20140202_A wintertime wander around Coombe Country Park
When : 2nd February 2014
Who : Me, my wife Justine and my son Craig
Maps : 1:25,000 OS Explorer Map No. 222 Rugby & Daventry [and a bit on map no. 221 Coventry & Warwick] … but neither is needed unless you plan to walk further afield.
Car Park, Grid Ref. : SP,404,794
Distance : Approx 2.3 miles (3.7 km)
Significant heights : None, virtually no relief to speak of at-all
If you click on a pic’ it should launch as a larger image on my flickr photostream.
We’d umm’d and arrr’d about going out for a drop of fresh air, especially as the weather was dry and fine, although with a bit of a breeze and a definite nip in the air, but we hadn’t really got our act together as to where to go. I fancied trying to find somewhere with snowdrops as they should be coming into flower at this time of year and so we’d thought about our nearest National Trust properties of Baddesley Clinton, Packwood House, Charlcotte Park and Cannon’s Ashby. All of which are splendid places to visit, and might well have had snowdrops in the grounds, but somehow the thought of revisiting these “usual suspects” didn’t seem to inspire us, especially as some places weren’t fully open and others were “tour guided” only (including the gardens); not really what we wanted. So eventually our thoughts settled on a handful of non-NT attractions, reachable within about 15-20 minutes drive away. So, in no particular order, the options were :-
* Daventry Country Park (a walk around a reservoir), * Braunston village and nearby canals, * Royal Leamington Spa and river-side gardens, * Ryton Pools Country Park, * Draycote Water (another walk around a reservoir), * Coombe Country Park.
After a little discussion, Coombe won the day.
Coombe Country Park or Coombe Abbey as we always called it before Coventry City Council sold off the old abbey buildings and some of the grounds, is Coventry’s premier park. The odd thing about it, is the park, although under the auspices of CCC, is actually in Warwickshire, albeit close to the boundary of the city.
The entrance is off the B4027 Coventry to Brinklow Road, and a long straight drive heads off towards the Abbey which is now a rather posh hotel. The drive is lined by an avenue of horse chestnut (conker) trees, the multiple lines of trees on each side create an impressive approach at any time of year. In fact, being able to see the bare bones of the trees during winter is really quite attractive and I’ve often been drawn back to take some photographs here. In fact, that’s part of the reason Coombe won the above vote, I wanted to test out my new Nikon D5200 Camera complete with 55-300mm zoom lens, and Coombe has a multitude of photographic opportunities to have a go at. However, I knew the battery pack was getting a tad low, so I packed my older Pentax K200D (18-55 lens) as a fall back should I need it, or should that be when I need it.
Anyway, back to the day, as the drive mentioned earlier approaches the large red-brick (and quite incongruous) visitor centre you are directed off to the right, into a large car-park (pay and display). Considering how much this costs (£3.70 I think it was) the car park surface is really quite poor, with ruts and hollows and after rain large puddles appear everywhere. As we’d had lots of rain recently, these puddles were more like small lakes in places which we tried to avoid, not being able to see what might be lurking beneath the muddy waters. Come on CCC, how’s about investing some money back to the users who park here in their hoards at times!
Enough of moaning, we paid our moneys, tapping in the car’s registration number in the machine (makes the ticket non-transferrable) and set off towards the visitor centre. On the far side of this large building is a kiddies playground, but we turned right before this, down the near-side of the building [passing the toilets en-route] to then pick up a wide, surfaced path heading half left and down a slope, passing between some mature stands of trees set back on both sides and with glimpses of the hotel off to the right. This path soon reaches Coombe’s main lake (called Coombe Pool) and to my mind this marks the entrance into the country park proper.
To cross to other side of the lake, a causeway was built (when the hotel was sold off) forming a barrier between the informal naturalistic pool off to the left and a rectangular more formal pool on the right with a decorative balustrade. In times past, the balustrade was the only barrier here. So, prior to the causeway being built, the entrance into the park was through the semi-dilapidated abbey buildings themselves but only after crossing an attractive stone bridge over a moat. This old route now takes you into the Hotel’s courtyard entrance (and very pretty it is too).
Back to the path and causeway; the views in both directions are super, very different to each other, but both are worth the walk even if you go no further. The view up the formal pool to the hotel is superb, and in the right light can be quite, quite stunning, especially if the waters are calm and reflections abound. The informal lake used to be a boating lake with rowing boats for hire and I’m sure there were a couple of motor launches that left from the bank near what is now the far side of the causeway. Nowadays, the pool has been handed over to nature, with water-birds in residence; nothing overly exotic you understand, but there are the usual suspects of Mallard, Coot, Canada Geese, Grebe, Gulls and of course the royalty of water-fowl Swans. The more gregarious of them all congregate in large numbers by the causeway to be fed by many of the human visitors here.
Personally, I could have stayed here for some time trying to get some decent pictures with my new zoom lens, but I had to content myself with firing off just a couple of pic’s before moving on to the far side to rejoin my wife and son who’d walked on ahead.
On the far side of the causeway, there are several choices of route available.
- Right, directly alongside the formal pool, toward the Abbey Buildings.
- Right (as above), but firstly up a few steps rising up the side of a wall to a grassy area again heading towards the hotel parallel to the formal pool.
