Tag Archives: days out

Days Out: Jodrell Bank Observatory in Cheshire

Most people will be familiar with the Jodrell Bank Observatory in Cheshire as the place where Stargazing Live is filmed. Jodrell Bank is owned and run by the University of Manchester and it is the home of the Lovell Telescope, the third largest steerable radio telescope in the world. It is open to the public and has a lovely new visitors centre as well as exhibits and gardens to explore, as well as the chance to have a look at the Lovell Telescope up close and personal.

We visited Jodrell Bank one sunny but bitterly cold day in February. It’s not actually that easy to find as the signposting is few and far between, but if you look for the giant telescope and head towards that you’ll eventually find it (or just use sat nav like normal people). There was ample parking in the car park and it cost £7 per adult and £4.95 per child to get in, which we felt was good value for money.

The visitors centre is not huge, it houses the cafe, shop, reception and a display room with information about various parts of the universe as well as a clockwork Orrery, something I’d never seen before but instantly wanted to have one in my house. An Orrery is a mechanical model of the solar system. There was a handle at child height which we turned and watched the planets and the moons on the ceiling move around. It was something quite special and we spent a lot of time looking at it and talking about the planets.

Jodrell Bank

From the visitors centre we went outside, there were gardens to explore, but as it was very cold we decided to head straight for the outdoor science experiments area. There were a number of large scale experiments to try, each with a plaque explaining what to do. We particularly liked the “Whispering Dishes” or parabolic reflectors, two dishes opposite each other, but some distance apart, one person would whisper into the dish and the other could hear it. It was brilliant and very popular. 

Jodrell Bank

We were close to the base of the telescope, there is a large fence around it so you can’t actually go and touch it, but you can get very close. The Lovell Telescope is huge and the dish measures 78 metres across, I was in awe of the size of it, even though I remember visiting as a child.

Jodrell Bank

Having spent around an hour outside conducting experiments in the cold, we headed into the Space Pavilion to have a look at some of the indoor exhibits and to discover how the scientists at Jodrell Bank use radio telescopes to learn more about distant objects in space. 

Jodrell Bank

There were lots of hands on exhibits to look at and play about with, as well as a little room where you could sit and watch a film about space. The boys loved it in here, the was lots for them to look at and learn about. I felt the Space Pavilion would have benefited from having someone there to help explain and demonstrate some of the exhibits, but I like to have things explained to me. 

Jodrell Bank

After a few hours exploring we felt ready for a hot cup of tea and some cake, sadly the Planet Pavilion Cafe was heaving, so we headed to the shop to buy some space souvenirs and experiments we could try at home, then hopped in the car and left.

Jodrell Bank

We’d had an especially lovely afternoon at Jodrell Bank. We’d explored both the observatory and the outer edges of the universe, learned a little bit about science and got some fresh air. It was a great afternoon out and we are planning to return in the summer when it’s a bit warmer.

For more information about Jodrell Bank visit their website.

Jodrell Bank Discovery Centre, The University of Manchester, Macclesfield, Cheshire, Sk11 9DL

Blowing the cobwebs away at Dunham Massey

It’s fast becoming a family tradition to spend a post-Christmas frosty afternoon at our nearest National Trust property, Dunham Massey. We like Dunham because it’s great for “family” walks, meaning it’s flat and well paved, perfect for bikes, scooters and the wobbly legs of small children. They also make an excellent cup of tea. Add to that we’re National Trust members so it’s free entry, what’s not to like?

We went on 30th December, it was largely a dry, windy, very cold day, but that didn’t put us off and Dunham Massey seemed quite busy with families out for a walk, or testing out new bikes and scooters. We went obstensively to see the deer, but they were hiding somewhere in the woods, so we walked the paths instead. We found a little den someone had built, a “stick house” which we explored, much to his delight.

Dunham Massey

There were also some small patches of snow left over, enough for a few little snowballs and a well ordered snowball fight (I lost). Although we couldn’t find the deer, we did spot lots of deer poo which the boy found quite interesting.

The small boy was beginning to tire, so we headed back to the big house via the duck pond, the low winter sun was shining on the pond and the light was incredible. I wish I’d taken my proper camera with me. Winter skies are so special, the clouds all fluffy and a little bit moody. I love this picture.

Dunham Massey

It was a short but lovely jaunt to Dunham Massey, he’s not great at walking distances and I do miss going on a long winter walk, all wrapped up against the elements. But a winter walk with a small child is full of different types of joy. Small details; clouds that look like dragons, stick houses, deer poo, tiny snowballs, conversations with the ducks, splishy sploshy muddy puddles. I love it.

