Review: National Trust The Firs (Elgar Birthplace Museum)

The property is situated just outside of Worcester about a 10-15 minute drive from another National Trust property we visited on the same day (Brockhampton Estate). It is set just back off the road and is a relatively small property and has a relatively small car park and overflow.

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The entrance to the property itself is via the visitor centre where you can find a lot of information about Elgar, book your time slot to visit the cottage itself (they have to control the numbers in the cottage due to its size) and find out what’s happening on site that day. I shall not reproduce information about the property, details of it can be found here. I have to say, I really wasn’t expecting much out of this trip, but actually I was pleasantly surprise by how much was on offer, in terms of to see, learn and do.

 

 

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Like many other National Trust properties there are summer activities here for children. They had storytelling in the garden (free) and also puppet making in the foyer (£1.50/puppet). The lady, I forgot her name, running both of these on the day was lovely. Logan was really struggling with boundaries that day (as in restrictions on what he should/shouldn’t do and personal space), and she was very patient with him.

 

 

We also had quite some hunger after our little jaunt at… so I got me a pea soup and the children shared a cheese sandwich, between us we shared 2 slices of Victoria sponge and the children had a juice each whilst I had a Sicilian lemonade. The bill came to just over £21, 1 sandwich, 1 soup, 2 slices of cake and 3 drinks. I felt the prices for the drinks were on par with high end prices elsewhere, and the price of the soup/sandwich was reasonable. But the cake, at £3.25/slice; I was expecting more than just a dry sponge with a thin layer of jam. It really was quite stale.

However, was too tired to argue it and face the wrath of the children after the promise of cake. It was dry enough for me to need to go and get a glass of tap water, which is on offer in a dispenser. However, it was empty so I approached the counter to be met with an expression of displeasure and inconvenience. I had already paid for drinks, but nonetheless the feeling I got when I approached for tap water was very uncomfortable.

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It’s definitely worth a visit.

This is a genuine review and all opinions are based on my own experiences during the visit. The National Trust are not funding my visits, we have a year annual pass that was gifted by a family member as a Christmas present, hence our numerous National Trust visits. 

Review: National Trust Brockhampton Estate

The property is entered directly from the A44 between Bromyard and Worcester. About a 10-15 minute drive from another National Trust property we visited the same day (The Elgar Birthplace Museum – The Firs). The long, high wall on the outer of the property gives an indication of a vast estate, but it doesn’t prepare you for what you encounter.

After driving a few minutes down a single track road, surrounded by open countryside and grazing sheep you get to a lay-by and a little hut where you are expected to pull over. A National Trust member of staff comes to greet you and ask what your plans are for the day (so they can give you directions). It’s here that we found out we weren’t actually “here” yet… the actual house and gardens are a further 1.5 miles drive through the estate down this single track. The beauty cannot be escaped though – even the children were making sounds of awe as we turned the corner downhill towards the Lower Brockhampton estate. And then again as the road became tree lined. And then cheers of excietment when they realised we were at the car park and the much anticipated end of journey was nigh.

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The medieval manor house (entered by a cute little gatehouse) takes you through much history and is very well presented and provides a lot of information. This is a house with no roped off areas, so you can really get up close to the displays and furnishings. And in one of the upstairs rooms there’s a chance for dress up; though the children didn’t actually dress up on this visit, the house is a bit dark which added an eerie feel, they didn’t want to stick around too long upstairs. With short films available in a room at the back taking you through how the house was opened, archaeology days and the like.

 

 

 

 

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There is a lot more information to be found on various signs around the gardens and also in the courtyard by the Granary shop and kiosk (which we didn’t use on our visit, as we didn’t have need to). You can find a lot of information about the history and uses of the estate and some of the history of the chapel, as well as some information about agriculture.

 

 

 

 

The chapel is in ruins, but still has 4 walls and and is in good enough a state to get some kind of feel for space and layout. And previous archaeological digs have found remnants that give an indication of how it would have looked, so there are pictures of that too. The children thought it was very cool to see the font in position in the chapel. More history about the property and the site can be found at their website here.

