Wray Castle in the Lake District

Anyone who reads my blog regularly will probably know that we love a good visit to a National Trust property and make the most of our membership. On our trip to the Lake District we visited a number of National Trust properties, and one in particular was unlike any I’ve been to. Wray Castle.PhotoGrid_1494495988682

It’s a really unusual place as it was never anyone’s home. The original owner inherited a ridiculous amount of money and built this purely as a showpiece. So it is mock gothic. It was used as a sort of holiday home I guess, Beatrix Potter and her family even summered here when she was a teenager. So people brought their furniture with them, and then took it away again. It was eventually inherited by a teenage boy in Lincolnshire and being wealthy already he didn’t want it (can you imagine that? Bonkers) and it was very much unloved. It has been used as offices (there are sockets all over the walls, imagine working in castle?) and all sorts.

So unlike most other National Trust properties it came to them empty, with no family furniture or family history, and I adore what the Trust have done with it as it is probably the most child friendly National Trust place we’ve visited, and that’s saying something as most National Trust places are quite child friendly. There is a bit of history downstairs but as soon as you go upstairs it is all about the kids. There is a colouring room for them to colour their own crowns and the walls are decorated with framed children’s drawings. There is a story room with lovely children’s books where the walls are decorated with lovely fairytale murals.PhotoGrid_1494497213531

The next room is all about dressing up as Knights and Kings and Queens and Princesses. Most  costumes were far too big for LM but they were perfect for Monkey and we did find one dress that just about fit LM (and she does love a pretty dress), aren’t they adorable? Good childhood fun!PhotoGrid_1494497319431

Continuing through the house you come to The Peter Rabbit Adventure. A whole wing of the castle dedicated to the stories of Beatrix Potter. The kids adored this bit and we could have stayed there for hours. Playing cooking and tea making in Peter’s burrow, planting and watering in Mr McGregor’s garden. Then upstairs is squirrel Nutkin’s Tree house, and Jemima Puddleduck’s nest, with yet more dressing up, as Peter and his sisters.PhotoGrid_1494497580614

It didn’t end there as there was a room filled with soft play bricks for you to build your own castle (which we all had great fun with), a room with a table tennis table, a room with a billiards table, a room dedicated to the local area with stones to build your own stone wall, and magnifying glasses for you to investigate the rings of a tree.PhotoGrid_1494497880398

Honestly, there was so much to do! When it was time for lunch we were unsure about eating our picnic outside (as it was pretty chilly) , but thankfully there was an indoor picnic room on the top floor. Set up as a tea party you could play and eat in there. So after eating our yummy lunch we had fun with yet more dressing up and all enjoyed trying on the various hats available.PhotoGrid_1494498185738

With our energy restored after lunch we headed outside. The castle has some lovely grounds and woodland to explore…PhotoGrid_1494498472575

… But of course we were drawn to the fantastic adventure play area. The kids (big and small) all had a whale of a time outside.PhotoGrid_1494498631817

I think you’ve probably got what I was talking about in terms of it being all about the kids! It is a spectacular place to see from the outside and a fantastic fun-filled place to visit. I definitely recommend it to anyone visiting the Lake District with children.

Lakeside Aquarium, Lake District

We visited some amazing places on our recent trip to the lakes, and I was so impressed by how child/toddler friendly many of them were. One place that I was particularly impressed with, was the Lakeside Aquarium, which was wonderful and fantastic value for money.

We’ve been to numerous sea life centres which are amazing but are also really expensive. When I saw the flyer for the aquarium, and how low cost it was, to be completely honest I assumed it wouldn’t be that amazing. But oh how wrong I was! There was just as much as at some of the smaller sea life centres. True it didn’t have a play area outside or water play area like at Weymouth, but it had it’s own unique exhibits.

