Oxford Jericho and canal treasure trail review

Oxford is a great city to visit but it’s good to escape the tourists and head to less well known areas. Whilst in Blackwell’s Bookshop recently I discovered a Treasure Trail covering Jericho and Oxford Canal and knew it would be the perfect opportunity to discover a different part of the city.

If you’ve never done a Treasure Trail before the aim is to find the location of treasure by following directions and solving clues. Each trail contains around 20 clues and involves 2-3 miles of walking. The clues are relatively easy to solve and are suitable for primary school kids; most involve hunting out signs or carrying out simple sums. At the end you should be left with one answer which you can text to a central number. If correct your entry is added into a yearly prize draw to win £1000!

Worcester College, Oxford
Worcester College, Oxford

Our trail started in Worcester St car park in central Oxford. This part of town is currently full of roadworks, buses and tourists so it was a relief to get past the first couple of clues and into a slightly quieter area.

St Giles war memorial. Oxford
St Giles war memorial. Oxford

We stopped to look at the war memorial and solve a clue. The memorial has no names but is dedicated to soldiers from Oxford who lost their lives in the First and Second World Wars. Nearby we found a sign indicating the location of a Big Game Museum which housed hunting trophies back in the early 1900s. I need to be careful not to give away any clue answers here!

The kids loved this cat!
The kids loved this cat!

The trail then led us through Jericho. Nowadays this area is a desirable place to live, full of character with lots of cafés and independent shops. My kids discovered a cat snoozing in a shop window and were desperate to go in and stroke it, a great sales tactic!

Back in the 1800s Jericho was slum central when open sewers and poor drainage resulted in cholera and typhoid outbreaks. In the 1950s the area was notorious as a red light district, and more recently it was the scene of fictional murders in Morse and Lewis.

St Barnabas Church, Oxford
St Barnabas Church, Oxford

The Venetian style campanile of St Barnabas dominates the area and looks a little out of place (albeit in a nice way). There are plans to develop the area around the church and in the nearby Castle Mill boatyard; these have been subject to much controversy over the last few years.

St Sepulchre's Cemetery, Oxford
St Sepulchre’s Cemetery, Oxford

We’d have never found St Sepulchre’s Cemetery without the trail. Situated down a rubbish filled alley next to a convenience store it’s not a place you’d immediately rush to visit but once you pass through the iron gates it’s as if you’ve stepped back in time. The cemetery closed to new burials in 1945 and had become overgrown and unloved until a group of volunteers took charge and helped restore its beauty. Nowadays it’s a wildlife haven and peaceful corner of the city.

Oxford canal
Oxford canal

The last part of the trail took us along Oxford Canal back into the city centre. The 78 mile canal links Oxford to Coventry and was once an important transport link but nowadays is primarily used by pleasure boaters. The canal path was busy with locals, dog walkers and the occasional tourist and took us right back into central Oxford.

Bridge 243, Oxford Canal
Bridge 243, Oxford Canal

We’d managed to solve almost all of the clues although one had got the better of us. Nethertheless it was a great way to see a different side to a city that I thought I knew well.

More info:

  • Treasure Trails are available for most locations in the UK, check out the Treasure Trail website for a searchable map of locations.
  • Trails are available from the website or they can sometimes be found in local shops and Tourist Information Centres.
  • Both the printed and download version cost £6.99 which is a little strange as you’d assume an online version would be cheaper.

How to spend a day in Le Puy-en-Velay, Haute-Loire, France

It has taken a while to write but this is my final post about our holiday in the Haute-Loire region of central France. I’ve already reviewed our CosyCamp lodgings and written a round up of Things to do in the Haute-Loire but felt the town of Le Puy deserved a post of its own.

View from Rocher Saint-Michel d’Aiguilhe
View from Rocher Saint-Michel d’Aiguilhe

Le Puy-en-Velay is the most popular tourist destination in the Haute-Loire; it’s enjoyably busy rather than overrun with visitors. The town is famous for lace, Le Puy lentils and its rather unique geography. Situated in a caldera the main tourist sites sit atop volcanic plugs and tower over the surrounding streets. So what did we see?

