Tuesday, December 2, 2014

Two rivers, woodlands and little lanes - 5 mile circular walk

Trip summary:

Cost: Free
Time: Approximately 3 hours (if walking with kids)
Distance: 5 mile walk in Bristol
Start/end point: Cafe Retreat on the Downs (or anywhere along the route that's convenient)
Equipment: Comfortable walking shoes
Bring: Snacks, water, packed lunch if appropriate, and a camera
Special notes: Some areas can be quite muddy so welly boots might be appropriate if it has been wet

Walking with kids
A beautifully lit fence makes for a great canvas...and
a great distraction near the end of a long walk.

Superficially, Morgan is not a great walker. What I mean by this is that the mere mention of the word "walk" causes an instinctual response of eye-rolling and whining. However, once out the door, he is happy as can be and has done some brilliant walks, just shy of 20 km - which is pretty good for those little sticks he calls legs. Sure, we get a few comments like "how much farther" and "I'm seriously going to die if I have to walk any more", but these moments pass and the next thing you know, Morgan is running ahead because he's seen something interesting. Kids are often far more capable than we give them credit for.

The trick, we have learned over the years, seems to be a careful balance of incentive and distraction. The tools you use to accomplish each of these are, of course, child dependent. Recently, I used a friend for distraction.

I admit that I was a bit concerned about bringing a friend along for a longer walk. I figured it could go either way. They would either find strength in each other or they would spur weakness - I clearly was hoping for the former.

Durdham Down to the River Avon

Morgan and James enjoy their ice creams. Behind them is the
gate that leads through from The Downs to Seawalls Road.
I first learned of this walk through a website called outdoorswest.org.uk as they list it as one of the Bristol ramblers' walks. For me it was a winner because it incorporated the river, some woodlands, it was circular and it could start and stop at a cafe!

The route takes you across the Downs, where you may or may not be able to avoid the ever-present ice cream van (I wasn't successful).
Follow the worn path from Rockleaze Road on the Downs past a line of trees. It takes you through a little gate that leads onto Seawalls Road. This first part of the route isn't particularly interesting as it's just on pavement along quiet streets. It's a pretty nice area of town though.
At this fork once leaving Bramble Lane, keep to the left track
that leads down to the direction of the Portway and River Avon.

At the end of Bramble Lane there is a path that leads you down in the direction of the River Avon on the left. Follow this and where it forks take the left path (see picture). This takes you across the railroad tracks and then follows along a tall fence. The path eventually leads out onto the busy Portway. There is luckily an island halfway though so you can cross carefully. The road was very quiet the day we went.

Along the River Avon

Once across the Portway you will see a marked path just a little further upriver that will lead you down to a trail that will carry you along the river. This trail follows the river right to Sea Mills railway station.

The path leading down from the Portway to
the River Avon.
There's a picnic table partway along this path, which makes a perfect place to stop for a snack. Otherwise, it's just a lovely amble along the river and eventually the noises of the Portway disappear.

At Sea Mills station, you can take a path that goes under the railway track rather than crossing it. Now you follow the River Trym.

Following the Trym

When you first get away from the River Avon, keeping the River Trym on your left, you will see a little footbridge. This is a favourite spot of Morgan's as he likes to drop sticks off the edge and watch them head down over the weirs. There's almost always ducks here also, so if your kids like to feed the ducks, bring along something nutritious for the little waddlers.

As you follow the River Trym, there's not really a path. You simply walk along the grass with the river on your left. Eventually, you enter a sweet little wooded
The view when you pop out onto Shirehampton Rd. Head for
where the green car is in the picture!
area. This was lovely in the autumn with all the colourful leaves. This path leads you out onto Shirehampton Road. Turn right and across the street you'll spot a pub. Head across the street toward the pub and just beyond it you will see a public footpath sign. Follow that back down into the woods.

This next section brings you very close along the River Trym and the boys enjoyed spending some time poking sticks into the River and generally mucking about.

There is a fork in the path and you should take the right branch. If you come to a footbridge that takes you across the River Trym, you've gone too far. Go back and take a left at the fork.
The trail that follows the River Trym.

A small set of stairs will take you out of the woods and onto Bell Barn Road. If you cross the road you will soon see another footpath leading to your right - follow it.

