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.
I’m a sucker for snowdrops and love spotting these first signs of spring. In previous years we’ve visited the snowdrops at Welford Park and Swyncombe Church. This year I was delighted to find a venue even closer to home, Kingston Bagpuize House, whose grounds are open for snowdrop Sundays during February.
We arrived early on the first open weekend. So early that we discovered we were the first visitors of the year! Encompassing manicured lawns, shrub borders and woodland we soon realised the grounds of Kingston Bagpuize House have plenty to see. But we were on a snowdrop mission.
Clutching our location map we wound our way through the gardens, initially wandering through the woodland garden and shrub border in our quest for snowdrops. Fortunately the owner provides a spotters guide to help locate and identify the sixteen different snowdrop species. I thought sixteen was impressive until I read later that there are 2000 cultivars.
The wooded area around Church Copse, beside the parish church, has been cleared over recent years to allow the snowdrops to naturalise. As we visited early not all of the snowdrops were flowering. Later in the season I’m sure the woodland floor will be carpeted in white.
From Church Copse we walked through the open parkland to reach Court Close Copse, another area of managed woodland. Everwhere I looked I could see the beginnings of new growth, from tree buds to the tiny leaves of stinging nettles just starting to emerge. And of course snowdrops. Spring is definitely on the way.
Now an admission. I enjoyed the snowdrops but surprisingly they weren’t my favourite feature. Nor were the sunny yellow aconites also peeping through the ground. In fact, my standout plant was a scented shrub, wintersweet. Just one sniff of its perfume and my son and I were immediately transported to warmer climes. If only my garden had space for one of these, I’d be out there all winter!
Returning back through the parkland we watched several red kites screeching overhead. In much of the country these birds are still a rarity but they’re a very common sight in Oxfordshire. I can even see two of them swooping over our garden as I write this blog.
Back in 2011 Kingston Bagpuize House and gardens were the backdrop for the film, Tortoise in Love. First shown at the Cannes Film Festival, it made headlines as the 800 village residents were all involved in the financing and making of the film. The WI provided catering, villagers starred as extras and the local hairdresser provided make up. The reviews aren’t the greatest but I am tempted to watch it solely because of this back story.
Although the house wasn’t open on the day of our visit the cafe was. Located down a set of steps we rounded off our visit with drinks and sweet treats. Snowdrop walk complete, I’m looking forward to the daffodils next!
If you’re interested in other snowdrop events pop over to my post to find out the best places to see snowdrops in Oxfordshire and Berkshire.
- The gardens at Kingston Bagpuize house are open from 2-5pm on Sundays during February. They’re also open during the summer, along with the house, on selected dates; check the website for up-to-date information.
Last weekend thousands of buildings opened their doors for free as part of the yearly Heritage Open Days event. We had an afternoon spare so after browsing the events website for inspiration I decided on a walk around Buscot Park gardens. The grounds around the house cover over 100 acres and encompass formal gardens, woodland and lakes
If you’ve read much of this blog you’ll probably realise I prefer ruined castles to stately homes. And mountains and wild beaches rather than manicured gardens. But I was pleasantly surprised by Buscot Park. It was quirky enough to hold my attention; or perhaps I’m just reaching the age of garden appreciation!
Four Seasons Walled Garden
We started with a walk around the Four Seasons walled garden, where each section represents a different season. Transformed from a redundant kitchen garden by Lord Faringdon it mixes flowers and shrubs with ornamental vegetables. We had probably missed it at its summery best but roses and dahlias provided plenty of late season colour.
There are a variety of sculptures and features around the grounds which add interest. The kids enjoyed posing alongside replica terracotta warriors. In the Swinging Garden we had a family swing on one of four large swings that surround a sycamore seed sculpture. Elsewhere there are urns and obelisks, a sundial and pyramid to discover.
The over-riding impression of the grounds was, for me, symmetry. From woodland avenues to clipped hedges I loved the straight lines, replication and long vistas.
Our walk took us up to the open parkland directly in front of Buscot House. The house was built between 1779 and 1783, and is today managed by Lord Faringdon on behalf of the National Trust. From the outside it looks rather austere and imposing. Inside there are many notable works of art, added to over the years by Lord Faringdon.
I decided it best not to visit. The kids were busy rolling down slopes and giving each other piggybacks. It wasn’t long before one of them took things too far and I could just imagine some delicate piece of art being damaged by a mistimed push!
By avoiding the house I belatedly realised I’d missed seeing the frescoes near the outside swimming pool. Painted in the 1930s, these depict friends of the family, including the intriguing Lord Berners who we learnt about when we visited nearby Faringdon Folly.