Le Puy-en-Velay market

We visited on Saturday which is market day. The produce stalls were full of cheeses to sample, giant bulbs of garlic, weird and wonderful mushrooms as well as fresh fruit and vegetables. There was even a stall selling live rabbits and chickens. I assumed these were for the pot but a young girl appeared to be buying one as a pet so perhaps not.

Le Puy-en-Velay market
Le Puy-en-Velay market

You can guess which stall was my daughter’s favourite though……

The best thing about Le Puy market!
The best thing about Le Puy market!

Cathédrale Notre Dame du Puy

After the market we tackled our first steps of the day and walked up to the Roman Catholic cathedral. Le Puy is the starting point for the pilgrimage to Santiago de Compestela and pilgrims gather at the cathedral each morning to be blessed.

Steps to the Cathédrale Notre Dame du Puy
Steps to the Cathédrale Notre Dame du Puy

The striped facade makes for an impressive entrance but I found the inside pretty austere.

Cathedral of Notre-Dame, Le Puy-en-Velay
Cathedral of Notre-Dame, Le Puy-en-Velay

Statue of Notre-Dame de France

From the cathedral it’s a 10 minute walk, up more steps, to the statue of Notre-Dame de France. This pink statue has an impressive history; it was built from melted down cannons seized during the Siege of Sevastapol.

Statue Notre-Dame de France, Le Puy-en-Velay
Statue Notre-Dame de France, Le Puy-en-Velay

You can walk up a spiral staircase inside the statue and peek out through the top. The final part is up a narrow ladder. Be prepared to queue as only one person can go up and down at a time.

View from Statue Notre-Dame de France
View from Statue Notre-Dame de France

Even if you don’t fancy climbing inside the statue there are impressive views from the surrounding grounds. You can look down over the terracotta rooftops and across to the cathedral.

Steps down from statue of Notre-Dame, Le Puy
Steps down from statue of Notre-Dame, Le Puy

Rocher et chapelle Saint-Michel D’Aiguilhe

Our final visit of the day was to the chapel of St Michel. This was built over 1000 years ago when men thought it was possible to get closer to gods by putting places of worship on top of rocks. For modern day visitors this means yet more steps, 268 to be exact, which wind up around the rock.

Chapelle Saint-Michel, Le Puy-en-Velay
Chapelle Saint-Michel, Le Puy-en-Velay

My son decided he’d had enough walking at this point, fortunately there are several benches to sit and rest on as you climb the rock.

Rest stop in Le Puy
Rest stop in Le Puy

It’s definitely worth making the effort as there are yet more great views and an atmospheric chapel to explore on the summit. Inside we found stone arches, ceilings adorned with frescoes and stained glass windows.

Inside the Chapelle Saint-Michel D'Aiguilhe
Inside the Chapelle Saint-Michel D’Aiguilhe

If you have walking difficulties or young children you’ll find it hard to negotiate all the steps. An alternative option is to make use of Le Petit Train, a tourist train which takes you on a 45 minute circuit of the major sights.

As we headed back into town, past the tourist lace shops, we came across a wedding party in the Place du Clauzel. There were some impressive ‘Just Married’ decorations on the back of the wedding car.

Just married
Just married

We had a great day out in Le Puy and definitely recommend a visit, just remember to wear a good pair of walking shoes!

More info:

  • It’s relatively easy to find your way around the main attractions but it’s worth picking up a free map from the tourist office. Alternatively you can download one here.
  • We drove to Le Puy from our campsite. We found a parking spot pretty easily in the Place du Breuil; pay at the ticket machine when you leave.
  • The Cathédrale Notre Dame du Puy is open daily and free to visitors.
  • You can see the statue of Notre-Dame de France from many places across town but if you wish to visit there’s a charge of 4 euros for adults, 2 euros for children. It’s open from mid-February to mid-November.
  • Adult entrance to Rocher Saint-Michel D’Aiguilhe costs 3.50 euros, children aged between 6-18 years pay 2 euros. It’s open from February-mid November; check the website for opening hours as these vary according to season.