A series of lanes

The remainder of the loop is a series of back little lanes. Some of them very plain and some of them quite cute. Eventually you come onto Hollybush Lane, which runs past the Halls of Residence for the University of Bristol and takes you past the University of Bristol's Botanic Garden. There's a series of stairs along here, or you can take the path, which has got a good incline. This is where the two boys started to fade somewhat. Luckily at this point, the promise of a hot chocolate and piece of cake was close enough to get them through to the end. If you haven't been in to visit the Botanic Garden though and you still have some energy, it's definitely worth a visit. 

Hollybush Lane eventually takes you back out to The Downs and the Cafe is luckily in sight. It's amazing how much energy little ones can muster when some cake is involved!

The route:

Here is a Google Map for this route, but let me also direct you to a PDF file that the Ramblers have provided, complete with instructions.


Cafe Retreat on Durdham Down is a great place to return to as you can time your walk so that you come back to a meal or at least to a drink and cake. In our family, this is always good incentive for those tiring last steps. However, as the walk is a leisurely three hours, then you can certainly get away with taking along a few snacks.

We have also found that without fail there is an ice cream truck on The Downs, near the toilets on Circular Road.

Notes for the kids:
There was a four-armed, two headed monster on the trail!

I'm always trying to find inventive ways to make walks more interesting for Morgan. The first time we did this walk, I gave him the map and he was in charge of navigation. This was quite effective and he kept making imaginary phone calls to his toy bunny, known as Bun Bun, to confirm directions. For some reason this worked for him. 

Morgan and James re-inacting a great sword fight along
the Avon.
This time, with a friend, talk managed to get him through most of the walk. Morgan and James also decided to pose a series of monster pictures along the walk. They would scoot ahead of me to find the next great place to pose a picture and then they would gather any props required, such as sticks and leaves, and when I caught up to them, I would snap a photo. 

Trip highlights:

Morgan and James particularly liked the parts of the path along the river. This is certainly where their imaginations were most active, talking about pirates, reinacting sword fights and looking for wildlife along the banks of the river.

What we'd do better next time:

Apparently I should have brought more snacks!

Additional photos:

Nature has reclaimed this abandoned greenhouse off of
Bramble Lane.

Crossing the railway track before getting
to the Portway.

The perfect bridge for throwing sticks and leaves into the water.

Two silly boys.

Path leading out onto Bell Barn Rd.

The stairs/path on Hollybush Lane. This is
where I was told that these two boys may
very well die from walking too far - the guilt!

Sunday, November 23, 2014

A day poking about Bourton-on-the-Water and Stow-on-the-Wold

Trip summary:

Cost: <£10 (if you bring your own food and don't take in any of the tourist attractions that charge)
Time: A day trip
Distance: Just shy of 60 miles from Bristol to Bourton-on-the-Water
Start/end point:Car park at Bourton-on-the-Water on Rissington Road, beside Birdland Park and Gardens
Equipment:Comfortable walking shoes
Bring: Rucksack filled with snacks, a packed lunch if you want to save some money and a camera.
Special notes: This was a two-part day...poking about Bourton-on-the-Water in the morning and then after lunch a 5km walk in Stow-on-the-Wold.

Many bridges cross the Windrush River.

We first encountered this little gem when we bought our canoe earlier this spring from a place very nearby. The gentleman we bought it from recommended we drive back through Bourton-on-the-Water as it really was "worth a look". So we did.

It was a glorious sunny day in spring and the place was packed! Had we been able to find parking and had we not been driving around with a canoe on the roof, we probably would have stopped as it was absolutely buzzing with activity. There looked to be a market going on and the numerous bridges crossing the tranquil river that runs through town were the quaintest thing I had ever seen. Alas, Shelby and I just turned to each other and said "we have to come back here". Six months later, we did.

A path runs along the river from the parking lot straight
through town.
We parked on the street initially, but this was limited time parking, so we moved over to the parking lot on Rissington Road, beside Birdland Park and Gardens. It's a maximum of seven quid for the day if I recall, and there seemed to be plenty of spots, though I would imagine on a busy summer day they get filled quickly. 

