Tag Archives: Manchester

Meeting the Japanese Spider Crab at SEA LIFE Manchester

When we heard that SEA LIFE Manchester were unveiling a new exhibit, we had to go down and check it out. SEA LIFE Manchester is one of our favourite places to spend a few hours and we were keen to meet the new resident –  a Japanese Spider Crab!

Meeting the Japanese Spider Crab at SEA LIFE Manchester

Japanese Spider Crabs can measure over 5 metres claw to claw, and can live to up to 100 years old! There are three Japanese Spider Crabs at SEA LIFE Manchester in a huge new tank area. Given they can grow up to the size of a small car, even though they seem huge, they still have plenty of growing to do.

Meeting the Japanese Spider Crab at SEA LIFE Manchester

The hard shell of the Japanese Spider Crab helps to protect them from larger predators such as octopuses, but giant spider crabs also use camouflage. The crab’s bumpy shell can help them to blend into the rocky ocean floor. They really are incredible creatures. Almost nightmarish in appearance, but apparently they are quite placid creatures. It felt really special to see these deep-sea creatures close up.

SEA LIFE Manchester has been given a bit of a makeover since we were last there just before Christmas. A few things have been moved about or refreshed, with, I’m pleased to say, another jellyfish tank in the building. You can crawl through the fluorescent world of the floating moon jellyfish in their brand new 360-degree doughnut tank. I adore jellyfish and we always spend lots of time watching them swim about. They’re very relaxing to watch.

Meeting the Japanese Spider Crab at SEA LIFE Manchester

We also stopped by the Jurassic Ranger area to have a look at the fossils. The Ranger expertly told us all about the fossils she had on display and let us touch some. She also gave the kids a sharks tooth each to take home with them as a souvenir. It was really interesting to find out more about sharks and sharks teeth, especially as that’s one of his topics at school this year.

Meeting the Japanese Spider Crab at SEA LIFE Manchester

SEA LIFE Manchester is one of our favourite places to visit. I’m pleased to see it’s been given a little makeover in parts. The centre is packed full of beautiful, weird and wonderful creatures; it’s well worth a visit for a few hours if you’re wanted a few hours of wonder and awe.

Find out more about what’s on at SEA LIFE Manchester on their website.

Meeting the Japanese Spider Crab at SEA LIFE Manchester

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

Little Sports Coaching – learn new footballing skills

Like most boys born in Manchester, my son has grown up with a football at his feet. He’s not a natural-born striker, but he enjoys having a kick-about in the park and it’s nice to encourage a love of sports at an early age. This month he joined the Little Sports Coaching Mini Soccer programme in Manchester where he hoped to learn a few new skills to show off in the park.

Little Sports Coaching launched in 2006 as a sports coaching organisation.  They work in nurseries and primary schools; run soccer schools, multi sports, dance and gymnastics classes, holiday camps, one to one coaching sessions, children’s parties and even have their own junior football team. 

Little Sports Coaching - learn new footballing skills

My son has trained with them before at school; so he already knew some of the coaches when he arrived at the Manchester Health Academy in Wythenshawe, Manchester for his first session. They were really welcoming and gave him his own brightly coloured kit (it’s very bright, so there’s no losing him in a crowd when he wears it).

He got straight in with a warm-up kick about with the other players in his group. There were about 8 children in each group and when the weather isn’t terrible they get to play outside on the astroturf. Some of the kids were amazing and obviously had been attending for several years. Ben got stuck in and made sure he was near the coach, listening and paying attention to what he was told to do.

Little Sports Coaching - learn new footballing skills

During the Mini Soccer programme players learned a selection of skills including dribbling, passing, shooting, heading and much more; plus each session includes taking part in five-a-side football matches to practice those skills.

The Mini Soccer sessions last for two hours with a short break in the middle. A bottle of water is essential and players are encouraged to bring a snack to eat such as fruit. Although kit is provided, players will need comfortable trainers or football boots if they’re playing outside.

Parents don’t have to stay for the sessions, but you can do if you’d like. I’ll be honest and say we slipped away for half an hour to pick up a few bits from a nearby retail park. He was busy concentrating and probably didn’t even notice we’d gone.

Little Sports Coaching - learn new footballing skills

At the end of each session the coaches award a player of the week trophy for a player who has shown improvement; or who has tried extra hard, listened well or been a good team player. The trophy is kept for one week and when it’s returned the player gets a certificate to keep. It’s a nice little motivator to do well.

