Category Archives: Days Out

Things to do in Manchester: Easter 2017

I was checking my diary this morning and realised with a slight sense of panic that my son breaks up from school this Friday. Easter is a few short weeks away and between now and then I have two weeks of school holiday to fill. I do enjoy having the boy wonder at home, but now the weather is a bit better I feel we ought to get out and do stuff.

We have plans for a couple of days in Blackpool to see the sights and hopefully get on the beach, but it’s good to have a few things closer to home to do. I’ve picked out a few things to do around Manchester over the Easter 2017 holidays.

Things to do in Manchester: Easter 2017

 Whitworth Art Gallery

Last week I visited the Whitworth Art Gallery in Manchester for the first time ever. I’m slightly ashamed that in the 40 years I’ve been alive and living in Manchester I’ve never visited before. The (closing soon) Andy Warhol exhibition drew me in, but I was impressed and in awe of virtually everything I clapped eyes on. 

I already knew they had an impressive and inclusive arts programme for families. When I spied the Art Hampers on my visit, I knew we’d be back to put them to the test.

Just pick up an Art Hamper, they’re free and available any time during gallery opening hours. The Art Hampers are filled with materials for you to get inspired and make, draw and build anywhere in the gallery. Let your imagination and creativity run wild, but don;t forget to return your hamper at the end of your visit.

For more information about the Art Hampers, or the other family events during Easter 2017 at the Whitworth Art Gallery, visit their website.

SHIFT / Cheshire East

SHIFT is a vibrant and interactive programme celebrating all things digital in Cheshire East. From exhibitions and workshops to talks and hands on making – SHIFT is full of inspiring and creative events for all ages and abilities. During Easter 2017, SHIFT have a range of digital activities for tech savvy families. 

On Saturday 8th April at Sandbach Library learn about Interactive LED Art (BBC Micro: bit). Ideal for ages 7+. Get your LEDs flashing and learn to program the Micro:bit LED display to create interactive bitmap art that responds to movement and button presses. The possibilities are endless. Places are free but advance booking is advisable via the library: 01270 375355.

On Monday 10th April at Handforth Library, learn about Animations in Minecraft (ages 5+). Go along to combine coding, making and tech to create 8-bit animations in Minecraft using physical punchcards, powered by PatternCraft. In this free and interactive workshop you’ll learn basic computing and code, and have fun! Places are free but advance booking is advisable via the library: 01625 378272.

For more information about SHIFT and the other events they’re running over Easter, visit their website

The Museum of Science and Industry

Experience the amazing power of steam, water and electricity at MSI, Manchester. Activities run from April 1st to April 17th. Admission to the museum is free, there may be a small charge for some activities

The Museum of Science and Industry is powering up for Easter 2017. Whether it’s the power of water, steam or electricity – experience the sights, thundering sounds and astonishing power of the museum’s machines, muscles and contraptions as they burst into life through a series of hands-on demonstrations, workshops and shows for everyone.

For more information about what’s on at MSI over Easter, visit their website

Waterside Arts Centre

The Waterside Arts Centre in Sale have lots going on over Easter, but this show caught my eye, Mush Ado About Puffin on Saturday 29 April 2017. 

Things to do in Manchester: Easter 2017

Join Open Attic as they sail the stormy seas to bring you this funny tale about a man all alone; a friendly puffin, and a whole lot of fuss over nothing. Much Ado About Puffin is about old habits, new friendships, and stepping out into the unknown! Suitable for ages 4+. 

Merlin attractions in Manchester

LEGOLAND Discovery Centre, Manchester has just re-opened after a huge refurb and has a brand new LEGO Ninjago City Adventure play feature with a Ninjago Training Camp, Ninjago Build Table, Ninja Skill training, Interactive Adventure playground and a Rotating Climbing Wall, Sounds pretty awesome, especially for Ninjago fans!

At Manchester’s SEALIFE Centre, on 1st and 2nd April visit the Julia Donaldson & Axel Scheffler’s The Snail and The Whale event at SEA LIFE. Experience this beloved children’s book as you follow the story around the centre through an amazing underwater world.

Don’t forget to decorate your very own ‘Snail Rock’ with a ‘Save The Whale’ message to display at the centre and support marine wildlife conservation. This is a ticket only event which you can book here.

SEA LIFE Blackpool

There’s always so much to do in and around Manchester, if you’ve got any suggestions please feel free to comment below. I’d love to hear what you’ve got planned!