 

 

 

 

The grounds are vast and as such we didn’t cover much of them, there are many walks but we didn’t come prepared for off-roading with Caitlin (we had the standard town-friendly wheelchair, and no carrier). We did try, but after rolling through a lot of sheep poop, and flicking it everywhere as the wheels spun, we decided to call it quits and hope that we may be able to get back there on another day for a walk (perhaps with Bruce, so he can share the carrying duties hehehe).

 

 

 

Whilst we were there, they were running the “Make do and mend” trail, where the children got to hunt for different things whilst learning about how people used to make do and mend. They found it both interesting and fun and were excited to chose their prizes at the end. It was an additional cost of £2.50.

This is a genuine review and all opinions are based on my own experiences during the visit. The National Trust are not funding my visits, we have a year annual pass that was gifted by a family member as a Christmas present, hence our numerous National Trust visits. 

Review: Green Gathering

Set among the beautiful scenery of Piercefield Park in Chepstow (adjacent to the racecourse) the festival is in an easily reachable location (easy access to M4, A48 and A40/A449). Only a short distance from the town centre of Chepstow itself and with views across the Severn (and the old bridge).

The children have never been to a festival before. Camping yes, but not at an event. So this was going to be their first taste; we knew we may not get the full festival experience (due to their issues), but none the less I grabbed the camping gear, and packed the essentials (and the essential essential oils – for use on cotton pads to disperse the likely moods giving us the best chance of staying). We packed all we’d need, and managed to get all of it (and ourselves) into the car with some success. Now just to get it all there and get pitched.

When I got to the car park, it was about 45 minutes ahead of gate opening. There were 2 attendants in the car park, directing cars, but very little information about “what next”. There were 2 areas of fencing, with a box office hut next to one. We assumed we needed to queue near the one for wristband exchange (we did) and that the other area of fencing was the bus queue (it was) but it was all guess work. So we dumped our bags in what us early arrivals had mutually decided must be a queue of sorts for the buses and headed over to queue for the wristbands at the booking office hut. Some clearer signage or a steward overseeing this would have helped, but it did all work out (though must mention here also – we were on the first bus – the bus drivers had no clue where they were going/if they’d fit etc. some extra communication to them may have been helpful).

Queuing, getting to the bus etc. actually helped ease my stress levels – suddenly I was able to see the warmth, kindness and character of the people I would be sharing the camp with for the next few days. And I was at ease. So many different types of people, yet the phrase going around in my head was “Community of strangers” (note the emphasis on unity). Everyone so friendly and ready to help everyone else.

This continued over into my access to the camp; pushing a wheelchair, carrying bags and supervising 2 children – I had help all the way. And then when pitching the tent (with friends) a teen boy approached asking if anyone needed help – known to the friends I was pitching with. He was very helpful indeed and was rightfully rewarded in snacks (despite his suggestions that offerings were unnecessary).

 

The camping facilities were ample. That is to say, they were festival-like; festival camping isn’t about the facilities, sure you have the basics a supply of water, a field and somewhere to toilet (in fact there were even some showers – which we didn’t use). Fire pits and barbecues are normally allowed but due to the heatwave the last minute decision was taken to ban any on site (for the safety of everyone). Thank you precious one ring stove… you saved us (not that we’d have gone hungry with the amount of food on site).

This is the bit where the toilets are discussed, cause let’s face it – it’s important… people of sensitive disposition should just skip right over this paragraph and onto the pictures below. Now, having been a seasoned festival-er (back in the day) I have seen many things toilet-wise, from cesspits with cubicled benches over, where you quite literally can see your neighbour’s poop dropping into the stinking concoction of blue chemical, poop, vomit and urine; or she-wees handed out for women to use urinals (and walking in to find people taking a poop in it)… I was ready for anything. But sightly worried about the reactions of my daughter who’s got sensory issues like mad. However, this was much more civil. Cubicled rooms, with a wheelie bin for waste and compost collection. And to be honest, if people are following the “1 poop, 1 scoop” rule, it doesn’t actually smell either. Regular cleaning and restocking of toilet rolls too.

 

 

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Though we didn’t really have much opportunity to get involved with the music performances, we did experience some of  the music and the atmosphere as we did our nightly walks, or from afar in the day; there was, for sure, much talent to be heard and the atmosphere was vibrant, happy and safe. The children really struggle where it is obvious there are drunk people; whilst people may have been drinking there weren’t any obviously drunk people, or anything to leave them feeling unsafe and vulnerable. So their comfort levels are an obvious indicator to me as to the safe environment created. There was a campaigns field, many talks and short films, music, crafts field, healing field a faerie glade (lit up beautifully at night time in a magical way).

