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.

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