Create a year to remember with a Merlin Annual Pass

Start your year off as you mean to go on and bag the ultimate bargain – 52 weeks of family fun with a Merlin Annual Pass, from just £109 per person in their New Year sale. A Merlin Annual Pass opens the door to 32 magical adventures across the UK, so wherever you live, a Merlin Annual Pass is the ultimate passport to fun!

Last year our family had a Merlin Annual Pass and we really squeezed a lot of value out of it. With regular visits to our local SEA LIFE Centre and LEGOLAND Discovery Centre Manchester, to several days out in Blackpool enjoying the Merlin attractions there, and to various attractions around the country. They really do represent good value for money.

With a Merlin Annual Pass, you can experience the UK’s biggest and best attractions, including the Coca-Cola London Eye, Thorpe Park Resort, Dream Works Tours Shrek’s Adventure! London, Chessington World of Adventures Resort, Alton Towers Resort, LEGOLAND Windsor Resort, SEA LIFE Centres across the UK and many more. 

Create a year to remember with a Merlin Annual Pass

Watch history come to life in re-enactments at Warwick Castle, come nose to fin with fascinating underwater creatures at SEA LIFE centres across the country, go selfie mad with the Hollywood stars at Madame Tussauds in Blackpool and London, transport to the future on Galactica at Alton Towers Resort or how about gazing over London’s beautiful skyline on the Coca-Cola London Eye?

There are also some amazing new additions coming in 2017. In May, the LEGOLAND Windsor Resort will challenge guests to become Masters of Spinjitzu at the all new LEGO NINJAGO World. In this brand new world, families can join their favourite NINJAGO heroes in a series of training activities before putting their Ninja skills to the ultimate test on LEGO NINJAGO The Ride.

One of the UK’s best-loved children’s characters, The Gruffalo, is set to bring a brand new experience to Chessington World of Adventures Resort in 2017!. Expect excitement, an awesome adventure and lots of fun. Alton Towers Resort will have a new CBeebies Land Hotel, uniquely designed for young families and bursting with music, stories and adventures for little ones to enjoy. Plus, the UK’s only LEGOLAND Discovery Centre Manchester is re-launching with a Ninjago themed area that little ones will love! 

Create a year to remember with a Merlin Annual Pass

Upgrade to a Premium Merlin Annual Pass and get priority entry to all of Merlin Entertainments’ UK attractions, automatic membership to the Merlin Holiday Club (an exclusive club with magical treats for Passholders who stay overnight!), discounted entry for family and friends, invites to exclusive Passholder preview events, complimentary standard parking at Resort Theme Parks and a Privilege Pack containing three £5 off Fastrack vouchers for a single use at selected theme parks and three Share the Fun vouchers where a friend can join holders for just £15 each.   

Create a year to remember with a Merlin Annual Pass

The BIG New Year Sale starts at 10am on Sunday 1st January 2017 and will end at midnight on 13th February.

For more information please visit www.merlinannualpass.co.uk.

I am a Merlin Annual Pass Blogger Ambassador. I was given a Merlin Annual Pass to do this review with my family.  I was not paid to write this post.

What’s new at the Just So Festival 2017?

One of our family highlights of 2016 was going to the Just So Festival in Cheshire. It was our first year of camping at the festival and it was a wonderfully magical family weekend. We decided before we even packed the car up to come home that we wanted to go to the Just So Festival 2017, and that we definitely want to camp as that was so much fun.

Just So is an annual, intimate, weekend-long festival – an outdoor adventure like no other. Each year Just So seems to grow and change, with new and magical new elements being added. This year is no exception and the line up is already giving me goosebumps.

What's new at the Just So Festival 2017?

With Early-bird tickets for the festival being released in January, we take a look at what’s new for the Just So Festival 2017.  

The glorious lakeside Silver Screen glade is a large-scale area dedicated to all things cinematic. Recreate famous dance scenes from favourite musicals, join a musical chorus line and become extras in a Just So epic production. Expect marvellous music, theatre dance and circus all themed around the big screen. Bring a blanket while night falls to the beautiful outdoor cinema here and snuggle up to watch the best silent movies and family classics together. 

Inquisitive family explorers can discover the new Forgotten Courtyard. Tucked away in the ruins of the Old Tenants’ Hall is Rode’s beautiful Italian Garden. Expect to stretch your knowledge of the world around you and take part in workshops, provocations, debates and talks. Experience soundscapes and spoken word events here against the backdrop of the beautiful fountain, Italian cypress and olive trees. 

What's new at the Just So Festival 2017?