The bit where we really got involved was with the wealth of activities for the children to be engaged in: drama workshops, story yoga, circus skills, puppet shows, bubble shows, aerial hoop/silks displays, play areas, story areas… mostly free. Things such as the bunjee trampoline cost a little extra but not a lot – £1.50/go. Stories and bunnies in the faerie glade. And just some free-range play (well as close as we can get to that with the issues these two have – but in general they needed far less supervision than is normally required on them because they felt safe enough to not be destructive, or overly anxious) and socialisation with other children.

The children really loved the story yoga (they did the story of Goldilocks alongside yoga – with movements representing the story). And they also loved the DIY Tribe sewing workshop (which they had kits of anyhow, so a separate review for that is available here). The drama workshop was fantastic – the children both have real issues with self regulation and staying engaged in activities that get them worked up – they often have to walk away and come back, the guys running the workshop paid no mind to this and just went about there way including them on their return but not acknowledging or drawing attention to them wandering.

 

 

With the ban of fires, our cooking plans (a fire wok) were slightly scuppered. However, a backup single cooking ring allowed somewhat of a “back on track” solution for this (even if we had to cook in shifts). There were plenty of eateries available. Food that’s vegetarian or vegan (and due to intolerance reactions, vegan food means I am a happy camper).

I was particularly excited (especially so considering the heat) to find the ice cream van stocking cashew based ice cream – THEY EVEN HAD MINT CHOC CHIP. I swear I could have eaten the whole tub she was scooping out of. It was amazing – the best dairy free ice cream I have eaten (and believe me, I have experimented with a load). And at £2 for a child’s ice cream, £2.50 for an adults, £3.50 for a 2 scoop – I was happy to keep going back.

And the falafel, I find it hard to enjoy because it’s always either dry or like sloppy stuffing. Here it was crisp on the outside and moist in the middle. Just great. I had both a pitta and a platter during the course of the time there, with the pitta coming in at £7 and platter at £9, I’d say if you are doing it pay the extra £2 and get significantly more.

So… to conclude.

A festival with an Spring Advance ticket cost of £100 per adult, £25 for car (and nothing for children under 11) is a bargain summer weekend away with the kids, even if 2 adults are going. (Earlybird tickets are on offer now for next year so it’d be even cheaper at just £90!!!) There are lots of things (mostly free) for children to do and play with, lots of beautiful scenery as well as campaigns, music, healing, crafts, campaigns and an air of magic to feed your soul. A safe atmosphere means it’s easy to relax as a parent, even as a parent of special needs children. And of course, plentiful supply of yummy vegan, or vegetarian, food. With the ability to dip in and out of as much as you want, the ability to self cater or completely rely on the food and drink supplies available and the freedom for the children it’s really a no-brainer for a stay-cation with an awesome twist.

NB. This is a genuine review of my opinions and experience. At the time of writing, and publishing The Green Gathering festival organisers and ticket sellers have no idea that my blog exists. 

Review: Croft Castle and Parkland (National Trust Property)

As we received a National Trust membership for Christmas, we have been aiming to visit as many properties and locations as possible. Thanks to the move and the slightly disappointing time we have been having housing and health wise this hasn’t been achieved to its fullest potential, so we are giving it our all before Christmas if we can.

Croft Castle was the first of a run of these undertaken, and here’s what we thought:

Entered via a very long single track driveway down into the parkland, you instantly get the feeling of how vast and extensive the parkland is. Situated deep within the countryside it is surrounded by vast amounts of mostly unspoiled beauty. The car park is situated slightly ahead and to one side of the main house.

 

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The grounds are very clean and tidy, well presented and welcoming. With various different areas to explore, including a walled garden, various other gardens, a chapel, many walks and the main house of course.


 

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The house has 1000 years of history, which I shall not spoil, if you want to know more about the history/background you can ready it at the National Trust’s page here. The children enjoyed that it was not roped off inside, meaning they could get right up to everything and see it all. In the main house there was even a little “spot it” type guide for the children to draw interest and focus in each room (this was for fun, and as such was free).

