Carn Fadryn Clearing

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It’s as sure as night following day, as predictable as a collapse of England’s top-order, as inevitable as unsettled weather during a British summer: the end of July finds us heading once more for Towyn Farm on the Llyn Peninsula to meet old friends for a brief holiday together. Rather less predictably, this year we arrived on the campsite first, in daylight, and in glorious sunny weather to boot. Having pitched the tent, we headed down to Porth Towyn for what became a staple of our stay: an evening on the beach.

The following day was Little S’s birthday, and so we left the plan for the day to him:

“Climb Birthday Hill and then go to the beach.”

Birthday Hill, or Carn Fadryn, as it is known to the locals, can generally be seen from the campsite, but that morning it was shrouded in cloud. Not a lone cloud moreover, but merely one of the many hulking bullies currently lurking threateningly across the entire sky. The forecast, however, was for improving weather, and by the time we’d driven the rather tortuous route round to the village of Garnfadryn, where we always park for our walk, the cloud was lifting although not yet clear of the summit.

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The kids staged a snail race in the road, there being an astonishing number of snails about, no doubt enjoying the morning damp. A large Garden Snail, christened by the kids Usnail Bolt, was proclaimed the popular winner, despite the fact that the contestants all resolutely ‘ran’ in different directions.

The walk was, as ever, an absolute delight with the usual all round views.

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And, if anything, an even better crop of Bilberries than those we’ve previously enjoyed.

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We perhaps didn’t see quite as many butterflies as we normally do, but only because it was very dull still as we climbed. By the time we had reached the top the cloud had dispersed and we found a spot out of the wind to sit and enjoy the view.

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Heather.

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Bell Heather.

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Very pale Bumblebee, not sure which kind.

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Usnail Bolt.

The weather stayed fair and we did get down to the beach later for mass cricket, tennis and a bit of a swim. Is there a better way to spend a birthday?

Carn Fadryn Clearing

A Short Stroll Along The Shore

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With members of our little tribe now working or studying at four different schools we had a staggered back to school arrangement. The boys had a weeks more holiday left when I started back and had gone away to County Durham for some peace and quiet. (Peace and quiet for those of us left behind, obviously.)

On the Thursday afternoon, with the sun still beating down, TBH, A and I decided to get out for some fresh air. We didn’t go far. Just down to the Cove and then a little way along the shore.

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The ladies decided to cool their feet in the channel, whilst I took a closer look at this rockfall…

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Part of the charm of the outdoors is the way things change with the seasons and the weather and even the time of day. We’re well used to seeing the course of the channels in Morecambe Bay changing for example, we expect it, and the changes are frequent and sometimes quite dramatic, but I was bit taken-aback to find these large boulders and the matching scar where they had tumbled to the beach. The striking colour revealed is evidence of the haematite present, which was quarried nearby at Red Rake at the back of The Cove.

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Apparently, I was missing out on shoals of tiny fish which were hurrying about in the shallow channel.

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But there were bigger fish too, quite a few of them it seemed. We saw the splashes as they sprang from the water from time to time, and this heron..

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…seemed to be finding rich pickings, when we weren’t disturbing his fishing.

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I’ve cropped these already, they aren’t as sharp as I would like, but you can see a successful catch below.

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It really was all wonderfully peaceful and not solely because the Dangerous Brothers were away terrorising their grandparents.

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TBH and A headed home at this point, but I extended the saunter just a little by heading up Stankelt Road to Sharp’s Lot.

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There’s a wilding apple tree there which seems to produce a lot of fruit every year. Last year I was bit late in visiting it. This year I was too, although at least there was still some fruit on the tree.

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The apples are pretty tart, not as tooth-curlingly sharp as crab apples, but not really dessert apples. I imagine they’d be good for jam, but I’m only guessing really.

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This year seemed to be a bumper year for hazelnuts. Certainly, the large tree which hangs over the bottom corner of our garden was shedding large quantities of nuts for a few weeks. Although many of the shells held disappointingly small kernels when you cracked them.

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Acorn.

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Sloes.

