Category Archives: Days Out

Merlin Annual Pass launches its BIG January sale

For the last two years we have been proud owners of a Merlin Annual Pass. So whenever the mood takes us we can jump in the car for the day and head out for some family fun. We’re not alone in this; research by Merlin Annual Pass suggests that many families have made a New Year resolution to spend time making memories together.

The great news is, for those families who want to spend some thrill-seeking time together, the Merlin Annual Pass sale is now on! A Merlin Annual Pass opens the door to 32 magical worlds across the UK. Wherever you live, you’re guaranteed to have the ultimate passport to fun! You’ve got until midnight on 12th February to pick up a Merlin Annual Pass, giving you 52 weeks of family fun. Passes are priced from just £109 per person in the spectacular New Year sale!

Merlin Annual Pass launches its BIG January sale

2018 looks set to be a bumper year for Merlin as they welcome some exciting new additions. Alton Towers will launch its brand new wooden roller coaster experience. The first wooden roller coaster to be built in the UK for more than 20 years will be revealed this spring; with a globally unique twist and a fantastic theme, which will make Alton Towers a must visit attraction in 2018.

Family favourite, Chessington World of Adventures Resort, will be opening its new, multi-million pound Land of the Tiger. This features an innovative enclosure and Europe’s first overhead big cat trails; all set to welcome a family of four endangered Amur Tigers this spring. As the foursome roam with a cat’s-eye view of the Land, guests will be able to wander underneath the tigers, before making a splash at Tiger Rock – the exhilarating log flume.

Merlin Annual Pass launches its BIG January sale

Birmingham LEGOLAND Discovery Centre opens its doors this summer. Featuring a 4D cinema, Kingdom Quest laser ride and Merlin’s Apprentice; plus the chance to see all of Birmingham’s top attractions made from LEGO in their MINILAND display. Keen LEGO builders can learn building tips from their Master Model Builder Workshops – sounds fantastic!

The BIG New Year Sale in now on and ends at midnight on 12th February. So don’t delay, grab your Merlin Annual Pass and start your 12 months of fun today!

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

I’m a Merlin Annual Pass Blogger Ambassador. I was not paid to write this post.

Merlin Annual Pass

Discovering our Blue Planet at SEA LIFE Manchester

I don’t know about you, but Sunday evenings are Blue Planet time in our house. We all snuggle on the sofa and spend an hour being wowed by the wonders of the deep. With SEA LIFE Manchester virtually on our doorstep, we decided to take a trip and discover some of the amazing creatures who live in our oceans.

Discovering our Blue Planet at SEA LIFE Manchester

SEA LIFE Manchester is our nearest SEA LIFE Centre and as such we tend to go there quite a lot. It’s great to spend a couple of fairly chilled hours there. We’ve met most of the creatures in the centre before, but this time there had been a couple of changes.

I have my own favourites, namely the jellyfish, this time they were much smaller, so I think these were new to the centre. It was quite interesting to see their relatively small bodies floating and undulating in the water.

Discovering our Blue Planet at SEA LIFE Manchester

Te other big change was that Ernie, the huge green sea turtle has found himself a lady friend – Cammie. I think the hope is that they will find love and produce some baby turtles of their own.

Despite us being regular visitors to SEA LIFE Manchester, we did manage to experience a few things we’d never seen or done before. The boy felt brave enough to touch a starfish in the Rockpool Zone. Then I put my hand in to say hello to a shrimp. I was told the shrimp would nibble my fingers, taking away dead skin and it found a nice meal and gave my finger a bit of a tug I wasn’t expecting. I may have squealed in a most unnecessary way.

Discovering our Blue Planet at SEA LIFE Manchester

We also spent quite a lot of time talking to some of the Jurassic Rangers who were on hand to talk about fossils and show off some specimens. The boy is a massive dinosaur fan, so this was a bit of a treat for him.

Best of all, towards the end of the day we managed to catch the Ray Talk. We watched them being fed while a very knowledgeable man told us all about them. There are three species of ray at SEA LIFE Manchester including the lovely Blue Spotted Stingrays. The Ray Talk is well worth catching if you’re interested in these graceful creatures.