The coaches are engaging, encouraging and professional. You can tell they really enjoy helping to coach these young players. It’s clear from sitting on the sidelines for a few hours that the kids love the sessions too. There’s something special about watching a group of kids form a team and play together; watching them learn new skills and grow in confidence too.

Two hours of football is quite a lot to ask my son to play on a hot June afternoon. He does flag a bit towards the end; but the rest of his team are all still running about and picking up any slack he leaves.

He’s had three training sessions with Little Sports Coaching now and he really enjoys going. When he gets home he’s hungry, thirsty and tired, which is how I think it should be. He’s had a good run around and learned some new football skills. He’s learned quite a lot of other things too; like teamwork, listening skills, he’s concentrated on what he’s doing and what he should be doing and most of all, he’s had a lot of fun doing it. Isn’t that what taking part in sports is really all about?

Little Sports Coaching - learn new footballing skills

Little Sports Coaching offer a wide range of sports coaching including football, dance and multi-sports across Manchester and the North West. Each session of Mini Soccer costs £6 which for two hours worth of coaching is excellent value.

To find out more about Little Sports Coaching, visit their website www.littlesportscoaching.co.uk/mini-soccer.

Disclosure: We were offered four Little Sports Coaching sessions and the kit in exchange for this review. All images and opinions are our own.

New Space Mission at Legoland Discovery Centre Manchester

Legoland Discovery Centre Manchester is one of our nearest Merlin attractions. We like to visit a few times a year, but we’ve not been since they refurbished last year. We’d heard that over Easter they’d launched a new Space Mission area and we were very keen to check it out. Plus there was the relatively new Ninjago area which we still hadn’t seen. Over the Easter break we swung by for an afternoon of Legoland fun!

New Space Mission at Legoland Discovery Centre Manchester

We were pretty impressed with the new layout of Legoland Discovery Centre. The cafe area had been tucked away in a colourful room of its own, most of the old favourites were still there. Mini-land had been improved with the Manchester bit looking more Mancunian than before. I especially liked the new Lego Media City building and the working tram trundling about.

As we rounded the corner to get into the main area, the boy spotted the huge Ninjago area straight away. There are a few Ninja training zones where lively kids can burn off some energy, so he dabbled a bit there, striking Ninja poses and generally getting stuck in. There’s a soft play area/temple and he disappeared in there for ten minutes, returning to us with a big smile on his face. There’s also a moving climbing wall which had quite a long queue, so we might have a go another time.

New Space Mission at Legoland Discovery Centre Manchester

Obviously apart from the awesome soft play temple, his highlights from that area were the huge Ninjago figures made of Lego and the free building area where he just let his imagination run wild. It’s excellent, really excellent. If you like Ninjago, you’ll love this. It’s perfectly thought out.

Time was ticking and we needed to go and check out the new Space Mission area. It’s a reasonably small space compared to the Ninjago area, but they’ve really packed everything in. You can build and launch your own Lego rocket, or drive remote control buggies and explore the surface of the Lego planet. There’s an animation desk where you can create your own Lego animations and lots more.

New Space Mission at Legoland Discovery Centre Manchester

I especially liked the space shuttle which takes off every five minutes. The level of detail is pretty awesome. We spent quite a lot of time looking at everything and exploring the area. The boy really liked the control desk and anything where he can just build Lego is always a hit.

Living half an hour from Legoland Discovery Centre Manchester, we really ought to visit a little more often. We’ve got Merlin Annual Passes, so it’s no bother to pop in for a quick hour of Lego fun, or a bit longer if we have the time.

If you’re local we can totally recommend the new Space Mission area and the Ninjago area is fantastic. Everything else has been spruced up for 2018 too.

New Space Mission at Legoland Discovery Centre Manchester

For more information about Legoland Discovery Centre and Merlin Annual Passes, visit their website.

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

There’s more to The Printworks than meets the eye!

Living and working in Manchester, I am spoilt for choice for places to hang out for an afternoon or evening. The Printworks has long been a place we visit as a family, usually to go to the cinema and then for lunch afterwards. Last week I went along to The Printworks to hang out for the afternoon with some friends and discovered there’s more to The Printworks than meets the eye.

There's more to The Printworks than meets the eye!