I had thought that there would only be fish and animals from the lakes area but in fact there were exhibits and zones of animals from all over the world, in addition to the local wildlife.PhotoGrid_1493976063557

One of the favourite exhibits for us was the incredible display of leaf cutter ants. I was a little nervous for LM as it was almost entirely open to the touch, but we managed to keep her from touching any ants. The incredible thing about the display, was that you could really see the ants carrying leaves and bits of food up and down the ropes back to the nest. There were also panels meaning you could see inside the nest to see the different ants doing all of their jobs. I won’t go on but it was incredible and hubs, Monkey and pops were well and truly transfixed! PhotoGrid_1493975678598

We also loved watching the otters being fed and I was very pleasantly surprised to find an underwater tunnel which was really lovely. Above this were some ducks, which LM loved, and we were fascinated by as some of the male ducks were showing off for a female!PhotoGrid_1493975847572

There is a lovely coastal area with open pools containing star fish and anemones. There was a great fun dress up area with some sea animal costumes for adults as well as children. With everyone busy looking at the animals I snuck on a crab outfit (daft as I am) and amused myself by sneaking up on my family members and giving them a shock lol! Hubs then dressed as an octopus, Monkey as a shark and LM was so cute dressed as a starfish haha (she wasn’t hugely impressed though I’ll admit!) PhotoGrid_1493976558814

I was so surprised with how many animals there were as there were also Marmosets, piranha fish, terrapins, a big tortoise, rays, clown fish, frogs, snakes, and literally all sorts. Under 3s go free and there were a variety of family tickets for 2 adults and different amounts of children. So for us a family 5icket with 2 adults and 1 child it was only £15.95 and I think there are discounts if you buy tickets online. It really was such good value and I would highly recommend it.

I did not receive any compensation for this blog post. We paid to visit and was so impressed that I wanted to share my thoughts.

A lovely long family bike ride

Since learning to ride his bike without stabilisers our Monkey just can’t get enough of it. He wants to go on a bike ride everyday, and often multiple times. We love it and thankfully LM loves sitting in her “chair” on the back of my bike too so we get out quite a lot.

On a very sunny Saturday last week we had no plans for the afternoon, so I came up with the idea of a slightly longer bike ride than we’d done previously. We are so lucky that we live close to a country park so most of our rides end up there or at a local playpark. I fancied a change though so we headed off to another lovely spot, a lock over the river.

It really is a longer cycle for Monkey so we thought we’d try it and see how we went, and he did brilliantly! Much of the journey is on a path next to the Nene Valley Railway line and at one point we were chasing a diesel train on the tracks. His little legs couldn’t quite keep up but Monkey certainly gave it a good try.

I originally thought we would just get to the lock over the river and turn back, but we got there in no time and Monkey was keen to continue, so onwards we went.

Down near the rowing lake are some sculptures that have been there since 1987 and that Hubs and I remember from when we were kids. This was getting quite far now, but Monkey was adamant he wasn’t ready to head back so we continued on and both kids loved seeing the sculptures… Especially the ones hubs has nicknamed “dinosaur poos” hehe can’t think why that would appeal?PhotoGrid_1491834925600

I loved the one that looked like lots of open doorways, and miraculously managed to get a family snap of us all standing in a different doorway!20170408_143654

It was such a glorious day to be out, and lovely to see Monkey enjoying his bike so much. At times he was tired and needed a breather but on the whole he was fine. It was funny cycling behind him as he was having little conversations with himself, making up scenarios and vouching and whizzing and kept bending down low when he wanted to go fast to “get the baddy” or something haha.

It was just lovely and both hubs and I feel this is such a huge step as a family, to go on proper bike rides at more than a walking pace. I can see us doing this a lot this summer I really can. Well done Monkey!

 

Fun in the sun at Fineshade Woods with the Gruffalo Spotter App

Wasn’t the weather last weekend just stunning? A bit of sunshine can work wonders and I think almost all of us were out there in some form to make the most of us weren’t we? We had already arranged to meet friends at Fineshade Woods, which is a forestry commission forest near to where we live, and were quite pleased to be able to go there in the sunshine as we’ve only ever been on rainy or cold days before!