Head to the new covered Social Barn for a completely crackers celebration of fodder. It’s located next to The Social (with its incredible array of street food and drink) and home to the colouring cafe, midnight feasts and The Great Just So Bake Off.

Back by popular demand for 2017 is Away With The Fairies – deep within The Spellbound Forest find a secret fairyland. See if you can spy some fairies making mischief up in the trees and meet the Fairy Queen.

What's new at the Just So Festival 2017?

Together with these new areas, family festivalgoers can also re-visit much loved and established Just So areas such as Peekaboo, Spellbound Forest and the Woodland Theatre. Adventure into Tales of Animalia, dance the night away in Jitterbug and enjoy the Footlights stage. Not forgetting the wonderful High Seas and the wonderful Tribal Tournament.

Just So is set in woodland clearings, rolling parkland, arboreal amphitheatres and lakeside spots in the Rode Hall Estate, Cheshire. It’s one of the most stunning landscapes in the UK, with limited public access the rest of the year.

Families planning on going to the Just So Festival 2017 are advised to buy tickets earlier than usual this year, with tickets selling at record speed for the 5000 capacity August festival. 

What's new at the Just So Festival 2017?

The Just So Festival 2017 takes place on 18 – 20 August 2017 at the Rode Hall Estate, Cheshire and we can’t wait. 
For information and tickets visit www.justsofestival.org.uk.

Review: Christmas at SEA LIFE Manchester

Over the weekend we popped to the Trafford Centre to run a few pre-Christmas family errands. I sent my husband in to do battle with the hordes of shoppers and I took the small boy for a look around SEA LIFE Manchester, a calm oasis in a sea of Christmas chaos.

We arrived very early and we were the first people through the door. We had our Merlin passes scanned and we headed off to explore. We are regulars at SEA LIFE Manchester, and we always enjoy our visits. The boy loved being first in and it seemed like we had the place to ourselves (we didn’t, other people were a couple of minutes behind us).

Review: Christmas at SEA LIFE Manchester

We quickly sought out some of our favourite sea creatures. I love the jellyfish and we spent some time changing the coloured lights in their tank and seeing how different they looked in the different lights. I also love the stingrays, they glide so gracefully through the water, they’re really calming to watch. 

Review: Christmas at SEA LIFE Manchester

The boy is a big fan of the turtles, so we watched them swim in their tanks and learning more about them. He’s also very keen on seahorses and “Nemo fish”. Although he’s not keen on touching, we did spend quite a lot of time in the rockpool area. The staff were very helpful and told us all about the sea creatures which live in the tank. Some of which we might find in a rockpool in the UK.

Review: Christmas at SEA LIFE Manchester

We had a lovely explore of SEA LIFE Manchester, it felt so peaceful and it’s the perfect antidote to the busyness of Christmas. We’d spent an hour or so peacefully chatting about all of the creatures. We learned a little more about them and wondered what they’d be having for their Christmas dinner.

Review: Christmas at SEA LIFE Manchester

I can absolutely recommend SEA LIFE Manchester if you want to do something with your family this Christmas that isn’t full of flashing lights and fake snow. It was an absolutely delightful way to spend the morning.

What’s on at SEA LIFE Manchester this Christmas?

This Christmas at SEA LIFE Manchester, guests can take part in a festive fish hunt. Come face to fin with a Snow Flake Eel, Humbug Fish, Angel Fish, Star Fish and even a Turkey Fish! 

Excitingly, during the evenings of 17th, 18th, 22nd and 23rd December, visitors can see beautiful diving mermaids in the tropical ocean tank. The Mermaids will grace the water in a spectacular dive with the sharks and Ernie, the giant green sea turtle. 

Find out more about what’s on this Christmas on the SEA LIFE Manchester website.

I am a Merlin Annual Pass Blogger Ambassador. I was given a Merlin Annual Pass to do this review with my family.  I was not paid to write this post.

Christmas: A truly magical visit to LaplandUK

One of my favourite things about Christmas is creating a bit of magic for the small boy. Having had a childhood filled with real magic, it’s only fair I pass some of that sparkle onto the next generation. Over the weekend the most magical Christmassy thing happened to us and the pure wonder on my son’s face is something I will hold in my heart forever. We visited LaplandUK and had the full Lapland experience! 

A few weeks before our visit I filled out an online form to give Father Christmas some extra information about Ben, then a personalised letter arrived for him which I put away for us to read the day before our visit.

