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!
What would your perfect Mother’s Day look like? Mine would start with breakfast in bed followed by a walk and picnic. Later on the children would complete the housework with not a moan or groan to be heard. Likelihood of this happening in our family? Zilch. But at least the walk and picnic happened!
Along the Ridgeway, Watlington
Our walk began in the small market town of Watlington, at the foot of the Chiltern Hills. It’s home to some interesting looking independent shops (OK, it has a chocolate shop) but the shops were closed on Sunday and the town deserted.
Watlington is also home to the actor Jeremy Irons. I saw him here a few years back; out riding a horse and accompanied by a couple of dogs. He greeted us cheerfully but I didn’t recognise him; fortunately my fellow walkers did.
There was no sign of Jeremy on this walk. Surprisingly, for such a lovely spring day, we saw very few people.
From Watlington we joined the Ridgeway National Trail, our local long distance path. We walked for a mile or so between fields and the edge of woodland, listening to skylarks and spotting the first butterflies of the year. A little further along we left the Ridgeway and walked through fields of lambs. Although inquisitive and playful they ran to their mums as soon as I attempted to photograph them.
Aston Rowant National Nature Reserve
I’d checked the map for possible picnic sites before leaving home. We were following a walking trail leaflet but I decided a diversion was needed for a good lunch stop. The viewpoint on top of Bald Hill, which forms part of Aston Rowant Nature Reserve, was slightly off route and, of course, uphill but proved the perfect location. Although my son wasn’t enamoured with the climb and announced he’d eat at the bottom instead.
Despite my son’s protestations we set out our picnic on the summit. Thanks to my daughter we enjoyed a special Mother’s Day picnic that was a more elaborate affair than our usual sandwiches, with quiche, dips, homemade sweet potato crisps and fruit kebabs.
Rather incredibly, the M40 splits Aston Rowant Nature Reserve in half. If you’ve ever driven from Oxford to London along the motorway you’ll have passed through it at Stokenchurch Gap, usually signalled by red kites flying high above the traffic.
Red kites were reintroduced here in 1989 and are a huge success story. They’re now widespread across Oxfordshire and the surrounding counties with more than 1000 breeding pairs recorded. Ironically we didn’t see a single kite as we ate our picnic.
Instead we sat on our peaceful hilltop and watched the mesmerising stream of motorway traffic, wondering where everyone was driving to. How happy we were not to be in a car!
After lunch we walked downhill to rejoin the trail. I’m glad we visited the reserve; great views are an important part of any walk for me and Bald Hill was well worth the climb. Dare I say the walk would have been a tad boring without it?
We crossed the road into Lewknor and walked through the village, resisting temptation to stop for a drink at the Leathern Bottle. Many of the houses in Lewknor and the small hamlet of neighbouring South Weston are constructed from brick and flint which is abundant in the Chiltern Hills. I love this style of building; a pity we live in a 1960s house.
Back on farm tracks we passed near to Model Farm. Its imposing chimney harks back to the days of steam power but the farm also has a more controversial recent history. In 1999 it was one of the UK trial sites for genetically modified crops. That’s until protestors converged on the farm and destroyed the GM oilseed rape crop!
The fields around here were also used as the filming location for the 2014 war epic Fury, starring Brad Pitt. I wonder if he fought in the same area as the GM crop protestors?
St Mary’s Church, Pyrton
There were more signs of spring in Pyrton where the churchyard is famous for its spring daffodil display.
The weekend before our visit was Daffodil Sunday when, in addition to visiting the daffodils, there’s afternoon tea on offer in the village hall; something to remember for next year.
As we walked around the churchyard my son spotted a headstone for a young sailor lost in the 1914 sinking of HMS Aboukir. Just as sad was his brother’s gravestone next to it; another casualty of World War I. A sobering reminder of the importance of European unity.
Back in Watlington we looked in vain for an open cafe. We were out of luck. Thankfully our drive home took us past a waterside cafe where we stopped for a break. Along, it seemed, with half the population of Oxfordshire!
- We followed the Watlington to Lewknor and Pyrton walk with a side diversion into Aston Rowant Reserve. The main walk is flat and six miles long. The diversion up and down Bald Hill adds about one mile.
- If you’re looking for other picnic sites please pop over to my 15 best picnic spots in Oxfordshire post.
This is part two of our Isle of Eigg adventure covering our family walks on the island. Pop over and read part one for more information about Eigg, our accommodation and where to eat.