The biggest difference was obviously how busy it was, still we were there early enough that we managed to park and met our friends. First up was a little play on the fab play area near the visitors centre.PhotoGrid_1491833272213

Then we headed off onto their newest trail, the Gruffalo trail! They had a Gruffalo trail here previously which ended with a sculpture, but I knew this one was all about the latest app, the Gruffalo Spotter, so I had downloaded it prior to arrival. We headed off down the trail and could immediately see the difference a sunny Sunday made, as it was busy! The kids loved spotting all the signs along the way even though we sometimes had to wait a bit to get close to some of them.PhotoGrid_1491833054674

The app itself is based on an augmented reality. You scan some of the signs and then the characters from the book come to life on your device. It’s kinda cool… But I’m not that convinced I have to admit. On a bright sunny day it was tricky to see the screen… And we only had phones rather than a tablet which I guess may be better.PhotoGrid_1491832908962

But for small children, I don’t think they really got why things were on my screen but weren’t really there. Trying to get them to pose for photos was tricky too as they were standing next to a sign and didn’t really get why. Monkey grasped it a bit but LM didn’t have a clue what was going on really! It didn’t help that it was a busy day as sometimes we had to wait to get to one of the signs, which the little ones really didn’t see the point of!

Then, the worst bit for us was that the final one, with the Gruffalo… Just didn’t work. I tried a few times and restarted the app but just nothing. I don’t think we were the only ones either so it was a shame. By that point the kids were pretty hungry anyway we easily distracted them and headed to the cafe.

I don’t think the app and the downsides detracted from our enjoyment of the trail… But actually I don’t think they enhanced it either. We all loved running around and playing in the woods and looking out for clues. The images we saw and pics we took gave us a bit of a giggle but I just think that actually for my kids at least, that they would have liked something tangible they could see, more than something on a screen. It also meant I was behind my screen a lot trying to get it to work, rather than being present and joining in the fun with them.

Like I say, we had a really lovely day. Catching up with great friends and having a fun outdoor adventure in lovely woods on a gorgeous day. I’m just not sure I’d bother with the app next time!PhotoGrid_1491833176426

Have you tried the Gruffalo Spotter app? What did you think? Am I being overly negative about it or did you think the same?

 

Lions & Tigers & Giraffes, oh my! Our day at ZSL Whipsnade Zoo

Our little lady has a real thing about tigers and giraffes. She has watched the tiger episode of show me show me countless times and has a real love of giraffes. “Gi-rar” surprised us as being one of her first words and actually while all other animals are named by the sounds they make (moo, miaow, woof woof, even an elephant is called an “oooooh” and a lion is a “rar” )” tagar” and “girar” are the clear exceptions in being called by their actual names. Because of this I’ve had it in my head that we should take her to see them in a zoo.

It turns out that most of the zoos within easy access for us only have either tigers or giraffes, rather than both, with one exception being Whipsnade Zoo. There’s no denying it is a pricy day out but we had about £10 of tesco vouchers we were able to exchange which did take a chunk out of the cost for us. Hubs was able to take a day off during half term too so, with great excitement, off we went! It’s a little over an hour for us so not too bad and we got there shortly after it opened. We were so lucky too as it was a beautiful morning.20170220_101836

We headed in and the first animals we saw were the lynx cats. LM adores cats so she was thoroughly excited about the “miaows.” Monkey was telling her off and saying that they don’t miaow, until we pointed out on a sign that actually they make a lot of the same noises as housecats! Then it was on to the beautiful brown bears which looked on so cuddly! We also saw some sleeping wild boars, where LM kept telling us to shhhh, and a wolverine bounding about but I didn’t get a photo of that.PhotoGrid_1487612449012

We were headed to the penguins and couldn’t believe it when we came out on the hilltop to this incredible view! Again we were so lucky with the weather as we could see for miles, it was incredible. We tried to get a little family selfie but we had the sun in our eyes so it didn’t work too well, still, not the end of the world!PhotoGrid_1487612641962

