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Making the most of your garden with children

I feel so so lucky to have a garden at the moment, and hope to make the very most of it! Here are some ideas on just how to do that.

Exploring Nature

It’s the perfect time to learn about the nature in your very own garden. Activities include;

  • SCAVENGER HUNT. Take a few minutes to write a list of natural things to find in the garden. For small children a quick sketch… or find numerous examples online to print off. You could also do a photo scavenger hunt- they have to take a picture of everything they find.
  • TREE APPRECIATION. It’s the perfect time to learn about the trees (or flowers, or bushes) that you have in your garden. Draw a picture. Find the seeds and learn how they spread. Do any animals, birds or mini beasts live there?
  • BIRD WATCHING. Spend ten minutes to half an hour sitting quietly, counting birds and identifying what they are.
  • FLOWER PRESS. Collect their favourite flowers and press them. If you don’t want them picking your favourites, restrict to wild flowers.
  • MINI BEAST HUNT. Go searching under stones, bricks or dig in the soil to see what you can find. Older children could make a chart; name, size, colour, no.of legs, wings, how many.
  • RUBBINGS. Try different surfaces, different leaves and bark.
  • GARDENING. Plant seeds, prune plants or even just let children dig. Try to think of some usual pots you could plant in; old wellies, egg cups, a mug. Have a competition with every member of the household to see who’s seed grows the fastest!

Eating outdoors

The possibilities are endless! We’re enjoying some fabulous weather, so have been having lunch and tea outside wherever possible… here are some other options;

  • BBQ. It genuinely is never too early for a BBQ. Enough said.
  • PIZZA! On Mother’s Day we lit our horrendously underused outdoor pizza oven… Jess absolutely loves making the pizzas. If you don’t have a pizza oven, create the pizzas, pop them in your normal oven and then eat them outside! You could even turn your garden into an Italian restaurant… spend some day colouring/ painting Italian flags for that extra touch!
  • PICNIC. Jazz up a simple lunch of sandwiches by spreading a blanket and going outside. Make it into an adventure for little ones; pack up a bag and take them on a little walk around the garden ‘Follow The Leader’ style. Can you find obstacles to walk under/ over/ around?
  • ONE POT. If you go camping with your family, you might have a camping stove or trangia that you could use to cook your tea on. Older children might be able to cook the food themselves.
  • DATE NIGHT. Three years ago my husband had the idea to build a bar in our garden. At the time I thought it was a bloody stupid way to spend money, but now I’m eating my words! We had a lovely night at the weekend wrapping up and going outside, listening to music and eating a take-away. I am well aware garden bars aren’t overly common, but definitely go for a ‘night out’!

Outdoor Art

  • NATURE ART. Make a picture with leaves, twigs and flowers that you find in the garden.
  • CHALK. Let children chalk on your driveway or patio. A great canvas, and then for the enthusiastic they can wash it off!
  • WATER PAINTING. A paintbrush and a pot of water is all you need to get some great designs on fences or patio stones. In the sunshine it will dry quickly so you can go again!
  • STONE PAINTING. If you are still going outdoors, hide them for others to find. There are lots of groups and places around that do this.

Dens and Tents

Make the most of any tents you have, get them out a spend a day using that as your base. Or as a Wendy house. No tent? Grab a few chairs and a big sheet. Get multiple dens going, build a tent village!! Each tent/den could have a different purpose; one for reading, one for games. Or if your little ones like role play, take out your shopping toys and let every den be a different shop! Can you make shop signs?

If it’s safe to do so and your children are a little older, you could even have an overnight adventure, sleeping outdoors!

Water Play

Having recently bought a water play table for the children, who spent about 5 minutes with it before they got bored, I can honestly say filling pots and pans with water and letting small children occupy themselves is the best activity you can do.

My daughter also loves washing things, the car is her favourite, but we’ve taken out her brother’s high chair, you could do plastic toys, or outside pots. As long as she feels she’s helping, she’s happy.

If your child has lots of dolls, fill a tub with bubble bath and let them have a bath time. And of course if it’s warm get a paddling pool out!

Sport and exercise

With Joe Wicks taking over the nation, it seems we are all turning to our living rooms for our exercise space. But remember you could do these online sessions outside! Other ideas;

  • SPORTS DAY. You vs the children. Egg and spoon, slalom, rolling races, hopping races, obstacle course.
  • TAG or if your garden’s big enough, a Hide and Seek Tag.
  • DAILY WORKOUT/ CIRCUITS. You don’t need Joe Wicks! Let each corner of your garden be a station. Star jumps/ Knee ups/ Heel kicks/ Skipping. Run in between.
  • BALL SKILLS. Passing, dribbling, hockey skills, tennis skills.
  • DANGEROUS WATERS. Basically dont stand on the grass (the crocodiles might eat you). Create obstacles that children must navigate to get from one side of the garden to the other. Super easy to set up and you can keep making it harder.