Discovering our Blue Planet at SEA LIFE Manchester

The boy went all around SEA LIFE pointing out creatures he’d seen on Blue Planet and telling us a bit more about them. The same is true when we’re watching the TVseries; every so often he pipes up “I’ve seen that at SEA LIFE”!

If you’re a fan of Blue Planet then a visit to your local SEA LIFE Centre is a must. It’s really helped to connect the dots for my son. Seeing things in real life that he’d seen on the TV suddenly made everything extra wonderful and real for him.

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

 
I’m 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.

Days Out: Christmas at Dunham Massey, Cheshire

Our nearest National Trust property is Dunham Massey. We are regular visitors to Dunham, we love the long (but flat and well-paved) walks they have. The gardens are lovely whatever time of year you visit and the house is full of upstairs-downstairs history. On 1st December we went along to the launch of ‘Christmas at Dunham Massey’ a magical, after-dark, illuminated trail which was jam-packed with Christmas magic.

Days Out: Christmas at Dunham Massey, Cheshire

This year, for the first time ever, Dunham Massey has transformed into a winter wonderland. It’s taken six months of planning and hard work (and probably millions of light-bulbs) to create a wonderful Christmas experience for families to enjoy.

The walk from the visitors centre to the courtyard gives you a little taste of what’s to come, but as soon as you walk into the courtyard you know you’re in for a real treat. The courtyard is filled with Christmas market style sheds selling hog roast, mulled wine, roasted chestnuts and those big sausages you only really see at Christmas markets. There’s also a colourful vintage carousel to enjoy.

Days Out: Christmas at Dunham Massey, Cheshire

We picked up some snacks and some cups of hot mulled wine and headed off towards the lights, pausing to watch an Elf and Father Christmas welcome us to Christmas at Dunham Massey. Then on to the winter wonderland of the garden.

Days Out: Christmas at Dunham Massey, Cheshire

The trail is a one mile sparkling path through the gardens. It winds through the historic woodland and has surprises around almost every corner. From a giant (and I mean giant) reindeer, to huge baubles lit in flickering flames in the scented fire garden; not to mention twinkling tunnels, stunning reflections of light on the water and the wonder of Pealight Heaven (named for the 100,000 pealights it’s made from.

Days Out: Christmas at Dunham Massey, Cheshire

There are lights, there’s beautiful music and there are mulled wine stands at very regular intervals (try the mulled cider, it kept me warm on a cold night). Stop by Pealight Heaven and buy a marshmallow to toast over the fire – an absolute must!

Days Out: Christmas at Dunham Massey, Cheshire

Days Out: Christmas at Dunham Massey, Cheshire

It’s such a beautiful, magical way to spend an evening with your family. It’s well thought out and incredibly well stewarded. There are helpful, smiley faces around every corner. Even though the paths are flat and well-made, you can never be too careful walking in the darkness. It felt reassuring to know there were helpful people around if you got stuck.

Days Out: Christmas at Dunham Massey, Cheshire

It’s an after-dark event, so if you do go, make sure you’re well wrapped up against the cold and you’re wearing good, sensible footwear. You might also want to slip a torch into your pocket just in case. We took a torch but didn’t use it, everywhere was so well lit.

Christmas as Dunham Massey is utterly gorgeous. Our highlights were the giant reindeer, the huge lawn absolutely covered in lights and the scented fire garden. The small Christmas market was excellent too and the food and drink were really good quality. I hope they run this again next year. I can see a visit to Christmas at Dunham Massey turning into a festive tradition!

Days Out: Christmas at Dunham Massey, Cheshire

Christmas at Dunham Massey runs until 30th December 2017, 4.45pm – 10pm with 9 timeslots each night. You will need to pre-book tickets on the website here.

We were invited guests of Christmas at Dunham Massey. All images and opinions are our own.

The Twelve Days of Christmas at Tatton Park

If the grey weather is getting you down and you’re feeling a little bit bah-humbug about the onset of the festive period; then I can heartily recommend a visit to Tatton Park in Cheshire. Over the weekend we braved the rain and struck out in search of some serious festive fun. Which we found a short drive from our home in South Manchester.