Dunham blew some of our Christmas cobwebs away. I adore a winter walk, all that bracing fresh air and country views makes the tea and cake afterwards all the more enjoyable. You know me, there’s always tea and cake.

Catalyst Science Discovery Centre, Widnes

During half term week it’s hard to find interesting, entertaining things to do for all the family. Something that isn’t all about sitting in front of a screen for hours, perhaps something secretly educational would be good too. The Catalyst Science Discovery Centre in Widnes is both interesting and entertaining as well as being educational. It’s also good value with a family ticket (2 adults, 3 children) costing just £19.95 for the day.

During half term (and all school holidays), the Catalyst Science Discovery Centre have a programme of events designed to attract families. This half term there are two workshops, the first “Energy from Waste” which is a fascinating look at what happens with our waste, for example all Manchester’s waste goes to a processing plant in Runcorn and the fun workshop will look at how waste is turned into energy.

The second workshop is “Ludicrous liquids” and you can discover amazing liquids that act like solids, liquids that change colour on their own, liquids which act like magnets and you can even have a go at creating your own lava lamp.

Catalyst Science Discovery Centre

During school holidays the Catalyst Science Discovery Centre is open 10am-5pm (last entrance 4pm). Car parking is free and you can grab lunch or a snack at the Elements Cafe’. It’s a lovely day out and a great way to introduce children to the exciting world of science and give them the opportunity to explore and discover new things.

If you’d like to visit The Catalyst Science Discovery Centre this half term please do visit their website for more information.

Days Out: CBeebies Land & Alton Towers (part 2)

We were recently invited by CBeebies magazine to attend an event to learn about their #CBeebiesMagKidsGoFree promotion. I wrote about the fun we had that morning and how the dreams of a small boy came true when he got to meet Postman Pat. I faithfully promised to blog about our afternoon exploring CBeebies Land at Alton Towers, so here goes…

CBeebies Land is near the main entrance of Alton Towers, we found it really easily. It is perfectly designed for small children. The boy walked in and all he could say was “wow”!

Cbeebies land

There were lots of things to do, but first things first, we were hungry, so our first stop was the Little Explorers Lunch Box. There were various meal deals available, but the three of us had a sandwich, crisps and a drink for around £16 which wasn’t hellishly extortionate. If you’re watching the pennies then you can always take a picnic, but the food was of good quality and there were healthy options available.

After lunch we explored Charlie & Lola’s Moonsquirters & Greendrops, which was Charlie & Lola’s house, you could dress Charlie & Lola up, there was an interactive kitchen area (every time I opened the fridge the small boy fell about in fits of giggles). The house has a soft play type area at the back, but it was heaving as it was a rainy day, so we gave that a miss.

We moved on to the Numtums number-go-round, which was quite a sweet little merry-go-round which he enjoyed, and we got to have a sit down for a few minutes.

We were initially put off by the advertised 25 minute wait to enjoy the Postman Pat Parcel Post ride (my back means I can’t stand for long, so queuing is a nightmare), but having watched the queue for a little while we were sure it was moving quicker than advertised; it was, we queued for just 15 minutes. Queuing isn’t as bad as you might think be either, there are little games and things to look at for little ones in CBeebies Land, which helps a lot.

He enjoyed the Postman Pat Parcel Post ride and afterwards we toddled off to the Big Fun Showtime Arena to see the Mike the Knight show. The arena is a nice place to stop and have a picnic, the toilets are there and there’s a small shop selling ice creams and drinks etc. He was engrossed by the Mike the Knight show and it really was one of his highlights.

Next on our CBeebies Land agenda was the Get Set Go Treetop Adventure; really we should have gone on this first as it travels around and over the top of CBeebies Land, which would’ve made it useful for getting our bearings at first, plus it’s actually a really fun ride. We did have to queue, but it wasn’t for long and I do regret not queuing up again and having a second go.

Cbeebies land

Time was marching on, the small boy was beginning to tire, so we queued for one last ride, the In The Night Garden Magical Boat Ride. This was quite lovely and restful really, a gentle boat ride around the night garden. You see all of your favourite characters, they’re animated too, so Iggle Piggle and Daisy wave at you. It’s really very sweet.

There was so much to do in CBeebies Land, plenty to fill a day out. Other attractions in CBeebies Land include the Justin’s House pie-o-matic factory, Nina’s Science Lab, Mr Bloom’s Allotment, the Something Special Sensory Garden and the Tree Fu Tom Training Camp.

Would we go again? Absolutely. This was our first family day out to a theme park and I think we were both dreading it for various reasons, our worries were mainly about massive queues and losing the small boy in crowds, but everything was fine.