Other games and activities

  • TREASURE HUNT. Hide items all over the garden for little ones to find. Older children could be given clues or even create clues themselves!
  • BUBBLES. Endless entertainment!
  • MUD PIE. Messy play for little ones… all you need is water, mud a a few pots for the perfect mud pie.
  • PUDDLE JUMPING AND RAIN DANCING. Don’t let the rain stop you getting outside. Layer up and get involved!
  • MAKING TRACKS. Have a train set or V-tech toys? Just think of the EPIC size creation that you can make!
  • PLAYING WITH TOYS OUTDOORS. Remember you don’t have to do anything particularly special, just being outdoors if something a little different. Do what you would usually do, just outside!

Are there any activities that I’ve missed? Let me know in the comments!

If you’re still heading out for walks, this post might give you some inspiration to motivate little legs!

Challenges we faced on our first Mexican holiday

 (And how we overcame them)

We had the BEST holiday to Mexico, and in hindsight it was perfect timing. We landed back the day before Boris told everyone to stay home. A week later schools were closed and all non-essential travel cancelled. We feel incredibly lucky to have avoided all the initial craziness, and to have enjoyed a holiday when so many others were missing out!img_20200312_083217_2583551936277443279582.jpgBut any holiday with two small children can cause difficulties, and we faced some challenges we hadn’t considered. James (9 months) had started to crawl the week before we left – not so perfect timing- and Jess had just turned four, so thinks she’s now a ‘big girl’ but hasn’t even started school yet. We had heard a lot about TUI Sensatori being really child friendly, so stayed at their Mexican offering: the Azul Beach Resort. It definitely was child-friendly, but could certainly do more. Full review here.Anyway, this post is about the challenges, so here’s what they are, and what you can do.

The Flight

10 hours on a flight. Aaaaagggghhhh. The first problem was that our flight out was actually over 11 hours; after pushing back from the gate we lost our slot. So had to sit for an hour in our seats (seatbelt signs on). Unfortunately (or stupidly) we’d put the bag of snacks in the overhead lockers, thinking we’d get them in the air. James cried and Jessica whinged every minute of that first hour. It wasn’t a great start.

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Things did thankfully improve though. We were flying on a TUI Dreamliner, the seats were comfortable and we absolutely loved the coloured lighting. We all survived, and despite the initial crying, our neighbours commented how amazing the kids were. Jess watched the inflight entertainment or played the games pretty much the whole way there, and James mixed sleeping with eating. Here are the key things to consider;

  • The food and drink situation for yourself. Having James on my knee meant that I couldn’t get the tray table down when the meal arrived. One time I was standing anyway with the carrier, so just had it when I sat down. Well actually with a sleeping James in my arms hubby fed it to me! Otherwise the stewards were happy to keep it warm, and brought it over when hubby had finished his and could hold James. Make sure you have a rubbish bag to help keep things tidy. Obviously Jess wanted the table up as soon as she’d finished, so hubby had three food trays plus drinks stacked up.
  • The children’s meals might not be what they want! On a TUI flight you get ONE proper meal and then a snacky meal. The main pasta meal was fine, but the sandwiches were cheese and onion, so we had to revert to our own snacks. And infants don’t get food provided. Also remember if like us your flight is delayed, you may need more than the allotted time.
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  • Make sure you have enough food and drink for airport arrivals. We queued for an HOUR waiting to get through immigration. Luckily we had the carrier for James but Jess was wrecked and hungry. A packet of sweets helped see her through.
  • Take a baby carrier. I’ve written about the benefits of this previously here. But it frees up hands to carry luggage (or hold another child’s hand), it’s great if you have to queue, it keeps babies contained, easier getting on and off a plane with steps, and for us, gets him to sleep faster.

Jet lag

Luckily, none of us really experienced Jet Lag on the flight there; the first night we had a few wake-ups but on the whole it went well. The way back was a killer though… leaving 4pm Mexico time and arriving the next morning at 6am with only a few hours sleep. Don’t make any plans for that day! We arrived on a Sunday so had the rest of the day to recover before work on Monday. We slept until lunchtime and then stayed up until normal bedtime. It definitely took the children a few days to readjust, and they were sleeping in past nine for the following few days (absolutely not a problem for me ha).

