurf or a huge daisy floating through the sky it’s a pretty good bet that you’re in Bristol for the annual balloon fiesta. Held over 4 days each August it attracts half a million visitors who flock to see the morning and evening balloon ascents.

balloon5

We visited on the opening day of the fiesta. I’d provisionally planned to go later on the Sunday but given the wet and windy forecast I decided that might be a foolish decision! The only downside to our early visit was that many of the additional events, weren’t on. On the plus side, the weather was perfect for ballooning.

balloon3

The fiesta is held at Ashton Court Estate, a couple of miles from the city centre. We walked to the site from Bristol Temple Meads railway station along the dedicated Festival Way. This included a detour to walk under Clifton Suspension Bridge which I’ve only ever seen from afar; it was as impressive as I’d imagined.

The special shapes
The special shapes

I hadn’t realised quite how big an event the Bristol Balloon fiesta is. In addition to the balloons there’s a huge fairground and lots of show stands. These included a kids section with a Lego imagination station, a Little Tikes play area and a Nintendo gaming area. We wandered around these for a while, before heading over to one of the viewing hills for the main event.

balloon6

The highlight for me was the unveiling of the special shapes; it was good fun trying to guess what the shapes were going to be. The Smurf was a popular shape with the audience although my favourite was the ‘Up’ balloon.

balloon2

It was quite exciting watching the pilots and support staff getting the balloons ready for lift off. There seemed to be a lot of balloons squeezed into a small area and as the balloons inflated they’d jostle with the ones around them for space.

Take off at Bristol balloon festival
Take off at Bristol balloon festival

Moments later a loud siren went off which signalled that the balloons were allowed to take off. The kids were incredibly excited and we had great fun spotting which balloon would take off next. There was a cheer each time a balloon took off with everyone on the ground waving them off.

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Some of the balloons gained height quickly and disappeared off over Bristol. A few others took a while to get going, and one in particular looked like it landed in a tree just over the brow of a hill before rising into the sky again. It was an amazing spectacle seeing the balloons heading off, one I hope the kids remember.

Heading over to Bristol
Heading over to Bristol

We left around 7.30pm which seemed to coincide with thousands of people arriving for the night glow (when the balloons are lit up to music) and fireworks. We hopped straight onto a shuttle bus back to the railway station. I dread to think what the queues would be like later in the evening, I was rather glad that I wouldn’t be finding out.

Our balloon viewing wasn’t quite over…..we spotted ‘Daisy’ from our train window as it had landed in a field a few miles out of Bristol. A perfect ending to one of the highlights of our summer!

More info:

  • Bristol Balloon fiesta is held at the start of August each year. Entrance is free, although there is a charge for car parking so walk or cycle if you can. There are plenty of food stalls (not much for vegetarians) but expect to pay festival prices.

Our day trip to Weston-super-Mare, Somerset

A sunny day in the summer holidays; perfect weather for our annual day trip to Weston-super-Mare. Weston is a traditional bucket and spade resort, with donkeys and a pier, and we always have a fun day out.

Weston - tide is out as usual
Weston promenade

As usual, the tide was out when we arrived and we were greeted with an expanse of golden sand and mud. Nobody ever seems to mind, I think I’d be disappointed if the tide was actually in!

Crazy Hills putting

I had initially planned to take the kids to the water park but when we saw how busy it was we decided to give it a miss and head next door to the crazy golf course. We’ve played here on previous visits, and nothing has changed over the years.

There are 18 holes to conquer, some with features such as a windmill with moving sails, others with mounds or hollows in them. It’s an enjoyable way to waste an hour or so although the kids got miffed when I won, despite blatant cheating from my son.

Crazy golf course in Weston
Crazy golf course in Weston

It was a blazing hot day, and although I love the heat it was pretty tiring. Fortunately ice cream does wonders to revive hot kids so we stopped at PJ’s Ice Cream parlour on the seafront. There were loads of flavours to choose from; I enjoyed rhubarb and custard, my daughter had banoffee whilst my son had his usual favourite of vanilla!

Weston Sand Sculpture festival

We really enjoyed the sand sculpture festival on our visit to Weston last year so I had been looking forward to seeing the new exhibition. The 2014 theme is ‘Once upon a time’, which is all about stories. Over 4000 tonnes of sand have been used to create the sculptures which are made from just sand and water.

Weston-super-Mare 2014 sand sculptures
Weston-super-Mare 2014 sand sculptures

There were a wide variety of sculptures, from ‘The Hunger Games’ through to one of Aesop’s fables, ‘The lion and the mouse’. They didn’t disappoint, the detail that the sculptors had managed to carve into the sand was amazing.

