We wanted to start this year with a bang. It was to be our first camping trip of 2017 and crucially number one in our ’17 family camp outs in 2017’ mission, as well as being an important new county for our X County Challenge. However our plans ran into some early problems….
We had originally decided upon the New Forest as our destination of choice as we wanted to get back out on our bikes and the New Forest is such a lovely area to explore on two wheels; however we simply couldn’t find a campsite that was open! Anyone would think that camping in January in sub-zero temperatures isn’t a desirable option for most?!? So, with flexibility being at the heart of any adventure, we conducted a quick all-encompassing search on the great Cool Camping website for pretty much anything open this weekend, and stumbled across the oh-so-cute ‘camping pods’ at Woodside Country Park in Ledbury, at the foot of the Malvern Hills AONB. Now, having bought Morten a book called ‘cabin porn’ for Christmas, because of his love for log cabins, tree-houses, shacks, and all things wild and rustic, it didn’t take much persuading to commit to trying out our very own pod. Herefordshire was now to be the premiere destination for 2017!
It’s worth mentioning the extraordinary range of options for any ‘glamping’ plans you may have…. Yurts, treehouses, tipees, cabins, sheds, stationary VWs, gypsy caravans, safari tents, shepherds huts, cabins with hot tubs… you name it, they exist, and many of them more luxurious, stylish and homely than my actual home! However, that wasn’t what we were after. We still wanted to feel like we were camping; we still wanted to snuggle in our sleeping bags (not sleep in a king size double bed), use our camping stoves and feel like we were in the Great Outdoors. We also didn’t want to spend a fortune. The ecopods at the Woodside Country Park were perfect – they had heating (a luxury when it was forecasted to be -2oC this weekend) but they were really just an empty wooden shell; we’d be sleeping on the floor in our bags and we would use our stoves on the balcony, and at £90 for two nights it didn’t break the bank.
Morts had the day off on the Friday so we were looking forward to a 3-day trip. After the usual manic car pack up we headed first to Oskar’s ‘Rugby Tots’ class because a) he loves it so much and b) we were hoping he would be utterly exhausted from all his charging around and try-scoring and would thus fall asleep immediately upon impact with his car seat and sleep the whole of the two hour journey to Ledbury. How wrong could we be? The reality was an hour and 45 minutes of sleep refusal, over-tired whining, and a relentless dictator-style instruction to me to sing along to each of his favourite songs on his hideous CD of nursery rhymes. He eventually fell asleep precisely 8 minutes before we arrived at Woodside Country Park, by which point I was practically hoarse and ready for a nap of my own. Leaving him sleeping in the car we checked out our pod. The negativity and stress of the journey immediately faded away – it was love at first sight.
Woodside Country Park is a brilliant destination for families. It has a range of accommodation including camping pitches, pods, Scandanavian timber lodges and a big bunkhouse, set in a 25 acre site, surrounded by mixed woodland and beautiful countryside. It has it’s own conservation area, in which they have planted over 500 native water plants, trees and shrubs and over 100 varieties of wild flowers. In recognition of this endeavor and their continued commitment to conserving the environment, the campsite has been awarded the David Bellamy Conservation Gold Award every year since 2005. On top of this, the owners and workers were just so incredibly welcoming and helpful and it just had that lovely ‘family-run’ feel to it. Thanks to the lovely Jill who went out of her way to help make our stay the best possible experience. We highly recommend.
After we’d moved our kit into our pod, we poked Oskar and quickly fed him in anticipation of any post-nap grumpiness. He loved the pod too and charged around in the forest picking up sticks and rocks and collecting them on the balcony. We made some quick plans for our afternoon and headed straight to British Camp, which is in the centre of the Malvern Hills and a short 15minute drive from the Country Park.
We parked at the British Camp car park; it’s worth noting that the only option for car-parking across the Malvern Hills AONB is an all-day ticket costing you £4. Very reasonable but just ensure you’re well stocked with pound coins. From the car park it is a short walk up to Herefordshire Beacon – a well-maintained and easy to follow concrete path and steps up to the ridge and then you can walk in either direction. We used a route from the ‘Walking Britain’ website, which offered very useful guidance.
The British Camp is an Iron Age hill fort, which is situated at the top of Herefordshire Beacon (the highest peak on the Herefordshire side of the Malvern Hills). The ‘summit’ of British Camp is 338m, so altitude sickness isn’t exactly a major concern. The fort is owned and maintained by Malvern Hils Conservators and is protected as a scheduled ancient monument. You don’t really get any perspective of it until you walk south and then return to come back, at which point you realise its extraordinary topography made up by the extensive groundworks of the fort, which is thought to have been first built in the 2nd century BC. The shape of the groundworks of British Camp has been compared to a giant wedding cake – I’m only glad I didn’t ask them to make mine.
We spent about two hours exploring around Herefordshire Beacon, heading south to Hangman’s Hill and being buffeted by the strong wind, before circling back around to the east and contouring around the British Camp, which was much more sheltered. Oskar enjoyed running down the gentle hills and loved walking along the little ridge paths and then rolling down the sides.