Another autumn has passed without my fulfilling my regular promise to myself to make some sloe gin. I don’t like gin at all (something to do with drinking it in inappropriate measures in the dim and distant past, perhaps) but I do enjoy sloe gin. And I suppose that’s the problem – if I make some, I’ll only end up drinking it, which is probably not advisable.

A Short Stroll Along The Shore

Towyn Farm, Tudweiliog – Mostly Sunsets

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A bit of an annual ritual this, or two in fact, first going to Towyn Farm on the Llyn Peninsula for our camping get-together, to start the summer, and then blogging about it, usually somewhere nearer to the end of the summer. This was our eighth trip in nine years – I suppose recommendations don’t come much higher than that.

The gratuitous fry-up picture? Well – the weather was scorching, at least to begin with, and almost all of the cooking happened outside. As usual, I was extremely methodical in the run-up to our trip and had made and frozen both a chilli and a Bolognese sauce to bring with us. Shame I left them in the freezer at home. Never mind – we managed.

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All the usual stuff happened – digging and stuff, swimming, snorkelling, crabbing, beach cricket and tennis, messing around in our inflatable dinghy. I didn’t see as much this year snorkelling as I have before, not sure why, a few crabs, one of them a spider crab, a few small fish, but to be honest just the colour and variety and motion of the seaweeds is enough to bewitch me. Rubber rings seem to have become a firm favourite – keeping the kids happy in the sea seemingly for hours on end. Throwing a Frisbee, and even sometimes catching it too, was also a big favourite this year.

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Later in the week, there was even some good body-surfing to be had, which is unusual at Porth Towyn, at least when we’ve been there.

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‘Little’ S always has his birthday whilst we’re away. Can’t be bad. Here he is enjoying a well chosen gift. I’ve actually posted about S and his affection for bubbles before. I was surprised to find that was four years ago.

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Sunsets are always a feature when we’re camping at Towyn. I made a bit more of an effort to take photos this year. They don’t compare to the real thing, but here’s a sample….

Tudweiliog sunset I 

Tudweiliog sunset II 

Tudweiliog Sunset III 

Tudweiliog Sunset IV 

Tudweiliog sunset V 

Tudweiliog sunset VI 

Tudweiliog sunset VII 

One evening a few of us watched the sunset from the cliff-top (there were people still swimming, I wished I was one of them) and then walked along the coast path out to a point. The orange glow along the horizon was in some ways even more enjoyable than the more spectacular sunset had been…

Tudwieliog post-sunset

A couple more posts to come about our holiday – we didn’t neglect Carn Fadryn for example, and we managed to squeeze in a trip to a castle.

Towyn Farm, Tudweiliog – Mostly Sunsets

Aldingham, Roa Island and Piel Island

We’ve spent our last couple of Whit weeks visiting with our good friends down in Herefordshire, so it seemed only right to invite them for a reciprocal visit. It was a much anticipated staycation for us: having been treated to a wide variety of days-out in their neck of the woods, we were excited to share the delights on our own doorstep and there had been long-running debates about which of our favourite outings we would choose.

High in the children’s top five was a trip to Mega Zone in Morecambe: essentially, running around in a dark room shooting each other with ‘lasers’. For some reason they seemed to think that, in particular, our friend Andy would be thrilled with the prospect of playing at soldiers. It was almost as if they think he’s a big kid at heart*.

Anyway, we’d been a couple of times this year already and I think our kids were hoping for a rainy day as an excuse to go again. They were duly rewarded on the first day of the visit (wet Wednesdays being something of a tradition for these ‘exchange’ weeks). All was going well until Little S ran around a corner into his sister’s ‘laser’ and split his lip rather badly. The cut crossed his vermillion border (the edge of his lip – something I learned from the whole sorry episode) which meant plastic surgery in Preston for Little S on the Thursday. I went with him and it was a very long day, but – they did do a terrific job and you have to look to find the scar now.

