Rock pooling has been on my parenting bucket list for a long time, I have many fond memories of childhood holidays in North Devon and Cornwall hunting for hidden creatures in rock pools. Filling buckets up with crabs, shrimp and the occasional fish while wading through pool after pool in jelly shoes and armed with a net. This also meant that taking my own children could have been one of those rose tinted glasses moments where you remember something being awesome but your children just look at you like you’re mental.
However with bug hunting being their favourite pass time by a long shot I thought I was on safe ground, after all rock pooling is really just bug hunting with added water and sand isn’t it? So a few weeks ago when we were on holiday in East Sussex I decided it was time, although the pressure was on a little as Matilda was very disappointed that the beaches were full of stones and not sand! I’d read that Birling Gap was a prime location in that are for rock pooling and a quick study of the tide times confirmed that mid morning was low tide and the perfect time to be down on the beach.
I’ve never been to this are before, but when you can enjoy views like this with almost the whole beach to yourself (god bless term time holidays) I would be very tempted to come back again. The beautiful white cliffs of the seven sisters give a stunning back drop (and running route) and all this is just a few metres from a National Trust car park. Perfect.
So the location was beautiful, the weather was great, we had two excited children and 2 grandparents to help out and a nice packed lunch. Which on its own is a great morning out, what I hadn’t expected was the amazing star fish. Now I’ve seen a star fish or 2 a few times in Devon but never on the scale of here. There were quite literally hundreds of the things dotted across the rocks, pools and sand. I’m not sure if this is normal or if they’d been washed ashore by a storm perhaps but it was amazing to show the children and explain how they moved around.
It was a little odd climbing over white limestone rocks rather than the black granite of Devon but we had an amazing morning investigating all the pools. Although pops may have had more fun than the children and we kept having to tell him to slow down and wait for them. As well as the starfish we found a few crabs, loads of shrimp and all manner of shellfish. We also of course collected a nice pile of shells and stones that the children insisted on bring home.
In fact we had so much fun we came back the next day to do it again. Such simple fun yet this was the thing the kids enjoyed the most of the whole holiday and it is essentially free. On our second visit I introduced them to the joys of building dams in the sand to stop the streams and we even had a little paddle in the water. Although Matilda wasn’t so keen on the waves, she kept asking if they were going to get her, not entirely sure where that paranoia comes from.
To finish the day we of course sampled the finest National Trust cafe cake and coffee in the lovely cafe sat on top of the cliffs. I’ve no doubt this place gets very busy in the peak of the summer but for our visit it was just perfect. Which led me to the conclusion that I think we may well be a National Trust family and not a theme park or zoo one. We need space and fresh air when we go out and the children have inherited my aversion to noisy busy places. Maybe it’s time we got ourselves a family membership?
Coffee and cake!
Washing their hands
Spotting star fish
Splashing in the water
We have our very own Gerald Durrell in this house, I wouldn’t be surprised if Matilda ends up being a zoo keeper or a conservationist when she’s older. She has zero fear when it comes to animals and will happily stroll up to any of them, big or small, and say hello. This also applies to snakes, lizards and spiders much to the lady of the manor’s displeasure. When we visit Pets at Home she shows no interest in the cute rabbits and heads straight for the lizards!
A few weeks ago we went for a day out at Roves Farm which is just a few minutes from us; this is probably the children’s number one choice of place to visit at the moment. There are lots of these farm parks opening up but Roves Farm has to be one of the better ones, I like the simple, honest fun of visiting a place which is clearly catering for smaller children and wants them to get up close to all sorts of different farm animals. There are no cheesy cartoon characters or real commercialism to the place, instead they have simple tractor rides and a den building area. Perfect!
It of course all fulfils Matilda’s love of animals, she gets to stroke the noses of horses, cows, goats and sheep. She can sit and have a guinea pig on her lap in pets corner and stroke one of the free roaming chickens. Plus with this being spring time there is lots of baby animals around, many of whom need feeding.
So it was that we found ourselves rushing to the barn just in time to see little baby goats being handed to small children who were clutching bottles of milk. Flanked by parents who’d actually read when feeding time was and positioned their child in the right place to take part. Normally in these circumstances the child will then stand there until the whole bottle of milk is gone but, in a little farmyard miracle, the parents started asking their children to let someone else have a turn.
We shuffled our way forward and Matilda was handed a bottle which was closely followed by a small white goat desperate to keep having it’s lunch! Wow is all I can say, simply amazing to see the look on her and Henry’s faces as they held that bottle. A real live animal being fed by their little hands. I also loved the fact that the farm just let you get on with it, they of course keep an eye on what’s happening but you aren’t watched over and you’re left to get properly hands on.
The one downside of visiting a farm like this is Matilda has now uttered the words ‘Daddy…. I’d like a horse’.
P.S. This isn’t a sponsored post, we just like it at Roves Farm.
Picture the scene; the 3 intrepid explorers push through the undergrowth in search of the hidden wildlife. They move enormous rocks and crawl under the branches of towering trees in the hope of discovering new species unknown to mankind. So far on this trip they have found a greater spotted Wiltshire slug, a striped forest worm and seen signs of the elusive cumberland sausage racing snail.
When you’re a toddler all this excitement and adventure can be had without even leaving the garden, in fact almost every time I am in the garden with the kids now this is exactly what we end up doing – having a toddler mini adventure. I absolutely love sharing the discovery of wildlife like this with my 2 little adventurers, it’s the perfect activity for them. We’re guaranteed to find something, we don’t have to go far and they can get hands on as much as they want.
Henry wants to get right in there and touch and feel everything, Matilda is a little more reserved initially but once she sees that it’s ok she’s more than happy in picking snails and slugs up to look at them. However she does get a little annoyed when the snails aren’t where she left them and we do also have to be careful that Bracken doesn’t eat them!
I know we’re blessed with our garden being a good size and we also have a big variety of ecosystems to look at (check me with my Geography GCSE terminology). But you can have a mini adventure in even the smallest of garden, all you have to do is look under a few rocks or stones, the darker and damper the better and you’re guaranteed to find snails, wood lice, slugs , spiders and ants. If all else fails lift up the lid of your compost bin if you have one and you’ll probably find some worms and slugs.
We’ve now got a regular circuit of the garden we do which can easily keep us busy for 30 minutes as we check out all the nooks and crannies. So far I’ve focused on the bigger things like slugs and snails which they can easily see and of course don’t move very fast, but I think we’ll start looking for centipedes, ear wigs and grass hoppers.
If anyone knows of any good books or charts for identifying bugs that would suitable for toddlers then please let me know.