Every issue of CBeebies Magazine until the 7th October, will come with two vouchers for kids to go free to a different attraction every issue, with some of the most popular kids’ attractions in the country including Legoland, Chessington World of Adventures and Sealife Centres.

• Issue 411 (13th Aug) – Alton Towers Resort inc. CBeebies Land – Save £86.40 (£43.20 per ticket)
• Issue 412 (27th Aug) – Warwick Castle – Save £39.60 (£19.80 per ticket)
• Issue 413 (10th Sept) – Legoland and Legoland Discovery Centre – Save £82.80 (£41.40 per ticket)
• Issue 414 (24th Sept) – Sealife Centres and Seal sanctuaries – Save £39 (£19.50 per ticket)

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Note: We were invited to explore Alton Towers, CBeebies Land and enjoy an activity morning by CBeebies magazine to help promote their #CBeebiesMagKidsGoFree campaign. We have not been paid and all opinions expressed are my own.

42 Days of Summer – frugal summer fun

It’s been a busy old summer for us, it’s our last before the small boy slips on a school uniform and goes to the nursery at big school, so we’ve been busy making the most of our time together. We don’t have a lot of money to lavish on grand days out, so our fun is usually fairly frugal, with the odd treat thrown in for good measure.

When it’s hot, there is nothing more enjoyable than an afternoon playing in the paddling pool with some friends, it’s important for Mums to keep cool with a jug of Pimms too. Playdates are a great opportunity for the kids to burn off some energy while the parents have a catch up and a sit down.

42 days of summer

Picnics in the park are a brilliant thing to do, we live close to lots of great parks as well as National Trust properties. We often just throw together a pile of sandwiches, pick up a ball and his scooter and go and spend an hour picnicking and relaxing in the park.

Dunham Massey

One thing we like to do on rainy or dull days, is a spot of baking or creating in the kitchen.  The small boy loves baking cakes and helping Mummy make lunch. His latest fun thing to do is making milkshakes in the blender. He likes helping to tip the ingredients in and whizz them up. But I think he enjoys sampling his creations as much as he does making them.

Malteaser milkshake

When the clouds gather and it’s wet and miserable we like to curl up with a good book. As a family we’re quite big on reading, a book can transport you anywhere in the world, or beyond. His favourite book at the moment is Dear Zoo.

summer

There’s lots to do locally if we want a day out somewhere. Again to cut down costs we’ll take a picnic, but so far this summer we’ve been to Blackpool to see a show and go on the beach, CBeebies Land at Alton Towers, Brookside Miniature Railway as well as to the Foodies Festival and to various National Trust properties. We’ve used vouchers and membership cards where we could to help cut down on costs.

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Having fun can be hard work, so a quick juice and a biscuit break is essential. We like McVitie’s BN biscuits, they’ve got a cheeky smiley face which appeals to kids, the biscuits themselves are not too sweet, but they come in raspberry jam, chocolate and vanilla flavours. The boys loved the jammy raspberry ones and I like the chocolate. They’re a nice treat if you’re out and about, or if you’re just having a fun day at home.

summer

Hopefully we’ll be able to squeeze a few more days of sunshine and frugal fun out of this summer. We’ve got lots more adventures on the agenda before we have to pack his book bag ready for school in September and enter a new phase of childhood.

This post is an entry for 42 Days of Summer Linky Challenge sponsored by McVitie’s BN. Learn more by visiting their website

CBeebies Land at Alton Towers (part one)

It’s not often you get to make dreams come true, but taking the small boy to visit the faraway kingdom of Alton Towers would’ve been special enough, but going to CBeebies Land while we were there made us in his eyes at least, the best parents in the world.

We were invited by CBeebies magazine to spend the morning with the team playing games and having fun, then the afternoon was ours to enjoy Alton Towers and Cbeebies Land. We were there to find out more about their CBeebies magazine kids go free promotion, as they’ve teamed up with Merlin Entertainments to launch a Summer long campaign, giving parents the chance to save up to £355 on top kids’ attractions in the UK.

CBeebies

Every issue of CBeebies Magazine until the 7th October, will come with two vouchers for kids to go free to a different attraction every issue, with some of the most popular kids’ attractions in the country including Legoland, Chessington World of Adventures and Sealife Centres.

It was a rubbish, rainy day, but we arrived at the Alton Towers Hotel and met the team. We were divided into groups and we were guided round some fun, CBeebies themed games and activities, some of which we’ll be recreating at home. Our first stop was the Swashbuckle table where we put on our pirate hats and made pirate medals, then we sang the song and did the pirate salute.

