Friday, 17 November 2017

A (dog) walk in the park - Stanton Park

Stanton Park is a country park to the north-east of Swindon, it features a large lake and extensive woodland and parkland. Stanton Park was the site of a Roman Villa from around 200 AD, although there is no remaining visible sign today. The park opened in 2000 and has been further developed since that date. 

The park covers 185 acres, its tranquillity and unspoiled nature is the main draw and there are few facilities. The tea room only opens at weekends and the only other facilities are public toilets. However, due to the lack of facilities, parking is free. If you're visiting during the week and need refreshments, there is a hotel nearby which may be worth a try. 
Stanton House hotel, next to the park
It's a perfect spot for a good walk, we often go out through the woods, around the parkland and then back skirting the lake, but there are other paths you can take. The area obviously gets less busy the further away from the entrance you get, so Barney has plenty of opportunity for a good run off lead.
Various options for walks
We've been lucky with the weather on our last couple of visits, but it's a good spot to visit whatever time of year. 
Plenty of space to roam
Thanking my lucky cards that Barney isn't a swimmer!
Beautiful, whatever the weather

Friday, 1 September 2017

Driffield Ring geocaching series

We had a free afternoon one weekend earlier this month and thought we'd do a local geocaching series.

This was a circular series about twenty minutes from home. This is a quick summary in case it's helpful for anyone else considering the series.

Name: Driffield Ring
First cache in series: GC2DCHB
Number of caches: 11
Distance: Approximately 3 miles
Location: Starts from Driffield, Gloucestershire

We parked on the main street next to the church and headed back up the street to start the series.
Driffield is off the beaten track, but really pretty with lots of Cotswold stone.
The going was good underfoot!
We headed up a track to pick up the first cache, then instead of carrying on up the track, we backtracked and took a different path behind the nearby houses for the next cache.
Barney did some sightseeing whilst we looked for the next geocache
The next geocache took ages to find, but we eventually managed to narrow it down to the right tree stump. It gave Barney plenty of opportunity to explore the woodland.
The face of a puppy who has discovered every sticky bud in the woodland
We struggled to find a direct route to the next cache, and had to take a detour out into the neighbouring field to avoid a fallen tree. When we eventually found it, we dropped off a travel bug which we'd picked up on holiday in Dorset.

The wood cover made the GPS ping around a bit but we eventually located the next geocache in the next wooded area.
Beautifully planted trees
The next cache took a while to find, avoiding the spikes on the hawthorn and brambles. From here we headed across a wheat field to the next.
Hurry up, guys!
We picked up the cache on the other side of the field and then the cache on an offshoot which was part of the Little Bridges series. From there we made our way back across the field and skirted past a farm. Our luck ran out with the next cache. The clue didn't make sense and with the light fading we failed to find the cache in an overgrown area next to a ford. It wasn't a complete waste though, as Barney waded so far out into the ford, he'd have been swimming if he went any further.
We only suggested he might like to dip his beard for a drink...
We headed down the path to the final cache, which we found fairly easily, although we did almost lose Barney down a hidden ditch.

From here we headed across a field and back to the village.
Barney winding his way home
We popped out of the field next to the church where we'd parked.

So, compared with our plan at the start of the day, this is what we did:

Number of caches: 10
Distance: Approximately 3.2 miles. The map below from my GPS shows our route
Time: 3.25 hours, this shows that some of the caches were a bit of a pig to find, and includes Barney's wade across the ford
Terrain: Fairly flat. A combination of farmers tracks, paths and roads. Dry when we walked it in August, but I'd imagine it could be muddy in parts.
Wildlife: There were sheep in one neighbouring field but no need to enter the field. 
Facilities: None

I'd definitely recommend this series if you're in the area.

Friday, 4 August 2017

Dorset travel blog

By the time Barney was about a year old we decided it was about time we braved taking him on holiday. Our last holiday was a year earlier and although I'd taken time off work in the interim, I wouldn't call days off puppy sitting a holiday by any stretch of the imagination. We booked a cottage for late April / early May.

We decided on Dorset as it's only a couple of hours from home, so if we forgot anything or it all went terribly wrong, we could get home easily. As it turned out, there was nothing for us to worry about. 