We saw the penguins, which Monkey was massively excited about (as he is in penguins class at school), then some reindeer before stopping for a little picnic looking out at the view. We had hoped this would be a cup of tea stop but as our half term is a little out of sync with the rest of the country’s sadly lots of small places like this around the park were closed.PhotoGrid_1487612860827

The view was beautiful but it was incredibly windy on this edge of the park and we were more than happy to go back in a bit, to see some animals of Africa, including antelope, meerkats and lions. The lions were incredible and so huge! They were asleep just in the other side of some thick glass and they were incredible to see. They were so cute too as one went in for a snuggle with some of the others and there was a lion sandwich!PhotoGrid_1487613068984

After the lions it was on to one of the animals we had particularly come to see, the Giraffes! LM was a little scared to start with, and let’s face it, they are very big, but they have a wonderful viewing platform which I think helped put her at ease. She was absolutely loving them!PhotoGrid_1487613361037

We then headed to the edge of the zoo again to see some cheetahs and hippos. It is here that I must mention the sheer scale of the place, as there are quite long walks between each animal. Which is good as they have spacious enclosures, but it was a bit of a trek at times. According to my Tom tom watch we walked around 13000 steps in the 5 hours we were there! You can pay extra to take your car in, and there are places to park at the various areas but, I’m a bit of a cheapskate for one thing, but also wasn’t sure about getting the kids in and out of the car constantly. Anyway we walked to the cheetahs which were gorgeous, and the hippos, which were mainly hiding underwater, though we did get a couple of snaps when it popped its head up. Along the journey we did also see zebras and flamingos!PhotoGrid_1487613582218

We had a little break in one of the cafes that was open, we only bought snacks as we had brought our picnic with us, but the food choices did look and sound very tasty! After that pitstop, it was on to another of the highlights, seeing the Tigers! The kids were very excited about this and we got to see them pretty close up.PhotoGrid_1487613775663

We then had a real bonus, we walked round to the other side of their enclosure, where there is a great viewpoint, and watched the Tigers having a real spat, it was incredible! The roar was so loud and they really went for each other. We saw them have another go at each other shortly afterwards, and we assumed the female must be in heat or something. Amazing to watch though, LM found it particularly hilarious and then was running around roaring at us all! Think she needed to be caged :)

Next up were some rhinos, which Monkey loved, purely because of the mud they were stomping around in! The elephants are having work done on their area so it was a bit of trek to get round to the all weather paddock that there were in at the time, but they were lovely to see. A little one was having great fun playing with a ball, and it would have been lovely to see them roaming in their big paddock!PhotoGrid_1487613983008

The kids had seen the playpark by this point and were desperate to go and play so we then headed there for a good old run around. The park was huge and the kids loved every second, LM did really well on the park that was clearly meant for older kids too!PhotoGrid_1487614097676

There is also an indoor soft play in this area, and a petting zoo/farm but we didn’t make it to either of those. After 5 hours and 13000 steps hubs and a were getting tired of it was time for us to head off. Shame not to see the sealions, butterflies, crocodiles, Monkey’s, lemurs and anything else we missed but we definitely feel we made the most of the day and saw lots of animals.

Have you taken your littles to the zoo? What are their favourite animals?

Snowdrops Week at Easton Walled Gardens

I make no secret of that fact that we like to get out for an adventure, whatever the weather… But I have to admit that the weather forecast for this weekend tested even our resolve! Grey, rainy,snowy and freezing… We did debate our sanity ever so slightly but after a chat over the breakfast table, the kids were adamant that we go so go we did, to somewhere we hadn’t been before, the Walled Gardens at Easton, just south of Grantham.

