Tag Archives: Birmingham

Days Out: Autumn at Warwick Castle

We’ve had our Merlin Annual Passes for a few years now and we’ve visited a lot of attractions during that time, but for a while, high on our to visit list has been Warwick Castle. It took a bit of planning to get there, but last month we made the journey down the M6 and finally crossed Warwick Castle off our list. We had such a brilliant day that we’re already planning a return visit!

Warwick Castle is about a half hour drive from Birmingham and is really easy to get to, with plenty of parking. We visited on a not too busy day; but the walk from the car park to the castle took a good 20 minutes; so be prepared for a good walk.

Days Out: Autumn at Warwick Castle

We showed our Merlin Annual Passes and we were handed a map and started planning our day. Our first stop was the Horrible Histories Maze which we loved. The maze leads you through a trail through history where you can find out more about different times in history – Horrible Histories style. It was very well done and a nice way for the kids to run off a bit of steam exploring the maze.

Days Out: Autumn at Warwick Castle

Throughout the year Warwick Castle have an array of different shows and activities going on. Depending on when you visit, different things will be available. We visited out of season, so we managed to catch the Bowman Show. This was a highly skilled archer doing his thing and the Birds of Prey Show which was absolutely fantastic.

The Birds of Prey Show showcased a number of beautiful and powerful birds including; Vultures, a Condor, Owls and Eagles which swooped over the watching crowds and onto the Castle ramparts. The show is absolutely not something you should go to if you’re scared of birds as they swoop down low over the crowds, sometimes brushing the spectators with their wings. We thought it was incredible and worth the admission price alone.

Days Out: Autumn at Warwick Castle

The castle itself could take a full day to explore if you were keen. The boy loves castles but is considerably less keen on steep spiral staircases and enclosed places. There are warning signs before you enter the ramparts. It’s a one way system and once you’re in it, you just have to stick with it. The first chance of escape is at the bottom of Guy’s Tower, but to get out you first have to climb to the top of the tower and back down again. I believe we climbed about 500 steps before we made our escape. This meant that we didn’t manage to explore the whole of the castle ramparts, as the boy had had enough.

The view from the top of the tower is absolutely breathtaking. You can see for miles and miles around. It’s 39 metres tall and although I’m pretty good with heights, I did feel a bit giddy when I looked over the edge.  We made our way down the stone steps of the tower and explored the other areas of the castle.

Days Out: Autumn at Warwick Castle

There’s plenty to do. We explored the Great Hall and the inside of the castle. There are lots of exhibits inside including armour and it’s all decorated like the castle would have been a few hundred years ago. The boy loved this, and as it was raining outside we didn’t rush around it. We gave the dungeons a miss, we might go if we’re feeling braver next time.

We spent a lot of time exploring the Kingmaker area. No, it’s not dedicated to the 90’s indie band; it’s all about Richard Neville, the Kingmaker and you walk through his preparations for war and experience the sights, sounds and smells of medieval England. It’s very well done, really interesting and gave us a real insight into castle life.

Days Out: Autumn at Warwick Castle

The gardens are pretty spectacular too. It was raining so we didn’t explore much; but the area around the Conservatory Cafe is especially beautiful, with peacocks roaming around the fountain and lots of manicured lawns and lovely flowerbeds.

We were genuinely sad to leave at the end of the day. I think we all agreed that it’s the kind of place we could and should visit again and spend two days exploring properly. There are lots of themed events and special days on for the rest of the year. We have plans to return in the spring so we can see the trebuchet in action and maybe see some jousting. We’ll definitely watch the Birds of Prey show again and again and try our hand at some archery.

Days Out: Autumn at Warwick Castle

If you love castles, Warwick Castle is an absolute must. It’s packed full of history, presented in an interesting and entertaining format and there’s something for everyone. There is a lot of walking and not a great many places to sit down. The walk to the car park and back really adds an extra 40/45 minutes onto your walking time, so do factor that in if you visit.

We loved the history, we loved the castle, the maze, the birds of prey. It’s the kind of place you need a good day to explore. We’ll be back!

Find out more about Warwick Castle by visiting their website.

Days Out: Autumn at Warwick Castle

Disclosure: We are Merlin Annual Pass Ambassadors this year. All images and opinions are our own.

Days Out: National SEA LIFE Centre Birmingham

We are huge fans of SEA LIFE Centres. We are regular visitors to our local one in Manchester and we’ve wanted to visit National SEA LIFE Centre Birmingham for several years now. In September we had a whole weekend in Birmingham, so we couldn’t resist a paying a visit to the biggest and possibly best of the SEA LIFE Centres.

National SEA LIFE Centre Birmingham is often quite busy, the advice is to book ahead, but we arrived as they opened and we didn’t have any problems getting in. We showed our Merlin Annual Passes and we were waved through.