We ambled along the path that runs along the Windrush River and Morgan was thrilled to spot trout in there, so we spent quite a lot of time watching the fish (as usual). The path takes you back and forth across a number of little bridges and the whole place is really quite adorable. We left the canal for a bit and had a look along some of the other streets. I should imagine this village has the highest number of tea rooms per capita than anywhere else in the UK...it was astonishing. A reflection, no doubt, of the number of tourists that come through during peak season.

The smells wafting out of the family run artisan bakery, Bakery on the Water,  lured us in for a hot drink and pastry. 
The HP Sauce ride-along toy at the Cotswold Motoring
Museum & Toy Collection.

Feeling refueled, we decided to take in the Cotswold Motoring Museum & Toy Collection. Prices were reasonable (£5 for and adult, £3.50 for children 4-16, £15.50 for a family (2 adults, 2 children)) and it housed two things Morgan loves...cars and toys. It was well worth the cost of entry as the collection was extensive. Every square inch was covered - look up and there were old bicycles and paraphernalia hanging from the ceiling, vintage items set up between the amazing collector cars, and Brum (who as a Canadian I was not familiar with at all, but is apparently a TV personality). The toy collection was also extensive and the oddest one by far was a ride-on HP Sauce bottle!
Morgan's lunch was a bit much. We adults all
pitched in and helped.

Somewhat overwhelmed by lunch options, we decided on The Riverside Cafe, as it had simple soup and sandwich options. Unfortunately, it didn't have a children's menu and so Morgan's portion was somewhat...ahem...large. Our experience at the Cafe wasn't great. Shelby's chair nearly broke, we waited quite a long time for food (though not as long as others around us), and they don't offer the salad bar in the off season. However, when the food came it was good. We definitely all left full.

Having looked through the shops, meandered up and down streets, stared at fish in the river, and looked at old cars, we decided it was time to move on from Bourton-on-the-Water. That slow shopping walk can be a killer and we needed to stretch our legs a little more. We headed for Stow-on-the-Wold.


The view along our walk.

We chose Stow-on-the-Wold as it contains one of the hikes in my book 100 Greatest Walks in Britain. It's hike 38 if you have it and it starts in the town and describes a 10.5 mile hike through farmland and woodland. As we didn't have time (or the legs) to do the whole thing, we did a 3.27 mile return hike leaving from Park Street. We found free parking on the street and went from there.

The walk takes you down through Maugersbury and past a very interesting place called Half Moon House, which is named for it's crescent-shaped design. You pick up the bridleway on the right just past Half Moon House, and it's paved and quiet but not particularly interesting. It eventually leads to a farm and then up a hill where we were rewarded with a beautiful view with a low autumn afternoon sun. We decided to turn around at that point.

It's clearly the other part of the 10.5 mile hike that has earned it a spot in the 100 Greatest Walks! 

The route:


There is no shortage of places to eat in Bourton-on-the-Water. We didn't eat in Stow-on-the-Wold, but there were definitely a few options that we spotted.

Notes for the kids:

Morgan loves to look in shops and he certainly doesn't expect something everywhere we go (though he did end up with a lovely car from the museum shop thanks to his Nan), so this kind of a trip works for him. This would, undoubtedly, be a nightmare for some people with their kids and I appreciate that. The river, however, can occupy an amazing amount of time with children. I would say the museum is definitely worth it and there's a number of other attractions if you don't mind spending the money, such as Bird World and the Model Village.

Trip highlights

For Morgan, the highlight was the trout in the river - no surprise there. I enjoyed walking through the village. Shelby loved the museum.

What we'd do better next time

We would choose a more interesting part of the hike to do as the walk in Stow-on-the-Wold didn't have any particularly endearing features.

Additional photos:

Morgan posing in front of an old car on the street in

The streets were busy on 1st November - I can't
imagine what this place is like in the height of summer.
The views along our walk.

The road into Maugersbury.

At Oxleaze Farm take the right fork, which feels a little
like you're running through their farm yard (which
you are).

Morgan with his Nan.

The turnaround point.

Thursday, June 5, 2014

Camping in the Cotswolds: Thistledown bliss

Trip summary:

Cost: £25-£50 (not including fuel and food)
Time: Recommend 2 nights minimum
Distance: About 30 miles north of Bristol
Start/end point: Thistledown farm, Tinkley Lane, Nympsfield, Stroud, GL10 3UH
Equipment: Camping gear (see detailed list below)
Bring: Activities for kids and food
Special notes: We have a two night minimum policy on camping where possible because it gives you one day where you are neither having to set up or pack up camp - essential for true relaxation. 

