Days out · English Heritage · Historical · Museums · National Trust · Outdoors · South West · Uncategorized

Stonehenge

We have discovered that one of the huge benefits of Wales having half term a week after England, is the fact that you can hop over the bridge and visit English tourist attractions without the normal school holiday hoardes being present.  We took full advantage of this fact yesterday and booked an impromptu day out to Stonehenge.

Booking in advance is strongly recommended, and can be done quickly and easily here.  Members of English Heritage and National Trust are entitled to FREE admission, but still need to book a ticket.  Whilst booking online you can also add extras such as audio guides and guide books to pick up when you arrive.

Hubby declined the sat nav’s preferred route in favour of a vague set of directions from a mate, for once this didn’t end in tears or near divorce and was in fact a lovely drive through a set of pretty villages packed with more thatched cottages than I’ve seen in my entire life.  My excited cries of ‘thatched roof!’ were met with indifferent grunts from Mini-me and Monkey Boy who typically had their heads buried in various digital devices for most of the journey.

On arrival parking was quick and easy and right next to the visitor centre, ticket booths, toilets and café.  Word of advice, take the little ones (and yourselves) for a wee now as once you get up to the stones there are understandably no loos.  The whole area is very accessible, fine for little legs and pushchairs.  Quote your booking reference number at the ticket desk and you’ll be given your tickets and guide books and directed to the area where you can pick up your audio guides.  They have different versions of the audio for adults and kids.  After I’d forked out £9 on a family bundle, I discovered that there is a free audio guide that you can download to your phone, but I personally think the fact the kids did not have a screened device within their clutches for the day was a massive bonus so it was £9 well spent!

To get to The Stones you have two choices, you can either jump onto one of the very frequent shuttle busses, or you can walk.  We opted to walk, so armed with walkie talkies (worth their weight in gold when forcing the kids on a walk – Monkey Boy and Daddy are always half a mile ahead, and being able to continue to argue/trade insults with each other even at this distance is enough to distract the kids from the fact they are walking!)  and binoculars to stave off moans of  ‘are we there yet’ and ‘my legs hurt’ we set off.

Walking
‘Are we nearly there yet?’

Even walking at 5 year old pace it was less than a half hour stroll along the same road that the shuttle busses use – fine for pushchairs and safe for little ones as the only traffic is the busses which give all pedestrians a wide berth.

Once there you can wander around the path that circles the stones for as long as you like.  There are a couple of benches dotted around – we managed to nab one to sit down and have our picnic.

Stonehenge
Picnic with a view

 

After initially promising the kids they could get the shuttle bus back to the visitor centre, we managed to trick them into walking by taking the scenic, cross country route back down.  The area surrounding the stones is criss-crossed with plenty of National Trust paths, so we walked up to the burial mounds nearby (kids moaned because they couldn’t climb them due to erosion control measures) and then followed the path back through the fields.  Distraction from walking tactics included ‘lets jump over the cow pats’ and ‘spot the military helicopters flying over’ also ‘lets see how many cannon booms we can hear from the nearby tank firing range’….

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Daddy and Monkey-Boy half a mile ahead as usual. When we arrived there was much moaning about the fact ‘We saw other people climbing on top of the mounds, why can’t we?!’ – That would be because the great big sign says KEEP OFF!

Before they knew it we were back at the start where the kids got their promised ice creams and Mum and Dad got to refuel with a coffee.  We had a quick look around the exhibition which is just the right size for kids as you can get enough of a condensed history of the area before their attention spans start to falter.

Mini-Me (5) says:  “I think the rocks were good because they have stayed up for 500 years and you could get those little phones that tell you all about it.  It was really good because it makes you exercise.  There was loads of cows and sheep and I thought that was good,  and we found some really soft sheep wool in the field”

(500 years or 5000? it’s only an extra 0 after all, and said sheep wool is still safely stowed in Daddy’s wallet!)

Monkey-Boy (9) says:  “I liked the audio guides I thought they were helpful, they gave us lots of information about Stonehenge.  We got to see the actual stones but we couldn’t go underneath them.  It was about a 3 mile walk*”

*It was nowhere near 3 miles

Mum says:  “In my opinion this is absolutely one of those places that you should take the kids to and tick off your list.  I think we hit lucky with a quiet day, I can imagine it would be a completely different experience at the height of the summer holidays – so wrap up warm, pack a picnic and have a winter wander with a view!”