- Half right, through some large shrubs to emerge into a large grassy area, often used by picnicking families.
- Straight on, between a stream (on the left) and a raised bank/hillock with a small wood of mainly tall redwood trees.
- Left over an attractively arching wooden bridge to enter a large area of informal woodland.
It was this last option that was chosen, but we again stopped almost immediately at the far side of the bridge, Craig had spotted something he wanted to photograph in the undergrowth, so he, errrm commandeered my Pentax and promptly left us. It turned out he’d found some snowdrops after-all, a sign that spring isn’t maybe too far off and confirming my earlier thoughts that they may well have been coming into flower.
Once he’d taken his pic’s, we moved on, taking the lake side path (good surface), with good views of the lake itself; sometimes winter is indeed best for this, as the leafless trees allow sights that would otherwise be obscured in the summer.
Again photo’s were taken (both of us now), but I was aware that my wife was hanging around watching us, so we moved on again, soon reaching the bird hide at the point where the main path can follow the lake side no more. Beyond here is designated as a nature reserve and is fenced off from the general public.
Next up was a visit to the bird hide itself. However, it’s not very hidden, basically being a large wooden shed with narrow hinged windows, just near the lakeshore and with the best view of a small island; home to the largest heronry in the area. We weren’t expecting any herons though (wrong season I think), but in the area immediately around the hide they’ve set up some feeding posts for small birds to come and take their fill of a fat/seed conglomeration stuffed into holes and hollows. This was potentially perfect to try out just how far in my new zoom would go – luckily a few blue tits duly obliged, flitting about between the undergrowth and the feeding stations. The resulting comparisons between the old Pentax at full 55mm zoom and the Nikon at 300mm were interesting to see once I got home.
It was after reeling off a good number of quick-fire shots that, unsurprisingly, the battery on my Nikon gave out, leaving just the Pentax for the rest of the walk, which we soon restarted, heading back to the main path, heading straight up and away from the bird hide with the boundary fence on our left. Craig had by now decided the Pentax was his (however, it’s not – It’s my back-up/wet weather stand-by now) but I wasn’t going to argue with him taking an interest and as we circumvented around the perimeter path, he was often heading off track to snap away. Well I say snap, but actually I think he was thinking, composing, looking at the light and detail in his shots; not bad for a 12 year old.
The perimeter path kind of dog-legs into the woods a little now as it heads back towards the hotel area, and gives a feeling of being more in the woods rather on the edges. However it’s really quite a narrow strip of trees and known as The Wrautums (please don’t ask me why – coz I don’t know), and the large field in the centre, off on the right is Wrautums Field. It was off on the left however that there was a large area of snowdrops completely naturalised in attractive drifts in amongst the undergrowth – absolutely beautiful! …. However, it was hard to disagree with my wife who can’t help but think they look just a little bit sad with their downturned drooping heads in contrast to the more showy cheery daff’s and other spring bulbs to come later in the year. Perhaps the snowdrops are slightly understated to match the time of year, the really bright spring sunshine yet to really kick in to banish the softer wintry light of late January/early February.
Not far on from here, is an adventure playground, designed for older kids, where Craig ran on ahead to, to do a spot of rope walking, leaving us to wander on after him at a much more leisurely pace, which then turned into a bit of standing around as we waited for Craig to finish his clambering. After this, rather than head into Wrautums Field we picked up a path to pass some park maintenance buildings to meet the perimeter path again near to Top pool, crossing The Smite Brook en-route.
Just as an aside, Top Pool was the kiddies boating lake many years ago, and an area close by used to be given over to a series of aviaries (maybe called The Bird Garden?) many containing birds of prey if my childhood memories serve me right, I’m sure the series of cages, included various types of owl, vultures and eagles. I’m pretty sure this would have been open in the 1970’s and 80’s but I’d bow to anyone with more detailed information. The loop of pathway is still here but the bird enclosures are now long gone.
Anyway, back to the main path, we turned right and soon came to a parting of ways, the first option is a path running down the side of an almost dead straight stream with the redwood trees off to the left on their raised “hill”. This path, we ignored, instead carrying on with the redwood hill on our right. We were now nearing the Abbey buildings and the grounds take on a more manicured feel here, especially when we reached the large lawned “picnic” area with specimen trees and a splendid viewpoint of the Abbey. Crossing the lawn we reached some steps that drop down to the formal rectangular pool first seen when crossing the causeway at the start of the walk. Craig decided he wanted to take pictures of two guardian gryphons standing sentinel either side of the steps. He then headed off down the poolside path to take some pic’s of the resident swans, whilst my lovely wife and I stayed slightly elevated walking parallel to his route.
As a treat, we had a large bag of hot freshly made ring-doughnuts from a mobile vendor. Whilst they were being cooked, I retrieved the Pentax from Craig to take a couple of pic’s of the flooded areas here-abouts.
The mini-doughnuts by the way were super, but by the time we’d eaten all ten between the three of us, we all agreed that was probably more than sufficient.
And the final words :- a super afternoon stroll, during a much needed break in the incessantly wet winter of 2013/2014 … Some fresh air, genuine quality family time and a stretch of our legs. Brill’.
I hope you enjoyed my scribblings …. If you’d like to comment on my diary or any of my (and Craig’s) pic’s please feel welcome. I’d love to hear from you.