Lack of baby-proofed rooms

Yikes, we really hadn’t thought about this. Jess was never a big ‘explorer’ as a baby… but James is. Big time. And with the new excitement of crawling and pulling himself up to stand you needed eyes on him at all times. The room was all tiled and sharp corners, there wasn’t many places we could put him. It also had some low level lighting which he was obviously fascinated by (and we were unaware to their existence until he pulled out the lightbulb and wires!!!!! Luckily off at the time). So if they have a travel cot, make sure you take enough toys to put him in there and let him entertain himself whilst you get dressed. Our balcony was also one of the best places to put him down for us; nothing sharp for him and no gaps to fall out of! 20200303_185018122593729511636697.jpg

Being outdoors with a baby

Unless you’re sitting by a splash park, it’s really difficult to put babies and toddlers down where they aren’t going to eat sand or crawl into a swimming pool. We took a sun shade, similar to this one; Coleman Sundome Beach Shelter with UV Guard – Blue/White (affiliate link). It was great to have somewhere to put him where he was sheltered and could play without me having to balance him on a sun bed. And being the sun worshipper that I am, meant that I could still sit outside of the tent in the sunshine! Jess loved it too, when she wasn’t in the pool, she enjoyed making it her shop.20200307_1025448404375575191111656.jpg

Packing for four

We had a lovely big luggage allowance from TUI, but that doesn’t help with the logistics of getting all the cases-and two children- in and out the airport! Transporting the luggage is one of the key things to think about (as well as getting it all-and you- in the car to the airport)! Some suggestions;

  • Nappies. These were the biggest space stealer! Unfortunately they were pretty pricey to buy them from the resort shop, so they were essential! Only take what’s necessary. It might be easier to take them out the bag and spread them… but remember they’re packed nice and tight in the packaging so it might be best to leave them in there!
  • Baby milk. Because we were fine on weight and James has dropped the number of feeds, we were able to fit his milk quite easily into the checked luggage. But if you have a younger baby and you aren’t breastfeeding, you might want to consider pre-ordering from the departure lounge. Just remember to take a bag to carry them easily in! More on this previous post.
  • Buggy issues. You can keep a buggy with you until you board a flight, but remember you don’t always get them immediately when you disembark, and it might be a long walk to the terminal/ baggage hall to get them. As well as a long wait through immigration. Think about how much hand luggage you have, and if you will have the capacity to carry a small child if needed. We borrowed one from the hotel.
  • Hand luggage. Our four pieces of hand luggage were as follows; Me- I had the change bag. As well as the usual nappies, wipes and bags etc, I took PJs, a blanket for James and change of clothes. Hubby- our bits, electronics, and the important stuff. Passports, tickets, phones, camera, iPad, headphones, kindle (yes that was ridiculously optimistic). Jess- her own ‘holiday bag’ of toys and games for her holiday and flight. I mean she did think bringing her Elsa shoes was essential, but otherwise she chose a good selection of stuff. I also brought along some new sticker and activity books. She actually played very little with all this on the flight, preferring the entertainment. James’s piece was the food and drink bag. As described before lots of snacks and an extra meal for children. Pouches and snacks for James.
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Sharing one room

We had two double beds and a cot in our room. The balcony meant we could sit outside once they’d fallen asleep. We made sure we slept in the middle so they couldn’t see each other as they fell asleep. In the mornings when James woke up at the crack of dawn, I’d take him to play out on the balcony to leave Jess to sleep a little longer. Make sure to use the blackout curtains.20200303_1849046438175736459692783.jpg

Staying awake for evening entertainment

On holiday we make a deal with Jess, she’s only allowed to stay up late if she has an afternoon nap. Clearly the thought of that is so exciting she agrees. Although some afternoons I’d take the two children back to the room for a nap (so I could wash my hair), we tried to get Jess to nap outside. One day at a theme park, she napped in James’s buggy whilst he was in the carrier. Other days we used a Bali bed. It was a good piece of time for us to relax, have a drink and enjoy the sunshine.

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I think that’s all the main ones! I’d love to know any more advice or suggestions that you might have!

Azul Beach Resort, Riviera Maya: A review of our TUI Sensatori holiday

We’ve been sticking to winter holidays in the canaries since our four year old’s been around… so decided it was about time we took the plunge of taking a long haul with two small children. Knowing Sensatori’s are geared up for kids, we settled on trying their Mexico offering, the Azul Beach Resort, situated between Cancun and Playa del Carmen.