As it is the UK Summer Holidays, there was also a fun trail (with prize) for the children to do, which had them going from one place to another to find clues, puzzles or riddles to untangle, or tasks to perform, and get an answer sorted on their trail booklet. Once all was finished they were able to choose a prize (this was at an additional cost of around £2 on top of the entry fee per child). It was well thought out, very well sign posted and very clear for them to do. They really enjoyed it.

 

We can make no comment about the eateries on site as we did not utilise them. But we did see a cool little park (where they’d even built a mini castle). The toilets near the cafe/park were clean and well equipped.

The site was accessible for a wheelchair on the most part, and seemed quite family friendly. If your children like exploring and don’t need things to be overly stimulating to enjoy. If they like things to be electronic and very interactive then it is perhaps not the place for them.

Review: West Midlands Safari Park

First I have to say, I am always very conflicted about places such as zoos, aquariums and safari parks. Like, I understand that many can do great work with conservation projects and endangered species, or even rehabilitation efforts with rescue animals that have been hurt, kept illegally or abused to the point of not being able to return to the wild. But there are also many that are terrible, keeping animals in poor, cramped conditions; caring more about profit than animal welfare. But after a debate in a recent Eco Kids magazine about the positives and negatives of zoos and the like. And actually I decided if I want the children to make an informed choice they’ll need to experience it themselves and draw their own conclusions.

With that in mind, the following will ignore my underlying moral and ethical conflict to the extent that I would consider “fair”; that is to say, if I comment on what I feel is not ethical, it’s above and beyond the “normal” level of conflict within me.

So West Midlands Safari Park happened.  The  safari itself is well thought out, with many animals experiencing a relatively “wild like” atmosphere. I am not keen on the fact that you can feed some of the animals, it takes away from the “wild” for the animal, and is purely indulgent for the humans involved. And can end in reactions that can scare or hurt the animals. That said, on the safari drive itself, although they don’t have the masses of land they’d perhaps have in the wild, the animals all do seem to have a fair amount of space, shelter food and care. But in general the overall experience of the safari itself is quite good, the animals look happy and healthy on the most part.

The walk through area contains: Penguin Cove, Sea Lion Theatre, Lorikeet Landing, Reptile World, Creepy Crawlies, Seaquarium and Twilight Cave.

The Penguin Cove does have a medium sized pool, a “beach” area and some caves. The penguins are seemingly able to retreat from spectators, the area looks well maintained and the penguins seem happy and healthy. They have balls etc. in the water to play with. The keepers to timed penguin feeds for spectators to watch, we never attended so I cannot comment on this.

The Twilight Cave, Creepy Crawlies and Seaquarium are all housed within the same building, in a “route through” style. You can skip the Twilightcave if you do not wish to go through (it is dark, damp and has bats flying around, so if bats flying or dark, damp, strong smelling rooms are an issue – for Caitlin they are – you can by pass this). It is a large room, with freedom of movement for the bats and plastic flaps that prevent the bats from escaping. It’s not possible to see much in it, but we have been there as the room’s cleaning is just finishing – so they do ensure the place is cleaned. The Seaquarium is setup with fish tanks containing the usual suspects you’d find (nothing like an Octupus in a cramped tank or anything) and Creepy Crawlies contain usual suspects of spiders, snails, ants, stick insects etc. All of the tanks looked well maintained and clean and filled with fresh supplies of relevant food and water sources.

Similarly the Reptile World seemed adequate, clean and well supplied. I struggle personally with the size of the crocodile enclosures, and perhaps some of the larger snakes (but I don’t have sufficient training and professional background to criticise the adequacy of it all – so please do just understand that is just my personal struggle).  We have not visited Lorikeet Landing.

In all of the areas you will find masses of information about all of the animals, also access to hand cleaning facilities if you have come into contact with animals etc.

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The Sea Lion Theatre provides “shows”, which are described as part of the sea lions’ enrichment program. It is packed with educational information regarding sea lions. I cannot comment further on this, as shows are an area I do not morally agree with beyond being conflicted.