Days Out: National SEA LIFE Centre Birmingham

The National SEA LIFE Centre Birmingham begins with a visit to the Penguin Ice Adventure. Penguins are always great fun and they did not disappoint. The area had lots of Gentoo Penguins, swimming and woddling about. They’re super-cute and very popular. They’re also the last thing you see when you leave, so you get double the penguin fun.

Days Out: National SEA LIFE Centre Birmingham

From the penguins you go up the windy walkway, through all kinds of different zones, passing tanks containing all kinds of creatures. The Tropical Lagoon was very popular and we just managed to coincide with feeding time, which was pretty interesting to watch.

The boy loved the every popular Clownfish Kingdom, which is a must for all Finding Nemo fans. The Octopus Hideout was a bit of a treat, whenever we’ve seen octopus before, they’ve always been tucked away in a corner. The octopus at National SEA LIFE Centre Birmingham was really active during our visit and we got to see him walking all over the tank and swimming around.

Days Out: National SEA LIFE Centre Birmingham

As well as the octopus, we always love to spend some time admiring the jellyfish and the seahorses. Jellyfish are among my favourite sea creatures and they’ve just unveiled a new jellyfish exhibit. You can see the life-cycle of the jellyfish and see several different kinds of jellyfish. Jellyfish are absolutely beautiful and it’s well worth stopping by and admiring them for a few minutes.

Also new to the National SEA LIFE Centre Birmingham is the 4D cinema. There was a small queue for this, but we didn’t have to wait long. We were each handed a pair of 3D glasses and we took our seats for the 4D experience. The film was a cartoon based on the adventures of a group of sea creatures, it was aimed at children and my 7 year old was completely engrossed throughout. He especially enjoyed being sprayed with water and the bubbles which blew at us. You don’t get soaked, it’s actually quite refreshing.

Days Out: National SEA LIFE Centre Birmingham

The Ocean Tunnel is always a treat and the one at National SEA LIFE Centre Birmingham is exceptionally good. You get an almost 360° view of the tank and the creatures in it. There are lots to look at, turtles, sharks, rays and of course, lots and lots of fish.

The National SEA LIFE Centre Birmingham is huge. You need at least a couple of hours to look at it all. I’d love to go back by myself and take my time over everything, my boys tend to want to rush through things which is a bit of a shame. It’s very well done with lots of different zones to visit and enjoy. The Amazon section was especially interesting, I didn’t know fresh water rays existed until our visit!

Days Out: National SEA LIFE Centre Birmingham

It’s a great place to visit and worth setting aside some time for if you’re visiting Birmingham!

Find out more about National SEA LIFE Centre Birmingham by visiting their website.

Disclosure: We are Merlin Annual Pass Ambassadors this year. All images and opinions are our own.

Days Out: LEGOLAND Discovery Centre Birmingham

Over the summer, with much fanfare, LEGOLAND opened the new LEGOLAND Discovery Centre Birmingham. We had a weekend away in Birmingham in September and a visit to LEGOLAND Discovery Centre Birmingham was very high on our list of things to do.

Days Out: LEGOLAND Discovery Centre Birmingham

LEGOLAND Discovery Centre Birmingham is quite similar to the one in Manchester. We visit the Manchester centre quite often, so it all felt quite similar there. We loved the Birmingham Miniland – which includes models of some of the more iconic buildings and places to visit in and around Birmingham. We’d been to Warwick Castle the previous day, so their model of the castle was an absolute treat!

Days Out: LEGOLAND Discovery Centre Birmingham

The new LEGOLAND Discovery Centre Birmingham has all of the things we’ve come to expect from a Discovery Centre. The Kingdom Quest ride is something we enjoy doing; but there’s often a queue and if you just want to get straight into the LEGO action it’s easy to skip.

The 4D Cinema (which we didn’t go in, because the boy just wanted to play with the LEGO) looked good. The queues were pretty minimal for that and I always think it’s a good excuse to sit down for 15 minutes and enjoy a mini-LEGO movie.

Days Out: LEGOLAND Discovery Centre Birmingham

Also at LEGOLAND Discovery Centre Birmingham there’s the Duplo Farm, LEGO City Builder and LEGO Racers Build and Test. These are all areas where you can just dive in and build whatever you want with the millions of bricks which are there. These are obviously very popular and my son loves (really loves) the chance to sit and build with unlimited bricks for as long as he wants. It is a LEGO fans dream really.

If you’re looking for a more formal building experience, the Creative Workshop was brilliant. They run regular sessions throughout the day. Everyone is given a kit and instructions to build something (on the day we visited it was a LEGO BBQ). It’s well worth setting aside a bit of time to do one of the workshops, for me the workshop was probably my highlight.

