Mutterings of a Fool

Man, Dad, Runner, Chief dog walker

Tag: days out

Review – Better Extreme trampoline park Swindon

What do Tigger’s like to do the most? Bouncing! What do kids like to do the most? Bouncing! What do big kids like to do the most? Bouncing! And that’s exactly what we did 2 weeks ago at a special pre launch event at the Better Extreme trampoline park Swindon. I’ve been watching them build the trampoline park over the last couple of months when I go swimming next door so when the invite appeared in my inbox to test it out I leapt at the chance (excuse the pun). I was also pretty sure my crazy little monsters would thoroughly enjoy bouncing around given how much time they spend jumping on and off beds at home.

If you’ve never come across the concept of a trampoline park before let me give you a quick overview. A trampoline park is essentially a large room where most of the floor (and some of the walls) is covered with trampolines of various sizes and shapes with thin sections of mats between them. The park in Swindon has a few different zones to it; there is a large area of smallish trampolines which are great for bouncing between, it then has 2 baskeball ‘courts’ where you can practise your slam dunks using trampolines to help you, there is a dodgeball area surrounded by nets, a raised section with a couple of trampolines that bouncy really high and finally a balance beam and slack line above a foam pit to practise your balancing.

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Just one more week?

I’ve a serious case of the back to work blues tonight and I’m not even back to work for another 12 hours. The last week of holiday has been fabulous, hard and tiring at times as you would expect with 3 small children but that’s soon forgotten when you are making memories isn’t it? That’s after all what family holidays should be all about, making memories, creating those stories that you reminisce about for years to come. I know I still talk about things I did on holiday as a small child over 20 years ago and I hope Matilda and Henry will be doing the same.

We’d planned to go to the Lake District camping for 4 days after our wedding anniversary celebrations had finished which would have been awesome, but a weather forecast of heavy rain and 40 mph gusts of wind soon changed our minds. Who wants to be in a tent with 3 children and a dog in weather like that? It’s a real shame as I think we would have had an amazing time and I really wanted to be in that landscape again. Instead we did a bunch of day trips; we went to the Cotswold Farm Park (Adam’s farm for you Countryfile fans), Leigh Woods in Bristol, to the lake for a swim and bacon sandwich and then to the Cotswold Wildlife park (a big feature in both mine and the lady of the manor’s childhoods).

We had such a great week, a good mixture of visiting attractions and then low key days in the forest with Bracken along for a run around too. I also grabbed time this weekend for some daddy son and daddy daughter time with the 2 big ones; Henry and I went to the canal to look at the boats and I went to Avebury with Matilda (which is fab for kids if you haven’t been). Funny that the weather in April for our holiday was better than August but that didn’t matter, however I now want to have another 6 weeks just like the last one.

While I go off to buy a lottery ticket here’s a few photos from the past week.

Alex and Rupert

Henry by Lake 32

In Leigh Woods

Matilda and Henry feeding the horses

Matilda outside Avebury Manor

Penguins at cotswold wildlife park

Pops

 

Bracken

Matilda with a Rabbit

A walk on the wild side

When you’re under 5 what could be more exciting than a walk along winding forest paths following a map? Throw in some activities along the way and the occasional swing to swing on, fallen tree to climb and a picnic and I think it may be close to a perfect day out. Which is why I love our National Trust membership and the way they have embraced families visiting their properties. I remember well visits to National Trust properties as a child where it seemed like every bit of grass had a ‘do not walk on’ sign and the houses were places you were told to stop making so much noise.

Botanic garden lacock

But not any more and a trip to Lacock at the weekend proved it. We’re trying to get to all the National Trust places within about an hour of where we live this year. So far we’ve been to Avebury (which is just down the road) and The Vyne so are a bit behind, but Lacock was one more ticked off with Dyrham Park lined up this week also.

We’ve visited Lacock village quite a few times as we used to live just down the road in Trowbridge but had never been in the Abbey. Most of our previous visits have involved doing the scarecrow trail around the village which happened to be on this weekend also. But I’ll be honest I find the trail a little weird as most of the scarecrows aren’t really scarecrows, the one outside the ice cream stall for example was a pink bird cut out of a cardboard box. What exactly is that?!

Rope swing Lacock forest

But I can’t believe what we were missing in the Abbey! Such beautiful gardens and they had a mad inventors trail on for the children to follow and collect stamps (what child doesn’t like collecting stamps?). All inspired by the fact that Lacock was the place where the first photographic negative was developed (who knew?!). I really don’t think anyone does family friendly quite like the National Trust, always feel so welcome and you can see lots of thought has gone into designing the gardens etc to keep them interested.

We had great fun following the paths around the gardens, trying to spot the tools that were hidden in the trees. The wild garlic carpeting the floor smelled amazing all the way around and the kids had so much fun playing on the rope swing. We then ended up in front of the Abbey around lunch time and had a fab picnic on the grass there in glorious sun. What more could you ask for?

Using a telescope at Lacock

The grounds are also just the right size for our 2, plenty of space to run around in but not too big so it’s a long trek back to the car when they’re tired out and need carrying. Although do take food with you as I don’t think there is anywhere in the grounds to buy food or drink from, but there are plenty of lovely spots for a picnic.

We’ll definitely be back to Lacock again, but maybe not until we’ve been to a few more new places. If you have any recommendations of places within an hour or so of Swindon then send them my way. I’d also love to know what you favourite National Trust property is.

Ducks, just ducks

Is there a child out there that doesn’t like ducks? They make a noise that anyone can copy, they’ll happily eat bread out of your hand and you can find them bobbing around on pretty much any bit of water. What’s not to like? Matilda and Henry are currently obsessed with ducks due in no small part to the wonderful Just Ducks which is one of our favourite bed time reads.