On Saturday morning, our elf on a shelf Elfie brought a letter from Father Christmas. Apparently too many children had made it on the good list this year and the elves needed an extra pair of hands. Ben needed to go to Lapland to help out. We live in Manchester and LaplandUK is in Whitmoor Forest in Ascot, so we drove down the day before and stayed nearby in Bracknell.

Christmas: A truly magical visit to LaplandUK

We arrived at LaplandUK and we made our way to through a beautiful pine forest to the warmth of the welcome cabin. We checked in, the boy was given his Elf Passport and we were whisked off on a tour of the Enchanted Forest. We met a whole host of helpful elves, starting with the Elf Travelmaster who greeted us. On into the forest to meet Sage and Eeko, and through the magical doors to the toy workshop to help the elves make some toys.

Christmas: A truly magical visit to LaplandUK

The workshop was really beautifully decorated, if you look up and there’s a conveyor belt of toys doing circuits on the ceiling and three lively and cheeky elves busily keeping the production line going. Ben helped make two toys – a reindeer cuddly toy and a wooden teddy bear. He loved building the bear, and we slightly regret not asking Father Christmas for one this year. 

Christmas: A truly magical visit to LaplandUK

Christmas: A truly magical visit to LaplandUK

After half an hour or so of helping the elves out, we wandered some more through the snowy forest to Mother Christmas’s House to see what she had in her oven. She’d been baking gingerbread and gave everyone a gingerbread man to decorate with runny icing and sweets. It was sticky fun, but that’s the best kind of fun.

Christmas: A truly magical visit to LaplandUK

Once Mother Christmas’s kitchen was clean and tidy, she read us a lovely Christmas story and we headed back out into the snowy woods to explore the Elf Village.

Christmas: A truly magical visit to LaplandUK

You get around two hours to spend in the Elf Village, exploring and having fun. By the time we got there it was dark and the village was beautifully lit up with lights. At the heart of the village is an ice rink with a huge and beautiful Christmas tree in the centre. The village also has a small cafe, the Elf Post Office, the Elf Emporium, a large cafeteria style restaurant and a handful of little stalls selling mulled wine and bratwurst sausages.

Christmas: A truly magical visit to LaplandUK

There’s plenty to keep you occupied in the Elf Village. I’m not allowed to ice skate and my husband had hurt his leg, so none of us were able to get on the rink, but we enjoyed watching everyone whizz by. Little ones could skate with a sturdy penguin figure to keep them upright, and there were a few elf helpers skating about to help anyone who struggled. 

Christmas: A truly magical visit to LaplandUK

The Elf Emporium was a huge and glorious gift shop. I spent quite a lot of time in there browsing and picking up a few things for home. I really liked the the restaurant, it had a lovely festive woodland feel and the food was very good. We didn’t have much to eat, just a quick snack really, but they had an interesting selection of hearty winter dishes to choose from at what I thought were reasonable prices.

The little cafe on the other side of the ice rink was the place to go for a quick snack or coffee and cake. We paid a visit to the Elf Post Office and we wrote a postcard to send home and I had a hot mulled cider to keep the chill off. Whilst we were in the village, elves and huskies wandered about talking to visitors, making sure everyone was happy and entertained. 

Christmas: A truly magical visit to LaplandUK

At the appointed hour, we queued up and we were shown through the forest, past the reindeer and the sleigh, up to a cosy cabin in the woods where an elf told us all about the journey Father Christmas makes each Christmas Eve. After a few minutes our name was called and an elf walked us through the Enchanted Forest to see Father Christmas.

His cabin was cosy. He sat in his chair and invited Ben to sit next to him. They chatted a while about Ben’s recent birthday party in the woods, about how he’s getting on in Beavers and about what he’d like for Christmas. Father Christmas thanked him for his hard work making toys and gave him a cuddly husky and a book to take home. We had our photographs taken, said our goodbyes and left the cabin in the woods with the promise to leave carrots, gingerbread and a drop of something warming by the fire on Christmas Eve.

Christmas: A truly magical visit to LaplandUK

It was beyond a shadow of doubt the best Father Christmas experience we’ve ever had. He was incredibly realistic and so believable I got festive goosebumps and a little tear in my eye. If it’s good enough for Elton John, the Beckhams and Strictly Come Dancing, it’s good enough for us!

It was magic. It was the real Father Christmas. It was a fantastic memory our family will treasure forever. Ben has done nothing but talk about his visit to LaplandUK since we got home. It’s filled him full of Christmas spirit and excitement. It was pure undiluted Christmas magic and wonder. We loved it. 

For more information about LaplandUK and to book tickets, visit their website.

We were invited guests of LaplandUK. All images and opinions are our own.

