Bah! Just when I was all set to throw myself into walking miles in glorious weather and writing all about it, fate dealt a double blow. Early March, perhaps not unreasonably, provided an emphatically wet and windy reminder spring starts later in the month and that February’s twenty-one degree sun and warmth were most unusual!
Then, to top it all, my sighthound sidekick Flo picked up a minor leg injury requiring anti-inflammatory tablets, plenty of rest and, thereafter, only short recuperative walks. What to do then when the hound is crocked and the winter water table has been topped up making for some seriously wet ground?
Well, the National Trust run Saltram Estate in Plymouth offers some great solutions.
Lavishly developed by the Parker family during the 1700s, Saltram became a fine Georgian property boasting substantial landscaped parkland and even attracting King George III to stay there in 1789.
However, like so many stately homes in the twentieth century, Saltram fell into decline before succumbing to the clutches of the Treasury in lieu of death duties. Thankfully, the National Trust took the property on in 1957 before opening to the public four years, and much renovation work, later.
For walkers there are four way-marked trails ranging from one to just over two miles in distance. Visitors arriving by car are met and warmly welcomed by National Trust staff who issue an illustrative map of the trails which all start and finish in the car park. There is some overlap between the trails, enabling a little planning to combine the routes to make for longer and more varied walking.
Flo and I visited twice, our first visit being on the first official day of spring (20 March). On a somewhat dour and grey day, right on the tail end of late winter storms, the two mile riverside walk offered easy walking alongside the River Plym on surfaced tracks impervious to the recent foul weather.
Even on a dull Wednesday afternoon the trail was busy with a mix of cyclists, dog walkers, mums with prams enjoying a stroll and (total respect) multi-tasking mums expertly steering prams whilst undertaking the daily jog!
Despite the grey weather it was a welcome walk. The first splashes of spring colour, horse chestnut trees once again leading the emergence from dormancy and birdsong competing against the noise of city life all offered reassuring signs of Winter’s end to boost the change of season mood.
Just over a week later with the weather, and Flo’s dodgy leg, much improved, we returned on a sunny Friday afternoon to combine the Dell Walk with the Stag Lodge and Boundary Walks. Again Saltram was busy yet these walks did not feel or seem half as popular as the Riverside Walk. I suspect that may be due to the Riverside Walk having a wider appeal on account of its hard surfaces and absence of anything close to resembling difficult terrain.
If you are not having to balance the needs of less able family members or keeping an eye on younger cyclists whilst you walk the dog, selecting one, or all, of the alternatives to the Riverside Walk is highly recommended. The paths still withstand poor weather and offer scenic vantage points courtesy of inclines and some wider exploration of the estate.
Indeed, following the Dell Walk allowed us to become immersed in countryside where the surrounding traffic could not be heard and this time the birdsong, including the distinctive ‘yaffle’ of green woodpeckers, could be heard blissfully free from any urban competition. The trail meandered through woods bordering farmland with benches in well positioned sun spots before culminating with a riot of seasonal colour courtesy of the rhododendrons.
We included a slight detour to take in the end of the stag lodge walk, before continuing onto the boundary walk with elevated views of the estuary and the parkland surrounding Saltram House providing a scenic end to about three and half miles walking in all.
There are a couple of small points first time visitors should be aware of about the trails. First, the colour coding on the site information panels do not match those on the trails leaflet and there were a limited amount of way-markers. I met some other visitors working through a little confusion as to their route but there’s no need to be overly cautious. Stick to main paths, bear in mind the routes are circular, keep on walking and you will come across a signpost directing you if needed.
Also, I have mentioned a couple of times here the issue of noise and popularity. Plymouth has grown into becoming Britain’s fifteenth largest city, resulting in some important traffic routes surrounding the estate and Saltram being on the doorstep of a large population. The National Trust do an incredible job accommodating large numbers of visitors, with differing recreation needs, to Saltram which is a historically important site.
That said, there is no escaping its popularity and proximity to the city. So, if your weekend walk needs to be a wilderness ‘back to nature’ escape or solitude seeking expedition, these trails are probably not for you. However, if you are looking for a quick outdoor fix where the wet stuff can’t stop you and the walking is easy, they are well worth checking out.
Car Parking is charged at £3 (free for National Trust Members)
On site facilities are excellent, the staff are very helpful and there is something for everyone here so walkers (and fido) can take themselves off while the rest of the family occupy themselves using a range of amenities. Visit the Saltram website for more details.
Judging by the recent attention seeking mischief, escape attempts, slipper and laundry thefts, Flo is recovering extremely well so more walks coming soon!