I saw some friends had visited last year on Facebook and thought it looked lovely, so had a bit of a nosy. When I saw they had opened for one week in February to show off their snowdrops, I was determined we would go for a visit. I have to admit I had hoped for a perfect winter’s day with blue sky… But sadly that was not to be on the day we had earmarked to go. So we wrapped up and donned waterproofs and it was off we went.PhotoGrid_1486993192113

Even on such a bleak day it was still obvious how lovely and how well cared for the gardens are. PhotoGrid_1486993514477

We loved having a good old explore, and LM particularly loved the giraffe statues… She does love a “gi-rar!” PhotoGrid_1486993862252

And the snowdrops certainly didn’t disappoint! PhotoGrid_1486994037732

There is a a lovely little hut in the gardens, which would be a lovely place to sit on a summers day… And was a lovely place to escape the drizzle for a few minutes!
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We had a lovely lunch in the tea rooms of jacket potato, baguettes and warm soup to thaw us out a little, then, after a tantrum about wearing her coat it was back outside to explore the rest of the gardens. I loved the fact that they provided balls, hoops and even quoits to play with and we certainly put them to good use! PhotoGrid_1486994665771

Then it was time to come home and thoroughly defrost ourselves and snuggle in the warm. We had a wonderful day, though with some serious tantrums and feistiness from our madam alomg the way… Though I doubt any outing would exist without those from her at the moment!

I was so glad we braved the weather, though, as we really enjoyed ourselves, and I look forward to. Coming back in the warmer months, hopefully on a sunny day!

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A winter’s morning at our local country park

We are incredibly fortunate where we live, that we have a fantastic country park basically on our doorstep. I don’t like to name it as hubs feels it is too clear an indication as to where we live, but we can walk/cycle there so easily. It is the perfect place for a family outing, to meet friends and generally have a play. Last weekend we arranged to meet some of our friends there for the morning.

It was such a clear, but very cold and frosty winter’s morning. Though it is very close it can be a bit too far for little legs to walk (especially the homeward bound leg after running and playing all day) so we decided to cycle over. I adore that LM loves being on the back of my bike, and Monkey is getting much stronger and able to cycle faster and for longer meaning we can have a bit of a family bike ride (though still a very sedate one!). It was gorgeous cycling over in the morning sun and sparkly frost.PhotoGrid_1485353769385

We had a look around at some of the ice and frozen plants, and shells etc before our friends arrived.PhotoGrid_1485354002746

They joined us for a play on one of the playareas, which was interesting in the ice, as the slide was seriously slippy, so much so that LM flew at one point bless her!PhotoGrid_1485354216821

The kids then had great fun chasing bubbles, which looked gorgeous in the sunlight.PhotoGrid_1485354309545

We then walked over to go to another playarea but at this point LM threw a mega wobbler and basically wouldn’t stop screaming. One of those times where you can’t really even work out what is wrong or what she wants you to do. Always fun. Eventually she was happy to ride on Daddy’s shoulders which thankfully gave us a break from the screaming!PhotoGrid_1485354415362

Thinking she may be cold we stopped at a cafe for some hot drinks and cake to warm us all up, before going out onto the nearby sandy play park. The kids love this park and had so much fun out there, going through tunnels, jumping off ledges, going down the slide and playing in the sand in general.PhotoGrid_1485354535511

With lunchtime approaching and knowing we had to get back to our bikes, and then cycle home, it was time to head off. I love a good cold morning out when you can then wrap up warm and cosy when you get home :)

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Hills & Holes, Barnack, Lincolnshire

A little to the north of where we live is a little known nature reserve, and a place that I love, called Hills & Holes. It is the site where limestone was quarried to build Peterborough cathedral, and quite simply this left the area with lots of hills, and lots of holes!

I know it sounds a bit odd but honestly I love it there. I have so many awesome memories of running up and down all the hills and in and out of the woods there as a kid.  Hubs did the same with his family too so it is a place we have always said we wanted to take the kids, and finally it feels like LM is old enough to start to enjoy it, so with some rare sunshine forecast on Saturday morning, we headed over.PhotoGrid_1484575491854

Monkey could not get his head round what we meant when we said we were going to Hills & Holes, and he was even more confused when we pulled up in one of the few laybys that class as parking on the edge of the village and walked through a little gate. But as soon as we got in and he saw the hills, well he was about as happy as a 4yr old gets at the prospect of an adventure!PhotoGrid_1484574948014

It’s difficult to see in the pictures just how hilly and undulating it is… but I’m sure you get the idea! PhotoGrid_1484575419728

I was so proud of LM as she did so well walking up and down some of the seriously huge hills holding Daddy’s hand…  Though her little legs definitely got tired after a while and she needed a carry the rest of the way.