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.

image

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.

The great fire of London walk

Both of my kids enjoyed learning about the great fire of London at school. We visited some of the places below when the kids were younger but as they were both eager to revisit the Monument I devised a themed ‘Great fire of London’ day.

Museum of London

We started with a visit to the Museum of London to see their Plague and Fire gallery. The best place to begin is by watching the 6 minute video which gives an overview of the fire and a day by day account from some of the eye witnesses. You might also like to pick up the War, Plague and Fire family activity sheet from reception (or download in advance from their website).

Afterwards take a walk around the gallery and see some of the objects relating to the fire. Our favourites were smoke blackened tiles unearthed in a cellar in Pudding Lane back in the 1970s. You can also try on a fire fighters leather helmet and compare it with our modern day equivalent.

St Paul’s cathedral

St Paul's cathedral
St Paul’s cathedral

After leaving the museum we walked to the Monument past St Paul’s cathedral. The previous cathedral, known as Old St Paul’s, was one of the casualties of the fire. Many people had put their belongings into the crypt, believing they’d be safe from the fire but sadly it was not to be and the cathedral burnt. The current cathedral was designed by Sir Christopher Wren and rebuilt after the fire once attempts to restore Old St Paul’s were stopped.

We’ve visited St Paul’s Cathedral before so didn’t go in this time but if you’ve never been it’s worth it for the climb up to the Golden Gallery. It’s not cheap but you can get slightly reduced prices by buying tickets online.

Monument to the Great Fire of London

Monument to the Great Fire of London
Monument to the Great Fire of London

On to the Monument, which was designed by Wren and his colleague Dr Hooke, as a memorial to the Great Fire. This stone column is 61.5 metres high which is the exact distance from its location to the start of the fire.  It’s fun to climb the 311 steps to the top and take in the view over London although you may need to queue for a while to get in.

View from the Monument
View from the Monument

The view had changed significantly since I last climbed the Monument as the new Walkie Talkie skyscraper now dominates the area! You can always pretend it’s not there and look out to the Thames and Tower Bridge instead. There is wire fencing all around the viewing area which can make it a little tricky to take photographs (hence no photo of the Walkie Talkie) but at least you’re safe.

Once you’ve squeezed back down the stairs you can pick up  a free certificate to show you’ve climbed the Monument.

Certificates from the Monument
Certificates from the Monument

Pudding Lane

Just down the road from the Monument is Pudding Lane, the source of the great fire. The only reminder nowadays is a small plaque on one of the buildings. The road itself is nothing special, I think a new bakery would be a great addition!

Pudding Lane
Pudding Lane

All Hallows by the Tower

All Hallows by the Tower is the oldest church in London. It’s location next to the Tower of London means that it received plenty of beheaded bodies from the executions.

It’s also the church where Samuel Pepys climbed the tower to view the progress of the great fire. The church survived thanks to surrounding buildings being demolished to create firebreaks. It didn’t fare so well in the second world war though and in the crypt you can see lead which melted from the roof during the bombings. In the under croft you can also find an excavated Roman pavement, dating from the second century.

We finished our tour with a quick trip to Borough Market. This has a tenuous link of existing at the same time as the great fire, but we only really visited for its yummy food!

More info:

  • The Museum of London is free although a donation is appreciated. The museum is open daily from 10am-6pm. It’s a short walk from either Barbican or St Paul’s underground stations.
  • The Monument costs £4 for adults, £2 for children. The stairs are the only way to get up and the staircase is pretty narrow, as is the viewing platform. It can be a bit of a squeeze when trying to pass people. I wouldn’t personally recommend it if you have pre-school children but we did see a few being carried up.
  • All Hallows by the Tower is free to enter. It’s open 7 days a week except during services. The nearest tube station is Tower Hill.