Preview: Halloween with The Witches at Tatton Park

This October half term, get into the Halloween spirit with a week of witchy fun and mischief – part of Roald Dahl’s Tremendous Adventures. Meet The Witches at Tatton Park, part of a year-long programme of events celebrating 100 years since the author’s birth.  

From Saturday 22 to Sunday 30 October, The Old Hall – the park’s oldest building – will be transformed into Hotel Magnificent (the scene of most of the action in Roald Dahl’s famous book) where visitors are invited to a Spooktacular Halloween Party and are invited to dress up, or not if you don’t want to.

The Witches at Tatton Park

This Witch Spotting Checklist will help you spot The Witches at Tatton Park….

  • They always wear gloves

o    Witches don’t have normal fingernails, they have thin claws, like cats – which is why they wear gloves ALL THE TIME, even indoors.

  • They are bald as a boiled egg

o    But many choose to wear very realistic wigs –don’t be fooled!

  • They have large nose holes

o    Real witches have an amazing sense of smell due to their very large nose holes – they can smell a child from across the street. And the cleaner the child, the easier they are to smell.

  • Their eyes change colour

o    If you look carefully at a real witch’s eye, you will notice the pupil changes colour – it will send shivers down your spine.

  • They have no toes

o    Real witches have feet with square ends – but they try to hide this by squeezing their feet into pretty shoes. Watch out for them limping!

  • They have blue spit

o    Real witches have spit so blue they can even use it to write with it.

Whilst you’re at Tatton Park,  head to The Farm and collect your conker from the Witches’ Tree. The whole family can join in a creepy and chilling conker challenge.  To top off the fun at the Farm there’s gazillions of fun to be had taking part in the Fantastic Mr Fox Farm trail.

Tatton Park is is bringing Roald Dahl’s imagination to life, with a host of children’s trails and events for all the family. Join Danny the Champion of the World in the gardens, Fantastic Mr Fox at the farm and Matilda in the mansion and you’ve got to be careful of The Enormous Crocodile out in the parkland!

The Witches at Tatton Park

This October half term is the perfect time for an autumnal visit to Tatton Park to catch the Roald Dahl themed activities and exhibitions. What better way of celebrating Halloween but by visiting The Witches at Tatton Park!

Get a Totally Tatton Twit Ticket and enjoy discounted entry to 3 of the Roald Dahl attractions. Family £27.50, Adult £11, Child £5.50. Car entry £6

For more information visit www.tattonpark.org.uk/Halloween

For more information about Roald Dahl’s Tremendous Adventures and The Witches at Tatton Park visit www.tattonpark.org.uk/RoaldDahl

Days Out: Visiting The Blackpool Tower

As a child I spent a lot of time in Blackpool. Living in Manchester it was our nearest bit of seaside and we had family there, so it was a regular haunt. We thought Blackpool was probably the most amazing place on earth. We never really did the Pleasure Beach, but Blackpool Tower, with its beautiful ballroom, circus and million mile views was somewhere we seemed to visit quite a lot.

Over the Bank Holiday weekend we took the small boy to Blackpool. Our first stop was SEA LIFE Blackpool, which was brilliant. After we’d left SEA LIFE he was keen to hit the beach, but I wanted us to have a quick trip up the Blackpool Tower  before we all got covered in sand. 

Blackpool Tower

Although the Blackpool Tower is home to several famous attractions including the Ballroom, the tower circus, the tower dungeon and Jungle Jim’s, what we really wanted to see and do was the tower itself. 

As Merlin Card holders we showed our cards and got into the lift up to the Blackpool Tower Eye. This is a fairly recent addition to the tower. The first stop was the obligatory before attraction photograph. I always say yes to having these taken out of politeness, but we never buy them and they always look awful and/or really unnatural. The people in front of us declined, so we decided to as well and we were just waved through.

We joined a short queue for the 4D cinema experience. There are no seats in this cinema, so be prepared to stand for the short showing. The short film shows you the history of the tower and is a whistle-stop tour/flight around Blackpool complete with wind through your hair and foamy bubbles being blown at you. I found it quite exciting, the small boy wasn’t quite as keen. I think he was a bit nervous about going up the tower.

Blackpool Tower

Nervous faces…

Once you’ve watched the film you join the queue for the lifts up the tower. We had already decided to stay on the glass SkyWalk platform rather than climbing the stairs to the top. Both of my boys are a bit windy about heights and we thought we could go back another day and push it a little bit further with them.

