When it’s a warm, sunny day at this time of year, one of my favourite places to go for a picnic and to enjoy being in the great outdoors is Coaley Peak viewpoint. The 180 degree view over the Severn Vale is stunning, there are plenty of interesting wild flowers to admire, lots of space for kids to run around and, if you’ve got young kids who are Harry Potter fans, you can entice them with the idea of visiting the Forbidden Forest, too. It’s also a place where people with restricted mobility, and possibly even those in wheelchairs, could enjoy being outdoors and seeing some wildlife. Add into this mix the ice-cream van that’s usually parked there at weekends during the summer and what else could you ask for?!
The wow factor starts when you arrive – as long as you drive around to the front of the car park. There you can park and overlook the Severn estuary and, if the tide’s in, the river will snake in front of you gleaming like a silver ribbon threading through the vale. Looking to your right offers views of one of the Severn bridges and even Sugar Loaf Mountain in Wales if it’s a clear day.
To the right of the car park, the land has been managed to create a lovely wildflower meadow which, in June, boasts flowers such as ox-eye daisy, kidney vetch, sainfoin, and loads of common spotted orchids. There’s a path all around the outside of the meadow with benches dotted about plus some picnic benches. Walk to the far end of the meadow, furthest away from the car park, and there you’ll find large numbers of common spotted orchids nestled amongst the ox-eye daisies. There’s a picnic bench, too, so you can enjoy your picnic whilst marvelling at this floral feast as well as the view up the Severn estuary and across to May Hill.
Sainfoin is an unusual plant not commonly seen – its cerise pink flowers open in waves up the flower stem, and it’s related to peas. A form of sainfoin was introduced from Europe in the seventeenth century as fodder crop and its name comes from the French name ‘St Foyne’, with Holy Hay being another name used here. Another flower growing here which is related to peas is kidney vetch – it has groups of small, yellow flowers in a semi-circle at the top of the flower stem. It’s the food plant of the caterpillars of blue butterflies so on a warm, sunny day keep an eye out for these flitting about.
Once you’ve had your fill of the meadow, walk through the kissing gate at the far end which takes you onto Coaley Peak itself which is owned by the National Trust. To the right, you’ll see a topograph – a stone column with a silver plaque on the top pointing out the landmarks that you may be able to see plus how far away they are. However, turn left and the path takes you along a stretch which I love visiting from now until the end of summer as there are always new flushes of fantastic flowers to see. At the moment, it’s wild valerian which is growing in profusion. This tall plant with white, pom-pom style flowers on the top of the stem is the wild cousin of the red valerian growing in our gardens. The latter was introduced from the Meditteranean before the 1600s. On a warm day, have a sniff of the wild valerian’s flowers – you should smell vanilla – and the roots provide the extract used in many herbal remedies to encourage sleep though I wouldn’t recommend digging any up to try a DIY remedy! (It’s also illegal to pick or dig up wild flowers without the landowners permission.)
Keep going and the path will take you into a secluded woodland which is overgrown and shady with plenty of hart’s-tongue ferns (hart is the old English word for deer) growing everywhere. There are also a couple of open rock faces set back from the path giving this place a real feel of Lord of the Rings or the Forbidden Forest of Hogwarts. I half expect to see a centaur or hobbit hiding amongst the trees! The imaginations of young Harry Potter fans could probably have a great time here. After a while, the path meets the main road running down Lever’s Hill so it’s worth turning back before this point. Unless you’re in the mind for a decent walk, in which case, keep going and it’s a nice route that leads eventually to Uley Bury. If you’re interested in archaeology, turn right out of the car park and walk a few hundred feet to visit Uley long barrow.
When to visit: the meadow will be flowering for most of June, though the common spotted orchids are usually out in the mid-two weeks of June.
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. 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 through the section beyond the kissing gate takes 5-10 minutes to the exit onto the hill. This really is a place to take it easy, enjoy the flowers, have a leisurely picnic, let the kids run around, walk the dog, or simply sit and drink-in the views.
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 aren’t completely flat like a tarmac surfaced path and there’ll be dips and uneven bits, but I think that someone with restricted mobility could walk it with help (I’m going to take my mother who has arthritic knees to try this out) and it could well be possible to push a wheelchair along. If anyone manages this, please let me know! Prams will have no problem. 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 there. There are pubs in Nympsfield, the village nearby.
Directions: From Stroud or Uley, take the B4066 and look out for the brown tourist sign on the side of the road which says ‘Coaley Peak Viewpoint’.