 

 

Aquariums · Days out · North West England · Zoos

Blue Planet Aquarium – Ellesmere Port

Monkey-boy’s (9) very first blog post……

In Ellesmere port there is this place called Blue Planet Aquarium.  It has it’s own car parking area.  It is about a 5 minute walk to food restaurants (like burger king)  Out side there are rc boats ( controller like a car )  you have to put money.  BUT MY MUM DID NOT LET ME HAVE ANY !!!!  there are lots of shows they are every 15 minutes to 30 minutes wait .  There are a lot of types of sharks there.  they are in a big tank and there is a tunnel that you can go through and you can see divers.  The divers are cleaning the tank and hunting for teeth that they can sell there.

Shark Tank
Shark swimming over the diver at the Blue Planet Aquarium.

we saw sharks, electric eels, and poisonous frogs.  There was this little part with venomous species there with lion fish and a whole lot of other species there.  I thought it was really good there.  you watch a show where the divers do a demonstration through a big window of the tank there was a storm of fish all over the diver.

“Do you like it? Comment down below, let me know what you want me to review next!!!”

Mum says  “Kept the kids entertained for most of the day, thanks to the fact we could get our hands stamped and go elsewhere for lunch and then come back in later.  Show at the aquatheatre was informative and on frequently.  We sat through the show twice, pretty sure the kids only wanted to watch it a second time to see if any of the sharks fancied a diver for lunch!  Make sure you book tickets online before you go to get a reduced entry price.  There are times throughout the day that you can get up close to some of the exhibits – we got to hold a starfish.

Mini-me (5) is not here to comment at present as she has gone swimming with Daddy!

Bristol · Days out · Outdoors · South West · Uncategorized · Zoos

The Wild Place Project, Bristol.

Until recently I’d never even heard of Wild Place Project in Bristol, Just off J17 of the M5, it’s only a quick hop over the Severn Bridge for us and since discovering it at the end of the summer holidays we’ve become Annual Pass holders and been back twice.  Easy to get to, free parking and plenty of picnic spaces and places for the kids to literally run wild – an open meadow, woodland to explore and barefoot trails – it ticks all the boxes for kids with some energy to blow off (and let’s be fair that’s all kids isn’t it?).  That’s on top of the fact that the place is also an actual zoo.  With plenty of opportunity to get up close to the Giraffe, Okapi and meerkats to name but a few the kids were kept entertained for the entire day.

lemur at wild place project

 

A highlight for us all was the walk-through lemur enclosure, the kids loved getting so close to these cute little creatures, whilst at the same time being covertly educated by my determined reading of all the signs we passed.  Pretty early on in the day Mini-me caught on to the colour coded symbols showing the level of endangerment of each species so we got a running commentary all around the place as to whether the animals were ‘safe’ ‘endangered’ or even ‘extinct in the wild’!

At various ponts throughout the day there were talks at the various animal enclosures,  the staff were enthusiatic, knowledgable and more than happy to answer the kids questions.  We also caught the mini beast talk where the kids got to hold such delights as the Madegascar Hissing Cockroach – I selflessly turned down the chance to hold this delightful creature in order to give the kids longer holding it…. Monkey Boy was absolutely made up when the beastly thing lived up to it’s name and emitted a lovely hiss for him as he cooed over it!

Dotted around the place there are old 4 x 4 vehicles for the kids to play in, they were kept entertained for ages by these, driving themselves ‘to the jungle’ or ‘through Thailand’ the only limit was their imagination and every child crammed into that jeep seemed to be having a wail of a time on that epic adventure.  After a while most of the parents gave up trying to drag their offspring away to see the animals and just enjoyed 5 minutes watching the Gelada, without having to explain to their little ones just exactly what that monkey was doing to his friend!!

The Wild Place Project also has an indoor playbarn, which kept both Monkey Boy (9) and Mini-me (5) entertained for long enough for Mum and Dad to enjoy a hot coffee from the cafe in relative peace.  Other attractions include a giant swing, leap of faith and climbing wall (additional fees apply for these – although annual pass holders do get a small discount)

Monkey Boy (9) says ‘The Wild Place project is a very good place to educate your children, it shows you animals that are endangered that they’ve breeded back to life’ (I think he has visions of some Jurassic Park style lab full of mad scientists growing endangered birds from ancient DNA….)