Peto Water Garden
My favourite part of the estate was the Italianete style water garden designed by the landscape architect Harold Peto. Water flows through a canal, under bridges, past statues and hedges to reach the Big Lake.
I loved this statue covered in moss. It blends in so well with its surroundings and is much more atmospheric than a sterile stone sculpture.
Wandering around the Big Lake we discovered a rolling bridge linked to a small island. Part of the bridge was missing, presumably locked away to stop inquisitive people getting on to the island. Although almost everyone we saw pulled the chain and tried to discover how it worked.
From the lake we headed back up to the house via Monkey Puzzle Avenue. I had been looking forward to walking between huge rows of monkey puzzle trees. Little did I know they were only a metre or so high! I’ve since read they only grow around 35 cm per year.
We rounded off our afternoon with a visit to the cafe. I’d read one Trip Advisor review bemoaning the lack of National Trust cafe. Personally I much preferred the small cafe. It wasn’t the slickest of operations but our cakes were yummy and half the cost of the usual NT fare. The perfect way to round off the afternoon!
- Buscot Park is open periodically from April to September, check the website calendar for full details. Opening time is usually from 2pm. Entrance is free for National Trust members. Otherwise the adult price is £10 to visit the house and garden or £7 to visit just the garden. Children aged 5-15 years old are half-price.
Have you ever watched a court case? I’ve wanted to visit the Old Bailey ever since I realised the general public were allowed to observe trials. When a recent child free day came along I jumped at the opportunity to see the Old Bailey and other law related places in the city.
The Old Bailey (Central Criminal Court)
The Old Bailey deals with major criminal cases, mainly from the Greater London area. There are eighteen courts covering serious cases such as murder, terrorism and drug related crimes.
Despite being on the right side of the law I was a little nervous walking towards the public gallery entrance. I rang the doorbell, hidden down Warwick Passage, and waited to be called up for the security check. After passing through security I asked one of the guards about the best trial to visit.
The courts were relatively quiet on the day of my visit and the only option was a terrorism trial. The case related to four defendants, accused of supporting the funding of terrorism. The case had already been ongoing for several days; I entered the public gallery as the prosecutor was giving his closing speech to the jury.
The court room was smaller than I expected but familiar from TV court dramas. Visitors sit in a small balcony area, opposite the jurors. To my right sat the four defendants, to the left the judge. In the middle sat the Court Clerk and barristers. Their wigs intrigued me. Made from horsehair, evidently the older and grubbier they look the better!
It was really interesting to listen in and watch the workings of the court. I’m not going to write about the trial itself as it impacts real lives. Suffice to say the evidence was compelling and the subsequent outcome wasn’t a surprise.
Once in the courtroom there is a 30 minute minimum stay. However time passed quickly and I stayed for a couple of hours. Leaving as quietly as possible I crept out of the galleries and headed to my next destination, Temple Church.
The Temple Church
It’s hard to imagine that the serene Temple Church is just a couple of minutes walk from Fleet Street. Founded in the 12th Century by the Knights Templar it’s modelled on the Holy Sepulchre in Jerusalem. In 1608 the Temple was granted to two societies of lawyers, the Inner and Middle Temple, who look after it to this day.
The most distinguishing feature of the church is its round nave. Certainly impressive but I enjoyed the interior stonework just as much. On the floor of the nave lies the effigies of nine knights, whilst all around are grotesque gargoyles.
The nave contains a lot of display boards detailing the history which I really should have read. But I was more interested in climbing the winding staircase to the clerestory for views back across the church.
Inns of Court
The area around Temple Church is surrounded by two of the Inns of Court. These are the professional associations for barristers; every barrister needs to belong to one of them. There are four Inns in London; Gray’s Inn, Lincoln’s Inn, Middle Temple and Inner Temple; I explored the lanes and gardens of the latter two.
Wandering down the lanes it was hard to believe I was in central London. Lined with barristers’ chambers and intercepted by gardens and courtyards it feels more like a film set. I half expected Sherlock Holmes to walk down the street. There are maps dotted around the area but it’s more fun just to stroll around.
The buildings themselves are off limits to casual wanderers. Fortunately I didn’t need to be a barrister to enjoy the gardens. The borders were in full bloom, perfectly demonstrating the beauty of high summer. If I ignored the background sound of car horns, I could almost imagine I was enjoying a town garden.