The Twelve Days of Christmas at Tatton Park 2017

Tatton Park have pulled out all the stops and thoroughly decked the halls of their beautiful mansion as well as laying on a whole raft of lovely family festive activities this Christmas. When we visited over the weekend we filled a busy afternoon with Christmassy fun and could have stayed for more if it wasn’t closing!

When we arrived we headed straight for the warmth of the mansion. It’s a stunning building on any day of the week, but it’s been beautifully decorated with fresh foliage and greenery, with a series of grand state rooms and servants’ quarters decorated with a 12 Days of Christmas theme. It’s lavishly done, with turtle doves, gold rings, ladies dancing, maids a milking and so on.

The Twelve Days of Christmas at Tatton Park 2017

We entered a room filled with the most beautiful Christmas tree and a choir took their place on the staircase and serenaded us with Christmas carols. It was so lovely. We made our way to the servants’ quarters and discovered a very helpful butler in The Still Room who offered us freshly baked flapjack and some history of the house. There was also seasonal crafts for the children to try as well as a wish tree you could write your Christmas wishes on.

The Twelve Days of Christmas at Tatton Park 2017

The Twelve Days of Christmas at Tatton Park 2017

Once we’d finished our tour of the mansion, we wandered into the Christmas craft fair which was on and we managed to pick up a few presents while we were there. We stopped for a quick coffee in The Stableyard cafe and then we wandered down to the farm.

We love the farm at Tatton Park. Whatever time of year you visit there is always something interesting going on in the farmyard. But we weren’t really there to check out the livestock, we were there to meet Father Christmas.

The Twelve Days of Christmas at Tatton Park 2017

A visit to Father Christmas at the Farm is something of a tradition for us. We’ve visited Tatton Park a few times before and each year it’s slightly different. This year we were greeted by a brass band heartily playing Christmas carols, which was lovely. We said hello to the donkeys and had a look at the nativity scene. We then wandered past the small fairground attractions and headed straight to say hello to the reindeer, sit in the sleigh and have a look at the two heavy horses in the stable.

The Twelve Days of Christmas at Tatton Park 2017

Up the cobbled lane to have a quick look around the Elves Workshop and on to the grotto. It was a cold rainy day, and there was no queue at all, something of a marvellous bonus. We were greeted by a very friendly French plate-spinning elf who entertained us while we had our faces painted.

We were then led down to the grotto to see Father Christmas himself. Ben had a good chat with him about how good he has been this year and what he would like for Christmas. Father Christmas gave him a little present to open on Christmas Day; presumably to save him carrying it on the big night.

The Twelve Days of Christmas at Tatton Park 2017

I wanted to show the boys the pigs. We were incredibly lucky to arrive just as Sienna, a Saddleworth sow was giving birth to her piglets. We hung around and watched in awe as the pig gave birth to piglet number 4. It was something incredibly special to watch and a fantastic little biology lesson for the boys.

The Twelve Days of Christmas at Tatton Park 2017

By the time we left the farm darkness was creeping in; so we hot-footed it to the car to head home. Tired, cold but absolutely bursting with festive spirit. It was a fabulous way to start this year’s festivities!

Tickets to Father Christmas at the Farm are £7.00 for adults and £6.50 for children (including a gift). Mansion ticket prices are £10 for adults and £6 for children. Parking is £6 per car.

To find out more information about the full range Christmas events at Tatton Park, including carol concerts and other family acitivites, visit their website

We were invited guests of Tatton Park and we were given complimentary tickets in exchange for this review. All images and opinions are our own.

Days Out: Wild Discovery at Ribby Hall

At the end of August I took the small boy away for five days at Ribby Hall in Lancashire. We had a brilliant little break, but one of the highlights was visiting the small independent zoo which is on the site, Wild Discovery. We’ve been to zoos large and small, but never have we experienced anything like the interactive and hands-on experience we had at Wild Discovery.

Days Out: Wild Discovery at Ribby Hall

From our cottage at Ribby Hall we could see some of the enclosures at Wild Discovery, which is quite special if you’re staying in the village. We set aside an afternoon to spend exploring Wild Discovery. It’s the kind of thing you can whip around in half an hour, or you could easily spend a day exploring and interacting. We went twice during our stay, which tells you how much we enjoyed it.