My first stop was a sauna and a swim at Nuffield Health at The Printworks. I’d always known there was a gym somewhere inside, but I hadn’t really thought about where it was in the building. You hop in the lift and go up to the first floor and you’re met with a huge, beautiful state of the art gym.

I was given a quick tour of the facilities, then I took myself off for a swim. The pool is a good sized 20 metre long pool with a jacuzzi, sauna and steam. I bashed out 30 lengths (that’s 600 metres fact fans!) and enjoyed the fabulous view across the city centre. I then went for a well earned sauna and a steam, grabbed a shower, got dressed and headed off into The Printworks to see what else was on offer.

The Printworks is mostly known for the wide variety of bars and restaurants it houses. I have a few favourites I always go to when I visit, but it’s always good to expand your horizons.

I went to Waxy O’Connor’s for a post-gym drink. Waxy O’Connor’s is an Irish themed bar and if you walk downstairs there’s a huge bar area with lots of tables. They do food too, and I was tempted, but I stuck to my Black Velvet cocktail and was later joined by my friends. By this time it was 5pm and the bar was starting to fill up with people popping in for an after work drink with their colleagues and friends.

There's more to The Printworks than meets the eye!

We could have picked anywhere in The Printworks to carry on with our evening; but we headed to Wagamama for a steaming bowl of ramen. Then off to Hard Rock Cafe for a few cocktails and a good old gossip.

There’s something for everyone at The Printworks; whether you’re taking the kids to the cinema and for a bite to eat afterwards, painting the town red or if you’re in search of a workout and a pool with a view; The Printworks has it all!

For more information about what’s on at The Printworks visit their website.

I was offered a free swim and a cocktail when I visited The Printworks. I was not asked to write this blog post.

10 February Half Term Things to do in Manchester

The February half term this year is a tricky one, it’s not the same across Greater Manchester, with some schools having half term the week of the 12th and others having the week of the 19th. Whenever your kids are off, here are 10 things to do in Manchester over the February half term.

Elizabeth Gaskell House, 84 Plymouth Grove, Manchester, M13 9LW

Pay a visit to this beautiful historical house in Manchester and take the opportunity to join visual artist Rose Miller for textile-based craft activities in the Servants’ Hall from 1-3pm on 21st February. The usual admission applies (under 16s free) plus £1 for children taking part in the craft activity. There’s no need to book – just turn up. See the website for more information.

Museum of Science and Industry, Liverpool Road, Manchester

There’s always so much going on at the Museum of Science and Industry, this February half term is no different – there’s Experitots, Robots, Pi: Building the World, Project Doomsday: The Intelligent Machine Chapter, Space Descent VR with Tim Peake, Changing Places, Creating Spaces, Destination Stations, Circuit City, plus their fabulous permanent collections and daily Explainer shows!

For more information about what’s on and when, visit the MSI website www.msimanchester.org.uk.

10 February Half Term Things to do in Manchester

The Lowry, Pier 8, The Quays, Salford M50 3AZ

Hot foot it to The Lowry on Saturday 17th February and take part in their Dance: Sampled Festival. Visitors to the festival will be able to watch some of the biggest names in the dance business and also take part in a variety of free workshops including Hip Hop, Lindy Hop, Tap, Salsa and Flamenco.

Activities are free but visitors will need to book places on the workshops in advance, with a limited amount of tickets available on the day. Tickets are available online now.

Greater Manchester Police Museum, 57A Newton Street, Manchester

A few years ago we visited the GMP Museum and we had a fantastic time. There are two special open days running at the museum over half term. Visit between 10.30am and 3.30pm on Tuesday 20th February and Thursday 22nd February and meet officers. Plus see what equipment they use and take a tour of the museum. It’s a great day out and an excellent chance to visit this fascinating museum.

Z-arts Manchester, 335 Stretford Rd, Manchester

With a family fun day, two fantastic theatre shows and an art and architecture project, Z-arts has a fun-filled half-term week for families to enjoy! Join them for a fabulous Chinese New Year Family Fun Day on Saturday 17 Feb, 10.30am – 1.30pm, admission is free.

10 February Half Term Things to do in Manchester

Z-arts have two shows on over half term – both look well worth a watch. There’s Snow Mouse from Wednesday 21 – Sunday 25 Feb, 10am, 1pm, 3pm, suitable for ages up to 4 years. Tickets are £6 – £9 and are available from the website. There’s also Where’s My Igloo Gone? On Sunday 25 Feb, 11.30am & 2.30pm and suitable for ages 5+. Tickets are also £6-£9 and available on the website.