As I reached the front of one garden, bordering Victoria Embankment, I realised the last time I’d been near here was whilst running the London Marathon. I’d struggled the last few miles and this section didn’t hold particularly good memories! It was good to reminisce in less painful times.
Royal Courts of Justice
Close by is one of the other major legal buildings, the Royal Courts of Justice, and my last stop of the day. The Law Courts house the High Court and Court of Appeal and preside over civil, not criminal, trials. It’s a huge Victorian Gothic style building on the Strand, just opposite Temple Inn.
Although there was an airport style scanner to pass through once in you appear to be free to wander. I picked up a self-guided tour leaflet from the entrance desk; it’s also possible to book guided tours. I walked around the Main Hall, past a small costume display to the Painted Room and then along past court rooms.
In a similar way to the Old Bailey it’s possible to watch trials. Although personally I think criminal trials sound much more interesting! I’d definitely like to visit another Old Bailey trial at some point, and I highly recommend it to anyone interested in the workings of our legal system.
- The Old Bailey is for those aged 14+ years only; you may be asked for photo identification. Court generally sits on weekdays from 10am-1pm and from 2-4.30pm but do check before you visit. Security is strict. Cameras, mobile phones, large bags and refreshments are not permitted. You can leave mobiles at the nearby Capable Travel Agent at a cost of £1 per device. Details of the cases are posted on the boards outside.
- The Temple Church website details its varied opening times. It’s generally open on weekdays from 10am-4pm. Entry charge is £5 for adults, free for under 16s.
- Middle and Inner Temple Gardens are open to the public from 12-3pm on weekdays during the summer. There is no entrance charge.
- The Royal Courts of Justice is open on weekdays from 9am-4.30pm. Entry is free.
We always visit London during February half term. I’ve learnt the hard way that the big attractions attract big crowds so I try to choose a less popular, more quirky option. Our theme this year was roof gardens!
The Roof Gardens, 99 Kensington High Street
*This roof garden closed in 2018*
I’ve walked along Kensington High Street many times but until last week I had no idea that on the roof of the building above we’d find trees, a stream and four flamingos! Yes, you’ve read that correctly. The 1.5 acre roof gardens took 2 years to build and opened to the public in 1938; visitors paid a shilling to enter with the monies raised going to charity. Nowadays Sir Richard Branson leases the roof gardens along with a private clubhouse and restaurant on the 7th floor.
We signed in at reception and took the lift up to the 6th floor before stepping out into the surreal experience of a Spanish garden. Modelled on the Alhambra in Granada it certainly brightened up the grey and dreary London sky.
There’s also a Tudor garden but our favourite was the woodland garden with its free roaming flamingos. This contains over one hundred trees, including six that have been there since the garden opened. Plenty of spring bulbs were pushing through the soil and a few were already in flower.
The middle of February is never going to show a garden in its full splendour but we thought it was great. We’ll definitely pop back to the Roof Gardens in summer to see it in its prime.
Sky Garden, 20 Fenchurch Street (Walkie Talkie)
I’ve always wanted to visit the Shard but why pay £25 when you can experience similar views and a sky garden for free at 20 Fenchurch Street? Admittedly the Walkie Talkie, so called because of its bulbous shape, is less aesthetically pleasing. It’s also significantly lower than the Shard but it still provides a great vantage point. And perhaps the Shard is too high to get decent photos?
I’d booked tickets to the Sky Garden a few days previously. We turned up an hour early but the staff were accommodating and let us in before our timed slot. My passport ID was checked and bags security scanned before we stepped into the lift. I haven’t been in many skyscrapers so I was surprised how quickly we zoomed up to the 35th floor.
The views are stunning. There are no information boards but most buildings are instantly recognisable. We enjoyed looking across to the Gherkin and at a helicopter flying at the same height as us. Aside from the views, I’d describe the sky garden as corporate. It’s the kind of planting you get in posh offices. Nice enough, but soulless. Maybe give it a year to mature and it’ll look better. If you visit for the views you’ll love it! I wouldn’t visit just for the garden.
Upon leaving we discovered both lifts were temporarily out of order and awaiting repair. The attendant announced he’d take 8 people down in the maintenance lift. At this point I started to worry we’d be trundling down the outside of the building in a cage. After several minutes of my mind running through doom-laden scenarios (Towering Inferno) the lift door suddenly opened and we were able to leave. A few seconds later and we were safely on the ground floor. Phew!
SOAS Japanese Roof Garden
Expectations for our final garden were high, but it’s unfair to compare this garden with either of the previous ones. It’s much smaller and has minimal planting. Instead, the SOAS Japanese Roof garden is all about the stone with sandstone, slate and granite chippings providing texture and interest.