Post-walk it was back to the pod for some hot spag bol, warming mulled wine and a chilled family evening. Oskar enjoyed some jigsaws and stories, and we planned our route for the following day using the OS Explorer – sheet 190 that we’d bought with us, before settling down for an early night. (FYI you can also buy maps from the Malvern Tourist Information Centre in Great Malvern or Sally’s Place (described below) also conveniently has some for sale).
The plans for day 2 were a hike to Worcestershire Beacon, the highest peak in the Malvern Hills, situated in the north of the hills. However, when we woke to thick freezing fog with no hills in sight, this seemed unlikely. Nevertheless, after an hour of breakfasting and umming and arring about our Plan B, the fog had lifted and blue skies were enveloping the hills… hurrah! We headed back to British Camp, parked up and this time headed over the road, behind the ‘Malvern Hills Hotel and Restaurant’ and picked up the path heading north, which would take us to Worcestershire.
It was a stunning day. One of those cold, blue-sky winter’s day where your face is chilly yet warm at the same time and you feel smug all day. We actually couldn’t believe how nice it had turned out. The views over Herefordshire and Worcestershire were just beautiful – because it so flat around there you can see for miles and miles and can get a great perspective on the area. We walked along the ridge, summiting every peak enroute; the peaks are obvious but more like rolling hills and mounds so totally do-able. That being said, if you decide that you don’t want to ‘peak’ all the hills then you can just take an alternative path that contours around the west side of each peak.
There were fantastic views in all direction from the beacon and a great map to help you understand what you were looking at. We hung out for a while at the top, found a sheltered spot on the east side with a convenient bench and sat and ate our (late) lunch. On such a sunny day, there was a constant stream of families, hikers and dog walkers reaching the top – in that very British way that only happens when the sun shines, everyone was really jolly and commented endlessly on the weather. Love it.
After coaxing Oskar to eat his sandwiches (entirely bribed by the square of chocolate that he had for pudding), we headed back down. After all of his running around, Oskar was pretty wrecked and so we loaded him in the back pack after about 20mins and he immediately nodded off.
With a 16kg dead weight on his back (and an already dodgy shoulder) we decided it was fairer on Morten if we just contoured around the peaks on the return journey. With this strategy it actually only took us an hour to get back to British Camp, which we were both surprised about.
Coming down from the hills and back towards the car park we headed to ‘Sally’s Place’ for a hot cuppa; what a pleasant surprise that turned out to be! Sally’s place is a very unassuming little shack, directly opposite the British Camp car park. It serves good coffee (and believe me, that is a big statement coming from Morten), home-made ice-cream of just about every imaginable flavour, some killer bacon and sausage sandwiches and an array of freshly made cakes. It was clearly a well-known and well-loved place, with an endless stream of customers. The ladies working there were a total delight. Although initially planning on just having a quick hot drink before heading off, we ended up staying for over an hour, sat outside, watching all the comings and goings. After multiple coffees, teas, an ice-cream for Oskar and even a sausage and bacon sarnie (which Morten turned his puppy-dog eyes on to get), we headed back to our beloved pod.
We’d had such a great day that even once back at the Campsite, we weren’t quite ready to go inside. So instead, we walked down to the lake that is part of the campsite. What a great decision. The sun was going down, there was low cloud in the sky and the reflections in the lake were picture perfect. It was still, calm and breath-taking. A perfect end to our already fantastic day.
Our third and final day had been ear-marked for a spot of cycling around the local villages. The weather wasn’t great – overcast and drizzly – but having had such fantastic conditions for the last couple of days we weren’t complaining. We packed up and drove to Colwall, a small village within the AONB. We’d found a great website ‘Come Cycling Ledbury’ which gave a good range of local routes of different lengths and difficulties. There was also a link to a great pdf version of a leaflet called ‘By bike in the foothills of the Malverns’, which is what we used.
We completed the 15 mile ‘Colwall and Cradley’ route. When I say we completed that – we were actually pretty tragic at following the route as we were too busy chatting and just looking around and kept missing turnings; we definitely added a few loops onto the route and also entirely managed to miss the village of Coddington, but it was lovely and we were happy to just free-style it.
The route is on minor country roads and really just takes in endless farms and farmland and a few quaint little villages. The countryside surrounding Ledbury is noted for its hop yards, cider orchards and the world famous Hereford Cattle, all of which we saw plenty of. The land around the Malvern Hills is incredibly flat, which made it a fairly easy family route, and our cycle was just made a little more challenging by the rain and huge amount of spray (note to self – mud guards don’t look as cool but they definitely have a purpose!) We were pretty soggy by the time we finished, but thanks to good quality gear, were still warm and dry. Little Oskar had even nodded off again on the back; with his hat pulled right down and his buff pulled right up there was barely any of him showing!
The heavens did decide to open fully just as we returned to the car, which we’d parked at the station. We just about managed to change and scramble in, leaving a huge pile of muddy, soggy clothing in the boot to deal with upon our return.
On the drive home we discussed our brilliant Herefordshire (and Worcestershire) adventure. It was nothing like we had originally planned for our first 2017 camp out but it had smashed all our expectations. It’s such an accessible area for families to go walking; the flat cycling is perfect for little legs (and my not so fit at the moment legs), and the Woodside Country Park makes for a brilliant base to explore the area. We’ll definitely be back.