Manchester Giants Basketball Camp, Astley Sports Village

Sporty kids of all ages have the chance to learn some tricks at the Manchester Giants basketball Camp on Thursday 22nd and Friday 23rd February. For just £10 per session, kids can get expert coaching and meet some of the Manchester Giants professional players. For more information and to book, visit the Manchester Giants website.

See Concorde at The Runway Visitor Park, Manchester Airport

This February half term, families are in for a real treat at The Runway Visitor Park at Manchester Airport. The Runway Visitor Park are hosting two days where families can book a tour of one of the most iconic airplanes ever to take to the skies – Concorde!

The viewing park is a great day out anyway, but the chance to tour Concorde is a treat and a half. The 20-minute tours will take place on February 14th and February 21st at various times throughout the day. Tickets can be booked online and cost £5 per person.

Stars of the Sea at SEA LIFE Manchester, intu Trafford Centre

SEA LIFE Manchester is probably one of our favourite places to visit and this February half term they’re pulling out all the stops! There’s a new ‘Stars of the Sea’ experience filled with with hands-on activities, games, displays and fishy facts. The event will showcase SEA LIFE’s superstar creatures; from turtles to octopuses.  Children can also take part in SEA LIFE’s new giant sea discoveries game; navigating through a life-size version of ‘Stars and Ladders’ to solve puzzles with fishy clues to jump ahead and foil their foes to win a ‘Stars of the Sea’ certificate.

Running from 10th to 25th February, all activities are included in the standard admission price, but pre-booking through the SEA LIFE website is advised.

LEGOLAND Discovery Centre, intu Trafford Centre

Celebrate 60 years of LEGO at Legoland Discovery Centre, Manchester. Collect pop badges; learn how to create stop motion animations using Lego Minifigures and bricks and complete a scavenger hunt in Miniland to win a prize. Visitors over half term can join in a Cool Creations competition – what can you build with just 60 bricks?

Running from 10th to 25th February, all activities are included in the standard admission price, but pre-booking through the Legoland Discovery Centre website is advised.

Waterside Arts Centre, Sale, Greater Manchester

The Chit Chat Chalk Show is a magical chalky adventure! Kiko is a confused young girl, struggling to understand how she feels about the strange new world she lives in. With her new friends, she embarks upon a quest to discover the mixture of emotions and colours that make her unique. The story dances, draws and giggles its way through from beginning to end. It’s sure to put a smile on faces, young and old!

Suitable for ages 3-8 years, showing on Tuesday 13 February 11.30am and 2pm. More information and tickets are available from watersidearts.org.

10 February Half Term Things to do in Manchester

There’s plenty to keep families busy over the February half term, what will you be doing?

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.

Veeno Manchester Selezione Wine Tasting Experience

Last week I visited Veeno in Manchester with a friend to try their Selezione Wine Tasting Experience. Veeno is an Italian Wine Café which first opened in Manchester in 2013 and now has 15 cafés across the UK. We went along to try one of their wine tasting experiences, but what did we think?

The tasting experience we opted for was their Selezione wine tasting which costs £26.90 per person. This features five wines from their family vineyard in Sicily. Each wine is paired with a range of spuntini appetisers; an array of meats, cheeses and other appetisers imported from strictly selected Italian producers and presented on a sharing platter.

Veeno Manchester Selezione Wine Tasting Experience

We arrived at Veeno Manchester and we were shown to our table by Sam, our wine guide for the afternoon. We were offered a glass of prosecco (£6 each) and we chatted and looked at the list of wines we were going to try during the next two hours. All of the Veeno “family wines” come from Caruso & Minini, the family vineyard in Sicily and the wine list is extensive and well considered.

Sam soon came over with our Italian nibbles. He explained that each element on the platter would be paired with a wine, so we resisted the urge to eat the whole platter in one go. A remarkable show of restraint on our part.

Veeno Manchester Selezione Wine Tasting Experience

We began with a small glass of Grillo, a soft, buttery white wine which paired beautifully with the mozzarella and was dangerously easy to drink. Next up was a glass of Zibibbo, a delightfully and surprisingly floral wine which reminded us both of Turkish delight, which was a good thing. This was one of my most favourite wines from the afternoon. Again this was matched with a cheese, this time a delicately smoked scamorza affumicata.

