My kids and I have been exploring the wonderful nature reserves looked after by the Wildlife Trust for Berkshire, Buckinghamshire and Oxfordshire. Our latest discovering which we absolutely loved is Dry Sandford Pit nature reserve in South Oxfordshire.
Dry Sandford Pit is only a couple of miles north west of Abingdon and is a great place to for a little circular walk that mini intrepid explorers will love and us big ones too. The half mile wildlife walking trail is perfect for families as it’s takes in a flavour of everything that Dry Sandford Pit nature reserve has to offer.
However, it’s not really suitable for a pushchair especially if it’s been raining. The paths can get a little muddy and the vegetation can grow up quickly after a blast of summer sun and then days of rain as we had just before our visit. As it’s not far, you could probably manage to carry a toddler who gives up halfway if you need to.
Dry Sandford Pit is part of the Cothill Fen, a special area rich in wildlife and following the line of the Sandford Brook. If there’s an information board with a map I always take a picture before heading off as we’ve managed to get ourselves a bit lost in the past. The walking trail here is easy to follow and once you get into the wooded area, it’s marked along the way.
We started in the car park, entered into the nature reserve and took a left. Passing first through limestone grassland which is marked in pale purple in the map, we were quickly through to what made this trip the most exciting for us – the honeycombed cliffs. Sounds pretty grand when they’re called cliffs but don’t worry about there being massive drops that kids could fall off, you approach from the bottom and they’re not very high at all.
Honeycombed Cliffs at Dry Sandford Pit
These days the sandy cliff faces at Sandford Pit are an important wildlife habitat and are the result of quarrying for limestone. We were fascinated b all the little holes where bees and wasps have burrowed into the soft sand giving it the honeycomb effect that the cliffs are names after.
Dinosaur History at Dry Sandford Pit
I managed to turn our fun little trip into a big educational tick without any resistance from my kids. The information boards along the walk give some extra details so we had a dash of dinosaur facts and geology and they could see and imagine much more being there rather than sitting in front of a computer screen.
We looked down at our feet and all around us and I told them everything we were standing on and looking at was under the sea when dinosaurs roamed the land. In fact 160 million years ago it would have been a warm clear, shallow seas, which is difficult to imagine on a drizzly grey day! A number of fossils have been found here but obviously if you’re visiting it’s all about the looking and no touching please!
Geology at Dry Sandford Pit
The sand and lime quarrying at Dry Sandford Pit around 80 years ago exposed layers of sediment which can be seen today. It’s a great way to observe the different layers and really see the different periods of sedimentation. Looking from top to bottom you’re looking further and further into the past with the visible cliff probably capturing the last 1 million years. This really is a super special place and the cliffs are for looking at not for climbing.
Family Walk at Dry Sandford Pit
I was really impressed with how much my kids engaged with learning about the history and geography of the honeycombed cliffs and it was great to have the rest of the wildlife walk to explore to extend our visit.
We followed the path on through the woodland, clambered on slops, trip trapped across bridges and just enjoyed being closer to nature. We even spotted really lily flowers in a pond and a stone baby hippo (which was actually just a stone in case you’re intrigued). We were keen to find some bugs but my son was less impressed when I went to brush off a twig from his jumper and then realised it was a caterpillar. If caterpillars had stereotypes this would be it, green, wriggly and boy could it hold on tight.
we were all having a wonderful time when my eldest decided that he’d venture onto the stinky muddy boggy bit that I’d just said “Keep away from that muddy area”. Next think I know he’s shouting help I’ve lost my shoe and is on the bank with a missing shoes and covered in mud. Luckily I was able lean over, bury my hand in and and yank it out. Oh boy did I wish I had some baby wipes with me. We stank all the way home in the car.
Parking and Facilities at Dry Sandford Pit
There’s a small free car park at Sandford Pit which can fit in around 8 cars. We visited mid week and it was almost empty and we didn’t see anyone either on our walk.
There are no toilet facilities and please remember to bring any rubbish home if you have a picnic.