Near to the Sea Lion Theatre is the entrance to the Ice Age exhibit. This is a large area of models, information and animatronics applicable to, and representative of, the Ice Age. The children absolutely loved it (Caitlin in a slightly conflicted way, as she’s still at that young-naive, “it’s alive” kind of stage). You get to walk through the smoking volcano on your way in, and there are cracks with Lava under your feet (along with rumbling sound affects). And then an adventure through the Ice Age area, complete with little finger-trail Identification games. Then at the end you walk through an Ice cave under the volcano, which is complete with its own little “secret tunnel” which the children loved going through. Even a small child’s wheelchair could fit through.

But one of the things that got them very silly and laughing we signs like the below. “No smoking. Only the volcano has permission” and “Keep to the paths. If not, the mammoth may tread on you and that might make their feet sore.” There were many others too.

 

The Land of the Living Dinosaurs had similar signs too. And was equally enjoyable. Similar to the Ice Age exhibit it is filled with models, animatronics, information and finger trail identity games. Unlike the Ice Age area though, it has a large sand pit for fossil discovery, a themed shop and a geyser sure to attract some attention. Again the children absolutely loved it (even with Caitlins slight fear that the raptors would eat her). It’s definitely a well thought out area, and fun for all ages.

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What was also fun was noticing the evolving foot prints on the floor, on the way in and way back out… see below gallery.

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Once you are through this area you cross a small, private road (with zebra stripes on the zebra crossing) which takes you over to the theme park, the Boj Giggly Park (for the little ones), the Hippo Lakes and the African village. Despite more than one visit (you get a free return included in your ticket) we didn’t have time to do everything. We did see the meerkats briefly, and breeze past the hippos and park, but didn’t really take time there. The children, were naturally, drawn to the rides, and that’s where we spent much of our remaining time.

You can purchase ride wristbands to get unlimited rides, and really, if you plan on going on rides this is the advisable thing to do. You just show your wristband and on you get. They have quite a selection of rides you can go on, from carousel-based rides and a kiddy coaster for the littlies, to flying hippos, rhino-coaster and snake helter skelter for the slightly more adrenalin filled littlies to wild water rapids,  twister-coaster and even bigger rides for the even more adrenalin fuelled theme park go-er.

There is clear signage and height checkers around this area so you’ll know what each guest can go on (whether independently or accompanied) including by the wristband exchange area where you’d purchase the wristbands from (so you’ll know if the guests can do what you expect/want them to do). The staff are very efficient at trying to get everyone through and filling up the rides etc. And were all friendly and welcoming; trust me, I know how boring it is to repeat the same safety stuff over and over, and I have been multiple places where actually they kind of show hatred towards guests who mishear/misunderstand/ask questions etc. We did not experience this here.

Then the important bit – food of course…

We only used the Dino Diner. I mean – it has a Jurassic Park feel to it and I have 2 dino mad children. Of course we ate there. The whole restaurant is decorated to have a dinosaur feel, with various dino creatures featuring around the place. The most amazing part of the decoration though was the light shades which are themed as hatched dino eggs. The children honestly wanted to take some home with them. They can not be purchased though – the talents of team they have on park created them. I think the children would lay an egg apiece if I got them a light shade like that each.

But the food. You could argue it’s over priced if you are used to your chip shop, Spoons or McDonals prices, but actually as seasoned day trippers the menu is on par, at the lower end of the scale, of attraction prices (especially when you factor in portion sizes). The first visit saw the adults with “Chip-izza” (a plate of chips covered in pizza topping) – completely by accident, I forgot what was meant to be ordered when I got to the till and end up ordering that – which was enjoyed. And the children ordering their usual “can we get away with it today Mumma?” chicken goujons and chips. The second trip saw us order a platter of sizzling chicken fajitas for 4. Including drinks, dining for 4 was around £30-35. but you can see the prices in the above gallery.

The food wasn’t fast, but it was busy, and still came out within a reasonable time frame (the kids had started moaning they were hungry but weren’t on the verge of meltdown both times, this usually happens within 20 minutes in a busy restaurant so reasonable). The food was ok, good portions as stated before. Not of excellent quality or flavour, but also not bad. For example, the chicken in the fajitas was not bad, but it was tough. But the overall flavour was good.

You can also purchase a guidebook packed full of information about the animals found at the park. I also have to point out that I am aware that safari parks and zoos such as this do important work towards conservation, research and endangered species.

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To summarise. 