There’s seating for those who wish to enjoy the peace and meditate but we didn’t linger. I’m sure it’s lovely in May when the wisteria flowers but on a cold February day we were happy to return indoors. An interesting garden to visit if you’re already in the area but I wouldn’t make a special trip just to see it.
- The roof gardens closed in 2018 following Virgin’s decision to close the bar and restaurant.
- The Sky Garden is open from 10am-6pm weekdays, 11am-9pm weekends. Visits are free although you’ll need to book a timed slot in advance. Remember to bring ID with you.
- The SOAS roof garden is on top of the Brunei Gallery and is open whenever the gallery is (generally 10.30am-5pm Tuesday to Saturday).
We recently spent a week at Henry’s campsite on the Lizard Peninsula in southern Cornwall walking the coastal path, exploring beaches and eating cream teas. It’s a fantastic place for a family holiday so, in no particular order, here’s our list of great things to do in the area:
1. Lizard lighthouse
Lizard lighthouse, located at Lizard Point, is the only lighthouse you can climb in Cornwall. The lighthouse is automatically controlled nowadays but still provides an important service to vessels navigating the offshore waters.
We visited the Heritage Centre which is located in the old engine room. This details the role of Trinity House (who run the lighthouse service) as well as providing hands-on exhibits for children and stories about some of the wrecks offshore. The kids enjoyed blowing a fog horn, I’m glad I don’t live nearby!
Whilst the Heritage Centre provides a useful introduction the 40 minute guided tour of the lighthouse is the main event. This was excellent as the guide was informative and knowledgeable. As we climbed up through the lighthouse he talked about how it worked, showed us the bulbs and fail-safe mechanisms and entertained us with interesting snippets. He managed to engage the kids with tales of giant jellyfish and of a great white shark heading to the UK.
The last part of the tour takes you up a steep ladder into the top of the lighthouse. It’s very warm up there, rather like being in a greenhouse on a summer day, so we didn’t stay long. A fantastic experience though and highly recommended.
2. Flower spotting
If you visit in spring or summer you’ll find the hedgerows, verges and coastal path ablaze with flowers. We were treated to displays of sea thrift, campion and foxgloves during our stay.
Living inland my knowledge of coastal flowers is limited so I bought a copy of “Wild flowers of the Lizard” which was useful. It suggests places to spot some of the flowers and is great for identifying the more unusual species.
The kids love geocaching, and they’ll happily head out on a walk if they think there’s the chance of finding treasure. There are quite a few geocaches and trails in the Lizard area, some of which are in popular locations so watch out for muggles (non-geocachers).
The only slight issue was lack of internet access which made it tricky to download the cache details. If you’re reliant on a smartphone geocaching app it’s worth making a note of the location and hint in advance of your visit.
4. Kynance Cove
According to Trip Advisor this is the number 1 place to visit on the Lizard Peninsula. It’s not difficult to see why as the location is stunning. We walked along the coastal path from the Lizard although you can also park in the nearby NT car park. There’s a good value cafe and toilets although no lifeguard cover.
However it is incredibly popular. On the day of our visit you could hardly see the beach due to the number of people on it. It’s best to go at low tide but if you’re looking for solitude you’ll need to visit out of season or perhaps early evening.
5. Walk the coastal path
This was the highlight of our holiday, and we tried to fit a walk in every day. All of the tourist shops have booklets with suggested routes, alternatively pick up an OS map (No 103) and plan your own. There are plenty of inland footpaths which allow you to construct circular walks or you could just do an out and back linear stretch of the coastal path.
Our favourites were the walk from Lizard to Kynance Cove and from Mullion village to Mullion and Poldhu coves.
6. Marconi Centre
This unassuming building on a hill next to Poldhu Cove marks the transmission of the first transatlantic radio signal. Manned by volunteer radio enthusiasts, visitors can watch a short video which tells the story of this historic event and its preceding history.
I learnt that the signal consisted of three dots (the letter S) as it was too difficult to transmit long dashes. My daughter had fun playing with the Morse code machines and received a certificate for tapping her name out. If you’re interested in radio communication this is a great place to visit but even if you’re not it’s worth half an hour of your time.
7. Visit a garden
Giant rhubarb, bamboo groves and native wild flowers nestle alongside each other in the sub-tropical surroundings of Trebah Garden.
The garden spills down a valley to a private beach where you’ll find a small cafe. Along the way you’ll find tree ferns, huge lilies and winding paths to explore.