Days Out: LEGOLAND Discovery Centre Birmingham

My son is not a fan of rides; so we gave the Merlin’s Apprentice Ride a miss in favour of half an hour of LEGO City Soft Play. The soft play is always popular. It’s well thought out, with lots of fun LEGO details and it’s soft play; so all kids like it and ultimately refuse to leave until you promise to buy them a biscuit/LEGO from the shop/a puppy.

LEGOLAND Discovery Centre Birmingham is well worth visiting if you’re in the area. It’s not massive, but there’s enough to entertain you for a few hours. We loved Miniland, the Creative Workshop, all the LEGO building areas and the soft play.

Tickets are from £15 per person, but deals and discounts are available online. For more information about Legoland Discovery Centre Birmingham and Merlin Annual Passes, visit their website. Our Merlin Annual Pass gives us entry to all Merlin Attractions and it worth getting if you’re a regular visitor.

Disclosure: We are Merlin Annual Pass Ambassadors this year. All images and opinions are our own.

Days Out: Bear Grylls Adventure, Birmingham

Last weekend we went to Birmingham for an adventure or two. On our to do list was a visit to the brand new Bear Grylls Adventure centre which is at Birmingham NEC. My husband is no stranger to adventure and extreme sports, so as a special treat I’d booked him in to experience the Base Camp and to go snorkeling with sharks.

We drove from Birmingham and parked a 15 minute walk away in the designated car park. There might be closer parking, but if not, take a coat, the walk around the lake to the centre is very blowy. The Bear Grylls Adventure centre is easy to find and you can see if from quite far away as you approach. We got ourselves booked in; husband had the Base Camp + Snorkeling ticket and the boy and I had spectator tickets, he was too young to take part and someone needed to take care of him.

Days Out: Bear Grylls Adventure, Birmingham

My husband (who henceforth will be referred to as Matt, because that is his name) signed a waiver. He then went through to the lockers and joined his group. People go through the Bear Grylls Adventure in groups, so this would be a really great thing to do with a group of friends or through work maybe.

He was soon ushered off to complete the first Base Camp activity. There are four Base Camp activities which your group works their way through; Survival Maze, Escape Room, Assault Course and Target Archery. Included in the Base Camp package are digital photos, so you get a little book all about your adventure, which is a nice touch. Tickets to do the Base Camp only are £20.

Days Out: Bear Grylls Adventure, Birmingham

There are other “Hero” activities which you can add on. There are High Ropes, Climbing Wall, Snorkeling, iFly (indoor skydiving) and Scuba Diving. We went for the Snorkeling, which including the Base Camp cost £45 per ticket.

Matt went through all the Base Camp activities; this should have taken a little under two hours, but there was a problem with a group ahead of them and they ran out of time so didn’t get the chance to try the archery. The groups were led around Base Camp by a pair of guides. The guides helped everyone through, so if you struggle, there is someone there to help. Matt especially liked the Assault Course, he’s done similar things like that before and he’s a keen runner so it was really up his street.

Days Out: Bear Grylls Adventure, Birmingham

After he’d finished the Base Camp portion of the afternoon he met up with the Snorkeling group. There they were given instructions and a safety talk, he changed into a wet suit and he was plunged into a cage in the shark tank.

From our point of view, the angle and positioning of the cage made it really hard to see him. In fact from the outside you wouldn’t know there was anyone in the cage and he couldn’t see us either. The shark tank contains 14 black tipped reef sharks, stingrays and a whole shoal of colourful fish. It’s very beautiful to look at and is rightly the visual centrepiece of the Bear Grylls Adventure centre.

Days Out: Bear Grylls Adventure, Birmingham

Although he really enjoyed the snorkeling activity, he’s since said that he would have preferred to do the scuba dive. We watched a group scuba dive in the tank and it was much more interactive. But the snorkeling is probably about the right level if you’re a beginner or a bit nervous.

The inside of Bear Grylls Adventure is really well done; the floor looks like a rutted, muddy track and there are expedition trucks, crashed planes and replica crocodiles to admire. There’s also a Bear Grylls figure clinging to a rock which you can go and pose near for photographs.

From a spectators perspective, there’s not a great deal to do to fill the hours. There’s a cafe area and you can hang around in the main area waiting for your friend or in my case, husband to briefly appear before moving onto the next challenge. We did get a bit bored after a while, so if you’re just going to support someone, take a book.

Days Out: Bear Grylls Adventure, Birmingham

The Bear Grylls Adventure centre is very well put together. The activities are well organised and everything feels safe. I think the prices for the activities are very reasonable; it would be a great way to spend an afternoon bonding with friends or work mates.

If like us you have a Merlin Annual pass, then you get 25% off the cost of your adventure. I do recommend that before booking you read the FAQ section on their website and have a good think about what “Hero” activities you would like to do.