Moving on to the Syrah Rosato Tasari, I’m not a great fan of rosé. I worry that all rosé is cheap, nasty pink stuff made for people who don’t really like wine. I need to get over that prejudice and this helped. The Syrah Rosato Tasari was matched to the parma ham; which as a veggie I couldn’t eat but made an approximation from the mozzarella and olives.

Veeno Manchester Selezione Wine Tasting Experience

Our next tipple was a glass of Perricone, a hearty but not heavy red with beautiful black cherry flavours. This was matched with some bresola, which again I couldn’t sample but nibbled at the cheese and olives instead.

Last of the wines was the Nero D’avola which I described as “not shy”. This was rich and fruity, almost like Christmas cake fruits. This was paired with Gorgonzola and walnut which was almost a revelatory experience. The Nero D’avola was so intensely flavoured, it felt like it needed to be sipped in front of a roaring fire. What a find!

To finish off our Veeno wine tasting experience we were given a large portion of tiramisu to share and a small glass of Marsala wine each. The tiramisu was a great end to the meal and the Marsala sent us out into the cool autumn chill with a nice warm glow.

Veeno Manchester Selezione Wine Tasting Experience

The experience took around two hours. It was nicely paced without either of us feeling pressured into downing our drinks to move on to the next one. Each glass was a 70ml measure, which was plenty. The experience costs £26.90 per person and we felt it was a fair price; especially given the quality of food, drink and expertise on offer.

Sam was excellent, very helpful and knowledgeable. He took us through each wine; explaining about the grape, how the wine is made, what kind of things we should be getting when we taste the wine and also what foods work well with each wine variety. The experience was excellent and all the better for having Sam talk us though it all.

We had a very pleasant afternoon at Veeno. I tried some excellent wines and ate some lovely food. I learned a few things about wine and wine making and we managed to have a gossip and a catch up whilst watching the world go by. We liked it so much that we’ve booked to go again next month!

For more information about Veeno and their wine tasting experiences, visit their website.

 We were invited guests of Veeno Manchester and we were not asked to pay for our experience. Nevertheless, all images and opinions are our own.

How to organise a successful charity bake sale

Over the weekend I organised and ran a successful charity bake sale. We raised £275 in a little over an hour for a worthy cause. I really had no idea how to go about organising a charity bake sale, but with some help and organisation, what we did was a success.

Here’s my guide to organising a charity bake sale…

Enlist the help of keen bakers who are sympathetic to your cause.

As soon as I realised I had been put in charge of organising the bake sale I contacted a group of my friends and asked them (begged them, I actually begged them) to help. They all very, very kindly offered to bake crumbles, cakes and gingerbread men for the big day. I also asked for someone to help manage the stall during the sale and my kind friend Sarah offered her services.

How to organise a successful charity bake sale

Sell little bit of everything.

If you can, try to have a good variety of cakes, bakes and biscuits on sale. I baked 50 butterfly cakes which I sold for 50p each, a low-cost item will sell well, especially to children who want a little treat. Individual bakes sold well; flapjacks, brownies, buns, cupcakes and gingerbread men all disappeared quite quickly.

Try and have a range of products of different sizes and at various price points which will appeal to different people. Large crumbles and whole cakes sold well, with many people taking them home as a nice family treat. Also, don’t forget to bake some things suitable for vegans and people who are gluten-free or dairy free.

Be organised.

I’ve never done anything like this before so I knew I had to be organised. I made a list of things I’d need. Such as £20 in change as a “float”, aprons and latex gloves, kitchen towel, knives, paper plates, sandwich bags and larger plastic bags, stickers to write prices on and a couple of pens. I also bought a tablecloth, which I forgot on the day. I’m not as organised as I thought!

Ask for extra help.

Although I had my friends baking away for the sale, we asked the rest of the church to help out if they could. Several people brought along excellent cakes, tarts and crumbles. When I laid everything out it seemed like there was far too much and I’d never sell it all. How wrong I was.

How to organise a successful charity bake sale

Advertise your charity bake sale!

Spread the word. People generally love homemade cakes, especially if they’re being sold in aid of a charity or cause they support. In our case the charity bake sale was mentioned in the church newsletter and we spread the word on Twitter, Facebook and Instagram.

Believe!

