Colne Valley Regional park lies just to the west of London and was a quick 35-minute drive from our flat in West London. Their website, http://www.colnevalleypark.org.uk, has a large list of outdoor activities to satisfy all types of families from horseback riding to kayaking. We were looking for a weekend ramble and decided to choose one of their self-guided walks for our first visit to the area. We figured that starting with a short hike would be a good start for our kids, as they are not used to muddy trail walking. We selected the 2 ¾ mile trail called Heronsgate.
It was a sunny Sunday morning and we arrived at the start of the walk around 9:15am. The path began near a pub called The Stag and continued down a small walkway alongside some communal gardens or allotments. The kids were excited to be outside and frolicked down the muddy path in their wellies. I was so grateful that I’d had the foresight to dress them appropriately. Our first turn took us through a kissing gate and across a green hilly farm pasture. The kids ran at top speed down and then up the other side of the field. The grass was long, deeply green and wispy from the wind. The contrast with the blue sky was so breath taking that we commented on it all day.
James had the honour of being our navigator for the day. I printed out the map with simple instructions and he was easily able to follow them. We only overshot one turn, and not by much. What an empowering feeling for a seven-year-old to lead his family through a course of open fields, wooded trails and over stiles. He loved it!
We circled a very large farm that delighted us with their collection of horses, sheep, chickens, pigs, and emus. Loads of emus! They were very friendly and at several points in our walk approached their fencing to investigate us as we passed by. We stopped to chat with them and take some photos. A simple morning hike turned into a mini-safari.
The trail then changed to a wooded foot path. We met the occasional trail runner, dog walker and horseback rider as we progressed. We noticed the bluebells in bloom alongside our feet on either side of us. The floor of the forest was absolutely covered in tiny purple-blue flowers so delicate and fairy-like. I had read that spring is the best time to view these little guys which seemed an accurate description.
We spotted a cache nearby on our geocache app and stopped to search for it. Bingo—easily found hidden in an old tree down a small path off of the main trail. Satisfied by our easy luck we promised to look for more as we came across them on our map.
We wandered a bit further across another field and came across some men shooting up into the air. It seemed like some sort of target practice, but we couldn’t see the targets. We approached them after we discovered our path led us directly behind their aim. They assured us that it was safe to cross and so we carried on cautiously as they appeared to take a break in their shooting. It wasn’t the first countryside walk during which we’ve encountered hunters. They’ve usually been on pheasant hunts. Anyway, it’s still odd to see people with guns in the UK.
We entered a dark wood. It was very green and mossy, with bluebells decorating a vast area around us as we heard the somewhat distant gunshots begin again. Fiona is so sensitive to noise that she jumped every time a shot was fired, which was often. No more than 100 metres into the wood, we heard something sprinkling down on us through the leaves. It was buckshot from the hunters’ guns! Although it was probably safe, we all picked up the pace to escape the line of fire. Yikes!
The last bit of the hike was uphill across another gorgeous meadow. The kids worked their way up the hill collecting dandelions and buttercups, and we discovered the grass was filled with ladybirds. Is it bad luck that while we walked we must have crushed them all?? The sun was higher in the sky by then and the warmth was a relief after having been shaded for the last thirty minutes in the wood. Even though London was just a short drive away the air quality in the Colne Valley was noticeably cleaner and fresher than the dusty, gritty feel of it at home. As we gazed back down to the wood below, we all agreed these rolling hills would make for some sweet sledding if we ever had any snow in England!
We managed to find three more geocaches that were tucked away along the path. This was so exciting for the kids who love instant gratification. Each of them took a turn to find the hidden treasure and open the cache to be signed. Luckily, Fiona always carries a pen…I never remember to.
The remainder of the walk was first a muddy incline and then a narrow footpath. Fiona spontaneously declared that the morning outing was “awesome!” and then everyone agreed that they preferred to be in the countryside discovering together rather than trekking a concrete path through the city such as the Thames Path.
What are your family’s favourite day hikes? Tweet them to us at @FiveAbroad.