Husband left with a big smile on his face. He didn’t quite know what to expect when we arrived; but he’d scrambled through a survival maze, eaten dried insects, escaped the escape room, scrambled over the assault course and snorkeled with sharks. Not a bad way to spend a Sunday afternoon in Birmingham!

Find out more about the Bear Grylls Adventure Centre in Birmingham by visiting their website

Disclosure: We are Merlin Annual Pass Ambassadors this year. All images and opinions are our own.

Top Ten Toy Picks from Spring Fair 2016

Over the weekend I went to Spring Fair in the Birmingham NEC, if you’ve never been, it is THE event to attend if you’re a retailer looking for new suppliers and stock. I went with two hats on, as a blogger and as the Marketing and PR person for a toy shop I work for. The Spring Fair was huge, every hall in the NEC was filled with a different category, but we (me and That Lancashire Lass) were primarily interested in the children’s toys. It was a  long and tiring day, but it was incredibly interesting and I’ve got a better idea about what will be under everyone’s Christmas tree this year (too soon?). 

Here are my top picks from the toy hall at Spring Fair 2016 (Hall 5).

Hippychick Ltd (stand 5Eo1) – Pl-ug Den Building Kits, retailing from £12.99, it is an innovative den building kit, by using the specially designed hooks, suckers, clamps and pegs you can build your own indoor or outdoor den. All you need is a sheet or blanket and some imagination. 

Bigjigs (stand 5G01) – I’m a big fan of the Bigjigs wooden toys, but their “Green Toys” were new to me. The Green Toys are classic toys constructed from recycled plastic and other environmentally friendly materials. I particularly liked their selection of chunky vehicles which had a nice retro vibe. Suitable for ages 1+ I know my 5 year old would very happily play with these.

Fiesta Crafts Ltd (stand 5L04) – Fiesta Crafts are well worth looking at full stop, but my favourite new thing on their stand were their “Stickabouts”. A bit like modern day fuzzy-felt, the Stickabouts have a scene on a board and a load of “stickers” to place, but these glue-free stickers easily peel off and re-stick anywhere you want. If they stick to the wall then they easily peel off. This is a bit of a welcome sticker revelation to me, all the fun of stickers but without having to spend hours scraping them off the wall. 

Clockwork Soldier (Stand 5M49) – these are a new brand to me, but I loved the look of the products and I want mentally picturing them on the wall in my son’s room and seeing him playing with some of the craft kits. They have a beautiful range which includes space, dinosaurs, robots, superhero and dress up. I’m going to campaign hard to see these in the toy shop, I think they’ll sell incredibly well!

Keel Toys (Stand 5D20) – I can’t resist a cuddly toy, but my eye was drawn to the Christmas Elves, these are soft, cuddly and smiley Elves which would be a great gift for December, they’re reasonably priced and would be a jolly visitor from the North Pole is you were going to do Elf on a Shelf this year.

Brainstorm Ltd (Stand 5L27) – one word, StikBots. I think these are going to be pretty big this year, these are small pose-able plastic robot figures with suckers on their hands and feet which you can use to create stop-frame animations with using a downloadable app. They come in an array of colours and will be great for creative kids.

Orchard Toys Ltd (Stand 5K41)  – this stand is worth visiting just to see the Giant Railway Puzzle linked up to the Giant Road Puzzle, and the village and the airport. The Giant Road Puzzle is a classic, and they’ve recently launched a whole raft of new puzzles to accompany that and I know that these will sell incredibly well in the toy shop and kids will love making their own town and transport system at home. Fantastic.

Marbel Ltd (Stand 5K50) – the Marbel stand was showing off some of their new Hape wooden toys products, I’m not sure what if anything I’m allowed to say, but if I use the words “wooden train”, “xylophone” and “just awesome” you know what to look out for later this year. Hape products are really well made wooden toys at a good price, great for babies and toddlers.

Stepping Stones Marketing (Stand 5L47) – are the UK distributors for Lilliputiens baby and nursery toys, these are quite captivating soft toys, but with hidden surprises designed to stimulate the child’s senses. We were quite taken by the lemur cot and pram toy as well as the adorable fox, we liked the gender neutral colouring and the quality of these products.

Jamm Toys (Stand 5L10) – I’m new to Jamm Toys and I was impressed by their range, in particular the cool retro wooden scooters stood out to me, they look like Vespas but for small children. I’d be surprised if I don’t see a few of these being scooted around our local park come Christmas!

spring fair 2016

Spring Fair was enormous, if you’re going then go with a game plan, wear comfortable shoes and be prepared for a very long day. 

I’ve picked out just ten things I loved from my day at Spring Fair, but honestly there were hundreds of fantastic toys to go and marvel at. I had a really interesting time and I learned an awful lot about toys and what will be big this year. Fantastic!