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All of which meant that, for me, it felt like the holiday only really got started in earnest on the Friday. It was another rather gloomy day, but a bit of a cracker none the less. We went to Aldingham first. I’ve since found a list of Cumbria’s Top Ten Beaches, in which Aldingham comes in at Number 8. Mind you, Arnside is number 5 and Grange Over Sands is number 9, and neither of those places has any discernable beach. You can see that Cumbria is hardly blessed with miles of golden strands. The picture gives a reasonable impression of what Aldingham beach is like: a strip of pebbles and then miles of Morecambe Bay mud, with a distant view of Heysham Nuclear Power Station. We enjoyed it even so: building towers with the larger pebbles, having a brew and a picnic and making several feeble attempts to start a fire with driftwood and dried seaweed.

Next stop was Roa island, to catch the small ferry across the channel to Piel Island.

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TBF is caught looking at the camera….

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…but everyone else seems to be practising their Synchronised Looking-Away.

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But the Dangerous Brothers** can be relied upon for a thumbs up!

We walked around the island. It doesn’t take long. There were eider ducks just off the shore and oystercatchers picking around in the pebbles.

There was a grim tide line of bleached crab shells and limbs…

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We wondered for a while about the cause of this phenomenon, but decided in the end that, rather than some mass extinction event, this was the result of the sheer numbers of crabs in the sea hereabouts and the lightness of the hollow remains which would all float up to mark the limit of the highest recent tide.

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I’m always impressed by plants I haven’t seen before. I thought these very large leaved cabbagey  clumps might be sea kale, because they look a bit like kale and they’re growing in a shingle beach. Having consulted the ‘Wildflower Key’, I’m pretty confident that I was right.

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In ‘Food for Free’, Richard Mabey suggests eating young shoots, or stems which have been growing underground (they will push up through three feet of shingle apparently). He suggests cooking the stems for 20 minutes, which perhaps explains why I found Kale so unappetising when I tried it a while back, since I didn’t cook it for anything like that long, and it was as tough as old boots – or, actually, a great deal tougher than your average modern hiking boot. (Whinge, moan etc etc…) (To be fair my current pair are still doing well, although some of the stitching is looking a bit tatty. I’m told that I have very wide feet and that’s why I destroy boots.)

Piel Island is a bit of a miniature classic. It’s tiny, but it has a pub, you can camp there, and there’s a castle:

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That bit of handrail visible on the Keep is a tease since it hints that it might be possible to get up there, but the stairs are locked and barred. There are many more photos of the castle (and some of its history) from our last visit here.

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On the return journey, the boys win the ‘Looking Away’ competition. The Junior Sherpa makes a silent prayer for safe passage.

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The Beach Funsters return on a separate sailing, no doubt discussing the optimum number of fleeces to pack for our seaside camp in July. Thirty-seven.

We returned to Aldingham for a barbecue on the beach and then yoyoed back to Roa Island for low tide, because the rock-pooling at Roa Island on a sufficiently low tide is second to none.

If Andy wasn’t in his element at Mega Zone, he certainly was now. To some people ‘Crabman’ is a character in the hit US comedy ‘My Name Is Earl’, but for me, it’s an ideal alternative nickname for The Shandy Sherpa.

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If there are crabs to be found on a beach, Andy will find them, catch them, play with their pincers in an all too cavalier fashion and stockpile them in a bucket. On Roa Island, you don’t turn over rocks wondering whether there will be a crab underneath, but how many there will be. And the answer is always: ‘Lots’.

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An edible crab. I think that this is the, apparently docile, crab which, when placed in a container with numerous shore crabs, proceeded to crush and splinter their carapaces with its claws. Oops.

There were hundreds of shore crabs. Also this gorgeous butterfish….

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….starfish and brittle stars….

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It had finally begun to brighten up a little.

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Piel Island.

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A hermit crab bathed in a late evening glow.

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The ferry.

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I think that this is a three-bearded rockling, because it was ‘pinkish orange’ and its head has three barbels as you can see in the picture, and just as the field guide specifies. If I’m right, we were lucky to find it as it is ‘Mostly sub-littoral but sometimes found in pools on lower shore.’ It can grow to 50cm in length, but this was much smaller than that.

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We’ll just turn over one more rock – who knows what we might find?’

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We’ve already planned our next visit to Roa Island. And it’s not at all unlikely that we’ll be back at Piel Island and/or Aldingham again this summer.