There are lots of different animals and birds at Wild Discovery; from farmyard animals like rare breed pigs, pretty little calves, a reindeer, chickens, rabbits, guinea pigs, sheep and even an orphan duck. There’s an exotic house with bats, insects, reptiles and some fish, as well as tortoise, armadillo and lovely little marmoset monkeys.

The favourites with the children were the meerkats, obviously. The family group at Wild Discovery are great fun, especially at feeding time. We were lucky enough to be there a few times when they were being fed. They are such funny, cheeky little creatures.

Days Out: Wild Discovery at Ribby Hall

There is a safari walk which takes you past all the birds, past the Asian small-clawed otters, the capybara, pelicans, alpaca, wallaby’s, rhea and the porcupine (adorably called Pricklelilly).

My son was particularly taken with the Asian small-clawed otters Ollie and Geoff. During a keeper session we helped to put together an enrichment activity for them, putting live mealworms into a ball for the otters to play with and eat. We ended up spending quite a lot of time watching Geoff and Ollie playing in their enclosure and ultimately adopting them both. (We’re planning to visit them again soon).

Days Out: Wild Discovery at Ribby Hall

There are regular sessions throughout the day which you are free to join in with. The sessions are listed on their website, but they currently include; the Farmyard Talk; an Enrichment Activity; Otter Talk and Feed; Pelican Feeding Talk; Meerkat Talk; Farmyard Talk; Armadillo Talk and Meet the Keeper.

These sessions are what made Wild Discovery so special for us both. We really loved that you could spend time with the staff learning about the animals. The keepers would often let you touch the animals or feed them if appropriate. One of our highlights was discovering a freshly laid (unfertilised) rhea egg and getting to touch it while it was still warm.

Days Out: Wild Discovery at Ribby Hall

We learned so much at Wild Discovery, it’s such a friendly place and so hands on. It’s still quite new, I know they have plans to build and extend what they have and add new animals over the next few years or so. It’s such a great place to visit, even if you’re not staying at Ribby Hall.

Wild Discovery will also feature on popular the Cbeebies TV programme “Fern & Rory’s Vet Tales” in 2018. The programme will feature Wild Discovery and showcase several of the animals in the zoo. They will also feature a behind the scenes look into the work of the Exotic Veterinary Team. Worth looking out for!

Tickets to Wild Discovery (with unlimited access for one day) are £7 for adults and £6 for children. Under 3’s go free. For more information about visiting Wild Discovery  visit their website.

We paid for our tickets to Wild Discovery. We’ve not been paid to write this post. We are just sharing a lovely experience of a great attraction.

Days Out: Visiting Weymouth Sea Life Adventure Park

Over the summer we travelled down to North Devon for our two week holiday. We knew that the weather would not be fabulous, so we tried to plan a few wet weather activities. With that in mind we took our Merlin Passes and decided to choose a rainy day and drive over to Weymouth in Dorset to visit the Weymouth Sea Life Adventure Park.

What we’d not realised (and a quick visit to their website would have told us this) is that Weymouth Sea Life Adventure Park is a largely outdoor attraction and on rainy days you will get very wet. 

Days Out: Visiting Weymouth Sea Life Adventure Park

It was a 2 hour plus drive from our holiday cottage, but we arrived late morning and promptly got soaked to the skin as we walked to the entrance. The fast track queue which Merlin Annual Passholders use was outside, so by the time we got into the park we were completely sodden. 

Weymouth Sea Life Adventure Park is separated into several zones. Some of which are indoor, some are outdoor. As you can imagine on a very wet day the indoor zones were particularly crowded. 

Days Out: Visiting Weymouth Sea Life Adventure Park

The zones were – Harbourside; Nursery; Penguins; New Ideas Zone; Breed Rescue Protect; Ray Lagoon; Rockpool; Turtle Sanctuary; Seals; Rainforest; Shipwreck; Otters and Ocean Tunnel. In addition to these attractions, there is also a Wetlands Conservation Trail, a Splash Zone and Caribbean Cove – an outdoor adventure playground. 