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The next activity was throwing a soft toy into a hula hoop. If it landed in the hoop you had to make the noise of the animal in the hoop, so if you threw it into the Jess the cat hoop, you had to miaow. This game took a bit of getting the hang of, due to hand-eye co-ordination issues, but once he got the idea he loved it and we could barely tear him away.

We soon moved on and did some drawing, he drew a Postman Pat, he’s really starting to get the hang of drawing now and his masterpiece was magnificent. Lastly we were read a story about Peter Rabbit and friends, and then we tried some fruit and vegetables that the rabbits might eat, his favourite was the strawberries, but he nibbled at the radish and didn’t hate it. Result.

We drank some juice and sang some songs, we were told we were about to meet a special guest, who would it be? He drives a van, he has a cat, it was no other than Postman Pat. It was a big moment for the small boy, he waited patiently to meet his postal hero and was rewarded with a cuddle.

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The morning done, we mooched off to CBeebies Land, which quite frankly deserves a post of it’s very own. Coming soon, watch this space etc, suffice to say it was a grand day out.

CBeebies magazine are offering a kids go free deal until October, below are when the vouchers for each attraction are published. We’ll certainly be taking advantage of this brilliant deal.

• Issue 410 (30th July) – Chessington World of Adventures – Save £68 (£34 per ticket)
• Issue 411 (13th Aug) – Alton Towers Resort inc. CBeebies Land – Save £86.40 (£43.20 per ticket)
• Issue 412 (27th Aug) – Warwick Castle – Save £39.60 (£19.80 per ticket)
• Issue 413 (10th Sept) – Legoland and Legoland Discovery Centre – Save £82.80 (£41.40 per ticket)
• Issue 414 (24th Sept) – Sealife Centres and Seal sanctuaries – Save £39 (£19.50 per ticket)

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Note: We were invited to explore Alton Towers, CBeebies Land and enjoy an activity morning by CBeebies magazine to help promote their #CBeebiesMagKidsGoFree campaign. We have not been paid and all opinions expressed are my own.

Tatton Foodies Festival 2014

On what was possibly the worst weekend of the summer in terms of weather, the boys and I packed up and set off for the Tatton Foodies Festival. We were expecting Glastonbury like muddy scenes, but we were pleasantly surprised and the sun even came out for us.

If I were to describe the Foodies Festival, I’d say it was like a giant farmers market, with lots of street food stalls and beer tents as well as little stalls selling kitchenalia and other foodie items.

Foodies festival

When we got there it was lunchtime and we were ravenous, so we quickly decided what we’d have for lunch. I had a veggie pad thai and hubs went for jerk chicken with rice and peas.

Me being me, I couldn’t resist a drinkie and I headed for the Martin Miller’s gin tent for a refreshing beverage. At just £5 for a double it would be rude not to, and they mixed me up a delicious little number with grapefruit and basil.

Foodies festival

There were a great many treats to be had. I sampled a few gins, I especially liked the Warner-Edwards gin which is pretty new, quite special and something to look out for if you’re a bit of a gin bunny.

There was lots going on, masterclasses and demonstrations, massive queues for the goucho barbecue, good natured jostling to get the last portion of free ravioli (I never did get to try it, but it looked delicious) and hot, lava hot churros, I mean who can resist? Not this blogger!

If I’m honest I’m not sure I’m really keen on paying £12 per ticket, plus £5 parking to go to what is essentially a very big farmers market. Don’t get me wrong, we had a lovely time, but it wasn’t worth nearly £30 just to get there and get through the door.

Would we go back next year? Yes, absolutely. But only if I can get my paws on free tickets or if they drop the price considerably. It’s a lot of money for a family day out, especially when belts are being tightened.

Note: I paid for our tickets myself, this is just an account of a nice day out we had.

Days Out: Steam Trains & Tea at Woody Bay Station

Team HodgePodgeDays are currently on holiday in North Devon. With it being a holiday I’d not planned to do any blogging, and only put finger to iPad (the modern day pen to paper) if I felt suitably inspired. It transpires that today has been one of those interesting, somewhat inspiring days.

It started off, a day like any other, being bounced on bodily by the small boy at some unearthly hour. A sneaky peek around the curtains revealed it to be an overcast morning and a fairly unpromising looking day weather wise. We quickly decided to go for one of our pre-selected wet weather days out. A good hours drive from the cottage to Woody Bay Station near Lynton to enjoy a few steam train rides.

We arrived mid morning and in time for the second departure of the day. Woody Bay is a really pretty station nestled in the hills between Barnstaple and Lynton. The mile long track was restored and opened to the public in 2004 and there are plans afoot to extend the track further and hopefully in time bring back the Barnstaple and Lynton line in its entirety.