The joys of crèching

There are many examples across the animal kingdom where one or two adults within a social group will care for the young of others as well as their own. This is known as crèching. It's common among many birds, including the Canada goose, Brandt's cormorant and common eider, as well as social mammals such as lions and, of course, our own species.

Thistledown Farm camping
Our ring of tents in 3rd pasture at Thistledown.
We have a group of friends that gathers each year at Thistledown Farm, near Stroud, and it is an idyllic setting for letting children run free and allowing adults to tap into their inner child. Although group camping is definitely not a quiet family trip, there are lots of incredible benefits to having the numbers. First and foremost, there are lots of children and that generally means they are very good at entertaining themselves. If you have a few responsible older ones in there...even better.

With our tents set up in a circle, we created a safe space where the kids could play in the middle without disturbing other campers. The network of guylines from the tents formed a bit of a fence, tripping children as they attempted to escape the circle - an unintended but useful consequence as it at least slowed them down as they ran for the woods and ponds!

Piglets, rolling hills, a pond and wild garlic galore

Thistledown is a family managed, organically run 70-acre farm and the owners are really lovely and extremely conscientious about their environment and making sure all their campers have a good experience. This is our third consecutive year of coming to Thistledown and we have enjoyed watching its transformation over the years.

Wheelbarrows are available to carry gear down to the car-
free campsites. However, the biggest challenge is
getting the children to relinquish them afterwards.
Two of the three camping areas are car free, which has been a big selling point for us. There are wheelbarrows at the parking lot to help you get your gear down, but if you can't be bothered then the staff will take it down for you in one of their vehicles for £5. We have always gone the wheelbarrow route, partly because we're cheap but mostly because it's fun. Morgan gets in the wheelbarrow usually and it simply becomes part of the adventure - though I noticed it was a lot harder going back up the hill with him in the wheelbarrow than it was three years ago!

Night scene at Thistledown
With camp set up and the kids nestled into the tents, it's a
special time for the adults to gather around the fire, half a drink,
share some laughs, or just enjoy the peace and quiet.
We've always stayed in 3rd pasture near the giant wooden mushroom. It has become 'our spot'. We find its got perfect access to pretty much everything. The pigs (and piglets if you're there in spring) are just along the path as you walk from the parking lot, there's access to the showers and toilets and just down the hill is a little pond and creek, woodlands filled with bluebells and wild garlic, and a swing hanging from an old tree. Really, what more could you need?

Just half an hour out of the north end of Bristol, we go up Friday night and by 6pm the tents are set up, the children are fed and people are starting to contribute some rather gourmet looking dishes to the picnic table for the adult feast. The day's work is forgotten and it's time to sit back, have a drink and catch up with friends while the kids run around and roll down the gentle slopes. Perfection.

Activities for the kids when camping

We find that at Thistledown, there's lots to do without any additional forethought or equipment. Here's just a few that we've found:
  • There are some classic tree swings around the property for the kids to enjoy - always popular
  • The pigs and sheep are always good entertainment
  • The pond up near the reception area has newts and frogs and dragonflies and is definitely worth exploring
  • There is a Roman trough that empties into a woodland pond at the bottom of 3rd pasture and if the kids could just live here, they would. This is where crèching is ideal as the kids will spend hours in here and the adults can just take turns supervising.
    Outdoor fun for families.
    Morgan playing with his friends Tomas and Sofia in the
    trough that runs into the pond near 3rd pasture. 
  • There are all sorts of walks around the property and you can get a map when you check-in. We've been on many of these, including a longer walk that connected with the National Trust's Woodchester Park property, where there was ice-cream and tea and cakes as an excellent incentive for tired little legs.
  • Dusk and evening walks have allowed us to see badgers and bats on the property and this year we were privileged to be camped beside a tree with two owl fledglings - still downy.
With a little more forethought and equipment we have incorporated some of these activities for the kids over the years:
  • Geocaching/treasure hunt around the property
  • Frisbee, football, rounders, cricket
  • Parachute games
  • Kite flying
  • Wheelbarrow races
  • Boules
    Sofia among the wild garlic in the woodlands around
    Thistledown farm.
We've also gone into the Stroud Farmer's market on Saturday morning each year. It's a fabulous little market, usually with some live music and we always grab lunch when we're there. I can't recommend Streetmed falafel bar enough - I grabbed lunch there the first year and I haven't gone anywhere else for fear that anything else might be a disappointment.