We love Sea Life Centres and we’ve seen a lot of the indoor habitats before at other Sea Life Centres. Once we realised there were other exciting attractions we’ve never seen before, despite the heavy rain we made a beeline for them. Ben loved the penguins and the seals. The Turtle Sanctuary was in its own building complete with a huge turtle over the entrance. 

Days Out: Visiting Weymouth Sea Life Adventure Park

The otters which are Asian Short-Clawed Otters were a big hit. We both really enjoyed watching them run about, diving in and out of their pool and the dashing inside to tumble about in their beds. 

We were particularly impressed with the outdoor Rockpool area. I’ve never seen anything like it before. The indoor Rockpool areas at other Sea Life Centres are usually a series of supervised tanks you can put your hands in and touch the creatures. The same is true here, but it’s outside, partially under cover and every so often an artificial tide crashes out and floods the area. There is a warning, so you can step out of the way and not get wet, but it’s a great addition. The Rockpool area is home to creatures native to the UK, including starfish, shore crabs, anemones and sea urchins.

Days Out: Visiting Weymouth Sea Life Adventure Park

The outdoor areas were brilliant and a real treat. There was so much to see and do and we learned such a lot. On a dry day I know we would have made so much more of them. It was such a shame it was so wet, but that didn’t seem to bother the penguins, seals and otters quite as much as it did us.

We would absolutely visit the Weymouth Sea Life Adventure Park again, just maybe on a dry day. 

For more information about Weymouth Sea Life Adventure Park, visit their website.

If you’re visiting Weymouth you could also visit the Jurassic Skyline Tower which we reviewed here.

I’m a Merlin Annual Pass Blogger Ambassador. I have been given a Merlin Annual Pass to do this review with my family.  I wasn’t paid to write this post.

Our 5 favourite things from the Just So Festival 2017

We’ve been going to the Just So Festival for four years now and each year we throw ourselves into the magic of it all. It is absolutely the highlight of our year. This year was no different, we arrived anticipating good things and we left sad that it was all over for another year. Just So Festival 2017 was an utterly enchanting experience.

Our 5 favourite things from the Just So Festival 2017

There’s so much going on at the Just So Festival, it’s impossible to fit everything you want to do into a weekend. We’d been quite organised before we arrived and I’d jotted down a timetable of things we’d like to see and do, knowing that we would miss some of what we’d selected, but we’d probably accidentally happen upon some Just So magic along the way.

It’s almost impossible to choose just five outstanding things from the Just So Festival 2017, but after much deliberation we’ve narrowed it down to these weird, wonderful and decidedly enchanting Just So moments –

The Just So Pillow Fight!

Ben took a bit of persuading to get stuck into the pillow fight, but once he could see his friends in there having fun there was no stopping him. The pillow fight is a completely bonkers but wonderful sight. Several hundred people bashing each other with pillows, most of which burst and feathers flew everywhere. The initial fight went on for about half an hour, with proceedings being halted a couple of times to retrieve children lost in the feathery mire. 

Our 5 favourite things from the Just So Festival 2017

The fighting went on for several hours, with small skirmishes periodically breaking out. It was the most fun to take part in and almost as much fun to watch. The pillow fight is a definite highlight!

Campfire in the Spellbound Forest

The Spellbound Forest is my absolute favourite area at Just So. We always gather each night around the campfire to listen to storyteller Ian Douglas; marvel at Dieter’s mad science and sing our hearts out with resident Scout Master, Ian Mackintosh. This year something a little different happened in the forest, Ian Douglas got married at Just So and we were all invited to the Wedding Feast around the campfire. It was an evening of storytelling, song, celebration and magic. 

Our 5 favourite things from the Just So Festival 2017

The Spellbound Forest is also the place to be for a whole raft of creative and nature based activities. We went on a wonderfully refreshing barefoot walk though the woods. Once again we made clay faces; we toasted marshmallows at campfire cookery; enjoyed the intimate little Theatre for One sessions and met the Wildlife Champions from Chester Zoo. There was no formal den building session this year, but our adventurer and his friends built their own and it was brilliant.

Our 5 favourite things from the Just So Festival 2017

Peekaboo and the Weleda Tent

With the boy being a strapping six years old, really we have no business being in the Peekaboo area (which is for babies and toddlers really). But this year there was a mud play area which was planted up with bee loving plants. Our little bee couldn’t stay away. He loved digging and discovering more about the plants.