Reader, we sold the lot! Well almost everything, the very few items that were left I bought and brought home to feed my hungry hoards.

Together we raised £275 in just over an hour of sales after one church service. We had billed it as a one-off harvest festival style bake sale. I think if we ran one on a regular basis it wouldn’t be quite as popular, but we did well. We did really well. Huge thanks to everyone who baked and everyone who bought.

There’s still a long way to go before we hit the £50k target we need to raise before the end of the year, but we did our bit. We baked some cakes, raised some money and spread a bit of cakey joy throughout South Manchester.

How to organise a successful charity bake sale

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.

Review: Afternoon Tea at Cocoa Cabana, West Didsbury

A couple of weeks ago to celebrate two friends getting new jobs, a group of us went for afternoon tea at Cocoa Cabana in West Didsbury. To my shame I’ve never eaten there before, but I’ve bought and eaten plenty of their chocolates over the years. I was interested to see what their chocolate afternoon tea would be like, plus it seemed like a bargain at £16.99 each, so I needed to check it out properly. 

Review: Afternoon Tea at Cocoa Cabana, West Didsbury

Cocoa Cabana in West Didsbury is a small chocolatiers and cake makers. They have three small tables inside and on nice days you can sit outside on Burton Road and watch the world go by. There were eight of us, so we took up all of the inside tables. Because of the size of Cocoa Cabana and the work involved in making an afternoon tea you do have to book in advance. 

My friend Sarah had done all the booking and had arranged for us to take some celebratory prosecco with us to have with our tea. There was rather surprisingly no corkage to pay for this. The afternoon tea comes with unlimited tea or coffee, you can have hot chocolate but there is an additional charge for this.

Review: Afternoon Tea at Cocoa Cabana, West Didsbury

We were served pots of good tea and we chatted as our sandwiches were brought to us. I was one of two vegetarians and our sandwiches were brought on separate plates. I thought that was a nice touch as the carnivores often snaffle the veggie sandwiches before I get to them. The sandwiches were freshly made with seeded bread and good quality fillings. There were nice egg sandwiches, cheese and pickle and ham and mustard amongst others.

More tea was poured, prosecco corks popped and a procession of sweet treats were brought to our table. The freshly made fruit scones came with lashings of cream and a salted caramel sauce; a real twist on the classic but one I really enjoyed. It was a little sweet for a couple of my friends, but the sauce was a winner for me.

Review: Afternoon Tea at Cocoa Cabana, West Didsbury

The chocolate tarts were much coveted. Crisp pastry filled with chocolate ganache and topped with a red berry. The tarts were excellent, but very rich and very intense. Most of us managed half a tart each (you can take what you can’t finish home if you’d like).

Following the chocolate theme, there was also a large plate of chocolate brownies. I am not much of a brownie fan, but I shared one with a friend and it was perfectly crisp on top and gooey in the middle. 

What did turn my head was this little plate of prettiness. Tiny eclairs, a teeny banoffee pie, a bite-sized cheesecake, little raspberry chocolate pots, a miniature lemon meringue tart and the lightest, most magnificent pistachio macaron ever.

Review: Afternoon Tea at Cocoa Cabana, West Didsbury

As with every afternoon tea I’ve ever had, there was far too much food, which is probably a good thing. Afternoon tea should not leave you wanting more and the staff at Cocoa Cabana were clearly used to boxing up leftovers. 

The Afternoon Tea at Cocoa Cabana is just £16.99 per person, which is really excellent value. We didn’t feel rushed and the service was attentive but not intrusive. I did need to go home and have a nap directly afterwards, but that is my greed and not a comment on the quality of the food. I liked the separate veggie sandwiches; and the macarons I will dream of for a while yet. I do think the salted caramel sauce should be sold in jars.

The verdict? A good afternoon tea, with some real highlights at very reasonable price, I’ve paid upwards of £25 in Manchester for very average afternoon teas and the Cocoa Cabana afternoon tea was better value and much better quality. Plus the service was accommodating and attentive. It’s nice to have afternoon tea (and chocolate) of this quality available outside of the city centre. Go on, treat yourself (and me).

Cocoa Cabana 128 Burton Road, West Didsbury, Manchester, M20 2JQ

Visit the Cocoa Cabana website for further information http://cocoa-cabana.co.uk/

Review: Afternoon Tea at Cocoa Cabana, West Didsbury

Note: We paid for our Afternoon Tea in full.