Mini-me (5) says ‘I think it was good because we got to see lots of animals, even woolves, and the woolves were my favourite because I’ve never seen them before.  I liked the meerkats, and I also liked the animal that had the head of a horse and a zebra’s butt*!  I think the lemurs were good because there were different types of them, and they can leap so far. (*Okapi!!)

Mum says ‘Fantastic value for money, 3 trips and I’ll have made my money back on our annual pass.  Can easily spend a full day here – take a picnic and enjoy it in the meadow! Am currently working on the hubby to let us spend a night at Camp Baboon  – watch this space…’

 

Days out · National Trust · Outdoors

Firestarter!

IMG_0006After being convinced by my parents a couple of years back that the National Trust wasn’t just OAPs and dusty old houses we decided to take the plunge and pay for membership.  I can honestly say we have definitely had our money’s worth!

Last week we headed to Tredegar house to tick off another activity in the kids “50 things to do before you are 11 3/4” scrapbooks.  50 things is a list of outside activities, compiled by the National Trust, that they think every child should have tried before they are 11 3/4.  Activities include things like ‘Rolling down a really big hill’ and ‘Build a den’.  You can pick up the scrapbook free at any National Trust property and then either complete them yourself or head along to one of their organised sessions to tick a specific activity off your list.

Number 47 – cooking on a campfire is something Monkey-boy and Mini-me absolutely love to do, so when we saw there was a session running at Tredegar House we donned our head to toe wet weather gear (our most worn outfits of the summer holidays to date) and went along.  Sessions run at set times throughout the day and are included in entry price (so if you’re a National Trust member you just flash your card and it feels like it’s free – always a bonus in the holidays when it feels like all I do is haemorrhage cash!)  Tickets for the timed sessions are given out on a first come first served basis, which means that the activities are never overcrowded.IMG_0011

The campfire was well organised, under a shelter to keep the rain off, with tree stumps for us to sit on and kneeling pads for the kids round the fire so no soggy knees.  They got to toast marshmallows and squidge them into s’mores between chocolate biscuits, and they even learned a bit about how long man has been using fire (a heck of a lot longer than any of thought!)  After they’d stuffed their faces, and the more organised grown ups had produced wet wipes to make their little darlings look slightly less feral, the older kids got to have a go starting a fire themselves.  Monkey-boy’s inner pyromaniac almost wet himself in excitement… I went straight home after and locked up the cotton wool and Vaseline, and changed the password on the Amazon account.  (Have since found many searches for fire starting flint in the iPad browser history!)

All in all it was a nice way to while away an hour or so on a rainy afternoon, with the added bonus of some yummy treats!

Mum says ” Well organised, kids thoroughly enjoyed themselves, and learned a thing or two whilst they were at it, if you’re a National Trust member then fantastic value for money, as parking, entry and the activity is all covered by your membership.”

Monkey-boy (9) says “It was really good fun, the fire lighting was really good, Mum won’t let me buy a flint because it’s dangerous!”

Mini-me has nothing to say on the subject as she’s currently sulking because she got bowled out in a game of cricket….

Days out · Museums

Dinosaur Babies at The National Museum Cardiff.

I’m pretty sure the first day of the school summer holidays is the new St Swithens Day – after what felt like weeks of wall to wall sunshine in June, the rain started the day the kids broke up, and has showed little sign of stopping since.  With Monkey-boy and Mini-me fighting like a pair of wildcats if they’re cooped up in the house together for more than half an hour, this first week has been a challenge to say the least – although happy to report we’ve made it through the first week intact!

On Friday I decided to drag the kids  we would have a fun day out at the National Museum in Cardiff for a few hours, as it ticked all the boxes for a rainy day (dry and free!)

We managed to nab a parking space on Museum Avenue, Pay and display £4.20 for 4 hours, and only a couple of minutes walk to the Museum – if you have a Pokemon Go fan like Monkey-boy then there are plenty of Pokemon to be caught in Alexandra Gardens on the way to the Museum to keep them happy!

There’s a Dinosaur Babies exhibition on at the museum at the moment, (Extra charge for entry, £7 for adults £3 for kids) we decided to shell out and give it a go, and I’m so glad we did.  I have to admit at first glance I did wonder it it was worth the £13 we’d paid, as it looked like a fairly small exhibition space, but once we started to explore what was on show it became apparent it was well worth it.