Our 5 favourite things from the Just So Festival 2017

I also owe a debt of thanks to the Weleda team. I’d booked a free Skin Food Hand Massage which took place in a shed. On my way to the massage I fell over, skinned my knees and made my bottom lip wobble. They were very lovely to me when I arrived at the shed and let me sit down to gather my thoughts and gave me some cream for my knees. The hand massage was also excellent, I felt so relaxed and my hands were treated to some much needed TLC. 

Insect Eating, Wild Food & Foraging at The Social Barn

We all fancied learning more about foraging so off we went to the Social Barn. While we waited for the session to start the boys got stuck into some insect eating (dried mealworms and crickets), they also did some jellybean architecture and tried some wild food before we went off to explore the Rode Hall estate in search of foraged goodies.

Our 5 favourite things from the Just So Festival 2017

Under the expert guidance of James Wood, professional wild food forager, we learned about how to find and cook elderberries, nettles, chestnuts, acorns and hawthorn berries. All the boys got stuck in, foraging for goodies and we even got to sample some of the wild food. I can say that I’ve eaten an uncooked nettle and it didn’t sting!

Just So Festival 2017: Joining the Bee Tribe

Just So is famous for its Tribal Tournament. Each year families dress up as owls, foxes, frogs, stags, lions, fish or bees. The new tribe this year were the Bees, being from Manchester we just had to be Manchester Worker Bees. There were lots and lots of bees this year, all in sunny yellow, sporting wings and striped socks. We’d been fairly low-key with out costumes, wearing yellow and black tops with bee wings and antennae. 

Our 5 favourite things from the Just So Festival 2017

We fully embraced the Tribal Tournament this year, with the boys all buzzing about collecting the golden nuggets to give to the Queen Bee. Alas we didn’t win this year, but we had a good time trying. The foxes won and were a little smug about it. Maybe the bees need to bring them down a peg or two next year!

Just So Festival 2017: The best of the rest…

You could easily spend a week at Just So, but you have to squish it all in to just three days (or one day if you’ve got a day ticket). I couldn’t possibly list all the amazing stuff we did and saw and ate, but honourable mentions to go – The Baghdaddies; Stargazing at The Observatory; The Cautionary Tales of Animalia; How I Hacked My Way Into Space; The Actual reality Arcade; Dancing the Conga; The Forgotten Courtyard; Away with the Fairies and the wonderful wand making workshop; Bollywood dancing at Jitterbug; and the food, ALL the food!

Our 5 favourite things from the Just So Festival 2017

It was a wonderful weekend. It filled our hearts up with joy and creativity and adventure. We were happier, better people for our time at the Just So Festival 2017. Roll on next year!

Early bird tickets for Just So Festival 2018 (17 – 19 August, Rode Hall Estate, Cheshire) are on sale from Friday 25 August at www.justsofestival.org.uk at special early bird prices. Under 3s free.

Goodbye summer, hello again relentless routine

When I wake up tomorrow morning two things will happen. It’s my birthday so I’ll get smothered by my menfolk and the dog of questionable pedigree and loved to bits, which is nice. The other thing tomorrow brings is the return to school and the start of Year 2 for my precious little baby (now a big, tall and strong nearly 7 year old). It’s time to say goodbye summer!

As I tucked him up in bed tonight I shed a quiet tear to myself. We have had the most incredible summer. Seven weeks of fantastic memories, quality time together and just really fun stuff, much of which I’ve not yet had time to blog about, so do watch this space!

We’d sat down this afternoon with a pen and paper and listed all the really fun, memorable stuff we’d done together and it was quite a list. Reading the list back and remembering everything just made my heart burst a bit. We’ve been very lucky, there’s been a budget of sorts we’ve stuck to and the cost of expensive days out has been tempered by packing a picnic and using vouchers or deals where we could. We did well and I am very sad it’s over.

