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.
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Inkpen Wild Walk, Berkshire

I’m pretty sure the best antidote to a dismal grey day is a walk in the countryside. Last weekend we ignored the clouds and drizzle and headed to Inkpen in Berkshire for a walk that combined a macabre gibbet and spring crocuses!

We followed a shortened version of the Inkpen Wild Walk, a walk designed by the local wildlife trust that links two of their reserves. Our 6 mile route started at Inkpen Common, the longer alternative being a 10 mile walk which joins up to Kintbury railway station.

Inkpen Common nature reserve
Inkpen Common nature reserve

At Inkpen Common villagers once had the rights to graze livestock and burn the gorse in their ovens. Nowadays the gorse sits alongside other heathland plants and the reserve is a haven for reptiles. However the likelihood of spotting lizards and snakes sunbathing on a cold March day was pretty minimal.

Along the Wayfarer's Walk
Along the Wayfarer’s Walk

We puffed our way up Walbury Hill, the highest hill in Berkshire and the starting point for two long distance walks, the Test Way and the Wayfarer’s Walk. A wide chalk track led us along the Hampshire Downs. The fields either side were full of sheep although we looked in vain for any lambs.

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Combe Gibbet

Combe Gibbet, at the top of Gallows Down, is a notorious local attraction. The original gibbet was erected in 1676 to hang adulterers George Broomham and Dorothy Newman. They had murdered Broomham’s wife and son after their illicit affair had been discovered. Today’s gibbet is actually a replica but you can still imagine the crowds gathering to watch the hanging.

From the gibbet we continued along Wayfarer’s Walk, taking in the amazing views and snacking on biscuits, before heading down steeply from Inkpen Hill. There was plenty of evidence of spring arriving; buds on twigs, plants peeking through the soil and stinging nettles starting to grow again. We found a muddy puddle with some great animal and bird tracks which we attempted to identify.

Inkpen Crocus Field Nature Reserve
Inkpen Crocus Field Nature Reserve

Inkpen Crocus Field Nature Reserve

The second reserve of the day was Inkpen Crocus Field Nature Reserve. Accessed via Pottery Lane (Inkpen was once home to several potteries) we first had to walk past a number of large and imposing houses; property envy was rife!

The meadow has the largest wild crocus population in Britain. Although we visited at peak viewing time (March) I was a little disappointed with the number of crocuses. I was expecting a field of purple but the flowers were rather more sparse. Perhaps my expectations were too high or maybe it hasn’t been a great year for the crocus. Crocuses aside, the meadows must be idyllic on a sunny summer day.

Pooh sticks in the wood
Pooh sticks in the wood

The drizzle started so the last mile was walked pretty quickly. There was still time to throw a few twigs into a woodland stream, and admire an amazing treehouse in a back garden.

Despite some initial moans from the kids (we’ve got to walk 6 miles?) we had a great afternoon walking and I’m glad we made the effort to get out rather than lazing around at home.

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A walking break in Elterwater, Lake District

I was lucky enough to get some ‘me’ time a few weeks back. I’m not the kind of person who enjoys spa breaks; instead I indulged in my pre-kids hobby and booked a short walking holiday based in Elterwater in the Lake District.

Summit of Harrison Stickle, Elterwater
Summit of Harrison Stickle, Elterwater

This was the fourth time I’ve walked with Country Adventures so when I finally arrived at Elterwater Hostel (thanks M6) I already knew the leader, Joe, and some of the others in the group, many of whom are regulars.

That evening Joe outlined the walking routes for the next day. Our walks were based in and around the Langdale Valley, and as there were several leaders we had a choice of a challenging walk or a more moderate option. As I was walking without kids, I was happy to go for the slightly harder route up Harrison Stickle. I cannot remember the exact distance but I think it was around 9 miles long with 3000 ft of ascent in total.

Day 1 – Harrison Stickle

I’d been checking the weather forecast religiously the previous week and was prepared for rain. Not just any rain, but torrential rain and wind; this being the Lake District after all. Instead we were greeted with a cold sunny day and not a cloud in the sky. A perfect day for walking.

Views of and from Harrison Stickle
Views of and from Harrison Stickle

Our day started with a short minibus ride to Dungeon Ghyll car park. Packs on, we headed off in the opposite direction from most walkers who all seemed to be walking straight up to Stickle Tarn. Instead our route took us on a gradual ascent up between Harrison Stickle and Pike of Stickle.

Higher up we started to encounter snow. It was still in the light and fluffy stage. Lovely for walking in except when it gets down the back of your boots and melts inside them! Despite this I was still walking with just a fleece jacket; hard to believe it was the middle of winter.

Walking up Harrison Stickle
Walking up Harrison Stickle

We seemed to reach the summit pretty quickly. The views from the top of Harrison Stickle were stupendous. Looking back at these photos I am reminded how perfect the day was. Our guide helpfully named the peaks around us although I promptly forgot them all. Instead I was happy to just stand and take in the panorama.

Snow views from Harrison Stickle
Snow views from Harrison Stickle

I could have sat on the summit cairn all day but lunch called. We first had to negotiate a rather icy downhill stretch which I didn’t particularly like. It was a relief to get out of the shade and back into the sun. We skirted around Stickle Tarn; my camera once again working overtime.

