Summer days are made for picnics. Whether you’re looking for somewhere to take the kids, a peaceful river bank or a hill with a view there are plenty of great picnic spots in Oxfordshire. Scroll down to find my favourites!
Bath’s Georgian architecture, honey coloured stone buildings and famous Roman remains are a magnet for tourists. But hordes of summer visitors are not my cup of tea. Fortunately the National Trust have created an escape route, the Bath Skyline Walk.
Bath Skyline Walk
This six mile circular route skirts around the city, following trails through woods and across commons. We picked up a printed map from the tourist office; it’s also available on the National Trust website. The directions were straightforward and easy to follow once we eventually managed to find the start at Bathwick Fields.
As we crossed the meadow of Bathwick Fields the city views opened up to our right. We stopped to try and work out the various buildings but as I’m not particularly familiar with the city we didn’t get far. As our walk continued I realised this was probably the best view of the Bath skyline so do savour it whilst you can.
We continued downhill, passing Smallcombe Nuttery. I cannot imagine there are many other cities with community nutteries! Visitors are welcome to wander around and view the cobnuts, walnuts, almond and sweet chestnut trees.
A steep uphill stretch followed. We were grateful for some tree cover as we sheltered from a short sharp shower. That hadn’t featured in the weather forecast. Not that I minded taking a quick rest on the way up.
If you’ve got time there are a couple of additional places to visit en route. We saw signs pointing to the NT Prior Park Landscape Gardens and I was very tempted by the cafe. But not by the steep walk back uphill to rejoin the route afterwards. Later on there’s also the option to detour to the American Museum.
Whilst the Bath skyline walk is perfect for older children, those with younger kids may find some parts too hilly. However the National Trust have produced a separate Family Discovery Trail leaflet for a flat two mile stretch of the walk around Claverton Down. There are mini fairy doors in the trees of Long Wood, geocaches to find and an excellent woodland play area. I even joined the kids on a couple of the apparatus. It’s the perfect place to stop for a picnic. If I’d remembered to bring one.
Bath Cats and Dogs Home
The sound of barking signalled our approach to Bath Cats and Dogs Home. I knew from Trip Advisor that it had a small pet store which also sold drinks and snacks so we stopped for a short break.
After drinks my cat-mad son asked if we could pop in and see the cattery. The receptionist advised they do not usually allow casual visits but kindly allowed us in. Of course my son wanted to adopt every cat he saw. We emerged, thankfully cat-less, and continued our walk across Bushey Norwood to Bathampton.
Bathampton Wood was a highlight for me. Despite the lack of recent rain parts were quite slippy and muddy making me wish I’d worn trainers. However the luxuriant greens of ferns and mosses and an entire tree trunk covered in small mushrooms made up for the slippiness underfoot.
As we walked through Bathampton Wood we crossed several small tracks heading off in various directions. Although the instructions stated we should maintain our height the path seemed to get narrower and less distinct. I worried that we’d gone the wrong way so it was a relief to pop out of the wood in the correct place. Rather ironically some lost walkers immediately approached me and asked for help.
We circled around Bath Golf Club, heading towards two radio transmitters, before a steep route downhill through more woodland. We emerged near a bench which was perfectly positioned to once again take in the Bath skyline view.
From the bench it’s well worth the five minute detour to visit Sham castle. This folly was commissioned by Ralph Allen in 1762 to improve the view from his townhouse. I don’t know where he lived but there’s a great view of Bath from the castle itself. Although there is nothing else to the castle apart from what you can see in the photo below!
From Sham Castle we walked downhill back into Bath. We found ourselves on a road of mansions so passed the time oohing and aahing at the houses, wondering how much they cost. Rightmove quickly provided the answer, and some impressive interior photos; what did we do before the Internet?!
Back in the centre of Bath we ate a belated lunch and reminisced over the walk. If you’re visiting the city I highly recommend it, but do it for its countryside appeal rather than city views. If you require a flatter route you could always walk part of the Kennet and Avon canal path; we followed it all the way to Bradford-on-Avon but it’s easy to just walk a short stretch.
- The National Trust website details the Bath skyline walk.
The call of a cream tea was proving hard to resist last weekend. Of course, it’s easier to justify the eating of fat and sugar if you’ve had a workout beforehand. I’m hoping our gentle stroll up Faringdon Folly was sufficient exercise for our subsequent indulgence.
Sitting atop Folly (Faringdon) Hill the tower has views across five counties. The hill itself had an interesting history way before the folly was built. It has housed several forts and castles, including one for local man King Alfred the Great. Cromwell’s men were stationed on the hill during the Civil War and bombarded Faringdon which was on the front line. Unsurprisingly, skeletons were found on site when the tower was being built; if only hills could talk!
The folly, possibly the last one to be built in England, was commissioned by Lord Berners to tease his neighbours. In addition to being wealthy and eccentric he was an accomplished writer, composer and painter. Back in the 1920s and 1930s he was famous for his flamboyant parties at nearby Faringdon House. With house guests such as Aldous Huxley, Salvador Dali, HG Wells and the Mitford sisters can you even begin to imagine them?