This year there were more photo points where you could be photographed as part of the scene, for example, seated at the Mad Hatters tea party.

Weston-super-Mare 'Once upon a time' sand sculptures
Weston-super-Mare ‘Once upon a time’ 2014 sand sculptures

If you’re in Weston over the summer do look out for the sculptures; I definitely recommend them.

Our visit to the festival was followed by a session spent feeding 2p coins into arcade machines. Much to the kids disgust they lost all of their money but at least they learnt one of life’s lessons.

All in all, another successful day out at Weston!

More info:

  • Crazy Hills Putting in Weston costs £3 for adults, £2 for children aged 11 and under. The course is along the promenade, next to the water park.
  • The Weston sand sculpture festival costs £3.50 for adults, £2.50 for children aged 3-15. A family tickets costs £10. Opening dates and times for the 2015 sculptures (different sculptures to those shown above) 10am-5pm until 27th September 2015.

Campsite review: Henry’s campsite, Lizard, Cornwall

A few weeks ago we stayed at Henry’s campsite on the Lizard Peninsula in Cornwall. It’s taken me a while to write up the review, but I think that just reflects the laid back and relaxed vibe of the site (for holidaymakers at least, the owners work hard).

I’m a Trip Advisor junkie and like to check out places before we visit so as usual I read up in advance of our trip. The word most often used to describe Henry’s campsite in the reviews was ‘quirky’. Now that we’ve visited I agree it is definitely the best description of the site.

Henry's campsite entrance
Henry’s campsite entrance

The campsite is located on the edge of Lizard village in Cornwall. The village isn’t much to write home about but it was handy to have the local amenities, including an excellent fish and chip shop just a short walk away. However the Lizard peninsula is a fantastic part of the country to visit and there’s lots to do in the area, including some great coastal walks straight from the campsite.

Our pitch at Henry's campsite
Our pitch at Henry’s campsite

Our pitch was great. Located on a small flat terrace it was surrounded by shrubs which offered some privacy. The campsite is full of these type of pitches; hidden amongst sub-tropical plants with flowers spouting out of walls. We had a view of the sea from our pitch and were treated to a couple of great sunsets.

Seating area, Henry's Campsite
Seating area, Henry’s Campsite

There’s lots of artistic touches around the site. I particularly liked the wooden seagulls and the bench and seats. There are sculptures hidden in little nooks and crannies and murals on the toilet buildings. There’s lots of recycling in evidence, many items appear to be made from something else.

Free wi-fi is available near the reception and shop area but I felt a little guilty using it; it’s definitely the kind of site where you should abandon all technology.

Seagull art
Seagull art

The campsite shop was legendary. Whilst it was only small it was one of the best stocked camp shops I’ve ever come across and it always seemed to be open. Even better, you could buy items individually. One marshmallow toasting stick for 4p, a peg for 10p, a slice of bacon for 40p or a single egg for 25p. Jugs of Rosie’s cider appeared to be rather popular in the evenings!

Campsite shop
Campsite shop

The campsite has plenty of animals. Newly hatched ducklings and chicks were in kept in cages up by the shop area, whilst the older ones just wandered around the site. There was a lovely affectionate dog too.

The alpaca field - and football goal
The alpaca field – and football goal

The football field is shared with the alpacas which is a little unfortunate as it meant you couldn’t just send the kids off for a football game; they had to be supervised by adults whilst in the field. It was also home to a couple of Houdini goats who managed to unhook the latch on the gate several times during our stay.

Sea view from Henry's campsite
Sea view from Henry’s campsite

There is a relaxed festival feel to the campsite. During the season they have live music at the fire pit a couple of times a week. It’s undercover which is great if the weather is dodgy. Alternatively you can hire a brazier and light your own camp fire.

The toilets and showers are split across 3 buildings; a couple of them were shack like but they were always clean. The only negative was that they were unisex toilets and showers. Call me a prude but I don’t want to share bathrooms with the opposite sex. If a lady is hogging a washbasin you can jump in to wash your hands quickly, but when it’s a man having a very long wet shave it’s a bit more tricky!

Despite the toilets it’s a great campsite and, whilst it’s not for everyone, I’d happily recommend it to friends who would appreciate its quirky side.

More info:

  • We paid £31 per night for our tent, 2 adults and 2 children. One minor gripe was having to pay an additional 20p for a 2 minute shower. I’d prefer the cost of showers to be included, so much easier than scrabbling around for 20p pieces.
  • Further details available on Henry’s campsite website.