Safari park and the walk through discovery trail are mostly good (well maintained, clean and the animals are clearly cared for), it just depends on your moral position on certain aspects. But the Ice Age and Land of the Living Dinosaur exhibits are unquestionably good. Theme park is good, with attentive and friendly staffing, clear signage and ability to purchase unlimited ride wristbands. The food isn’t cheap and isn’t amazing, but it’s on par with other attractions prices and a good portion and isn’t bad either.

*** As an aside. The site is wheelchair friendly (if not hilly in places). And if anyone is visiting with adults/children who have issues with busy places (but feel safe in the comfort of their car) I would say, on arrival head straight to the car park. You can do the Ice Age and Land of the Living Dinosaurs before the Discovery Trail opens, then do the Discovery Trail before the theme park opens and then get that done before people start really coming in and queuing and making it feel busy. The safari itself can be done multiple times if you want and at any point in your day. ***

Review: Birmingham Museum and Art Gallery (and Dippy the Dinosaur)

Knowing that Dippy the Dinosaur (the diplodocus skeleton normally resident in London’s Natural History Museum) is on tour around the UK (currently at Birmingham), how much my children love dinosaurs and how easy Birmingham is by train I decided that this was a must this summer… so a day trip was planned with my little brother (Max, only 10 months older than Logan).

We were surprised to find out it’s all free. Not just the exhibition to see Dippy, but also the entry to Birmingham Museum and Art Gallery. So that was a bonus. But I must say, having never been there before, and knowing it’s a free museum, we were pleasantly surprised not only of the quality of the exhibitions on offer, but also the interactivity layout and presentation of the place. It was fantastic. The regret we have is not having planned more time there. But knowing it’s free and easy to get to, I expect there shall be a return visit at some point.

There were various different permanent exhibitions, from Ancient History through to the history of Birmingham There were many artifacts on display, quizzes, electronic interactivity, models, example clothing and fashion as well as sections for the children to play on something related, for example the 1930’s kitchen in the above picture gallery.

Then it was time for Dippy, although it is free entry, you have to book in for your time slot to enter online here. It was a big hall with Dippy being the central focus. Some dinosaur related information and displays around the outer sections of the hall. And then towards the back the children were given the opportunity to write on a brown label, with a message for Dippy to take on tour with him.

The museum itself was about a 5 minute walk from the Snow Hill rail station, but surrounded by a lot of building works. It wasn’t that hard to find as it’s quite centrally located. However, using google maps on my phone for directions we ended up facing the task of getting a wheelchair up a enormous amount of steps. Luckily, Caitlin can walk, so she could get out and be supported up the steps whilst her wheelchair was carried. However, on exit we found that if you enter the museum from Edmund Street this is much more accessible. The Museum itself does have lifts, though the one at the beginning of the museum was the only one in use whilst we were there, so you had to walk back through the exhibition to get back to the lift to go down… or find a way down the stairs. Toilet facilities were good and clean, though had run out of toilet paper by the time we used.

Review: Berrington Hall (National Trust)

We visited Berrington Hall at the same time as visiting Croft Castle (they are within 10 minutes drive of one another).

As with Croft Castle, there is a long drive up to the car park/property and it is surrounded by beautiful countryside imagery. The grounds are immaculate and have various points of interest including the walled garden (which is an area growing edibles), a produce stall, and various walks and trails. And of course the Georgian house. Details of the history etc. can be found on the National Trust page here.

 

 

 

Though there was a definite “roped off” section in the main house, the children still loved it as much as, or perhaps even a little more than, Croft Castle. Though this may have been something to do with the dress up they could do; there are various bits of dress up in the house, from male court-wear to a petticoat for a court mantua dress on the way around, to the dress up room at the end of the tour around the house. Strangely Caitlin suits the look (and unsurprisingly wanted to take the dresses home).

There was also a kids treasure trail on for the summer here too. This one was based on the story of the Robinson Crusoe family, and the kids found this one slightly more interesting than the one at Croft Castle. It was a similar sort of setup, they just enjoyed the puzzle clues more here. Including, having to make a den in the den building area.

The grounds were fairly accessible, though the house would be inaccessible for someone with mobility issues as the house itself is entered and exited via many steps. We did not use the eating and toileting facilities here.

A Mother’s Day out…

I know it’s over with, but as I say, I am trying to catch up with what we’ve been up to.