We purchased our tickets (£7.50 for a ride-all-day adult ticket, and children under 5 travel for free – hurray!) and watched the train chug into Woody Bay Station. We hopped on board and found our wooden third class seats. Our tickets were clipped by the guard and off we chugged to Killington Lane Station. We could get off and enjoy a country walk, but we chose not to as we’d miss all the action.

At Killington Lane we all got out and watched the engine uncouple from the carriages, chug around and couple itself to the front of the train ready for the return journey. We hopped aboard and sped back to Woody Bay for lunch.

Lunch was a massive and very pleasant surprise. I wasn’t expecting much if I’m honest, so we just ordered sandwiches from the station tea room. I went for a Brie and cranberry panini which came with a pile of beautifully dressed, interesting salad. The small boy had a child’s ham sandwich and the bigger boy had a ham and cheese panini. Lunch was excellent and we said we’d be back just to eat there next time we passed.

North Devon: Cream Tea & Steam Trains at Woody Bay Station

We had another ride on the train and came back for pudding. As we were in Devon we each had a massive, still warm, freshly baked scone with some excellent strawberry jam and a generous dollop of clotted cream. Replete, we toured the station shop and came away with a little model train for the small boy. We had one last train ride and then full of excitement and clotted cream we set off home. The sun once more peeping through the clouds.

The small boy is obsessed with trains, so we go on these kinds of days out quite a lot. I’ve ridden my fair share of steam trains in the last few years. I’m by no means an expert, but I really liked Woody Bay Station. I liked the set up, the attention to detail and the quality of everything from the tickets, to the posters at the station to the sandwiches in the buffet.

I think you’d struggle to fill a full day here with a small child or two, but with lunch and a bit of a walk it’s a nice way to spend an afternoon. It’s not horrifyingly expensive either. We will be back.

More information about Woody Bay Station can be found on their website.

Click here to find out more fun things to do in Devon!

Taking a Spin Round Legoland Manchester

What to do with a small boy during that terminally long gap between the close of nursery and actual Christmas Day? It’s always harder to try and entertain them in the winter, when you’re naturally less inclined to brave the elements and head to the park for a go on the swings. We were definitely starting to feel a bit cooped up and tempers were already beginning to fray.

Luckily the generous sorts at Carcraft could sense the end of a tether being reached, and were kind enough to send us to Legoland Manchester for an afternoon of small plastic building block shaped joy. Thanks guys.

We’d not been before but it was super-easy to find. Just follow the signs for Barton Square at the Trafford Centre and you can’t miss it. We arrived and were ushered through to have our pictures taken. Splodge was bemused at best and I’d neglected to brush my hair, these were genuinely THE worst pictures ever taken of us, ever. But you know, it still was kinda fun.

We went up in the lift to a room which acted like a holding pen, there were Lego things to see and do while we waited for the “factory tour”. The tour itself was tiny but brilliantly done, scientifically accurate, interactive and enjoyable. At the end we were presented with a special edition brick as a souvenir of the tour. It was a really lovely touch.

We then passed through to the Kingdom Quest Laser Ride which was a journey through a medieval kingdom as a noble knight. Using laser guns you zap the spiders, skeletons and trolls to save the captured Princess. Splodge enjoyed it but didn’t really have a clue what was going on, thus allowing me to massively out-score him in the killing of trolls. Result.

We then toddled through to the main room which held the majority of attractions including the 4D Cinema; Friends Olivia’s House; Forest Pursuit; the much admired Merlin’s Apprentice Ride; the amazing looking Fire Academy; Construction Site and Master Model Builder area.

P1000434What with us being vehicle mad, we headed straight for the Lego Racers: Build & Test. We built a couple of cars and set to work racing them down the tracks. Splodge loved the racing more than the building, his little three year old fingers found the Lego bricks a little fiddly. At home we’re still playing with Lego Duplo which he loves. But the racing was a big hit and I could’ve spent ages designing and refining my championship car. Lego isn’t just for kids you know. What? Don’t look at me like that.

We had a look around the rest of the attractions. He was keen to try the Merlin’s Apprentice Ride but he was too little, something we’ll save for next time. He loved the Fire Academy soft play area and was wowed by the Forest Pursuit section.

We’ll definitely be back. It was a great place to while away a wet winters afternoon. There was something fun for everyone and as he grows he will appreciate different areas and activities. Oh, and the big red race car in the shop, brilliant!

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Disclaimer: We were given free tickets to review Legoland Manchester by Carcraft but it’s somewhere we’ve been meaning to go to for a little while.