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Blaise Castle (Bristol)

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Henbury Road, Henbury, Bristol BS10 7QS. Tel: +44 (0)1179 506 789
Fax: +44 (0)1179 222 047. Open Sat - Wed, April - October, 10am - 5pm

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      01.02.2001 04:16
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      We all know we should take some regular exercise, get the kids out in the fresh air and walk the dog, don't we? But somehow it is too much of an effort to bother. Well, we thought that too, until we began going to Blaise Castle, which became a regular Sunday activity. This place is a dream. There is plenty of parking, as they have recently extended the car park, but if it gets full, you can park on the grass. There are toilets there, although these are old, dirty and graffiti is in abundance. These are the next thing scheduled to be renovated though, so should hopefully be improved by next Summer. (I think the improvements were due this year, but no luck yet!) There is a little refreshments place - two women in a hut - which sells cheap food and drink, so you can finish off a nice walk with the essential cups of tea. It sells ice creams, sweets, crisps, hot and cold soft drinks, plus hot snacks like burgers and chips. During the peak season, there is also an ice-cream van for your little cherubs to whine for, as you reluctantly count your coppers to see if you can afford cones with flakes all round. The park facilities a few years ago consisted of a couple of dodgy swings and a creaky see-saw, but they have ploughed money into it since then and the playground is wonderful now. It is split into two areas - a big sandpit with slides and so on, then swings, roundabout and other fun stuff for the little ones. Then there is a larger area for bigger kids, including climbing frames, a big fort and other intimidating equipment which kids love and parents watch anxiously from a few feet away. The "official" attraction there is the Blaise Castle House, which has apparently been part of the Bristol City Museum and Art Gallery since 1949. It is an impressive building to look at and inside it contains rooms of old household equipment, old clothes, an old fashioned school room, a collection of old toys and - erm - lots of old things! You can easily spend half an hour there, although the kids do get bored after a few visits and some of the models can be a bit spooky for younger children. But it is worth seeing and admission is free, although there's a small shop there, if you do want to buy a few souvenirs. The woods are lovely to walk through and you can take a short trip or follow a suggested walk of several miles. Our friend, Becky even organised a treasure hunt for the kids once, where they competed in teams and had to find feathers, stones, twigs and so on. With a bit of imagination, the possibilities are endless! You can also amuse the kids by taking footballs and so on, as there is a huge amount of grass to play on. There are always people walking their dogs there, and it is great for them to be able to run off the lead for a change. The other dog owners are generally very friendly too. There are different layers of the woods, so you can take a steep hike or walk on flat ground. There is a river running through the woods, an old water mill (Stratford Mill) and a thatched dairy, as well as the interesting wildlife. You can often see squirrels in the woods, for example. A walk we often do takes us up a hill on a narrow path until we reach the remains of the old folly castle, which was built by Thomas Farr in 1766. It is open for visitors, albeit rather erratically, it is a good idea to read the sign on the door about opening times. You can climb up to the top and admire the view, but personally, I let the others do that and stand shaking at the bottom, being scared of heights! Nearby are ten thatched cottages, known as the Blaise Castle Hamlet, but we haven't got round to visiting those yet. There is always plenty to do there anyway. You can easily spend most of the day at Blaise Castle and everything is free. If you take a packed lunch or picnic, you won't even need to buy refreshments and you can have a good day out for absolutely nothing. What's more, the whole family will enjoy it, including your dog! Of course, there are a few drawbacks, nothing is perfect. Blaise Castle has had some bad publicity from people being attacked - only a few admittedly, but it is better to be careful, as anyone could hide in the woods. It is sensible to never walk alone - another reason to take a dog! I even take my dog with me to the toilet! When it rains, the woods get quite slippery and some places are rather marshy. It is a good idea to wear old clothes and sensible footwear. We have ended up lost and have had to slide down a steep, bumpy hill before now. You do not want to be wearing high heels or a skirt! It is also advisable to have a mobile phone with you, in case you get lost or someone gets injured, although the reception is often unpredictable. It is a good idea to go to Blaise Castle early in the Summer, no later than 10am, or you will find it gets packed, especially if there is an event on. The site often hosts fetes, Brownie jamborees, Historical Reconstruction events and so on. The hottest time of the day is usually between noon and 2pm during the Summer and it is easy to get sunburnt, walking in the woods and believing you are sheltered by the trees. Again, be sensible, wear a hat and use sunscreen. But overall, it is a great place to visit, it is a wonderful way of exercising without thinking you are doing so, and the whole family can enjoy some time together - away from the anti-social Playstation, Gameboy and computer. (Historical information courtesy of www.about-bristol.co.uk)

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