They were very brave and both eventually managed to step out onto the 5cm thick glass. To be fair, the tower is 380ft tall and it is very strange standing on glass and being able to see all the way down.

Blackpool Tower

Blackpool Tower

I wonder how they clean the windows

It was a gloriously sunny day, the sky was a beautiful blue and you could see for miles and miles. On a clear day you can apparently see the Lake District, Liverpool and across the Irish Sea to the Isle of Man.

Blackpool Tower

We spent quite a bit of time walking around on the SkyWalk platform, admiring Blackpool and beyond from all angles. We talked about going even higher up the tower, but we decided to leave that for another, slightly braver day.

I would have liked to have spent more time exploring the attractions at the tower, but the boys were very keen to get on the beach, but we will be back another day soon for a proper look around. 

For more information visit the Blackpool Tower website.

Just So Festival 2016 – A Magical Family Festival

The Just So Festival has a very special place in our hearts. This year was our third year, but our first year of camping. We’ve never camped before as a family, so we knew we were in for an adventure. Mix that with the magic of Just So and we managed to make a million memories and several hundred smiles, which was just what the doctor ordered.

We arrived on site on Friday afternoon, the festival was just beginning and as we pitched our tent in the Accessible Camping area, the heavens opened and we got our first soaking of the weekend. The folk at Just So aren’t easily put off having a good time, so I was sure rain would not stop play, and it didn’t.

Just So Festival 2016

There is so much to do at Just So. There are fixed areas like the Spellbound Forest (a forest with a campfire, a small hidden theatre and lots of activities and crafts happening all around); The High Seas with it’s travelling barn of merriment, huge pirate ship and sandpit, lantern making and more. As well as areas like the Village Green, Peekaboo (a tent village for babies and little ones), The Social, and brand new for this year, Tales of Animalia – a theatre hidden in the woods. As well as the Jitterbug Tent, Head Over Heels, Footlights and The Observatory.

Just So Festival 2016

Before we arrived we were sent a programme of events and I dutifully highlighted all the things I fancied, knowing that I would probably largely ignore my plans and just go with the flow, which is exactly how things should be. 

We explored the site, grabbed a few things to munch on for our tea, waved goodbye to daddy (he had to go home but promised to be back the next day) and we headed into the Spellbound Forest to listen to the Just So legend which is Ian Douglas and then take part in some singing around the campfire with Ian Mackintosh. The Campfire Song sessions soon became a firm favourite of ours, so we took part with gusto all three nights.

Just So Festival 2016

Throughout the weekend the early evening around the campfire sessions also included the exuberant David Gibb, Geoff Bird and terrifying and amazing (in equal measure) scientific experiments from the fantastic Dieter Wadeson.

We woke up on Saturday to a smattering of sunshine. Daddy returned and we headed off to explore. We headed straight for The High Seas to watch a performance of the laugh out loud “Shark Legs” and then for a quick play in the pirate sand pit. We walked through Sailcloth City – an avenue of sailcloth, with sailcloth dens and passageways to explore, and went to look at the lake. It was raining fairly hard by this point, so we watched the rowing boats on the lake for a short while and headed off to find some shelter.

Just So Festival 2016

One of the things I was most looking forward to was Les Enfants Terribles – The Fantastical Flying Exploratory Laboratory. Sadly we missed the first few minutes, struggled to get a decent spot to watch it and the sound wasn’t that great, so we did struggle a bit to keep up. The small boy climbed on my knee and we huddled together in the drizzle and watched the show. The performers bravely continued through the showers and we giggled at the madcap antics of Les Enfants. 

After the performance we headed back to the relative shelter of the Spellbound Forest. We watched as willow was woven into beautiful creations and nearby children were toasting marshmallows on the fire.

Just So Festival 2016

Out of the corner of my eye I spied a creature with terrible tusks, and terrible claws, and terrible teeth in his terrible jaws. Oh help! Oh no! It’s a Gruffalo. A very friendly Gruffalo who was very happy to meet all the children. He is a Just So favourite and it wouldn’t be the same without meeting him in the deep dark woods.

Just So Festival 2016

I managed to persuade the small boy to visit the Theatre for One in the Spellbound Forest. In the middle of the wood, under a canopy were six miniature theatre shows, each for one or two viewers. He settled down and watched a short puppet show about a mouse in a house and then watched an artist who painted his portrait, this is something which he loved. We are only sad that we didn’t managed to see all of the different performances over the weekend, but they were incredibly popular.