So this year, I felt that I should mention Mother’s Day. In previous year mentioning it would have been only to moan about how much I do and how it’s just one day out of the year where some kind of expectation of appreciation is placed upon them. Not necessarily worried about a gift, but just not being expected to do everything I usually do in a day.

Well this year was different. The children were very vocal to Bruce about what they wanted to buy etc. So I did actually get gifts this year. Logan wanted to get me a cute sheep doorstop. And Caitlin wanted to wander around Poundland getting me an array of presents in the most glittery bag she could find. Bruce told me she wandered around the store like she own the place, casually picking bits up and sticking them in the basket. She kindly bought me some wonderful things like scouring pads (she loves cleaning, so she thought it was amazing).

And on the big day, there was no housework… we had a day out. We went into Worcester where we had a spot of breakfast at Cafe Rouge – no review for that, it’s a high street brand.

Afterwards we visited Greyfriars House, the Tudor House Museum and The Commandery.

Greyfriars was very good. Tours are given in the morning and you can wander freely in the afternoon. I’d recommend a tour to get the most out of it, as the tour provides the bulk of the information regarding the history that make things more interesting (things you may not even notice unless on the tour). It’s not very big, but it packs quite a bit of history in. There is a small entry free, but as National Trust members it’s a free entry site. It’s just a house in the city centre, with a small courtyard garden. You get information on its uses, extension works and changes over the history of a few key families, and see some original furnishings, wall coverings etc.

The Tudor House Museum was free, I can see why in all honesty, it was not very extensive and was done and dusted fairly quickly. It’s worth a wander around as you’re not paying for it, but I wouldn’t go out of my way to visit. It’s only a few houses down from Greyfriars, and just up the road from The Commandery, so would be worth doing if doing the other two. A few artifacts and some information about the building’s previous usage history.

The Commandery, very interactive, and of the 3 I would say had the most information, and interested the children the most. It explains the history of the civil war, and exhibits a lot of information through different media, some of which is very interactive – pushing buttons, trying on costumes and the like. The children thought it was amazing. There was a small entry fee (costing around £5.95/adult, children free) and it was most definitely worth that.

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Royal Caitlin

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Rolling their eyes at Politicians Bruce and Ariella pretending to debate in parliament

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Soldier Logan

Review: Haven Devon Cliffs, Platinum Caravan

The week leading up to our house purchase completion, I had booked me and the children a caravan at a Haven park, Devon Cliffs in Exmouth. I have been to this park many times since I was a child and watched the changes it has undergone, and in all honesty, I am not really a fan of the Haven “in your face” entertainment style. It’s too much for me. I quite like seclusion, relaxation and idyllic scenery. But as far as a cheap last minute break away to distract the children goes, I will take it every time.

I mean – there is a beach, a fantastic swimming pool and 2p machines. Every mood of my children is covered by these 3 things. The added bonus of a couple of play parks and an easy to get to location help.

I had initially booked a lower grade caravan (prestige) and because it was term time early spring had gotten an already great deal. But they sent a message saying I could upgrade for as little as £20. So I called and asked what they had to offer – I could get the same grade but newer model for £20, same grade with decking for £30 or a platinum for £50. With platinum I could expect my 2pm check in moved forward to 1pm, complimentary towels as extras waiting for me, and decking. So I figured, why not. The Monday to Friday break had then cost me £180 once this had been considered.

We got there a little early, and went straight to lunch. Although the kitchen was still closing down from breakfast and reopening for lunch as we were so early, but they allowed us to order under the understanding that it may take a while. We didn’t mind, we just wanted to sit and chill… The children enjoyed that their sandwiches were served on a Frisbee they could take home. I went for bread and olives because I really needed to ensure I went dairy/meat free, I had had a few things that weren’t quite in the days leading up out of convenience and was already feeling the hurt. But all of the portions that came out were much bigger than I’d anticipated. Reasonably priced for sure.

 

 

After lunch we popped to the shop to get a few convenience items (the shop is well stocked, and slightly overpriced as per all holiday convenience stores) and then over to collect our keys and head to the caravan. There was parking immediately outside the caravan, and the caravan really was furnished to a high standard, with the large TV, “proper” central heating, decking and furniture, kitchen finishes such as the built in fridge, freezer and dishwasher. It was a touch of luxury to an otherwise budget trip. We were up in Hawthorn Mount. There was a problem when we got in though, and the towels/linen had not been included. I tried to call reception but I was being hung up on, or the line was engaged when i tried to call. So I had to go all the way back to reception, which was a pain. But it was very quickly resolved once I had done.