View of and from Harrison Stickle
View of and from Harrison Stickle

As we walked away from Harrison Stickle it was hard not to turn round and check the view every couple of minutes (top photo in collage above). The peak and it’s shady descent are imprinted on my mind for ever more.

The route back to Elterwater
The route back to Elterwater

Despite having reached the summit the bulk of the mileage was still ahead of us. We walked back to Elterwater across the fells, passing by Blea Cragg and Lang How. The best views were behind but we were still treated to a glorious winter walk, arriving back into Elterwater just as the tea shop was shutting (boo!).

That evening we ate at the hostel and enjoyed one of Joe’s quizzes. Some of the questions had made a repeat appearance from previous years, time for some new ones Joe!

Day 2 – Lingmoor Fell

There was just one walk on the second day but it came with an option to shorten it. We were walking from the hostel, on the southern side of the Langdale valley, up and over Lingmoor Fell.

Views from Lingmoor Fell
Views from Lingmoor Fell

The views were never going to surpass those of the previous day but it was impressive to see the fog cloaking Windermere below us as we emerged from the woods. I wonder if those in Windermere knew we had such great weather?

Walking over Lingmoor Fell
Walking over Lingmoor Fell

Standing atop of Lingmoor Fell gave us another view of the Langdale Pikes. The weather wasn’t quite as agreeable as the previous day so we didn’t hang around on top for too long. Once again we were faced with an icy descent which involved some detours over bracken; at least this made for a soft landing when the inevitable happened!

View from Blea Tarn
View from Blea Tarn

Lots of walkers appeared as we hit the road and tourist hotspot of Blea Tarn. After stopping for the obligatory photo of the Langdale Pikes (above) we followed the well made track back past Little Langdale and into Elterwater. Once again arriving home as the tea shop shut.

No quizzes on day 2. Instead a game of film and TV Pictionary. Some of the drawings had us in stitches, I haven’t laughed so hard in ages.

Day 3

I’d have loved to walk on the last day. But with another M6 journey to contend with I decided it was best to head off early. First though a browse around the outdoor shops in Ambleside and, at last, a visit to an open tea shop!

More info

  • I travelled with Country Adventures, a company that offers walking and other activity holidays in the Lake District, Yorkshire, Peak District and Wales. I’ve always enjoyed my trips with them and I think the fact that many of their clients come again and again speaks for itself. Our group had sole use of Elterwater Hostel but Joe can arrange alternative accommodation if you prefer.
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A weekend on the Ridgeway

The Ridgeway, Britain’s oldest track, is our local long distance path. We often walk it at weekends and for a couple of years the other half and I entered the Ridgeway40 challenge, a 40 mile day walk. I still remember the agony of attempting to climb stairs the following day! This weekend it was the turn of my daughter who was taking part in an 18 mile Scouts winter hike. I quite fancied doing it too so walked alongside her group as a helper.

Ridgeway winter challenge
Ridgeway winter challenge

Around 800-900 beavers, cubs and scouts from across Oxfordshire took part. The beavers and cubs had a shorter 9 mile option but I was impressed to see that a lot of them carried on for the full 18 miles. The walk itself was quite straightforward. It would be hard to get lost (particularly given how many people were taking part) and the track is gently undulating rather than hilly. However the weather was freezing and the icy ground turned to mud as the day progressed; not a pleasant combination.

All finished
All finished!

There were checkpoints every couple of miles. A bacon butty stand at checkpoint 3 was particularly popular, as were the tuck stalls at other stops. Sugar appeared to fuel most of the walkers; I did a double take at one girl we passed who was carrying a HUGE bag of pick and mix! It was too cold to hang around much. We had a couple of short breaks for lunch but as soon as we stopped walking our hands and feet froze. The upshot of this is that we made good time. As we neared the finish line the youngsters, and more reluctantly the adults, broke into a jog for the last 200 metres. I’m rather proud that my daughter’s all-girl team were the first home from their Scout group in a time of 6 hours and 55 minutes.

View from Swyncombe
View from Swyncombe

You’d have thought we’d seen enough of the Ridgeway on Saturday but we were back on it again on Sunday. We were visiting the 1000 year old St Botolph church at Swyncombe, near Wallingford, to see their snowdrop displays and partake in afternoon tea. We’ve visited the snowdrops here a couple of times, although one memorable year we were thwarted by the steep icy hill on the approach. Our car, and others, got stuck whilst trying to reach the church. So near yet so far!

Cake and tea in Swyncombe graveyard
Cake and tea in Swyncombe graveyard

The snowdrops and aconites are planted in drifts around the graves and provide a beautiful display, although I think we were spoilt by the huge swathes we saw at Welford Park last year. As you can see from the above picture, our refreshments were eaten in the graveyard; I wonder what its inhabitants would think of us?

Signs of spring at Swyncombe
Signs of spring at Swyncombe

After the snowdrops and cake we were ready for a short stroll. We walk the same route each year; turning left out of the church on to the Ridgeway and following a circular route which takes us up a short steep wooded section before circling back round behind Swyncombe Manor. Heading back to the church we passed through a field of pregnant ewes. No lambs yet but only another few weeks and it will be spring. About time! More info:

  • The snowdrop weekends at Swyncombe Church are held in February each year. Check the church website for exact dates and before you travel; they may be postponed in inclement weather.

 

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