Some of his wild ideas would certainly be frowned upon today. These include colouring his doves the different colours of the rainbow and having a horse as a tea companion!
The folly has limited opening hours so always check before making a special visit. We’d timed it right and were able to climb the 154 wooden steps which take you 100ft up the tower. There’s a small souvenir shop and information boards just before you reach the top; the last part is up a small ladder which might be a bit tricky for small children.
Once up top you can see for miles in all directions. The plaques help you identify places; we could easily spot Didcot Power station which is around 20 miles away.
The surrounding woodland mostly consists of Scots Pine although deciduous trees have been planted recently to increase biodiversity. It’s always open, even when the folly is closed. Keep an eye out for sculptures in amongst the trees, including 20 blackbirds (although I thought they were crows, whoops). This area is great for a picnic and makes it into my top 15 picnic sites in Oxfordshire post.
Early summer is an excellent time to visit the folly as the nearby fields are covered in bright red poppies. We visited on a gloomy day so they did a good job brightening up the photos.
Britchcombe Farm cream tea
Once we’d finished at the folly we made our first pilgrimage of the year to the nearby Teapot Cafe at Britchcombe Farm. This also happens to be our local campsite; the one we head to when we fancy a quick night away from home. It’s next to the Ridgeway and White Horse Hill at Uffington so gets plenty of visits from walkers and campers.
We’ve been coming here for years. Even if we’re not camping it feels like we’re on holiday so it’s a good reason to indulge in a cream tea. It’s a simple cafe with a straightforward menu, housed in a small barn in the farm garden. There are a few indoor tables but we always sit outside.
It’s changed a little since we were here last, with new signs, longer opening hours and a slightly larger selection of cakes. However we ate what we always do; warm scones, homemade jam and cream. Yum yum, exactly what weekends were made for!
- Faringdon Folly is open 11am-5pm on the first and third Sunday between April and October. Adult entrance is £2, children 11-16 are 50p and children under 11 are free.
- The Teapot Tearoom at Britchcombe Farm is open 2-6pm on Saturday, Sunday and Bank Holidays during the summer months. A small cream tea is £4, a large one with two scones is £6.
What better thing is there to do on a sunny Bank Holiday Monday than go for a walk? Actually my kids could probably think of lots of things they’d rather do, like playing Minecraft all day, if only I allowed them….
Instead, I’d put some effort into finding a decent walk, with a cafe stop halfway round, a good view and no rain. We hadn’t visited the Cotswolds for quite a while, so a walk to Broadway Tower fitted the bill.
Our walk started from the picture perfect Cotswold village of Broadway, with its honey coloured stone houses and cottage gardens. The village roads are lined with antique and country clothing shops, and whilst it’s undeniably pretty I couldn’t help feeling it was suited to older and more affluent visitors than ourselves.
From the village centre we took a path past a playground, which looked new and was very popular. Most of the play items were for younger children (<8 years) so we didn’t go in.
After crossing a couple of fields we started walking uphill through a wooded lane. This was most welcome as the afternoon was turning out warm, so we appreciated the shade. Although it had been dry in the days prior to our visit the track was still quite muddy in places, so I’d imagine it would be a pretty wet walk in the winter.
From the wood we walked up through a field of sheep, past a house that had superb views over the countryside. At a junction with another track we came across some children selling small purple plums for £1 a bag. I don’t normally like plums but as they were raising money for charity I bought a bag and they were delicious!
Broadway Tower was almost upon us, but we were desperate for a drink so stopped at the nearby Morris & Brown cafe first. The cafe, as expected on a Bank Holiday, was heaving and people were queuing out the door. We eventually got our drinks and sat outside enjoying the views. Suitably refreshed, we queued again for the toilets before finally making our way to the tower itself.
Broadway Tower is a folly and was built in 1799. Follies often have an interesting history and this one is no different. According to Wikipedia (if you believe it) this one was built for Lady Coventry as she had wondered whether she’d be able to see a beacon on this hill from her home 22 miles away. (She could).
The tower is the second highest point in the Cotswolds, after Cleeve Hill. From the top you have excellent views across the surrounding counties, and down to the red deer in the enclosure near the tower.
There are plaques around the tower which show you what’s in each direction. You can supposedly see as far as Birmingham and various parts of Wales but I’m not convinced!
The path back from the tower follows the Cotswold Way and is downhill all the way to Broadway. We passed a Cotswold stone wall being repaired, lovely to see that this traditional craft is still being maintained.
Youngest son had great fun running down the hill whilst we followed at a more leisurely pace. There were thistles next to the path which were attracting loads of tortoiseshell and peacock butterflies, probably the most I’ve seen all summer.
The path takes you back into Broadway village, where there are plenty of tea rooms if you’re in need of a refreshment stop.
- We followed the Cotswold Way “Broadway and the Tower” circular walk. The walk is not suitable for pushchairs or wheelchairs. It’s a 4 mile walk and I’d suggest most suitable for children age 5+, who are used to walking.
- Broadway tower is open daily from 10.30 am to 5pm.
- There is also a nuclear bunker next to the tower, which is open on selected dates. We’ve subsequently visited so you might like to read about our descent into the Cold War bunker.