 

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At the start of the summer we wrote a bucket list. But how did we get on? This is what we managed to tick off…

⇒ Build sandcastles on the beach in Devon
⇒ Sleep lots (Ben’s suggestion)
⇒ Visit Ben’s cousins in Devon
⇒ Go to the playground in the park
⇒ Visit the Sealife Centre at Weymouth
⇒ Go on a treasure hunt in Bude using Treasure Trails maps
⇒ Visit the castle fort in the park in Bideford
⇒ Count the stars at night, when camping at The Just So Festival
⇒ Sing around the Just So Campfire
⇒ Feed the animals at Wild Discovery at Ribby Hall 
⇒ Have a Cornish pasty picnic on the beach
⇒ Join the Tribal Tournament at The Just So Festival (we were bees!)

 

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But we also managed to do this…

Rockpooling in Woolacombe (and found an octopus)
⇒ Joined in the dog show at the Woolsery Show (and won!)
⇒ Went foraging at Just So Festival and ate dried mealworms & crickets
⇒ Built a den in the woods at Just So Festival
⇒ Joined in the massive Just So pillow fight!
⇒ Went out for lunch and ended up splashing in the water-features in Cathedral Gardens in Manchester 
⇒ Went to Chester Zoo with Daddy (loved the gibbons the best)
⇒ Found a Rhea egg at Wild Discovery at Ribby Hall
⇒ Went up the Jurassic Skyline attraction in Weymouth
⇒ Adopted Geoff & Ollie the otters at Wild Discovery at Ribby Hall
⇒ Massively grew in confidence with his swimming, loved the pool at Ribby Hall!
⇒ Met and touched the armadillos, a gecko, a cockroach, tortoise, rabbits, sheep, calves, pigs and reindeer at Wild Discovery at Ribby Hall

We’ve done lots, we’ve hardly fallen out with each other and every night we’ve gone to bed smiling with our heads and hearts full of adventure. I’ve loved it and so has he. It really has been the best summer ever.

I’ll have very mixed feelings in the morning, seeing him skip off to school again and hearing the house fall silent once more. It will be nice to catch up with some jobs and to tackle my to do list, but not as nice as doing what I love best, spending time with my boy.

PS. Happy birthday me x

 

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Behind the scenes at The Lost Carnival, Dunham Massey

Throughout August The Lost Carnival has pitched up just south of Manchester, in the gardens of National Trust property, Dunham Massey in Cheshire. We went along to find out more about the carnival and to explore the beautiful gardens at Dunham Massey.

This is the third year The Lost Carnival has been in town, having previously been located in Bury and Crewe. The carnival is the brainchild of Wild Rumpus, the arts company specialising in unique outdoor productions which both children and adults can enjoy, such as the famous Just So Festival.

Behind the scenes at The Lost Carnival at Dunham Massey

This interactive circus carnival almost seamlessly ties in with the current exhibition in the house, Dunham’s Lost Years – A Victorian Tale of Love and Abandonment. The exhibition uncovers the controversial marriage of daring circus performer and beauty Catharine Cox to Dunham’s young heir, George Harry. The link is that the performers from The Lost Carnival will be rehearsing across the summer at Dunham “under the invitation” of Catharine Cox.

We arrived at Dunham Massey and parked in the vast car park (£6, free to National Trust members) and made our way to the visitors reception and picked up our tickets to the garden (adults £8.60, children £4.30, free to National Trust members). The Lost Carnival itself is free, but you need to buy a ticket to enter the garden area).

Behind the scenes at The Lost Carnival at Dunham Massey

When you enter the garden (if you’re lucky like we were, you might spy some of the deer roaming the park) you are handed a Lost Carnival map which helpfully gives you some background to what’s going on and highlights the carnival areas for you to locate. Naturally we put our six year old in charge of the map and he guided us through the gardens expertly.

The Lost Carnival attractions are nicely spaced out around the gardens. I recommend you first head to the “Chant” area, where a carnival performer will teach you the chant, the actions and give you some clues about what you need to do while you’re there. From there we moved on to explore Popou’s Caravan. This is a gorgeous caravan filled with trinkets, maps and clues for kids to explore. It was very busy so we only managed a quick look inside. When my son emerged he only had one word – “wow”!

Part of the fun is spying carnival attractions through the trees and discovering secrets and clues in the gardens. I was enchanted by the zoetrope, one of those devices where you turn the handle and watch through the slats to see a horse galloping and an acrobat performing stunts on its back. 