General facilities

We were in a Luxury suite in building three, overlooking the family pool, with views down to the sea. We were happy with the room itself, it had plenty of space and storage. It worked for us because our youngest is still in a cot, but we would probably have opted for a Family suite if they both needed beds. Daily cleaning was thorough and our mini drinks fridge was restocked daily. The whirlpool bath was a good addition that we all enjoyed, and the sofa area on the balcony was pretty comfortable.We enjoyed the variety of pool areas, and enjoyed a different spot every day. Bali beds are available around the adults only pool and on the beach (unless you’re premium, where they’re around the premium pool too). But you have to get up early to get them. Whilst sun beds are plentiful, favourite spots do get reserved shortly after seven. If like us, you don’t have a strong preference for beds you don’t need to reserve.The beach area was great, with a team of staff working all day to keep the sand clean. The beach bar is in a great setting and we loved the swings! Just a note on cash- you can pay for everything in US dollars. We normally dont take cash and just withdraw whilst we’re away… but wish we’d been more prepared. The cash machine in the hotel lobby is extortionate… and you might want to take a range of smaller notes for tipping.
More on food and drink facilities below.

Is it Child friendly?

Oooooooh, ‘child friendly’ what a term! If we take that to mean that they make it easy for you to bring children with you, then yes it is child friendly. But that’s a far distance away from providing a child-focussed holiday. Let me elaborate.

They provide lots of stuff to make packing and travelling with children easier. Baby packs for the bedroom are provided, including bottle steriliser, bottle warmer, baby bath, and cot. We also borrowed a buggy which made travelling a lot easier (more tips on this on this blog), it was immaculate with a good sun shade.In all the restaurants high chairs were provided, and they were always properly cleaned. Jars of baby food were also available… but be warned the selection wasn’t great, and at times when there was only one flavour left (maybe courgette) alternatives weren’t offered. We read that you could request food was blended for you, but didn’t try it. We had taken our own food pouches so made do.

Around the resort, our daughter enjoyed the small play frame on the beach and the splash park. There were toddler sun beds dotted about which had great novelty value too! She’d been really looking forward to the slide before we went (and had talked about it non-stop), but it was a little faster than she expected which I think gave her a shock and she wasn’t confident enough to try again! Footstools were provided in the bathrooms (and we’d also requested one for our room) but the sinks were still too tall for our daughter.There is also an indoor Playhouse. Again this is immaculate (sorry no pictures as photos not allowed inside). We took our children inside one cloudy morning, and let them play on the wide selection on toys.

So all of that made the holiday child friendly…. moving onto where they could have improved, starting with the evening entertainment.Maybe it’s because the only child holidays we’ve been on are in Europe that we were expecting nightly mini-discos. Something our daughter LOVES. Unfortunately they only have one of these a week at most. They’re great when they’re on, lots of music and games and glow sticks. Just not as many as we hoped! There were some other good alternatives too… there was a really enjoyable Pirate Magic Show, and a beach bonfire where children could toast marshmallows.But there also seemed too many movie nights. For all supervised activities, children had to be over four and importantly unaccompanied. Our daughter is often shy with new experiences, so not being able to join her until she got settled meant that she wouldn’t go. And if you have an under four, you can’t take them to the activities and stay with them. This was the same as the daytime activities… if it was a planned activity, parents weren’t allowed in and little ones couldn’t join in. So basically we didn’t do any of the activities in the play house.

The restaurants

For breakfasts we alternated between Spoons (a wide range and quick option) and at Zamos, where it took a more relaxed pace with waiter service.

Lunches- we never made it to Spoons for lunch. The Beach BBQ was definitely our favourite, it’s a fab setting and good, easy food. If you’ve got a little one park yourself next to the climbing frame. We thought the pizza place behind the splash park was great too. Delicious pizzas, just be aware they only serve soft drinks there so pop to the bar and take one with you if you can’t live without a beer! Finally Zavas offer amazing burgers for lunch (make sure you try the Mexican Burger), but again don’t go if you want anything quickly! Dinner options. Having children meant we passed on the Le Chiquita experience, which is by all accounts amazing. Happily, TUI arranged an alternative taster session; seven courses inspired by le Chique served at the Tapaz restaurant. Ok it wasn’t the same, but it did mean we didn’t miss out completely. Our favourite restaurant was Tapaz, it had a great menu and felt like a real treat. The Italian was also a great choice, mainly because the service was exceptional. In the other restaurants, waiters were friendly and polite, but we found the Italian the only place which felt like 5 star service; we were better attended, they fussed over the children and made sure that our drinks were flowing! Zocalos, the Mexican restaurant did good food, as did Zavas and are worth a booking. In all the restaurants there are children’s menus, and they’re all different which is great.. too many places have the standard chicken nuggets and pasta at every place!

