Christmas is always an expensive time of year, and family activities often seem to cost a great deal. Moreover, many of the events seem to cater to a narrow age or ability range, and so somebody always ends up feeling bored or left out. Never fear, though. This experience is not only completely free, but it also offers a wintry Christmas atmosphere without any of the waiting, exclusion and crowds that come with entrance fees. It offers a magical woodland walk boasting a stunning waterfall, stream walk and rope swings (to name but a few of the activities).
The walk down to the waterfall
This is the Woodland Trust Car Park, which connects to a gradually sloping path leading to the waterfall. BEWARE! The path is potentially very muddy, so walking shoes or wellies are essential. See website for precise location details.
From the car park, there is a gently sloping walk down a well- defined path. There are great den-building and hide and seek opportunities here if you are visiting with children, or a pleasant woodland stroll for adult walkers. The woods are crammed with wildlife and swooping birds, and I saw many birds of prey swooping below the treeline on my last visit. It is fun at this point to listen out for the waterfall, which can be faintly heard from here. I always let my five-year-old son think that he has 'discovered' the place.
This wide pathway heads straight downwards, and is very well defined. Along the way are several benches, offering the perfect place for a Winter picnic.
At the end of this short, gradual slope the path opens out into a gated field, and the waterfall is easily heard thundering away to the left. This would be the ideal place for a game of cricket, football or rounders, should the mood take you. The path to the waterfall is clearly marked by previous visitors and stretches on through the middle of the field. Beware of puddles and icy spots on a Winter day, but do look out for wonderful ice and air sculptures as you cross the field. You will cross a small wooden bridge at the end of this open space.
Early one Wwinter morning, about to meet a dog walker
These unusual shapes and colours are formed on very icy nights, when standing water freezes. They can either be admired and photographed, or jumped on vigorously to 'pop' the air beneath. I am a big kid, and enjoy both activities.
Crossing through the metal gate at the end of the field, you will see the path sloping sharply downwards and to the left. Although the path is well marked, it is important to watch your footing on the slippery paths, and hold the hands of little ones who might trip in to the several streams that flow here. Head downwards and you will come to a small concrete bridge. When the water is flowing beneath it, this is the perfect place to plat 'Pooh Sticks'. For the rules of this wonderful game, enjoy the following clip:
Two of the gates that lead to the waterfall. In the middle is the all important 'Pooh Stick' bridge. In dry times, the stream itself is very well suited to playing pooh sticks, albeit without the bridge.
This really is a very special waterfall. To get to it, you have to hop over the shallow stream and head to the left, where the water tumbles down a cliff and into the pool. Once across the stream, there is a small bank that makes the perfect observation point for the stream, but bolder visitors may wish to wade up the water for a closer look. Especially at this time, the water is extremely cold and the stream bed rock-strewn, so be prepared for a tumble by bringing dry clothes and warm drinks. You will see that the waterfall is made of two tumbles, but the lower drop is what makes this special place so famous, and rightly so.
The lower 'drop' , in all its magical wonderfulness. This picture was taken when standing in the water itself, so if wanting to remain dry when taking photographs, please use a zoom lens.
For those wanting a bit of adventure, it is possible to scramble up the right-hand side of the falls, to reach the platform above. There are foot and handholds to use here, but it is important to go slowly, because the rocks are covered with leaf mould and moss, which make them very slippery.
Above the waterfall, looking down. The path upwards is very slippery, so do take care if venturing higher.
I like to finish this woodland walk with a short trip downstream to the tyre rope swings. My son adores being pushed over the waters, which are shallow and easy to wade through if wearing wellies. The stream is wide at this point, and in the morning, the sun makes the waters look sparkling and very beautiful indeed. Apart from the waterfall itself, this is probably my favourite part of the walk. Here it is possible to see Kingfishers and woodpeckers, if you are very lucky. It is a very tranquil spot. When turning around to head back to the car park, I take the path on the left bank of the stream.
Two tempting tyre rope swings. If visiting after heavy rainfall, they may need upending to empty out the water.
I feel that our world is more and more busy and commercial at Christmastime, but this walk feels like a welcome escape. Whoever you walk with, it offers a gentle and beautiful escape from busy and hectic life, and a chance to reconnect with nature. On my last visit, I thoroughly enjoyed looking at all of the colours and spotting heart-shaped leaves. If you are venturing anywhere near Bath during the following month, or indeed for the rest of the year, then I heartily recommend this walk.
One of many, many opportunities to step back and enjoy the peace of nature.