 

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It was nice to wake up the first morning and enjoy breakfast on the decking overlooking the sea. The children thought it was the most amazing breakfast.

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We are early risers – a 7am lie in is a rare treat. So once breakfast was done we were able to go for a wander around the park taking things in, like some changes I noticed: the park, which has always been a park for as long as I can remember, is no longer a park but a smaller, lower ropes course – paid activity, but they have installed a new park near the swimming pool. Which I guess makes sense for ease of location, but still nostalgia…

 

 

We made good use of the pool whilst we were there, as the children really have upped their confidence in the water. It was mostly me sat somewhere whilst they repeatedly went down different slides (there are many to chose from). And we spent a good whack of time on the beach too. They were treated to a new bucket and spade (in the tired chaos of trying to leave the house, I had forgotten to pack some the many million we own). Paddling in the sea, adventuring the rocks, building sandcastles. All items were covered.

 

On the final afternoon at the site, we had a “special” lunch at the South Beach Cafe, which I have always found expensive, but never really felt that the food lived up to the prices being charged. But still, I wanted it to feel special to the children so we did it. We sat outside above the cliff and had a meal down there. The kids menu was s expensive that when Caitlin said she wanted a Ploughman’s lunch from the adult menu I didn’t really see an issue (there was about £1’s difference to the prices of items on the kids menu) and Logan wanted the kids portion of muscles. It was alright, but I wouldn’t say it was amazing for the prices paid.

 

 

One thing of note – if you are on O2, there is very little signal on the site, definitely none on the main complex, but you may intermittently get some in the caravan and some down on/near the beach.

Disneyland Paris

Knowing that it gets busy and there’s a lot of ground to cover, and that Caitlin would require lots of help in terms of mobility… we booked Monday-Thursday, term time in the autumn-winter season. It’d be quieter, we’d be in no rush and as long as we did everything we wanted to once, we’d be sorted.

We prepped the kids ahead of time – youtube videos of what to expect, realistic expectations of what they may be able to achieve in a day, what the busy and chaotic periods were likely to look like. All quite essential for going anywhere with these two.

Everything was set to be a good time, and it was.

We had a nice hotel, and room. We had our full board plus plan for food, so there was no stress about that and the kids had realistic expectations as to what they’d be able to ride. The queues weren’t too long, we had extra magic hours because we were staying in a Disney hotel. It was extra magical as it was all decorated for Christmas and also extra magical Christmas shows.

I am not going to sit and reproduce information that’s widly available and ever changing; everything you need to know about the hotels, dining plans, park hours, rides, shows etc. is avaiable from the Disneyland Paris website, or for a more thorough “user produced” guide, the DLP guide website has lots of good information.

What I will say is, despite their young ages, we have some quite “adrenalin” loving children. For nostalgia and a bit of fun they loved the Slinky ride in the Studios, but actually we came away with the realisation they like the fast rides; Crush’s Coaster and Thunder Mountain were their favourite rides (though, Caitlin’s sesnory issues with loud noises meant that certain parts of these were a little bit of an issue), they loved the feeling of wooshing about. My little speed freaks!

In terms of shows, the Illuminations and parades were definitely spectaular, and Mickey’s Magical Christmas lights, but really the experience they loved the most was the Moteurs Action Stunt Show, it really captivated them from start to finish. And has them begging for more visits to more motor-based stunt shows (I don’t mind, quite the fan of Freestyle MotoX, rally cars and stunt shows myself so, happy to roll with that).

We didn’t do any character breakfasts, or meet and greets as Caitlin says she loves it, but every inch of her shows otherwise. And I am still very on the fence about what is animal cruetly, so we didn’t attend the Buffalo Bills Wild West Dinner show. We did, however, beat the crowds and watch fireworks from our roomDSC_0713

All in all, a good experience, perhaps one we’re more likely to keep as a memory of a good time than repeat. But an experience we’d recommend and treasure none the less.

You can find our review of the hotel here, of the travel experience here and of our food plan here.