Other bits;
  • Room service. Easy and included in all inclusive. Alcoholic drinks aren’t included, but you can buy bottles of wine. We only did it a few times but it took around half an hour to arrive.
  • Wine and spirits in the all inclusive were fine. Red wine was better than the white. I don’t really drink Chardonnay but found it was more palatable than the Sauvignon blanc. If you did want Pinot Grigio it was about $40US and decent. You might consider trying the rose as well!
  • The Mojito bar did a great selection, lots of flavours! It’s adults only, but one of us popped in and then we could enjoy them in the lobby or on the roof terrace.
  • The Aperol Spritz bar is mega quirky, but you’re lucky to catch it open. Early evening (6.30pm to about 8pm) is your best chance.
  • The Waves bar was definitely the best swim up, where you can enjoy sitting in the sun.
  • Reservations are a pain but avoid going to the concierge at the start or end of the day when it’s at its busiest. You can only book for three days at a time.
  • Starbucks is right in the centre of the hotel, obviously drinks are not included but some people need their fix! If you dont want to pay, take a flask- you can top coffee from outside spoons.

Activities and entertainment

Every week there is Mexican beach party with mariatchi band. It’s good fun and nice to do something a bit different eating on the beach.

There’s a decent selection of evening entertainment (usually the main act around 9.30pm) but with two little ones the best we could do was listen from the balcony! We did enjoy the singers in the lobby earlier in the evening.
We thought the day time activities were great, from Zumba to Spanish lessons there really was something for everyone and the entertainment team were really great.

If you’re here without kids, the Friday Moët party looks amazing. A bottle of Moët on a Bali bed, a DJ and lots of inflatables in the adults only pool. I’d say it’s worth the extra cost.

Places to go

Playa del Carmen.Ooooooooh we LOVED wandering up and down 5th Avenue, soaking up the atmosphere!! Don’t expect a glimpse of the ‘real’ Mexico- it’s tourist central. BUT it’s quirky and a lot of fun. We just asked the hotel doorman for a taxi, it arrived within minutes, took us to a tourist drop off and waited for us until we were ready to return (we spent about three hours there). It cost about $80US. Another alternative is Cancun, but we heard it lacks a real ‘centre’s so you cant just wander from shop to shop (or bar to bar), you need more of a plan anf taxis in between. To see a bit more of Mexiacn history and  culture there are trips to the well known Chichen itza or a bit closer, to the Cobo Mayan ruins. This might be a better choice if you’re visiting before November, as at the moment you can still climb the stairs. In November the restrictions start.


We had a great day at Xcaret Park; a natural theme park. Lots of animals to see, and you can swim in natural underground rivers which is a lot of fun. There are lots of opportunities for additional activities (at an additional cost) such as swimming with dolphins. There are good shows to see; flying men and a horse display, all culminating in a huge show at the end. It’s a bit like Mexico through the ages with lots of singing and dancing. Worthwhile staying if you dont mind the later finish. We went with a Tui organized trip and were expecting carnage at the end getting the coaches back, but were really impressed by the smooth operation.

So there’s my round up. No doubt I’ve not included something important… just let me know and I’ll add it in!

Five things to enjoy at Thornes Park, Wakefield

With some unexpected sunshine we decided to try a new park, and settled on walking around Thornes Park, just outside Wakefield city centre. It’s the perfect place to get some fresh air after a shopping trip! Here are the top things to enjoy.

The Pub

Ok, I might be an advocate for the outdoors, but I’m definitely not immune to the charms of the great Holmfield Arms. Food is good and decent value (it’s a Greene King pub). It’s child friendly and has a fab beer garden (complete with small play area) for those summer days!

The play areas

A toddler play ground is separate to the larger area so bigger kids wont sit on your little ones. For older children, there are some good climbing stones and two long slides.

The viewpoint

Climbing the hill in the park centre gives great views across Wakefield city centre.

The aviary

I love parks with an aviary, Jess loves looking at all the birds, and this one is clean bright and airy.


The park walk

At the end of the day this is a nice park! It’s about 2 miles around the perimeter… with fitness obstacles as you go if you fancy it. The route takes you past the duck lake, which was twice the size as usual with all this rain!
And in brighter months you can look forward to seeing the rose garden and finish by enjoying the miniature railway (operating in summer only for 50p a ride).

The useful bits

The paths marked on the map are surfaced, perfect for buggy walkers! The path up to the hill and viewpoint is partly surfaced and I reckon in the summer on a dry day you could get a buggy up. But it’s a complete bog at the moment so don’t try it in wet weather! Parking is free! We parked at the stadium car park, and walked towards the Wakefield college buildings then down to the duck lake. There’s a cafe too if pubs aren’t your thing. This is just up the road from Pugneys, so you could easily combine them for a full day out… or travel a little further to Newmillerdam or Anglers.