Our camping list:

We keep a list, as it just makes it easier to check it off before we walk out the door. This is ours...modify as necessary:
  • tent
  • mallet
  • air mattress (& pump) or thermarests
  • sleeping bags and pillows
  • tarp
  • cook stove and gas
  • matches and newspaper
  • torch/headlamps
  • first aid kit
  • kitchen kit (we keep this box packed at all times) includes: pots, dishes, cutlery, washing up liquid, tea towels, sponge, glasses, mugs, bamboo sticks (for marshmallows or kebabs)
  • cooler
  • towels
  • toys: parachute, balls, frisbees, kites, boules
  • water bottles
  • camp chairs
  • ropes
  • spare car key
  • hats and sun cream


Generally aim for the windmill on Tinkley Lane...but for far better (and more specific) directions, visit Thistledown's very comprehensive website.

Trip highlights: 

The highlight for me this year was tracking down the sounds of the owl fledglings to a nearby tree and catching a glimpse of them with their round fuzzy bodies and beautiful big eyes. 

What we'd do better next time: 

Honestly, after our third year I think we have it down to a science. We love the place, we love the people and we hope it becomes a long standing tradition. I can't wait to see what changes have taken place at Thistledown next year and hopefully I'll have the opportunity to enjoy a pizza out of their new clay oven (something I've always wanted in my garden).

Additional photos:

Morgan walking the trail from the car park to 3rd pasture.
Morgan and Sofia exploring near the pond - looking for
aquatic invertebrates.

Shelby and Morgan spotting newts in the pond near reception.

Piglets near the car park for 3rd pasture. Too cute for words!

Tuesday, May 20, 2014

Horfield Common to Eastville loop

Trip summary:

Cost: Free
Time: ~ 1 hour at a leisurely pace
Distance: 6.2 miles or 10 km 
Start/end point: Horfield Common, near the Horfield Leisure Centre
Equipment: Bicycles
Bring: A snack and some water
Special notes: Some of the roads along this route, such as Muller Road, can be very busy. We have a Trail-Gator so that we can attach our six year old's bike to ours, preventing any chance that he could make an unpredictable move that takes him into the traffic. This is a very personal choice and it's obviously a decision that each family has to make on their own based on their own comfort levels.

We need to get out of here...

There are times when you simply need to get out for a bit...the pre- or post- dinner window, after school, or a Sunday afternoon when your garden isn't quite large enough to contain your children's energy anymore. For these occasions you need something quick and dirty that doesn't require a half day to prepare or need a lot of equipment or money.

We were in need of just such an outing a couple of Sunday's back when at lunch time we realised we had spent the whole morning making preparation for a dinner we were hosting with some friends. With lunch in our tummies and guests not due to arrive for a few hours, we needed to get out and enjoy some sunshine. We deferred to a loop that I used to run every now and then, but this time we would bike so we could get back in time for some last minute preparations.

Within five minutes we had a camera, snack, water bottle and we were on our way. It's a very short jaunt up to Horfield Common, which was the start and end of our 10 km loop.

Get the worst part over first

Shelby attaches Morgan's bike to his with the Trail-gator.
We generally like to get the busy traffic-heavy part of the route over with first...that way, assuming we survive, we can really enjoy the rest of the ride. On Muller Road we hook up Morgan's bike to one of ours using our Trail-Gator so that there's no chance he'll accidentally make an unpredictable swerve out into traffic. He's a competent and very cautious cyclist, but he's also six and has been known to swerve to avoid killing worms and slugs...so better to be safe than sorry. The Trail-Gator (or any equivalent obviously) gives us the flexibility of letting Morgan ride independently when he's able and attaching him when he's tired or we're on busy roads. I can't recommend it enough!

These points all correspond to points on the live map on Google Maps here.
The fantastic mural that makes a great landmark for where you
get onto the underpass to get to Eastville Park from Muller Rd.
1 - Getting off Muller Road - Just before the large round about at the M32 there is a fantastic mural on the left hand side of the road. This is where you need to hop off Muller Road and take the underpass to avoid the round about. When you're under the M32 it is the left tunnel you want to take as you look straight ahead. This will take you out into Eastville Park.