Pictures from our last rock-pooling visit to Roa Island here.

*A Big Kid

He is. So am I. Is there any other way to be? Mega Zone was fantastic. Was, sadly, since it has subsequently had a large fire.

Slideshow here, courtesy of The Lancaster Guardian, of fire-fighters tackling the blaze.

**The Dangerous Brothers

This is Andy’s sobriquet for our boys, but, alarmingly, they have begun to refer to themselves this way too.

Aldingham, Roa Island and Piel Island

Castle Rising and Cromer

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Back in August…

“Hang on, did you say ‘Back in August’?”

Yes, I know – hardly current. However, needs must when the devil drives. TBH is working full time, work seems to expand exponentially….blogging time is in short supply. Expect short posts. Intermittently. At best.

Anyway. We had a week in Cromer on the North Norfolk coast with my Mum and Dad and my brother and his family. Very nice it was too. So here’s a very partial account……

We’d been in Lincoln for a family party and called in at Castle Rising on the surprisingly long drive down to Cromer. There were re-enactors busy re-enacting everything from battles between the Iceni and the Romans to….err, battles between the redcoats and French. We liked this diddy Centurion….

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….who looked oddly familiar.

Even in the middle of summer, the North Norfolk coast has miles of almost empty beaches…

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And cliff-tops thronged with butterflies….

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Some sort of skipper?

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A gatekeeper.

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We had an unsuccessful afternoon’s crab fishing off the pier. We saw somebody catch a large eel in his crab net – a bit more than he bargained for I think. We did find large crab and lobster shells and pincers on the beach. Shellfish seems to be something of a culinary speciality of the area, so much so that even I felt beholden to pluck up the courage to try lobster, crab and crayfish. Enjoyed it too.

The weather wasn’t too bad. The company was great. I’d go back tomorrow, if I could.

Castle Rising and Cromer

Porth Towyn………..of course.

Well…the Olympics is finally over and re-emerging bleary-eyed from in front of the goggle-box I find that I have fallen even further behind then usual. Time to break radio-silence.

Back at the tail-end of July we made our annual trip to Towyn Farm, near the village of Tudweiliog on the Llyn Peninsula. This was our sixth trip in seven years.

 The 'secret' beaches

We were pretty lucky with the weather – we didn’t have the heat wave experienced in the South, but it was almost entirely dry and although we had strong winds, some cloud at times and even some fog, at some point every day we had some sunshine too.

Looking east 

We had a couple of trips away from the camp-site, but we spent most of our stay either there or on the nearby beaches. There are three smaller coves east of the main Porth Towyn one, christened by the kids ‘the secret beaches’, and we tend to head for those.

On the beach 

Generally, I don’t take my camera to the beach, but these first few photos were taken later in the week, when me and some of the kids went to watch the sunset down there.

Paddling in the sunset 

At least, that’s why I thought we went, the kids thought it was an extra opportunity to have a paddle and a splash in the waves.

Porth Towyn Sunset 

For the first weekend we were a substantial group: four families, eight adults (in age at least, but not mentality in all cases) and nine kids. Loads of fielders for beach cricket then, and tennis was interesting with triples rather then doubles. The rock-pooling was as fascinating and enjoyable as ever. Most of the adult members of the group seem to derive almost as much pleasure from these childish pursuits as the children do. In some cases perhaps more.

But as the week went on and work commitments caused our numbers to dwindle, I was left with only the ‘beach funsters’…..

The beach funsters

…for adult company. Neither of them are ever seen without a fleece on. TBH usually has a  book in hand. In none of our six visits has TBH heeded the call of the sea and taken the plunge! By contrast, I’m like a kid at Christmas faced with a mountain of new toys – I don’t know what to do first: digging, building, rock-pooling, cricket, tennis, playing frisby…..but swimming in the sea is always high on my list of priorities.

Fortunately, the remaining kids all seem to have the beach gene, or to have caught the beach bug at least, and were readily enlisted to construct elaborate, walled and moated castles:

Elaborate castle 

And to play…

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in the sea….

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…whilst we waited for the tide to come in and do it’s worst….

