A snowdrop walk near Swyncombe, Oxfordshire

As regular readers will know I believe a good walk always features cake. So it’s probably no surprise that our weekend walk included afternoon tea at a church. Most visitors were probably there for the main event, snowdrops in the churchyard, but not us. Instead I’d chosen a longer walk with a cake stop halfway round.

We left the car, rather nervously, in a small car park a couple of miles from Swyncombe. Last time I parked there I returned to find someone had smashed the window of the car next to us. Fortunately there were plenty of people around this time, hopefully enough to deter anyone up to no good.

The perfect tree for climbing
The perfect tree for climbing

Swyncombe Down

The first part of the walk took us steeply uphill through woodland, out on to Swyncombe Down. Although I’d planned for cake we’d also bought sandwiches so we ate these, sheltering from the wind, in amongst the trees. We didn’t hang around as it was freezing; I am so looking forward to summer picnics again.

The path runs alongside an earthwork topped with large beech trees. These had multiple branches as a result of pollarding many years ago; perfect for climbing. The earthwork, a trench called the Danish entrenchment, wasn’t much to look at but supposedly dates back to 870AD when the Danes were fighting King Alfred in the area.

Walking the Ridgeway near Swyncombe
Walking the Ridgeway near Swyncombe

St Botolph’s Church, Swyncombe

A little further on the path joined the Ridgeway, our local long distance trail, taking us downhill and up again to St Botolph’s Church at Swyncombe.  The chuchyard puts on a good display of snowdrops each February and visitors are encouraged to visit with the lure of snowdrop teas.

A couple of years ago we visited Welford Park (of Great British Bake Off fame) which has huge swathes of snowdrops and is packed with visitors. The snowdrops at Swyncombe are on a different scale as they only cover a small proportion of the graveyard but they’re still very pretty.

Snowdrop teas at Swyncombe
Snowdrop teas at Swyncombe

The warm winter weather has encouraged the snowdrops to flower early this year and I was glad we’d chosen to visit at the start of the month as a few were already starting to go over. It’s a little strange walking around headstones and taking photos in a graveyard but the snowdrops do look lovely. Whilst I’m not in a great hurry to be buried anywhere I can certainly think of worse places!

Afternoon tea at Swyncombe Church
Afternoon tea at St Botolph’s Church, Swyncombe

After a wander around the snowdrops it was time for cake. It was a hard decision but eventually we chose orange cake, chocolate sponge, brownie and gingerbread between us. We sat outside to enjoy them before heading into the church for a look through their second-hand book stall.

Snowdrops at Swyncombe Church
Snowdrops at St Botolph’s Church, Swyncombe

The Ridgeway

Leaving the church we rejoined the Ridgeway. Another uphill stretch had us puffing and panting, good job we had the cake to power us! Part of the route goes through woodland and every year I’m amazed by how much moss covers the tree trunks in this particular area. In previous years we’ve just walked a short circular route around the church so this year it made a change to turn right at the top of the hill rather than left.

It was lovely chatting to my son as we walked. When he’s at home he’s often buried in technology but there’s no option to do that outdoors. Instead he chatted happily about Star Wars (he’s seen the film twice) and Nerf YouTubers. Whilst I’m not knowledgable about either of these topics I could at least answer some of his random questions, including ‘Do bones go rusty?’.

Who can resist walking through puddles?
Who can resist walking through puddles?

Our route back to the car took us along broad bridleways, with views out to the remaining towers of Didcot Power Station. The sun was slowly disappearing behind the clouds but there was still fun to be had. The kids waded through the big puddles and I joined them on one occassion, only to find out that my ageing wellies had developed a split thus letting water in.

Fortunately our car, and all its windows, were still intact when we arrived back. Even better was that the rain started to fall just as we returned. Perfect timing!

More info:

  • Snowdrop teas at St Botolph’s Church in Swyncombe take place over three weekends in February. Dates are advertised on the church website.

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.