2 - Follow along the river and lake - Once you're in Eastville Park follow the paths that roughly follow the M32 that you will no doubt hear roaring above you. This will take you down to the River Frome at which point you follow the path to the right with the river on your left. This is a nice little amble along and you will soon come out to the fishing lake, where you can always stop to feed the numerous resident swans, geese and ducks.
The view just as the path along the River Frome
comes out to the fishing lake.

3 - Turn left at the end of the lake - When you get to the end of the lake, the path takes a slight uphill and goes in three directions. Turn left. This will again follow a lovely shaded path along the River Frome, past a small weir and eventually over a bridge. Across the bridge there is a bench for a quick snack and water break if needed, or for a longer break there is a picnic table situated right beside the river along with a grassy area that's perfect for throwing a disc or kicking a ball around should the kids need a break in activity.

4 - Through the gate and over the stone bridge -
After the picnic area there is a gate at the end of the path with a space for cyclists and walkers to get around. Turn right out of the gate and cross over the beautiful stone bridge. Then you need to look for a path to your left and although there are a couple of options, only one is really suitable for bicycles - and it is pictured to the right (it's the last one you'll see but the most substantial of the paths). This is part of the Frome Valley Walkway and it will lead you past the Wickham Hill Allotments on your right and out onto Broom Hill Road.
This is the entrance to the path that you need
to take left that will lead you past Whickham
Hill Allotments. It's part of the
Frome Valley Walkway.

5 - Broom Hill Road - If you are happy to cycle on the road at this point, simply turn left and follow the road until you come to a roundabout. If you aren't as comfortable cycling on the road then you can cross immediately to the pavement on the opposite side where there is a bicycle path. When you get to the roundabout, go straight across and take the path into Stoke Park Estate.

6 - Under the M32 and up the hill - Follow the path under the M32 and past the giant yellow house. It's a gradual uphill, which makes you feel as though you are either incredibly out of shape or that you have a flat tire! Then the hill gets a lot steeper. Morgan had a helping hand from his dad, who biked alongside him with a hand on his back, but he felt pretty happy to have done the hill (mostly) by himself.

7 - Follow the sign for UWE - When you get to the top of the hill there is a sign post for UWE Frenchay and Stoke Gifford. Follow it to the left up Jellicoe Ave. Stay on Jellicoe Avenue until you see a path to the right that takes you through to Long Down Avenue (see the photo at the bottom of the page). Once out on Long Down Avenue turn left and follow cycle path that runs beside the road.

Cycling through Stoke Park Estate.
8 - Nearly there! - When you reach a fork in the path, take the left route. You can also go right, but it's slightly longer though arguably has more off-road paths. The left path follows along the edge of Hermitage Wood and will eventually come out right at the Lockleaze Youth & Play Space.

9 - Mostly back on roads and a final steep hill - When you come out of the path, cross Romney Road and follow Hogarth Road, which is a gentle downhill. At the end of the road turn left and then right onto Bonnington Walk. This road can have traffic, but it's also nice and wide. Before you cross the bridge over the train tracks you will see a cycle path down to the left, which you can take. This will lead you on a traffic-free path to Constable Road where you turn right. From here it is straight back to Horfield Common, though the road changes names from Constable Rd to Lockleaze Rd to Wessex Ave...it's all the same road. It's a very steep incline at the end back up to the Common and Morgan nearly lost all hope as he looked ahead at what was to come. However, with another helping hand from his dad he made it!

The route:

Our 10 km circular route from Horfield Common, North Bristol.
To see this map live in Google Maps please click here.


It's such a short trip, you just need to bring a snack for the kids.

Notes for the kids:

While Shelby and I enjoy the ride, Morgan needs to stop and enjoy the spaces. As a result, our trip allowed time to stop and look for fish from the bridges and throw a few stones in the river....things that are important for the kids. Sometimes it's easy to forget that stuff as adults.

Trip highlights:

This isn't exactly a wildlife excursion, but there are still pretty places along the River Frome. The highlight for me, however, was seeing Morgan's face when he finished the top of the hill out of Stoke Park Estate! He had such a sense of accomplishment because even though Shelby helped by giving him a push alongside, he was still independent and that seemed to make all the difference. I'm not as confident a cyclist as Shelby and wouldn't likely have been able to do it, so I'm glad he was there.