The most famous walk on Eigg is to the summit of An Sgurr, the dramatic lump of rock you can see in the photo below. I wasn’t sure how suitable it was for the kids to climb so we chose a couple of less strenuous options.
Laig Bay and Singing Sands beach
Our first walk was to the north of the island to spend a day exploring the fabulous beaches of Eigg.
We set out from our accommodation, Glebe Barn Hostel, along the main road towards Cleadale. This took us past the village primary school and a small heritage centre which we stopped to have a look in. Next door my daughter nosed around the island swap shop; I had visions of her finding something large and bulky which we’d have to carry so I quickly retrieved her.
A better find was a sign outside a house which advertised home made ice cream. It was early in the day but it’s never too early for ice cream if you’re a kid! We sat outside, drinking coffee and enjoying the morning sunshine, whilst the kids ate some rather yummy banana ice cream.
Shortly after leaving our ice cream stop we veered away from the road and followed a track marked by dots up through the trees. The path continues across heather over some pretty boggy ground. It eventually led us to the gate shown above. Little did we know that after passing through the gap in the cliffs we would be treated to the stunning landscape below.
Looking across we could see the cliffs of Beinn Bhuidhe and below them the crofts which have opened up since the residents bought the island in 1997. Beside us was a kettle hole lochan formed by a retreating glacier, whilst in front was the Bay of Laig.
We walked down past a farmhouse onto Laig beach. As usual in Scotland, we had the entire place to ourselves. A stream flowed down across the beach which proved slightly more difficult to cross with dry feet than you would imagine.
I was determined to eat an egg sandwich on Eigg so after finding the perfect picnic spot (the tree trunk in the top photo) we stopped for lunch. Sitting on Eigg, and looking across to the peaks of the Rum Cuillins I could think of nowhere else I’d rather be. I therefore declare this the best picnic spot in the UK but if you have any other contenders do let me know.
At low tide it is possible to walk along the beach from Laig to Singing Sands but the tide was too far in on our visit. Instead we detoured inland and crossed a field of cows (which my daughter hates). We passed a couple of bicycles in the field, temporarily left unlocked whilst the hirers visited Singing Sands. The kids both remarked how you’d never be able to do this back home without them going walkabout.
Singing Sands beach
The beach at Singing Sands is so named because of the quartz sand grains which make a squeaky sound if you walk across them when dry. We managed to make some sounds by scuffing our boots along the sand but the term singing is rather fanciful!
We loved the welly stile below, a creative use of old boots. There were also a couple of sculptures on the beach made from items washed ashore. I’ve no idea who made them but they’re a fun and thought provoking addition.
Dragging ourselves away from the beach, and the views, we took the direct route back to the hostel along the main road. A couple of cars passed us which had seen better days. I read afterwards that cars on Eigg are MOT exempt which explains a lot!
We’d underestimated how warm the day was going to be and hadn’t taken enough water to drink. We were relieved to find that the house selling ice cream was still open for business. Even better, the lady had just baked a rhubarb pie. It would have been rude not to sample it and it certainly helped power the final part of our walk home.
Cathedral and Massacre caves
Our second walk only took a couple of hours, although at low tide you could walk further. Starting out from the pier at Galmisdale this time we followed purple paint spots for about a mile until we reached the caves.
After our views of Rum the previous day this time we were facing the small island of Muck. We watched a couple of sea kayakers who were making the crossing over to Muck.
The path led down from the cliff onto the beach to our first cave of the day, Cathedral Cave. The cave was once used for Roman Catholic services hence its name. It has an impressively large entrance and can be explored at low tide as long as you remember to bring a torch.
The Massacre Cave looks less impressive from the front. It has however an incredibly sad history.
Back in 1577, as part of a long running feud with the Macleods of Skye everyone on the island hid in the cave to avoid detection. However footsteps were spotted in the snow leading to the cave and the Macleods lit a fire in the entrance. All 395 people who were hiding perished.
In the past visitors have been able to walk into the cave but a large lump of rock fell from the roof recently narrowly missing a couple. There are now signs at the entrance, and elsewhere on the island, warning not to enter. It was disappointing not to go in but I didn’t fancy a chunk of rock on my head!
To extend the walk there are several other caves and a couple of waterfalls further on along the beach. However we were keen to visit the island produce and craft market back in Galmisdale so we simply retraced our route.
- The gift shop in Galmisdale sells a pack of postcards with details of the popular walks on Eigg. There is also a map near the pier which outlines the approximate routes of the walks. Alternatively, further walks are available on the Walk Highlands website which we found an invaluable resource.