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Once you’ve worked your way through all of the dinosaur skeletons and exhibits about their eggs and nests (without a single ‘I’m bored’!!!) there is a ‘big dig pit’ – basically an area filled with rubber chips, under which there are ‘fossils’ to dig up.  Both kids spent ages in here (actually appearing to work as a team!!) happily digging like crazed mini archaeologists to find the buried bones.  All that was lacking was a Gin Bar for the mums to relax in whilst enjoying the view of their kids occupied and not fighting for half an hour!  There are also little hands on activities dotted around to suit various age groups – magnetic jigsaws on the wall, some arty/crafty/colouring activities and some little dressing up outfits to wrangle your little one into so you can stand them in front of the big dinosaur skeleton and beg them to smile and look cute for a photo…

After they got fed up of the fossil hunting, I conned them into a wander around the galleries upstairs.  There’s currently a Gillian Ayres exhibition on which we all liked, big, bright and very bold, it’s fun for spotting colours and shapes with the kids.  Opinions were very much divided in one of the ceramics galleries with Mini-me drooling, nose on the glass, over the ‘beautiful princess tea sets’ and Monkey-boy sitting on the floor declaring it was boring and he hated it and it would be all my fault if the Pokemon raid by the castle was finished before we got there!  He soon cheered up though when his 9 year old boy radar for all things rude spotted a small sculpture with the word ‘Arseholes’ in the title – gleeful shouts of “Mum! Look! It says ARSEHOLES!!!” Rang out across the gallery as I tried in vain to pretend he wasn’t with me…..

Mum says “Value for money, out of the rain, I even learned a thing or two about eggs”

Mini-me (5) says “I think it was good because they had real, actual dinosaurs skulls, and I got dressed up as a dinosaur.  My favourite bit was sitting on the dinosaur.”

 

 

Camping · Holidays · Outdoors

Camping with Kids (The Withies Campsite)

Camping With KidsThat feeling, you know the one when you’ve finally re-packed all of the crap that you packed just in case back into the car, you’ve strapped the kids in, done one last sweep of the campsite to make sure you’ve not left anyone or anything behind, and you ask the question “Well what did you think of that then?”

And the answer is a resounding  “That was the BEST weekend EVER!”

*Smug/relieved Mum*

I’ve got to admit I was a little surprised, (and I did wonder why I’d bothered to blow 2 months salary on an all inclusive week in the sun not two months earlier).  But then everything had just been as perfect as it possibly could be for a weekend camping.

We’d booked the weekend months in advance – attempting to coordinate the diaries of 7 old school friends (along with the schedules of their other halves and kids) is nothing less than a logistical nightmare.  Date marked in indelible ink on all of our calendars, we then had to decide on a location.  We picked The Withies Campsite in Much Wenlock, Shopshire, for no reason other than the fact it was pretty much an equal drive for all the parties going.  The choice of site could not have been more perfect if we had spent hours trawling reviews to pick it.

The site is just perfect for families/ groups looking for a relaxing, laid back camping trip.  The facilities are fairly basic, but absolutely spotless and well looked after.  (Mini-me with her high standards, was less than impressed when she saw the toilets were portaloos, but a cucumber scented wet wipe to hold over her nose and the promise of an extra mashmallow at the campfire if she would just go for a bloody wee soon sorted things out).

There is a meadow behind the camping field which is owned by the site, the kids (and their grown-ups) are welcome to play in it as they wish – think hide and seek in waist deep grass, scavenging for sticks, hunting for butterflies and spotting the prettiest little meadow flowers.  Between us all we’d also managed to pack enough toys and equipment to stage pretty much every event from the modern day Olympics.  If that isn’t enough to keep everyone amused, there’s also a little sandpit (which you can see from wherever you are pitched so the little ones can play safely whilst you do Important Camping Tasks –  like sweeping the tent and preparing nutritious snacks*).  On one of the days we were there the owners even set up a paddling pool for the kids.

*Drink wine from an enamel mug whilst discussing tactics for keeping the little horrors in bed past sunrise – which we discovered at this time of year is about 4.45am *sob*

If you do fancy a little stretch of the legs, Much Wenlock is a short stroll along a countryside footpath.  A little bumpy, downhill there so remember the uphill back!  The kids (ranging in age from 2 to 9) managed it without too much problem.  It was just about manageable with a buggy.  Once again the promise of extra campfire marshmallows was enough of a bribe to get most of them back up the hill!  The town of Much Wenlock looks like something out of a period drama, just Google it (other search engines are available) my descriptive abilities won’t do it justice.  We found a pub with a beer garden big enough to fit 17 of us, and with a reasonably priced kids menu.  If any of the kids do fall asleep at the table because they were up at the crack of dawn/declare that they couldn’t possibly walk another step, then it’s close enough for the more athletic of the grown-ups to jog back to the site and grab the car to ferry the little legs home.

