Coaley Peak – the perfect place for evening picnics, sunsets, and wild flowers

Coaley Peak - sunset July 2018 C Aistrop
Sunset over the Severn Estuary seen from Coaley Peak picnic site. credit: C Aistrop

Coaley Peak viewpoint and picnic site is one of my favourite wild places around Stroud and most evenings it offers an added bonus – a wonderful cooling breeze blowing off the Severn Estuary. After another day of delightfully hot weather (I’ve vowed not to complain about the present heatwave given how much English people moan when it’s raining, cold and generally miserable), an evening’s stroll here not only offers a wildflower spectacle but also the opportunity to cool down and take in an impressive view and sunset. There are picnic benches dotted around the meadow, and my family has enjoyed evening picnics there – much cooler than a lunchtime one as some of the benches are in shade from early evening onwards. This keeps my husband and daughter happy as they dislike strong sunlight (I sometimes wonder if I’m living with vampires, though I haven’t noticed them staring intently at my neck yet).

The picnic benches are on the edge of a large, flat open meadow facing the Severn Estuary with stunning views over to the Forest of Dean, May Hill and, when there’s no haze, as far as the Black Mountains in Wales. Head to the corner of the meadow furthest from the car park (on your left when standing facing the estuary) and go through the kissing gate to enter a wonderful wild area full of flowers. At the moment, one of my favourite flowers is showing itself off and is in peak condition – viper’s bugloss. A great wacky name originating from the Greek word ‘bou’ meaning ox and latin word ‘glosso’ meaning tongue as its leaves were said in past times to resemble ox tongues.

Mmmm…that needs a bit of imagination but the plant was used as a source of anti-venom for bites of the spotted viper, hence the other part of its name.  It has tall-ish spikes of vivid purple flowers made even more striking by the bright pink stamens (the part pollinised by insects) sticking out from the middle of the flower. You wouldn’t think it’s one of the forget-me-not family, that group of small delicate blue flowers. But, as the saying goes, you can’t choose your relatives and the viper’s bugloss is probably considered the brash, vulgar lot at family get-togethers.

The real treat here, though, are the masses of other flowers growing profusely: common scabious with its large flat, plate-like mauve flowerheads, the deep purple greater knapweeds, wild carrot, yarrow, nettle-leaved bellflower, musk mallow, rosebay willowherb, wild valerian, ragwort, hogweed, hemp agrimony and even a wild form of sweet pea. You’ll also find burdock flowering now and this has a fascinating folk legend for, not only was it one of the key ingredients for that delicious fizzy drink dandelion and burdock (my childhood favourite), it inspired Swiss engineer, George De Mestral, to invent velcro in 1941.

Mestral took a close look under the microscope at the flowerheads of this plant which wondering why they stuck to his clothing and to his dog’s fur. He saw it was covered with hundreds of little spikes ending in ‘hooks’ that caught onto anything with loops, like animal fur, hair or cloth. He used this to create two artificial strips made from the recently invented nylon – one of hooks and one of loops. His idea was ridiculed at first but eventually in 1955 he was granted a patent and the rest, as they say, is history. The flowers of the burdock plant look similar to thistle flowers, but look at the leaves which are broad at the base and narrow to a tip at the end, like ‘normal’ leaves with not a spike in sight, to distinguish it from those spiky plants.

This stretch of wildflower heaven isn’t long and also has a cool, shady wooded area just before the path takes you out onto the road running down Frocester Hill. Because of all the wild flowers, there are also lots of butterflies and other insects whizzing around. So an evening at Coaley Peak can keep everyone happy – a picnic (food), a grassy area around the picnic benches where the kids can run around and kick a ball (exercise for kids), lots of dog-walking space (exercise for dog), and a great place to fit in some wildlife watching (relaxation for you).

When to visit: the flowers listed above are at their best from ealy to late July.

Location: on the B4066 road from Stroud to Uley, just after the turn off to Woodchester Mansion if coming from Stroud or just before if coming from Uley/Dursley. Look out for the brown direction sign on the side of the road which says ‘Coaley Peak Viewpoint’. OS Explorer Map 168 784013.