 

The video and the last three photos were all taken on the same day as the one of the TBH and J. Note the blue skies, the beach-wear, the fact that the kids were in the sea.

Different strokes…

Personally, I’m concerned that just one beach week a year isn’t a sufficient fix. I have irons in the fire for 2013 and 14…..

Porth Towyn………..of course.

Sea Wood, Aldingham, Birkrigg Common

In the car we’d been listening to Michael Hordern read ‘Prince Caspian’. I suspect that Michael Hordern could have made almost anything interesting to listen to, but the kids are quite Narnia obsessed at the moment. A has begun to read the books, the kids have all seen the films – in fact they had watched ‘The Voyage of the Dawn Treader’ at the flicks the day before with their mum whilst I was painting – and they are already busy preparing their costumes as characters from ‘The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe’ for World Book Day. Today their mum had taken over the painting duties (fiddly stuff involving gloss paints and woodwork – beyond my meagre capabilities) and I was making a virtue of necessity and taking the rest of the crew for a staycation exploration day.

At the beginning of ‘Prince Caspian’ Peter, Susan, Edmund and Lucy unexpectedly find themselves in a wood, by a shore. They soon find a stream across the beach, and then the ruins of Cair Paravel in which they find a well. In the cold and the mist we embarked into a wood, by a shore. The kids soon found a rivulet issuing from a black plastic pipe. Just into the wood we found a mysterious ditch…

…at the end of which there was……a well!

…or something the kids were happy to believe was a well. I soon found that my companions had been renamed Peter, Edmund and Lucy. Lucy found a rough circle of erratic boulders, which she announced were the ruins of Cair Paravel’s keep and the magic was complete.

Whilst their imaginations ran wild, I was noticing that the Ramson leaves are much more advanced than the ones I spotted earlier in the week in Bottoms Wood near home.

 Spent puffballs.

We followed the lower edge of the woods and when we ran out of wood we turned about and came back along the foreshore.

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Lucy had turned to beachcombing and was filling her pockets with stones and shells…

The boys were enjoying the mud and puddles and scrambling on the low cliffs. They were particularly taken with one twisted oak, the roots of which had been exposed by erosion, leaving a a space into which they climbed – a den which they were very reluctant to leave.

 Crab apples in the shingle.

Sea Wood is a Woodland Trust property, and has been on my ‘to do’ list for quite some time. We would have missed the delights of Aldingham however had we not been alerted to its potential as a lunch spot by Danny at Teddy Tour Teas. So thanks Danny! Our lunch wasn’t as elaborate, or mouth-watering, as Danny’s but we enjoyed it none-the-less.

We couldn’t find all 27 of these, but were fascinated but those we did find.

I think that they might be Large White chrysalides (plural for chrysalis apparently).

Aldingham has a beach of sorts, which was also a big hit. We don’t expect to find sand on the fringes of Morecambe Bay and were very excited to find it here.

 More beachcombing. St. Cuthbert’s in the background.

Parts of the beach were shale. with a fabulous variety of shapes and shades in the stones.

Naturally, beyond the thin strip of sand, the mud and pools of the bay exerted an strong pull on the boys.

They also enjoyed this overspilling trough…

The pipe beyond it seems to be superfluous now.

Superfluous except as a balance beam for S. Both boys were keen to climb on the remnants of this groyne too. Perhaps the explanation for why there is a beach here at all?

We found a few balls like this on the beach…which I think might be fish eggs? That’s what I told my kids anyway, so if anyone can elucidate further…?

On the verge of the lane just back from the beach, butterbur flowers were emerging and by the wall of St. Cuthbert’s (this is one of the spots were St. Cuthbert’s remains are said to have rested apparently)….

….common speedwell?

 Aldingham Hall.

The final part of our triumvirate, another long anticipated visit, was the small stone circle on Birkrigg Common, just above Sea Wood and not too far from the road.

From whence we repaired to Ulverston and ‘soft play’ for them, Earl Grey for me.

We very much enjoyed our day and the strong consensus was that we shall have to return to all 3 locales for further exploration. Perhaps when the sun shines.

Sea Wood, Aldingham, Birkrigg Common