What I like about this book is that for children of Matilda and Henry’s age it’s a fun story with nice illustrations but for older children there are lots of additional educational details about ducks on the page. But even through just the main story they now know the difference between a male and female mallard duck and what their names are. Definitely a book that’ll be on our bookshelf for a long time I think, I can see them getting lots of value from it when they’re at primary school.

Matilda and Henry feeding ducks

Swans and geese at Slimbridge

With this duck obsession in mind what could be a better day out than a trip to Slimbridge? I hadn’t been there for years, since I was a teenager I think, but thought it would be a perfect day out and being term time hopefully quiet. So we loaded up the car and squeezed 3 children into car seats which was interesting to say the least. Henry and Matilda both wanted to be able to see and touch Rupert which wasn’t going to happen and while we wait for our new car to be delivered (the dreaded but necessary MPV) Matilda has to sit on the pop up seats in the boot which she was not impressed with.

Amazingly we managed to choose a glorious sunny day to visit, freezing cold but sunny and the kiddies were toasty in their waterproof suits. Matilda was in her element walking up to the birds and trying to stroke them, including a couple of massive swans. She has zero fear when it comes to animals big or small which I love, even if it does mean having to pretend that I like stroking a large python while it wraps around my arm.

Matilda feeding geese

We spent a lovely couple of hours wandering around the various ponds looking at all the different types of bird; we saw my favourites the tufty duck and the Bewick swan (who make the most beautiful noise to call to each other), loads of different flamingo’s or mingo’s as the kids call them and loads of hungry geese ready to eat the grain we had. We also watched otters being fed while the kids ate a snack and in true English style ate lunch on a bench in the freezing cold.

Flamingos at Slimbridge

We finished up with some colouring in the kids activity section in the main building next to some of the most colourful (and by all accounts deadly) frogs you’ll ever see. Then of course it was time for a hot drink and a piece of cake, although I will dock Slimbridge marks for a pretty poor cake selection and the worst flapjack I’ve had in a long time. Certainly wasn’t up to National Trust standard which after all is the benchmark to judge these things by. But a fab day out and thoroughly recommended if you have wildlife loving children, plenty of activities to do that don’t involve just being bird watchers (there’s a canoe safari in the summer) and quite honestly just nice to do something outdoors that doesn’t involve a commercial theme park.

Billy goats not so gruff

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’.

Watching the cows

Matilda holding a guinea pig

Henry feeding the goat

Matilda feeding the goat

P.S. This isn’t a sponsored post, we just like it at Roves Farm.

 

Review – Superbreak and a visit to Sea Life Centre Birmingham

The Sea Life Centre in Birmingham ticks a lot of boxes for us when it comes to a family day out; it’s about an hour and a half away so not too far (but perfect distance for little people to nap), it involves fish which Matilda absolutely loves and there is the opportunity for some splashing which means Henry is happy.

Learning about crabsSo when Superbreak offered me the chance to have a free family day out to an attraction of my choice and I spotted the Sea Life Centre on the list it was a pretty easy decision. The concept of Superbreak is fairly simple, from a single website you can book a short break in the UK or Europe with all your activities included. If you fancy a trip to the theatre Superbreak will book both the theatre ticket and the hotel in one go saving you time and effort.

I’ll be honest and say I was a little nervous turning up at the Sea Life Centre with a Superbreak voucher, I had visions of standing at the till while 3 people tried to figure out whether they could accept the voucher and if so how to put it through the till. But I will happily admit I was wrong, we visited on a Sunday and there was 1 person in front of us in the queue. Once we got to the till we handed over the voucher and got our entry receipt and map before you could say hammerhead shark.

Fish!Given that we’d had a peaceful trip up with 2 babies fast asleep and not got lost in Birmingham and found a parking space straight away I felt like I was in some sort of dream and would soon wake up to reality!

I’d been to the Sea Life Centre a long long time ago as a teenager so hoped that it would live up to my memories. The set up is an interesting one, you start off on the ground floor and wind your way up a sloping foot way past tanks of colourful fish, turtles and crabs to the top floor. Here are the main exhibits where you can see otters playing in a stream, massive tanks full of rays or Nemo himself. There’s also a great section with jelly fish where neon lights have been used well to light up their tanks. This was definitely a favourite section with the kids.

Matilda watching the fishI loved how all the tanks had glass panels on the sides so that children can see easily, many also had ledges or benches for children to sit on. It really helps them get involved with what’s in the tank and of course saves the parents backs due to lifting children up all day.

There was also a rock pool area where at various times in the day there was someone there doing a talk about the creatures in the rock pool with the opportunity for those brave enough to touch a crab. Matilda decided that staying a metre away from the crabs claws was close enough thank you!

We didn’t bother with the 4D cinema as we know from experience that Matilda and Henry just don’t enjoy that sort of thing. But it was included in the price and starred Sponge Bob square pants in case you were interested. Once you’ve done this top floor you take the lift downstairs to one of the main attractions which is a glass tunnel you walk through with fish swimming all the way around it. The best thing has to be seeing big turtles go swimming by, a great spectacle and a perfect way to finish the visit.

Daddy and Henry spotting fishMy one criticism of the Sea Life Centre is that there is only one set of toilets and they are on the ground floor. Not ideal when you’re there with small children and have to make the long trek back from the middle of the centre carrying a child whose nappy has leaked. I speak from experience….

Finally the location of the Sea Life Centre in the heart of Birmingham means you are spoilt for choice when it comes to eating lunch and if you wish can have a nice walk along the canal to finish.