How much time to allow: as much as you like! A stroll around the meadow takes 15 mins at gentle pace; walking at a quick pace through the wild area beyond the kissing gate takes roughly 10 minutes.

Terrain: the car park and meadow are flat and on the same level, it’s a few steps from the car onto the meadow/grass area. Obviously, this is a natural place so the paths have dips and uneven bits, and the path surfaces are short grass (through the meadow) and compacted bare earth (the wild bit). At the end of the car park opposite the entrance are two disabled parking spaces. My mum who, with chronic arthritis in her knees, can walk very little manages to walk (with her walker) from the car, through a wide gap next to a metal gate and to a nearby bench. This is the ideal place for her to enjoy some countryside, fresh air and wonderful views. I haven’t pushed someone in a wheelchair on this site but think (having pushed wheelchairs before) it could be possible. Prams will have no problem along the paths in the meadow area. Getting through the kissing gate is another matter – it’s wide enough for one person to get through at a time. The path beyond is narrow with a few bumps in it but generally flat so if you can lift a pram over the stile, you’ll probably be able to push it along OK.

Facilities: apart from the ice-cream van at weekends, there aren’t any other facilities on site. There’s the Rose & Crown pub in Nympsfield, the nearby village, and also the Bell Inn in Selsley on the road back to Stroud. I’ve heard good reports about both of them but haven’t been myself so can’t comment other than to say it’s hard to find a bad pub in Stroud.

Directions: when you get to the car park, drive to the far end and then around to double back on yourself – the car parking spaces on this side face the estuary and many people sit in their car to enjoy the stunning view (a good option when the weather’s miserable). You’ll see the meadow and picnic benches in front of you, along with the view – you can’t miss that! With your back to the car park and heading to the left, walk to the corner of the meadow furthest from the car park where there’s a kissing gate. Go through this: turn right to walk to the topograph which has a diagram naming the landmarks you can see in the distance; turn left to walk along the path through the wildflower stretch. This path eventually leads to the road running down Frocester Hill. If you want to walk to Uley Bury, cross the road and walk a little way along the main road to find the footpath that continues through the woods.

See the butterfly that came back from the dead

Bob and bench Daneway Banks July 2018 - C Aistrop
The bench is the perfect place to sit, relax and maybe even picnic. credit: C Aistrop

Daneway Banks near Frampton Mansell offers the ideal wildlife watching experience – flowers galore, beautiful views, butterflies galore and a fabulous pub. Yep, once more I’ve managed to mix wildlife watching with a pub stop. Do you notice a pattern here? I don’t know whether or not it reveals more about the character of naturalists than about wildlife but there always seem to be good pubs in the vicinity of nature reserves. Well, all this surveying and watching wildlife builds up a thirst so we need somewhere to quench that thirst, of course!

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Rudge Hill – can you resist a ‘Sound of Music’ moment?

Rudge Hill - view from the site June 2018 C Aistrop
View from Rudge Hill to the far hills. C Aistrop

It’s the last flourish of orchids right now and Rudge Hill near Painswick is an ideal place to enjoy this. The flowers of fragrant orchids and common spotted orchids were starting to finish when I visited the site the other day, but pyramidal orchids are in their prime and looking sooo perky. It’s also peak time for meadow flowers and there are more flowers than you can shake a stick at showing themselves off in the sun with the accompanying butterflies dancing around. Added to all this is a fantastic 180 degree view from the top, taking in Painswick, the church, Sheepscombe and into the distance along the Painswick valley. It’s such a sublime site, especially on a sunny day, that I dare you to not to break into a ‘Sound of Music’ moment: you know the one – the opening scene where Julie Andrews runs through the meadow on the mountainside, arms outstretched singing ‘The hills are alive….’. And then you can recover your composure in the fabulous Edgemoor Inn just across the road. So this is 4 star wildlife watching!
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Lovely lily of the valley, fabulous flag irises, oodles of tranquility and a helping of beer (of course)

lily of the valley - _Alicja_ pixabay
The dainty and demure lily of the valley flowers. Credit – _Alicja_

Small yet perfectly formed is a good way of describing the lily of the valley flower. Its string of tiny, white coloured bells hang down from the flower stalk, hiding shyly amongst the leaves which are ridiculoulsy large compared to the size of the flower. I have to confess to being a big and blousy type, prefering large, colourful flowers which stand loud and proud. However, I know that lily of the valley is a popular garden flower with lots of people and so there’ll be many who’d like to see it in the wild. Siccaridge wood near Frampton Mansell boasts a large carpet of it right now, and you can create a circular walk incorporating the canal where there’s a riot of flowers and colour.