The campsite allows BBQs and campfires, and sell bags of kindling/logs so that’s one less thing that you have to shoehorn into the car.  Both nights we were there we had a lovely laid back fire for all the families to congregate around.  Much fun was had using the twigs that we’d foraged, and Monkey-boy had gleefully whittled into skewers with an actual real sharp penknife, to roast the highly anticipated Marshmallows.

The only downsides to the weekend were the late nights/early mornings for the kids – there’s no escaping daylight when you’re under canvas, and the short but violent boxing match that occurred in the back of the car on the way there (my strategic packing of a pillow and sleeping bag version of the Berlin Wall between the kids in the back of the car failed at that point)

What The Kids Thought.

In the words of Monkey-boy (9) the trip was “Epic – we could play Frisbee and badminton because there was loads of space by the tent.  There was a nice walk and we saw a skeleton rib cage on the path.  We had a BBQ and campfire…..

Mini-me (5) is off somewhere in the garden doing something messy  beautifully creative with glue, feathers and glitter so is far to busy to comment right now!

We would most definitely go back to this site again, and would highly recommend it to families with kids of all ages.  If you have all the camping kit, then the only real cost is the site which at £36 for the four of us for 3 days away was pretty reasonable.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Eating Out · Uncategorized

Meltdown At The Ice Cream Parlour

FullSizeRenderTo treat the kids for their recent good reports from school we decided to take them to Coco Gelato.  (Am tempted to wonder if teachers ever write anything but lovely stuff on reports – Is it a conspiracy to have us all in awe of their superior child taming skills?!). On Woodville Road in Cardiff Coco Gelato is not our nearest Ice cream place, but so far it’s the kids favourite.

All started well, we parked on a side street, not right outside, but not far enough away to kick off the inevitable moans of  “It’s too far/my legs hurt/I want a piggy back”.  Mini-me (5) made herself right at home, as usual kicking off her shoes and demanding an iPad, as soon as we got to a table!

After some “discussion” we managed to persuade Monkey-boy (9) that he was probably aiming a tad above his league when he tried to order The Roman Empire, a £32.95 monstrosity containing more sugar than the average family would consume in a month.

Both kids eventually decided on The Sweet Shop from the kids menu. (Result! Half the price of the adult sundaes, and one of the reasons we rate this place above other ice cream joints that don’t have a dedicated kids menu).  Ice cream with sweeties on top – can’t go wrong with that can you?

Turns out you can go wrong with that, when you have an over tired 5 year old who didn’t realise that the Jelly Bean ice cream was goddamn BLUE!  Much wailing, sobbing, snot and indignant howls of “I DON’T LIKE BLUE ICE CREAM” followed.  Wanting to avert a full on thermonuclear meltdown (and to stop the sympathetic/judgemental looks from the parents at the table next to us, whose kids were behaving impeccably) we decided to just cut our losses, ignoring the parental rule of never giving in to a tantrum, and offer the little madam whatever she wanted….. It took us a while – with more snot and wailing and arm waving – to work out what she REALLY wanted was one of the 5kg buckets of Nutella that they had stacked as a display behind the counter.  This place has quite literally got every possible combination of ice cream based meal that has ever been dreamed up, and she wants a catering sized bucket of Nutella.

Daddy had, unsurprisingly, finished inhaling his ice cream of choice at this point, so he took Mini-me to the counter to convince her that the Nutella wasn’t actually for sale.  (He’d opted for The 1300, a DIY combination which allows you to choose 3 scoops of gelato, 3 toppings, a fresh fruit and a sauce.)  Monkey-boy and I were still attempting to wade through ours – maybe going after we’d already had a Sunday dinner at home was a rookie mistake?!

Altogether we spent just under £25 on 4 sundaes (plus a cone of Nutella flavour ice cream which was a strop-stopping compromise)  A little pricey just for dessert, although the portions are HUGE so you could probably go in place of going for a meal out.

Despite the Mini-me meltdown, the kids both give Coco Gelato a big thumbs up.  Ice cream for dinner and a big screen on the wall randomly showing a rollercoaster on loop, what’s not to love about that?!  I’ll try to get their opinions aired over on YouTube when I get round to it*

*Once Monkey-boy has given me a tutorial on uploading videos.