Northern National Trusts with a bit of WOW

Did anyone else get National Trust memberships for Christmas? If you’re looking out for how to make the most of them, here are some recommendations of the best the North has to offer! There are soooooo many fantastic places to choose from that I’ve wrestled with writing this… can I really not include my beautiful local property (Nostell) that I’ve spent so many happy times at? I’ve had to be ruthless, so here we go….

Cragside, Northumberland

Yep, it’s tops another one of my lists! I think because it has EVERYTHING. An absolutely stunning house in the most amazing setting, a great history and my favourite element; miles and miles of fantastic walking trails in their impressive estate. It’s worth a holiday in Northumberland just to visit. Honestly, just go. More here.

Fountains Abbey, North Yorkshire

Obviously this World Heritage site has to be included. The magnificent medieval abbey ruins are in beautiful grounds, perfect for a leisurely day exploring! There’s a great adventure playground and good, accessible paths. More here.

Stickleback and the Langdales

If you’re into the outdoors, perhaps you already have a bit of a love affair with the Langdales. The scenery is spectacular…and there are miles of walking trails to explore this piece of paradise. We love the National Trust campsite at Great Langdale, where you can start the Stickle Tarn Trail, a great short but challenging walk.

Brimham Rocks, Nidderdale

The best natural playground you could wish for! Children (and adults) of all ages will love exploring and climbing these impressive rock formations. The views over Nidderdale are both breathtaking and extensive, and on a clear day you can even see York Minster! More here.

Mam Tor, Peak District

One of the Peak District’s favourite walks, the shivering mountain is great for families, and for little ones starting at the top car park it’s a realistic summit which still can give them a good sense of achievement.

Other notable favourites

These all have their own bit of wow;

  • Longshaw Estate in the Peaks has beautiful walks, including the unmissable Padley Gorge
  • Catbells is a favourite walk for many in the Lakes.
  • Gibside, on the outskirts of Newcastle is another go to place for family walks
  • Wallington Hall has some fab play areas and the walled garden is just gorgeous
  • Clumber Park is impressive in size and the amount of things to see!
  • The Lake District’s Great Wood is a starting point for many good walks
  • Wray Castle on the banks of Windermere in the Lakes is a favourite for children
  • Hardcastle Crags, Hebden Bridge is a must see for anyone loving stepping stones!

Home Farm at Temple Newsam, Leeds

On the first day of the half term, perhaps it was asking for trouble letting Jess choose our activity. The choice was Temple Newsam Farm (well, she asked for ‘the one with the pigs’ to be precise, but luckily, I knew what she meant). We needn’t have worried, it was absent of the throngs that I had imagined, and as usual, was a great visit.

At the risk of sounding like a tight Yorkshire (wo)man, one of the biggest positives of this farm is the price. Children under 5 are free (and over fives are only a few pounds), so taking my two alone is a great cheap day out! Parking is also free, as is access to the large play area (with a fun slide and zip line) next to the car park.

Inside the farm, there’s another play area for the under 8s, which is a great place for a stop and a snack half way round. There are good hand washing facilities everywhere, including at the play area. Is anyone else’s kid obsessed with washing hands? I suppose there are worse things to get into… but slightly worrying that she was more impressed with the hand washing stations than some animals!!

I absolutely love the range of animals here. It’s one of the largest Rare Breed centres in Europe, so you might well spot some breeds you’ve never seen before! And even though many animals were cosied up inside, there was still plenty to see… including lots of baby animals!! Piglets, kids and calves were a-plenty, hopping about and getting into mischief. Although not today, often piglets are running loose in the courtyard, which is great for the children to see!

If you are planning on heading there this half term you might spot some brand new little piglets, this sow looked seriously ready to pop bless her! Takes me back to how I was feeling this time last year….

In and around the farm buildings there is lots of educational information, teaching you about what life was like on the farm. Some of this is interactive, which keeps little ones entertained!

And after you’re finished you can go for a walk round the estate, visit the house or take a rest at the cafe. It’s a fab day out!

If you’re looking for more ideas of Farms, Zoos and animal parks in Yorkshire, make sure to check out the links on the Days Out in Yorkshire page!

Visiting Morpeth, Northumberland

Northumberland is truly a spectacular place to visit; beautiful sandy beaches, stunning castles at every turn, and historic towns to explore. And yet with all those visits, I rarely hear of people visiting Morpeth.
Just 20 minutes from Newcastle and 20 minutes from the golden sands of Druridge Bay, it’s not only a great base to see the region, but also a destination in itself. As an added bonus, you might bag some bargain accommodation compared to the tourist traps of Bamburgh or Alnwick.