Wandering through the gardens to the “Dressing Room” we met a glamorous carnival seamstress who whispered secrets about the missing star-crossed lovers Sergei Bird and Popou Ingenue. She asked us to help her out finishing a beautiful costume. We sewed a bright button onto a wedding dress (I wonder who that is for) and had the chance to try on some of the carnival costumes.

Behind the scenes at The Lost Carnival at Dunham Massey

Further down the gardens in The Orangery we stopped to write a letter to the heads of the rival carnivals (and those star-crossed lovers) Sergei Bird and Popou Ingenue, imploring them to return to the carnival. After we’d had a little sit down while he wrote his letter, we wandered through the gardens to find hula hoopers hooping, so the boys had a little go.

Behind the scenes at The Lost Carnival at Dunham Massey

There was enough carnival activity to make things interesting for my son; but not too much that it overwhelmed the tranquility and beauty of the gardens. Apart from the carnival itself, we had a great time exploring the extensive gardens which have formal and informal areas. We were lucky that the weather was so sunny and kind to us. The gardens are equally fine on rainy days. There are plenty of sheltered spots under the trees if it’s really pouring.

Immerse yourself in the world of the two of the greatest carnival families, the Birds and the Ingenues and see if you can help them bring the heads of the rival carnivals Sergei Bird and Popou Ingenue back to their families again.

Behind the scenes at The Lost Carnival at Dunham Massey

The Lost Carnival is on until 30 August, from 10.30am – 4.30pm daily at Dunham Massey. Parking and entrance to the garden is free to National Trust members. For non-members a charge applies – visit the website for more information.

We were invited guests of The National Trust. We were given complimentary tickets and parking in exchange for this write up. All images and opinions are our own.

Days Out: Rockpooling in North Devon

Earlier this week my husband and son went rockpooling in North Devon with the National Trust. They returned rosy-cheeked and brimming with enthusiasm for what they’d found and experienced. In a rare guest post, my husband shares their wonderful morning in Woolacombe. Over to Matthew…

A few weeks before we came down to Devon on holiday, I was beginning to keep an eye out for things to do. I saw a link somebody had shared on Facebook about guided rockpooling with the National Trust in Woolacombe. The “Rockpool Rambles” looked quite interesting and I thought that both me and the lad could learn something.

Days Out: Rockpooling in North Devon

We holiday in Devon quite a lot and we tend to plan ahead a little bit, but also take each day as it comes especially with the weather. On one of the days the rockpooling was scheduled it was going to be mixed weather, so we decided to hop in the car, head to Woolacombe and take our chances.

Days Out: Rockpooling in North Devon

When we arrived, the heavens opened. Undeterred, the lad and I put on our waterproofs and sandals and headed down to the Combesgate part of the beach. Here, our guides, Ed and Dave met us and our fellow rockpoolers and gave us our nets and buckets and a short briefing about what to look for and a couple of things not to do such as climbing on the rocks covered with barnacles as they’re very rough and feel like a cheese grater if you happen to slip on them.

Off exploring we went and we quickly came across some sea lettuce, followed by our first starfish of the day. Ed and Dave pointed out that the barnacles make a snap, crackle and pop noise, so we listened out for that too. Around the corner there were starfish aplenty; along with beadlet anemones and small hermit crabs, as well as limpets and mussels.

Days Out: Rockpooling in North Devon

There were excited cries from the group as small fish were seen darting for cover in the pools. Rockpool prawns were seen, captured and temporarily put in buckets while we examined them. The lad did very well to find a secluded rockpool and a snakelocks anemone in the water. We lifted a stone and out popped a five bearded rockling. By the end of the session, the clouds parted and the sun came out. The best was saved till last when a little red octopus was spotted swimming across one of the larger pools. It was a wonderful sight and one we will remember for a long time.

The guided rock pooling is a fantastic way to spend an hour and half. It costs just £1 per person, and it probably can’t be bettered.

Days Out: Rockpooling in North Devon

The little red thing you can see in the photo above is a little octopus. What a find!

For more information about Rockpooling in North Devon and the Rockpool Rambles run by the National Trust, visit the NT website.