I was very keen to make a clay face, throughout the forest the trees are adorned with clay faces people have made. I watched the introduction by Barefoot Ceramics, then I look my lump of clay and made a lion head (with some additional help from the small boy). I had lots of messy fun with this and it’s something I’d like to do at home on one of our trees.

Just So Festival 2016

Another on my must see list were the Baghdaddies. I’ve seen them play live before and I adore them. They toured the festival playing their vibrant, upbeat, infection music, drawing everyone in like musical Pied Pipers. I really do suggest that as soon as you’ve finished reading this you go check them out on YouTube.

Just So Festival 2016

A wander through the woods to the Tales of Animalia area found us watching a very popular performance of Reynard the Fox. The boy was enchanted by it and was very excited to meet the performers afterwards. They were excellent, really chatty with the children and very happy to take photos. Later on that weekend we spotted Cyclops and his naughty flock of sheep making mischief around the festival site. It’s the never quite knowing what weirdness and wonder might be round each corner which makes Just So so special.

Just So Festival 2016

The food and drink at the festival was of an excellent standard. We ate incredibly well and it wasn’t outrageously expensive either. My festival favourites were the steaming cups of amazing hot chocolate (to keep me warm) and the corn on the cob. Things so simple but utterly delicious. We did spend a lot of time carefully choosing what we would eat and then each of us having envy over what the other had. There was lots of different types of food to choose from and lots and lots of choice for veggies and vegans which pleased me greatly. It was good to have a choice and not just an option.

Just So Festival 2016

It rained a lot over the weekend. It could have made us all miserable but in many ways we hardly noticed it. The muddy paths were managed so they didn’t become dangerous. I didn’t slip once. The festival toilets were quite nice (compared to the horror of festival toilets I remember from the 90’s).  Just So was relatively small and friendly with a really lovely chilled and happy atmosphere. I think I would live there if I could.

Just So Festival 2016

We had a really magical time at Just So. We’ve had a horrible few months and spending off the grid time together, doing and seeing weird and wondrous things has done us a lot of good. It’s helped build confidence, expand horizons, it’s made us laugh and (me) cry a little, but in a good way. It was without a shadow of a doubt the highlight of our summer, perhaps even the highlight of the year. 

If you can only go to the Just So Festival for the day, do it. But if you can go for the weekend, then you really should. It’s magical. 

Early bird tickets for Just So Festival 2017 (18 – 20 August, Rode Hall Estate, Cheshire) are on sale from Friday 26 August at www.justsofestival.org.uk at special early bird prices of £120 (adults), £45 (child) for weekend camping, £70 (adult), £25 (child) for 2 day non-camping, £40 (adult), £15 (child) for day tickets. Under 3s free.  

Review: Our visit to SEA LIFE Blackpool

Over the Bank Holiday weekend we decided to have a trip to SEA LIFE Blackpool. The sun was shining, we fancied some sea air and it’s only an hour away; so off we went. The boy was really excited, he loves SEA LIFE Manchester and we’d heard that SEA LIFE Blackpool was well worth visiting, especially if you’re gripped by Finding Dory fever! 

SEA LIFE Blackpool

When we got there we were offered the chance to go on a behind the scenes tour, it was an extra £3 each but I was really interested in “going backstage” so we booked our places (more of which later).

We were given a map, an activity trail sheet and pencil and a pair of rather fetching paper goggles to wear.

SEA LIFE Blackpool

SEA LIFE Blackpool is divided into lots of different zones, with different kinds of sea life in each area. We were most excited about the stingrays and the seahorses, but we knew there were lots of other things to explore. The zones at SEA LIFE Blackpool include the Rockpool (you can touch some of the creatures here), Atlantic Depths which has sea life including anemones, starfish, crabs, place, lobster and octopus. 

SEA LIFE Blackpool

I was very taken by the various different kinds of anemones, they were all so colourful, beautiful and delicate looking. I could happily spend hours looking at them all. 

Our next stop was the Quayside zone which was home to stingrays, rays, pollock, brill and dogfish. Stingrays are our favourite, so we spent quite a while watching them fly through the tank in the Stingray Adventure zone, it’s a mesmerising sight.

SEA LIFE Blackpool

Our next stop was a visit to our other favourites in the Kingdom of the Seahorse, a zone which is home to lion fish, unicorn fish, clown fish, regal tangs and of course, lots of seahorses (fun fact: my first pet was a pair of seahorses, one of which was called Ankle). Did you know that seahorses prefer to swim in pairs with their tails linked together? 