Things to do and places to see in Morpeth

The Walk to explore Morpeth Lady Lucy’s walk along the river is beautiful to see, and can be made into a circular route by looping behind the Abbey remains and back to the town via a spectacular viewpoint. A good description of this walk is over on the great Rucksack Rose blog here (the second walk of the short routes). Just be aware that the paths can get extremely muddy, and part of the route passes through a residential estate where I definitely thought we’d taken a wrong turn. If you want to stick to the highlights, keep to the river path, the castle remains and viewpoint.

The Full Day Out If you’re a regular reader of my blog, or follow me on social media, you might be aware of my pure love of Cragside, the best National Trust property in the country. It is simply amazing, so if you’re visiting Northumberland DO NOT MISS IT. Rather than me bang on about it again, read this blog before you go. Because you ARE going, right?

The Family Farm Our daughter LOVES a good farm. And Whitehouse Farm is a great one. There’s a wide range of animals (with ample opportunities to handle and feed), as well as indoor and outdoor play areas. So it’s a good choice for a miserable day!
The Beach Now I’m sure, being a Northerner, that I am biased, but there is nothing quite like a Northumberland beach. Absolutely nothing. And wherever we go in the world, looking at a beautiful beach, a little voice inside me is always saying “it’s not a patch on Northumberland”. Just miles and miles and miles of golden sandy beaches. You’ll often be able to find your very own peace of paradise, and be the only one on the sand.Just 20 minutes from Morpeth is Druridge Bay; a stunning seven mile stretch between Amble and Cresswell. There’s plenty for little ones to discover; and take your bucket and net for the rock pools! If it’s a windy day, you can also visit the country park, where there is a lovely walk around the Lake. Details here.

The Place to kill a few hours
Plessey Woods Country Park is just south of Morpeth, and is probably one of the best places I can think of to explore woodland. There are lots of activities for children, and I don’t just mean the play area. Fairy doors, the ogre’s swamp, a wooden drum kit and outdoor games are just some of the fun things they’ve got going on. I really love it here, and it is perfect for a time filler between bigger trips, or to get some (more) fresh air at the end of the day.


And finally… the shopping! It’s a market town! Don’t forget to drop in to Market day on a Wednesday and soak up the atmosphere. The Sanderson Arcade should also be on your itinerary, which is home to some luxury stores, as well as some well known stores. So there you have it…. some of the best things to do in and around Morpeth. It’s definitely worth considering a visit. Other blog posts covering days out in the North East include;

A Keswick Mini-Break

We love to get away for a mini break at the end of January! It blows away those January blues, and gives us something to look forward to in that post-Christmas lull. This year we stayed for three nights in a lodge just outside of Keswick in the Northern Lakes. If this is something you fancy, read on!!

Accommodation

Where: For the first time, we stayed in a Hoeseasons Lodge at Keswick Lodge Retreat.

What: We chose a Wainwright Log Burner Lodge, which had two bedrooms and two bathrooms

Cost: Three nights here (Friday-Monday) were great value at £290. There were cheaper and more costly (with hot tubs) available. We booked only a few weeks before, which may have meant we got a good rate, but looking at other dates you can also get a bargain.

Verdict: Ooooooooh we just LOVED it here. From arrival in reception where we received a glass of fizz, to finding a wine fridge in the lodge kitchen. The lodge was clean and spacious and had everything that we needed. The standard and spec was far higher than we anticipated, it really felt like a treat to stay there. When I think of some of the grotty city centre hotel rooms I’ve stayed in for well over a £100 a night, staying here is exceptionally well priced. The kitchen is well kitted out, there wasn’t any equipment we felt we were missing. You could quite happily eat in every night, cooking to your hearts content.

The site was peaceful with some great views.You can hire high chairs and travel cots for your stay, but we saved pennies by taking our own. At reception there was a small shop that sold essentials you might need for your stay, as well as extra wood and kindling for the log burner (which they are also happy to deliver for you).

The on-site bar and restaurant provided good food, we particularly liked the bar, and on Saturday night there was a live singer. We let the little ones stay up as a treat, James was absolutely mesmerised by her. The best babysitter we could ask for!!

Highlights Keswick and the surrounding area

1. Walking. Obviously one of the main appeals of the Lakes is to get out and enjoy the great outdoors. Luckily you have LOADS to see nearby. If you want help getting the kids on board, this blog might help.