At some times of the year there are sheep in some areas of the reserve. We wandered over to say hello and they were all staring at us and being quite friendly. But then when we carried on walking they started following us, which unnerved LM a bit bless her. We were a little perplexed and turned back to see the ram push his way to the front of the sheep and start stomping his feet at us! We weren’t really sure what to do at that point other than calmly but swiftly carry on our way.  They all followed us, with the ram leading them, though thankfully at quite a distance, for some way until we went through a gate into another section of the reserve. I have to admit that I’ve walked through herds of sheep a number of times but have never been confronted by a ram before. What should you do in that situation?PhotoGrid_1484575642847

Anyway, after that little bit of excitement, as LM was needing to be carried we were getting a bit tired (carrying a toddler up and down hills soon becomes hard work!) so headed home. We had a lovely time though. I’m so glad the kids are old enough to start to enjoy it now and look forward to going back many more times over the years for some fresh air and a run around!

Things you need to know about Hills & Holes.

Hills & Holes is on the edge of the village of Barnack, just to the south of Stamford, Lincolnshire.

Parking is in a few laybys on the road between the reserve and the village itself.

Dog’s are welcome but there are signs up when sheep are in the reserve to let you know they need a lead.

It is not remotely buggy friendly or even accessible so if a little one isn’t big enough to walk themselves then they will need to be carried!

No toilets or refreshments etc. of any kind.

If you live nearby have you ever been to Hills & Holes?

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Canons Ashby with Friends

I’m a bit late writing this post but a few weeks ago we met up with some lovely friends of ours, Sarah from Run, Jump, Scrap and family, at National Trust’s Canon’s Ashby. Living a fair distance from each other we often meet up somewhere like this in the middle, and I can’t believe that the last time we went to Canon’s Ashby was a little over a year ago! We’ve met up at other places since then but still hard to believe it was a year since the last time we were there, playing in the autumn leaves. We were particularly excited to meet up with them this time as it was to be the first time that we met the newest addition to their family, beautiful baby piglet.

We got there a little early, and it was absolutely freezing! Thankfully we were all wrapped up warm and while LM was fixated on seeing the chickens, Monkey and I ran around having a bit of a leaf fight,before we headed to the cafe for a hot chocolate while we waited for Sarah and Co.photogrid_1480069386744

After warming up and having a little snack it was time to head out and explore the grounds, after the kids had a game of hide and seek with hubs that is!photogrid_1480069491380

The gardens are great fun and the kids loved running about, though poor Gremlin took a tumble and twisted her ankle which stopped the fun a little.photogrid_1480069607336

To warm up we headed into the house itself, and headed straight to the nursery which is set up with toys for the kids to play with. They had loads of fun in there and the gorgeous piglet woke up so we got to enjoy some cuddles with her.photogrid_1480069778688

We headed for lunch not long after and after some yummy food headed back outside for a play, adults and kids alike hahaphotogrid_1480069971192

Then the rain started. We headed into the priory in the hope that it wouldn’t last too long. The kids had a whale of  a time chasing each other round the pews and generally messing with each other while us grown ups got to have a good old natter.photogrid_1480070047897

With the rain getting worse rather than better we decided it was time to call it a day. We had so much fun though as always and look forward to our next meet up :)

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Sudbury Hall and the National Museum of Childhood

Last weekend we were headed to the Peak  District to celebrate my aunt’s 70th. As it is a fair old distance for the kids in the car we decided to do our usual and break the journey at a National Trust place along the way. We chose Sudbury Hall because I heard it had a great play area and also because we thought that the kids may enjoy the museum of childhood if the weather turned sour.photogrid_1478181773530

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