What we'd do better next time:

Well, I probably wouldn't lock us out of the house next time! That was a pleasant surprise upon our return what with dinner guests coming. Alas, it was a good way to meet the new neighbours we had yet to introduce ourselves to...always a silver lining!

Additional photos:

Biking with children
Cycling along the River Frome.
Cycling in Bristol with kids
A small weir on the River Frome.
A little bridge over the river. After you cross this bridge
there is a lovely picnic spot beside the river to the right of the path.
A picnic table and a grassy area make for a perfect picnic
place beside the river.
The entrance into Stoke Park Estate off the

Shelby gives Morgan a helping hand up the steep winding path
out of Stoke Park Estate.

Morgan is thrilled to have got up the hill with
very little help!

The path that leads from Jellicoe Ave to Long
Down Ave.

Saturday, May 10, 2014

Paddling the Kennet and Avon Canal - Canal Visitor Centre to Avoncliff Return

Trip summary:

Cost: < £10 with own canoe; £24 if you need to rent the canoe
Canoeing with kids
Morgan paddling.
Time: 3 hours leisurely paddle, including breaks
Distance: 6.2 mile (10 km) paddle
Start/end point: Canal Visitor Centre, Monkton Combe
Equipment: Canoe, paddles, personal flotation device (PFD)
Bring: Snacks, water, camera, hats and sun cream, a dry bag if you have it to put valuables you don't want to risk getting wet, and a dip net or other activity for kids when they get bored of paddling
Special notes: You need a licence to paddle the Kennet and Avon Canal. We're  members of Canoe England and this membership includes the licence. If you aren't members you should contact the Kennet and Avon Canal Trust.


As we came out into a wider stretch of the canal there was a moment of peace. There were no cyclists going by and our six year old was being uncharacteristically quiet. The only sounds were of a nearby kingfisher, the bow of our canoe cutting through the water and the drips off the ends of our paddles as we brought them forward for another stroke. It was blissful.

A few weeks ago we bought a used Canadian canoe. Shelby and I each grew up paddling the rivers and lakes of Ontario,Canada and canoeing was an important part of our childhood. So, when the opportunity to buy one came up, we simply couldn't resist. Much like maple syrup, a canoe should be every Canadian's birth right! Other than paddling around Bristol floating harbour in the rain on the day we got it, this was to be our first adventure in our new toy.

With families, there always needs to be a plan B

Our plan was to leave from the Canal Visitor Centre at Monkton Combe, just five miles from Bath City Centre. From there we would paddle out of the Somerset Coal Canal and up the Kennet and Avon Canal towards Bradford-On-Avon. We would then pull the boat out of the canal at Avoncliff and put it into the Avon River, which we would then follow back to where the canal crosses over the river not far from the starting place.
Canoe on car
Shelby securing our new Canadian-style canoe
to the roof of our car.

By 8:30 am we were in the car with the canoe strapped to the roof rack, paddles, snacks and drinks packed, hats and sun cream on and camera at the ready. We would realise when we were half way between our home (Bristol) and Bath that we had forgotten to bring the PFDs!

We pulled into the Canal Visitor Centre parking lot 40 minutes later and decided that it was quiet enough that we could drive the car up from the parking lot to the canal (we didn't see the sign that says no vehicles past this point until after...really). We unloaded the canoe and gear and parked the car in the parking lot. It was a bank holiday Monday so parking was £4.50 for the day.
The Angelfish Restaurant at Monkton Combe
The Canal Visitor Centre where we put in our canoe.
There's boat hire and The Angelfish Restaurant - two great
reasons to visit.

If you don't have your own canoe, you can hire one from the Bath & Dundas Canal Co at the Visitor Centre. It would be £22.00 to hire a canoe for three hours. Check here for their latest prices.

We were on the water and paddling by 9:30am. The coal canal leading away from the visitor centre is very narrow. We had to pull to the side to let a couple of the narrow canal boats pass by us.

