Mutterings of a Fool

Man, Dad, Runner, Chief dog walker

Tag: national trust

Me and Mine – May 2015

This months edition of the family photo project should be subtitled ‘crash, bang, wallop’ for as you will see it has been a month of accidents and visits to various medical professionals. But all’s well that ends well and all that. Writing these posts can sometimes feel like Groundhog day but mainly that’s because when I think about what we’ve done in the last month it’s all a haze of sleepless nights and feeling tired. The lady of the manor and I often wake up in the morning and struggle to piece together exactly when and for how long Rupert and therefore us, slept. Because of that it’s also hard doing much more than just getting through each day, let alone find the energy to tackle the long to do list of household chores.

But May has been a good month I think and one that’s ending with a positive outlook if you ignore the weather forecast. It’s also been one where we’ve been making use of our National Trust membership and this months photo was taken at Lacock Abbey, one of their properties.

On the lawns at Lacock Abbey

This month I’ve been mainly getting into the triathlon groove; April’s coastal runs were the spark I needed to get back into proper training as was the realisation that it’s now 12 weeks until race day! But quite honestly I’ve been loving it, especially the cold but beautiful 6.30am Saturday morning swims in the lake. Once you get over your breath being taken away by the cold it’s quite exhilarating swimming in open water watching the fish swim through the weed beds below (if you don’t believe me you can read the post on my Running blog about it here) . I’m enjoying the feeling of training and pushing my body again but it’s hard work getting out in the mornings after 5 hours broken sleep sometimes. I’ve also been enjoying firing up my pizza oven again, nothing like cooking on fire to make you get in touch with your inner cave man.

Ready for my first OW swim

The lady of the manor has also stepped up her training in May and is now up to 7km in her runs, she’s also taken the plunge and entered a half marathon in September. No stopping here what’s she’s determined to do something! She’s also been making an awesome birthday cake for Henry who turned the grand old age of 3 in the middle of the month.

Aside from turning 3 (and at the same time seemingly growing up overnight) Henry has spent May getting himself a nice bump on the head when he decided to use his forehead to break his fall out the front of the pushchair. He’s such a happy little dude though and after a trip to the hospital to have it glued he was back to his usual self, climbing on chairs and generally being a boy.

Bob the Builder cake

Matilda has also been in the wars, always rushing and competing to be first meant that this week she managed to roll her balance bike into the road and fall off. Nothing more serious than a banged elbow but frightening nonetheless. She’s become fascinated by numbers and letters this month, asking me to read the summary on the back of books as well as the book and making me point to the words I’m saying. It’s fascinating watching them develop isn’t it? I’m a big believer in letting them take it at their own pace though, support them but don’t push them, enjoy the process.

As for Rupert, well he is still the happiest smiliest baby you will ever meet, but he also holds the world record for the baby who sleeps the fewest hours. It’s rare that he sleeps for more than 2 hours at a time and most nights we’re up 5 or 6 times at least. Pretty exhausting but we now have some hope having gone to the GP and pleaded for help. We’ve been referred to the hospital to get treatment for reflux and have some Ranitadine which after a few days seems to be having an effect (I’ve only been disturbed once this evening while writing this). The GP in her referral letter to the hospital said ‘please treat as urgent, the parents are clearly exhausted’ sounds about right. On a cheerier note he is threatening to crawl any day now, always up on all fours and occasionally move his hands forward a little.

3 in a bed

Finally Bracken, who decided in May that escaping from the garden was good fun. The first time he did it we came down from putting the children to bed to a phone call from the vet to say he was there. We didn’t even know he was gone! But he’d made it 1.5 miles away and was found in the middle of the road in the town. Scary to think what could have happened to him. He got out again 3 more times that week some how evading my temporary barriers on the one section of low fence but thankfully we found him much quicker those times. He hurt himself one of the times and had pain killers for 3 days to treat a pulled back muscle. Just what we needed!

We’ve a lot to look forward to next month; a wedding, camping, a weeks holiday and maybe some warm weather? What did you get up to in May?

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.

Mini adventures – rock pooling

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.

Seven sisters

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.

a star fish

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?