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Wonderful wild garlic woods: 2 – Box wood near Minchinhampton

Box wood - wild garlic carpet in wood May 18 C Aistrop
Carpet of wild garlic in Box wood, near Minchinhampton, Stroud. credit – C Aistrop

Box wood is twenty-five acres of glorious woodland covered with a carpet of wild garlic flowers during the mid-two weeks of May. This site differs slightly from the others I’ve written about as there isn’t a circular path through the site – the footpath is one-way leading from Box village down through the wood to the Avening road. The big plus about visiting Box wood, though, is the choice of not one but two fab eating places, one at each end of the wood: the Halfway cafe sitting on the edge of Box village with its views over Minchinhampton Common and incredible cakes, and the Weighbridge Inn at the other end on the Avening road and its delicious speciality, the ‘2 in 1’ pie.

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Glorious wild garlic: 1 – Conygre Woods near Tetbury

Conygre woods - footpath through wild garlic May 18
Footpath winds its way through the wild garlic spectacular in Congyre woods near Tetbury. Credit – C Aistrop

If you’re desparate for some fresh air and to escape the television having sat through the marathon of THE wedding and the FA Cup Final, there are plenty of woods around Stroud offering peaceful solice and a place to restore your equilibrium. Wild garlic flowering is at its peak right now and as the bluebell woods die down, nature rolls up the blue carpet and unfurls the white one. The sight of the wild garlic woods is just as spectacular as the bluebell ones with the garlic’s large, white pom-pom flowerheads making the woodland floor look like a scene from the Snow Queen.

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Snow on the cycle track – in May?!

Cycle track Stroud-Dudbridge - pussy willow fluff covering ground May 2018 C Aistrop

The stretch of cycle track from Dudbridge heading towards Stroud is looking glorious at the moment, its carpet of wild garlic resembling a layer of royal icing spreading out left and right from the track. However, whilst walking along the Dudbridge end, I noticed a unusual sight as if a strange kind of snow had fallen amongst the white pom-poms of the garlic. Had Stroud-based special effects company, Snow Business, been testing their latest type of snow ready to coat the film set of a new Hollywood blockbuster?

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Orchids and ice-cream

early purples + cowslips with view to Woodchester May 2018 C AistropRodborough common is a popular place for Stroudies to stroll on a Sunday afternoon – thanks to the beauty of the common and Winston’s Ice-cream’s parlour with its enticing range of delectable ice-cream delights. But my hunch is the vast majority of these visitors don’t realise the importance of the common they’ve just walked the dog or the family around, or that they’ve just sauntered past rare orchids.

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Sauntering through bluebells in Standish woods, Randwick

Standish wood - bluebells and lots of trees May 2018 C AistropAt this time of year, bleubell woods seem to be everywhere you turn – and that’s one of the (many) wonderful things about living in the Stroud district. Standish woods near Randwick village is one of the most popular woods around Stroud for a bluebell experience – partly thanks to the stunning views down the Severn Estuary, the flat path along the top of the wood, the good parking and the ice-cream van.

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Bluebells and beer

Siccarige wood - close-up bluebells amongst coppice 6.5.18 C Aistrop
A carpet of bluebells in Siccaridge wood near Frampton Mansell. credit – C Aistrop

The Frome valley must be the closest we have in the Stroud area to a feeling of wilderness. It stretches from Chalford village (near Stroud) for a few miles towards Cirencester and, running along its bottom, the disused Thames & Severn canal offers tiny glimpses into an age of industrial triumph. But its state of decay atmospherically demonstrates how, in the end, nature subtly claims back and subsumes everything. One of the rare bits of human intrusion in the valley is a very welcome one – it’s the excellent Daneway pub, and a return walk from Chalford along the canal towpath taking in lunch at the pub is a popular summer Sunday activity.

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