Then we were out onto the main canal and crossing over the Avon River on a bridge - the famous Dundas Aqueduct. It was officially the first time I've ever paddled across a bridge.
Paddling in the canals
Leaving the coal canal - things get a little

From there it was a gentle paddle against a slowly meandering current. I caught a glimpse of some red ears in a nearby field and sure enough it was a mother fox with her kits. We stopped and watched while the many cyclists using the path whizzed by. There are some advantages to being a bit slower.
It was just under 5 km to Avoncliff and our anticipated pull out. Right away it looked like it was going to be a challenge to pull the boat out as the water level was about four feet below the road level and there was a chain link fence as well. Shelby got out to assess the path down to the Avon River. When he got back he suggested I have a look.

As far as I could see, if and when we got the canoe out of the canal, we would have to carry the canoe past a lovely little teahouse, under a bridge over another fence and
then clamber down a rather high gradient slope and launch it into the river over some rocks. I just looked at Shelby and laughed. Our boat is plastic, so we weren't too worried about the rocks, but it also makes it a bit of a beast to haul.
Mother fox and kits along Kennet and Avon Canal
A mother fox watches out while her
kits play in the grass around her. 

Add to this the fact that we knew we would encounter a six foot weir on the river with no idea whether we could get around it...AND the fact that we had forgotten the PFDs, and the decision was clear. We would paddle back down the canal, retracing our steps instead of going down the river.

We stopped on the way back to check out the weir for the next trip and it looks like it shouldn't be too much trouble so long as the water isn't too high.

The route:

Canoe route from Canal Visitor Centre to Avoncliff Aqueduct
We put in at the Canal Visitor Centre, paddled to the Avoncliff Aqueduct and back.
The route was just under 10 km and was a leisurely three hours.


Places to eat near the Avoncliff Aqueduct.
No.10 Tea Gardens near the Avoncliff Aqueduct.
If you use the Avoncliff aqueduct as your halfway point as we did and you're looking to get back onto land for a meal there are a couple of places to eat. There's the Cross Guns Restaurant and No.10 Tea Gardens. We didn't stop at either so can't speak to the food or service. We opted for some snacks and a thermos of hot chocolate that we brought along instead.

We had, however, planned on having lunch at The Angelfish Restaurant back at the Canal Visitor Centre when we got back. We've been there a few times and have had great lunches, but time simply didn't allow it this trip.

Notes for the kids:

Keeping children busy in a canoe
Morgan rescuing insects with his dip net.
At one point Morgan started to get restless and so he got out and ran along the path running beside the canal while we paddled along. He skipped and sang and collected wild garlic and it was a good break for him to get out of the boat. It was also important (regardless of how frustrating it can be) to let him have a turn paddling so that canoeing isn't just about sitting in the boat. When he got bored of paddling we had a net to hand so he could dip it in the water. He spent a great deal of time rescuing insects out of the water with his net; this meant we frequently had to pull over to let the bugs out onto the grass, but it was worth it to see the pleasure he took in his task.

Trip highlights:

Birds along the Kennet and Avon Canal
This grey heron didn't move
as we approached it.
As well as enjoying the canal boats and quaint little houses along the route, we also got to see mallard ducks, moorhens, a grey heron at very close range, and a female fox with her kits frolicking in a field nearby. Morgan's highlight was watching for fish jumping and rising to the surface in the canal.

What we'd do better next time:

We would have brought the PFDs for starters! We were also a little disappointed about not being better prepared to do the river part of the trip. However, we're happy to consider this our reconnaissance trip for next time! Shelby says he would have also brought one of our better cameras had he known that we would be so close to the foxes and heron. 

Additional photos:

Paddling over the Avoncliff Aqueduct
Crossing the Avoncliff Aqueduct.
Canoeing at Avoncliff
The Kennet and Avon Canal just after crossing the
Avoncliff Aqueduct.
Avon River and Kennet and Avon Canal
The famous Dundas Aqueduct carries the Kennet and Avon
Canal over the Avon River.
Canoeing through narrow canals
Coming out of the Somerset Coal Canal we had to tuck
in to let a couple of narrow canal boats pass.
quaint UK houses along canals
One of the beautiful properties along the canal.
Paddling with children
Morgan enjoying hot chocolate and shortbread
while we paddle.
Canoeing with kids
Morgan takes an opportunity to stretch his legs and
runs along a path next to the canal while Shelby and I
continue paddling.