Moving on to the next zone – the Submarine Explorer to see creatures who usually live in the darker depths of the sea including jellyfish, puffa fish, eels and tangs. We loved the jellyfish. I’ve never really looked at them very closely before, but they had different coloured lights shining in the tanks so you could pick up the detail. They look like beautiful atomic clouds. 

SEA LIFE Blackpool

We passed through the Rainforest Adventure zone quite quickly, it was a busy area with people looking at the turtles, chameleons and frogs and we were starting to worry about missing our slot for the Behind the Scenes Tour. 

The next stop was the Shark Mission and Ocean Tunnel. Every SEA LIFE Centre has a tunnel to walk through and this one was full of sharks including black tip sharks, white tip sharks, bowmouth guitar sharks, shovel nose sharks, nurse sharks, stingrays and lots of other fish. We were lucky enough to have a shark come and have a rest next to us as we looked through the tunnel, The small boy was transfixed!

SEA LIFE Blackpool

The final zone is Jurassic Seas which has ancient creatures such as the nautilus and more beautiful anemones, we would like to have spent more time exploring this zone, but we were almost late for our tour.

We met Robbie who gave us the behind the scenes tour. We visited the breeding area, full of baby fish who are still too tiny to be out fending for themselves in the main tanks. We met some fish which had been donated to the centre because they’d grown too big and some jellyfish (which don’t have brains).

Robbie then showed us some “moults” which are the discarded shells of creatures who shed them as they grow, such as lobsters and crabs. He also showed us some sharks teeth. Sharks can grow new teeth within a day of losing one. 

SEA LIFE Blackpool

We met lots of creatures who were in quarantine, such as a very pretty blue spotted ribbon tail ray who had been donated to the centre. Apparently lots of people get rays for their aquariums at home, but they often sting their owners who then get rid of them, not always responsibly.

One of the most interesting creatures is the peacock mantis shrimp which has beautiful peacock colouring, but has to live in a special acrylic tank because he is so strong he can punch through glass and escape!

SEA LIFE Blackpool

I found the behind the scenes tour really fascinating and well worth the £3 extra, it’s really worth doing if you’re interested in the inner workings of SEA LIFE Blackpool and how they manage the environment in the tanks, as well as the quarantine and breeding programmes. 

Our visit to SEA LIFE Blackpool was incredibly interesting and we really enjoyed exploring the different zones. I am only sorry that we didn’t have longer to explore everywhere more thoroughly, but that is our fault, we should have booked a later tour. We will have to go back again and do it more thoroughly another time.

SEA LIFE Blackpool was fascinating and full of weird, wonderful and often beautiful creatures. I was enchanted by the jellyfish, anemones and all the colourful fish. It’s worth a visit to see those alone. 

For more information about visiting SEA LIFE Blackpool visit their website.

We are SEA LIFE and LEGOLAND Discovery Centre Ambassadors and we used our Merlin passes to gain entry.

Fishy Fact Finding at SEA LIFE Manchester

Recently one thousand families were put to the test at SEA LIFE Manchester to see how many of 10 fishy facts they were given during their visit they could remember.

Apparently the average score was only 5 correct questions out of 10,  with mums and dads out-performing their children by a narrow margin of just 2%.

During the summer school holidays, SEA LIFE are hosting Finding Dory trails and events at all their UK SEA LIFE centres. They thought it would be interesting to see how their visitors compare to Dory when it comes to remembering things.

Apparently the results were quite surprising, and seem to suggest that we can all can be a little forgetful from time to time.

Some of the simple facts and statistics that SEA LIFE Manchester visitors struggled to remember were:

  • There are seven species of sea turtle in the world’s oceans                        
  • The Emperor Penguin is the largest penguin
  • The most common octopus in UK waters is the Lesser Octopus

sea life

What is interesting about the survey is that the facts people remembered best were the ones about the harm humans are doing to our oceans and their inhabitants. Most could remember that an estimated 70 million sharks are being killed every year for their fins, or as bycatch for example.

It is encouraging that important conservation messages like this are filtering through and helping to raise awareness and support for marine conservation, something that popular films like Finding Dory will also help to do.

SEA LIFE’s themed event is running at the 12 UK centres until September 11th, and includes a trail inspired by Hank the cantankerous octopus – one of Finding Dory’s central characters.

For further information or to pre-book tickets online before your visit please go to www.visitsealife.com/manchester. Reduced prices are available for tickets booked in advance.

For regular news, updates and competitions, SEA LIFE Manchester is also on Facebook www.facebook.com/SEALIFEManchester and Twitter www.twitter.com/sealifemanc.