We had booked a dog-friendly cottage in Eype, a small village a couple of miles from Bridport. Whilst it was dog friendly, it had similar standards to us at home, no dogs on the sofa or upstairs and clean up after their comfort breaks. As such, it was clean and tidy with no smell of dog. I have to admit to being slightly anxious when we met a number of cars on the single track road on the way there, and had to squeeze past one with millimetres to spare, but luckily it was a one-off.
Our home for the week
Once we were settled in we headed to Eype beach, just down the hill from our cottage, in fact it was Barney's first ever trip to a beach. He loved it, running up and down, investigating seaweed, running after pebbles which we threw and sniffing for England.
Momentarily still and damp from sea spray
The next day we got up and headed to Abbotsbury Subtropical Gardens, about ten miles down the coast. As with everything we did this holiday, it was dog-friendly although Barney did have to stay on a lead. The gardens were really stunning, a true oasis and nice to walk around, the only unfortunate point was that the path to the Jurassic Coast view point was closed. 
The gardens with wicker rutting deer
We had a good lunch from their cafe afterwards before heading briefly back to the car to shelter from the rain. Once the worst of it had passed and we had picked up our waterproofs we headed down the road to Chesil Beach. The boys stood and stared out to see and ran away from the waves, occasionally being caught, the perfect end to the day.
One man and his dog
Another day, another trip out, this time a bit further afield to Corfe Castle. It took us about an hour to get there but was well worth it. We parked in the National Trust car park and followed the path up to the castle. After a good walk around we stopped for a cream tea at the cafe and then walked around the village before heading back to the car. The castle is stunning set as it is on the Purbeck Hills and we were so lucky with the weather.
Such an iconic view
I'd wanted to do a walk along the coastal path since I'd started planning our break, but had actually decided against it after some research as I wasn't sure my legs were up to it. I'm not sure whether it was bravado or lunacy, but something made me decide to just go for it. 
As you can tell by Barney's ears, the weather was a little breezy!
We parked at the Durdle Door car park and started by walking along the path to Lulworth Cove, giving Barney the opportunity for another beach to sniff.
The weather was a bit murky by the time we reached Lulworth Cove
We stopped for a drink and piece of cake to brace ourselves for the walk back up the hill. There was no disguising it, this was going to be a hard slog.
Look at that hill!
After a few pauses to catch our (my) breath, we made it to the top and back to the area near the car park. We considered calling it a day, but being so close to Durdle Door, we decided to continue down the path. First you pass Man o' War beach, which is another opportunity for a breather whilst you take in the view.
I love the zigzags that the waves have made on the sand
From here we headed on to Durdle Door, first seeing it from above and then making the decision to head down to the beach. We sat for a while before the boys took a walk along the beach and I started the hard slog back to the car. 
Another iconic Dorset view
The walk back to the car was really tough, but I'm so glad I did it. The walk was just over three and a half miles in total, but the walks down to sea level at either end and three climbs of over 100 metres made it feel like more. 

For our final day, we chose a more relaxing day out, a walk around Minterne Gardens, known for its rhododendron collection. There were paths through the gardens which we explored before heading back to the area next to the house for lunch.
Barney grudgingly agreeing to pose for one last photo
And that was that, our journey home was a bit tortuous as the sat nav decided to take us on a scenic route, not what we wanted when we were rushing to get back for dog school!

If you're looking for a dog friendly break in the UK, Dorset is certainly worth considering. There are a number of dog friendly beaches and other days out. Barney had a great time, and we enjoyed it as by the time we got him back to the cottage he just wanted to sleep. Something for everyone!

Saturday, 29 July 2017

A (dog) walk in the park - Westonbirt Arboretum

I mentioned in my blog post about Batsford Arboretum that we were members of Westonbirt Arboretum, but I have somehow overlooked a blog post about our trips there. We used to go there before we got Barney and walked around the Old Arboretum, usually in Autumn when the trees were changing colour. We've even been to a concert there to see Spandau Ballet. Nowadays though, we take Barney for a walk in the Silk Wood, as dogs aren't allowed in the Old Arboretum. 

As we're members we don't have to pay when we visit, but normal admission charges are £10 for adults and £4 for children (£7 and £3 respectively if you visit between December and February). You'll find more details on the Westonbirt website

Westonbirt is in between the M4 and M5, about 45 minutes from Bristol and Swindon. Silk Wood is an ancient, semi-natural woodland and whilst it doesn't have the same formal planting as the Old Arborteum it is a still a lovely place for a walk around, whatever the season. 

There is a restaurant and cafe, as well as a shop and toilets on the site. I have to admit we've not tried to take Barney inside, one of us normally ventures in to collect tea and cake whilst the other waits outside, so if you wouldn't be happy with this, please check before visiting. 
There are plenty of hard paths for humans and grassy areas for hounds
Quieter areas if you want to run free
And benches in case you fancy a cuddle
Oh, and did I mention the Autumn colours?!

