Family walks around Faversham, Kent

The image above sums up our introduction to Faversham in North Kent. We arrived on a miserable day and after dropping off our luggage headed to the local nature reserve to stretch our legs. Contrary to what you may think I rather like the bleakness of the mudflats against the grey sky.

Faversham may not be an obvious tourist destination but it has an interesting history. In particular it was home to the first gunpowder plant in the country, an industry that featured in most of our walks.

Oare Marshes Nature Reserve

Oare Marshes Nature Reserve comprises an area of saltmarsh, mudflats and reed beds. We followed part of the nature trail from the visitor centre along to the hide where we stopped to look for birds. The track forms part of a 2km route around the reserve and is perfect for a short evening walk.

Looking over to Sheppey island
Looking over to Sheppey island

There are good views over to the Isle of Sheppey which looks tantalisingly close across the Swale Estuary. At one time a ferry operated to the island from the causeway but nowadays it’s a 45 minute detour by road.

Oare Marshes nature reserve
Oare Marshes nature reserve

The tide was out so we watched the birds wading through the mudflats. I’m no expert, but my other half informs me they included curlew, avocet, redshank and shoveler ducks.

Oare marshes
Oare marshes

It’s hard to believe but this peaceful place was once home to a gunpowder factory. In 1916 a huge explosion occurred at the nearby Guncotton factory in Uplees which killed more than 100 men and boys. Despite being heard as far away as Norwich the explosion was kept secret for several weeks, presumably due to the ongoing war. Much of the factory that once stood on this marsh was destroyed although there are still remnants of concrete bases in the grassland.

Gunpowder Works Country Park

This is a small reserve that’s full of interest. As its name indicates it is sited on the remains of a former gunpowder factory. The park contains relics from it’s industrial past, including parts of the mills and the leats (canals created to enable movement of gunpowder around the site).

Gunpowder Mills country park
Gunpowder Mills country park

Gunpowder was produced here until the 1930s when the site was closed and left to nature for more than 70 years. Nowadays the woodland is managed and new structures such as a boardwalk across the marshland have been put in place.

Gunpowder Works Country Park
Gunpowder Works Country Park

There’s a small visitor centre based in the old cooperage, where the gunpowder barrels were once made. When it’s open you can find out more about the history of the site and pick up a walking trail leaflet. Walks around the park are colour coded; we chose the longest yellow circuit which took about an hour.

Looking up, Gunpowder Mills country park
Looking up, Gunpowder Mills country park

If you’re in the area on a weekend afternoon you can also visit Chart Gunpowder Mills. Situated in the middle of a housing estate you’ll find Faversham’s first gunpowder factory. It’s a fully working mill but given its location I assume they don’t manufacture the gunpowder!

Faversham town and creek

The town of Faversham is great for random wandering. We walked through the town, nosing at the various houses, along to Standard Quay. Whilst the area where the barges are moored is interesting, most of Standard Quay appears to be given over to  antique shops.We’re not ‘antique tourists’ so carried on through to Iron Wharf. This is a working boatyard where you’ll find boats in all stages of repair.

Faversham creek boatyard
Faversham creek boatyard

We weren’t sure if we were supposed to be walking through as it’s a bit haphazard with rusting boats and containers stacked on top of each other. There’s a definite boating community feel to the area and lots of different vessels to look at. At the end of the boatyard there’s a small bridge that takes you out on to the marshes, and signs for the Saxon Shore Way which indicated we’d been on the right route. We turned back soon after, but if we’d felt energetic we could have walked all the way to Whitstable. Next time maybe!

More info:

  • Oare Marshes Nature Reserve is open all year round. There’s no entrance charge.
  • The Gunpowder Works Country Park is open from 9am-5pm daily. The visitor centre (where the only toilets are) is open from 10.30am-4.30pm at weekends between April-November.
  • Chart Gunpowder Mills are open 2-5pm weekend afternoons from April to October. It’s a bit tricky to find so keep a close eye out for the signs whilst driving round the estate.
  • We didn’t follow a specific trail in Faversham but if you want to know what you’re actually looking at this walk looks perfect. It’s a flat 4 mile route through the town and along Faversham Creek.

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.

Down and up the Caen Hill Locks, Wiltshire.

On a recent sunny weekend we decided to visit the Caen Hill locks on the Kennet and Avon canal. The set of locks are an incredible feat of engineering. First opened in 1810 they were built to carry the canal 237 feet up Caen Hill. There are 29 locks in total, over 2 miles, although the picture you see most often is of the 16 locks stretching up the hill.  The canal became derelict after the Second World War but was restored and officially reopened in 1990. Many of the locks are dedicated to those who helped with the restoration.

We parked at the wharf in Devizes and followed the signs to the locks along the towpath.  The first half mile or so is through parts of the town but it soon heads into open countryside. The canal was pretty quiet with just a few owners out spring cleaning their boats.

locks1

Caen Hill cafe

The Caen Hill cafe marks the top of the hill and is a perfectly located refreshment stop. The cafe is in the old lock keepers cottage, and the tables in the front garden have views down the canal. We enjoyed a cup of coffee, whilst the kids took advantage of the sunny weather and chose ice creams. Suitably refreshed we continued downhill.  Whilst the cafe had been busy, the canal itself was rather lacking in boats.  Boats can take up to 6 hours to travel through the set of locks, but it was slightly disappointing to only spot one boat negotiating them during our visit.

I live in hope that my children are now of the right age that I don’t have to worry about them falling off the edge of the canal into the lock. Whilst my daughter has inherited my sensible gene, my son is of a much more random nature – act first, think later (maybe). So it’s a little hard to relax when he’s running and messing around by the edge off the canal. Suffice to say it was just me being paranoid and the walk passed without incident.

locks3
View back up Caen Hill locks

Shortly after reaching the bottom of the hill we crossed over one of the locks and headed back up the hill which runs alongside (but away from the locks). This takes you closer to the large pools which provide the water to operate the locks.  These were home to a variety of ducks, and some nesting swans which signs warn against getting too close to.

It was at this point that we realised our mistake of stopping at the cafe on the way down rather than up. The ice cream incentive  to finish a walk doesn’t work this way round! Fortunately the hill isn’t really that big or long and we were soon back on the flat and heading into Devizes.

Kids view:

The walk wasn’t very exciting, but the ice cream was really yummy!

General info:

  • The towpath is accessible, although pushing a wheelchair or buggy back up the hill might take some effort!
  • The car parking charges were reasonable.  We extended our stay with a wander around Devizes, the parking cost for our visit was around £4. There’s another car park at the Caen Hill cafe if you don’t want to walk from the centre of Devizes.
  • Further details can be found on the Caen Hill Locks web page.