Trebah has a couple of playgrounds, children’s trails and is dog friendly so an ideal family destination. The kids also enjoyed watching the koi carp in the fish pond.
There are other gardens in the area which are open to the public. Glendurgan Garden is nearby and a good alternative if you’re already a member of the National Trust.
8. Go rock pooling at Kennack Sands
Kennack Sands is near the small village of Kuggar. The beach suffered in the winter storms and much of the sand has been lost. However, visit at low tide and you’ll be rewarded with great rock pooling.
We joined an organised rock pooling session which I’d recommend as the leader identified our finds and told us interesting facts about them. I can now spot a velvet swimming crab by its red eyes and know not to pick them up (or to do so very carefully)! There are a couple of cafés, toilets and a car park next to the beach. If you fancy taking to the waves check out the surf school which operates from the Beach Hut.
9. Eat a pasty
When in Cornwall it’s obligatory to try a pasty. I’m not really a fan (and being vegetarian doesn’t help either) but the rest of the family enjoyed their takeaway lunch from Ann’s Pasties in Lizard village.
I’d hazard a guess that every beach cafe has a pasty offering, just make sure you pick up one of the locally made options.
10. Pebble hunting at Loe Bar
The shingle beach at Loe Bar separates Cornwall’s largest lake (Loe Pool) and the sea. The surrounding area is owned by the NT and if you’re feeling energetic you can take the 6 mile walk around the lake.
Alternatively just relax on the beach. It’s not safe to go in the water here due to dangerous undercurrents and a steeply shelving shoreline but it’s great for pebble hunting away from the edge. We enjoyed the simple pleasure of sorting through lots of smooth round pebbles of varying colours and sizes.
11. Coverack harbour and beach
We visited Coverack on a damp cloudy day and even in less than ideal weather conditions I could see it was a place I’d like to return to. We didn’t spend long here but I’d imagine the beach is great in the sun.
The village has a picturesque harbour area complete with brightly coloured fishing boats so its good for photo buffs too.
12. Eat an ice cream at Roskilly’s
Roskilly’s is an organic farm which makes and sells its own ice cream. You’ll see it in a lot of cafés around the peninsula and you can also visit the ice cream parlour at the farm. It’s a popular outing with young families who can enjoy the farmland walks, pat animals and watch cows being milked.
13. Visit Lizard Point
Just about everyone who visits the Lizard Peninsula makes the trek down to Lizard Point, the most southerly point in the UK.
Take your binoculars as there are usually seals bobbing around in the waters off the Point. Whilst you’re there pop into the NT wildlife watchpoint to find out more about the choughs which inhabit the Lizard cliffs. When you’re finished head over to the cafe for a cream tea; the sun-trap garden has beautiful views.
14. Goonhilly Downs
The satellite dishes of Goonhilly Earth Station can be spotted from afar. It’s used as a centre for controlling satellites and although the visitor centre is currently closed their website indicates it will re-open after refurbishment. In the meantime why not enjoy a walk across the heathland and combine space age technology with Bronze Age archaeology.
15. Mullion Cove
One of my favourite coves. The piers suffered damage in the winter storms so are subject to ongoing repair work. Even so the area surrounding the harbour is beautiful and worth a visit. We walked down to the cove from Mullion village and made a short detour to the small Chocolate Factory en route.
I hope you’ve enjoyed this round up of activities. We didn’t get a chance to experience everything so if you’d like to recommend other places on the Lizard Peninsula please pop them into the comments below.
- Opening times for the Lizard Lighthouse vary so check the website before you make a special journey. Adult entrance to the lighthouse and heritage centre costs £7, children are £4 although saver tickets are also available. The lighthouse is not suitable for young children (height restrictions apply) or those with mobility difficulties. If you’re wearing flip flops you’ll also need to change into black plimsolls, evidently a Health and Safety requirement.
- The Marconi Centre has limited opening hours. Admission is free but please leave a donation towards upkeep.
- The ice cream parlour at Roskilly’s Farm is open daily from 10am-6pm. Milking takes place at 5am and 4.30pm, visitors are welcome at both sessions!
- The Lizard and Penrose NT blog is a great resource if you’re interested in conservation events and news across the peninsula. Read updates on the Lizard choughs and check out when the next rockpool ramble is.
- Trebah Garden is open every day of the year from 10am. The entrance fee changes according to season, ranging from £4.50 to £9 for standard adult tickets and £1.50 to £3 for standard child tickets.