I love a walk around Westonbirt and a cup of tea in the cafe afterwards. If you visit, I'd love to hear what you think.

Friday, 12 May 2017

A (dog) walk in the park - Batsford Arboretum

Hands up, this is another one that's not quite a park, but similar characteristics so I think I can get away with it!

We've recently become members of Westonbirt Arboretum, as we meet friends there fairly regularly for a dog walk. As part of a reciprocal arrangement we also get entry to a number of other gardens around the UK, one of these is Batsford Arboretum. As we had a free weekend, we decided to pay a visit. If you're not a member, it costs around £8 for adults and £4 for children. You'll find full details on the Batsford website.

Batsford Arboretum is in the heart of the Cotswolds, about half an hour from Stratford-upon-Avon and forty minutes from Cheltenham. It has a wide variety of plants from around the world, with a leaning towards species from the Far East. It is planted so there should be something of interest, whatever the season. We visited in mid April but unfortunately were just a little too early to catch the bluebells. I'm a bit of a bluebell obsessive!

Dogs are permitted throughout the site, including the cafe and main building, as long as they're on a short lead, and it's a great place to take them for a walk around. The exercise meant that Barney was happy to settle down whilst we had a cup of tea after our walk.
I do love a primrose
No bluebells, but at least there were plenty of forget-me-nots
A few more...
Barney looking fairly desperately in need of a haircut!
The flowering cherries were beautiful
As were the magnolias
The house is privately owned and not open to visitors
There are a number of streams around the arboretum, Barney likes to dunk his beard in each one
A solitary bluebell, putting in an early appearance
If you've visited Batsford, I'd love to hear what it's like at other times of the year. I love Autumn colours, so I'll no doubt be back around then.

Monday, 8 May 2017

More Movie Memories geocaching series

We're just back from a week's holiday in Dorset and decided to spend a free day down there doing a geocaching series.

This was a circular series only about ten minutes from where we were staying. This is a quick summary in case it's helpful for anyone else considering the series.

Name: More Movie Memories
First cache in series: GC6NTRB
Number of caches: 19
Distance: Approximately 3 miles
Location: Starts from Symondsbury, Dorset

We parked on Duck Street and headed towards and around the church to start the series, it meant that we passed the last cache on the way to the first, but at least there was one close to the car to finish with.
There's a cache somewhere in here
After a fairly lengthy search for the first cache (I think I must have misinterpreted the hint) we continued up the path.

The caches were all a fairly short distance apart so we'd already done three by the time the path opened out to give views across the fields.
Some very disinterested sheep
As it was a movie series, a lot of the cache containers were themed, this was number four, a little further up the path, Pirates of the Caribbean.
An appropriate pirate's chest
As we headed up to number five, the terrain changed, feeling more like a ravine which had cut through the sandstone on either side, than a farmer's track.
Scenery looking a little like something from Tomb Raider
Plenty of people had left their mark on the stones
We continued up the path and then, as it levelled out, followed it alongside fields.
Views into the distance
Barney was happy to have a rest whilst we looked for number seven, Don't Fence Me In.
Any opportunity to rest those paws
We turned the corner and continued along the track past a farm.
Another appropriate cache container
We found a travel bug in cache number 11, M*A*S*H* which we picked up and dropped one of ours off which we'd brought down from the last series we did in Wiltshire.
Barney getting bored of all the travel bug malarkey
We walked to the end of the track, doing a couple of caches on the way and then headed right down the road.
Track giving way to road
The road wasn't busy, we only met a couple of cars on our walk down and managed to tuck into the verge.
Nice quiet country road
We headed down the road and back into Symondsbury where we finished off the series.

So, compared with our plan at the start of the day, this is what we did:

Number of caches: 19
Distance: Approximately 3.8 miles. The map below from my GPS shows our route
Time: 3.5 hours, this included a lot of time fiddling with phones trying to get them to upload caches. It probably should have been half an hour less.
Terrain: Gradual incline for the first six or seven caches, then flat until a downhill section towards the end. A combination of farmers tracks, paths and roads. Dry when we walked it in May, but I'd imagine it could be very muddy in parts.
Wildlife: There were sheep in nearby fields but no need to enter the fields. We did see a cat at one point!
Facilities: We passed a cafe in the village.
It's so nice to do a series where all caches are present and nicely spaced out. I'd definitely recommend this series if you're in the area.