My favourite walks in the area are;

Whinlatter; this forest park is super close to where we stayed. It is honestly AMAZING and should be on your itinerary whatever the weather. This actually should be a highlight itself it’s so so good. There’s lots to do for children, including an adventure play and themed walks. We recently visited on a pretty miserable day but had a fabulous walk; details here.

Catbells; one of the most loved fells in all of the Lakes. It’s great fun with super views, and not without some challenge! If you fancy trying it with children make sure you read this blog post.

South of Lake Dewentwater, Castle Crag is a great climb for children. This blog from one of my favourite blogging sites, Family Walks and Pubs in the Lake District gives a good description to follow.

Parking at the National Trust’s Great Wood carpark, there are a number of routes perfect for children, and make sure you visit the gorgeous Ashness Bridge, one of the most photographed spots in all of the Lakes. If you fancy going a bit further, continue onto Surprise View and Watendlath. Superb.

2. Keswick Launch. Obviously this can be combined with a good walk, but a trip out on the beautiful Derwentwater is unmissable.

3. The Lake District Wildlife Park. On the doorstep of our accommodation is this great park, which holds many fond memories of my childhood. It includes animal encounters, an adventure playground and indoor soft play. Website: https://www.lakedistrictwildlifepark.co.uk

4. Mirehouse and Gardens, on the shore of Bassenthwaite Lake also takes me back to my childhood. Unfortunately the site isn’t open in winter months so check the website before you go. There’s some truly fantastic adventure playgrounds as well as family walks.

5. Castlerigg Stone Circle is half an hour’s walk from Keswick, with spectacular views. Be careful that the Threlkeld Railway path is currently closed for repairs (Feb 2020), so check routes carefully before you start.

And finally, a top tip..

Sometimes, sadly the weather is just too tough to handle with children. If you’re struggling to find somewhere, try Keswick Leisure Centre. It’s got a water slide, wave pool and a few bits for toddlers and is a good way to spend a couple of hours when getting outside really isn’t possible.

There you have it, my personal highlights but there is soooooooooo much more to do, and as much as I love a good mini break here, it always makes me want more!! We’re already looking to when we can book again.

Any more suggestions? Questions? Leave me a comment!

Walking Catbells with children

Catbells is often considered a good first mountain for children. I think this implies it’s an easy fell to walk. It’s really not; but it’s a short climb, easy to navigate and easily accessible. And if you (and your children) are up for the challenge, it’s both beautiful and rewarding, with fun scrambles and fantastic views.

The OS Explorer map covering this area is OL4/ The English Lakes- North Western Area 👉OS Explorer OL4 The English Lakes – North Western area (OS Explorer Map) (Amazon affiliate link)

The walk starts Hawes End. There is a small car park which we used (get there early if this is your intention) or for even more excitement, take the Keswick Launch to Hawes End Landing Stage.

The usual direction is to walk over the fell from the North (anticlockwise). This means you climb up the scrambles and then descend down stone steps. The scrambles are very do-able for children (but probably a little harder for the parents watching their three year old navigating a rock face!).

Just remember if you are carrying a baby like I was, your balance is definitely impacted, so you need to be confident! I found it easier with a back carrier so I could see my footing a little better. Our daughter loved these parts, and her small feet found footholds that weren’t much use for us!

After the first steep ascent/ scramble (Skelgill Bank) it is difficult to turn back, so you need to be sure that young children are up to completing the whole walk. If you find that you often need to carry your children on your shoulders for much of your walk, this might not be for you; until you’re back on the bridlepath they’re going to have to do it alone (unless of course you’ve got a proper carrier).

Check weather conditions before you go; you want children to enjoy it, which they’re less likely to do if it’s freezing cold or blowing a gale. In summer be mindful that the ascent has no shade, so hats and lots of fluids are a must.

It’s really not a walk children should be attempting in wellies or other casual footwear; make sure they’ve got something sturdy with a good grip. After a bit of a hunt we bought these Gelert Walking Boots for Jess, which we thought were great value for little feet growing so quickly!

👉 Gelert Kids Horizon Mid Waterproof Infants Walking Boots Lace Up Breathable Charcoal/Blue UK C8 (26)

The top of Catbells rewards you with glorious views over Derwentwater and down Borrowdale. Try to walk on a clear day so you can get the best of them!

The great views continue as you descend on the stone steps down, just be careful on rainy days as they can be slippy!

You have a choice of routes that you can follow here, if you wanted something a little shorter (just over 5km in total), take the bridleway that forks left (towards the coniferous woodland), and hugs the side of the fell back to the start of the walk. Where the track drops to the road there is also an option to drop down to the Lakeside path and take that route back. This gives good views all the way.

The path forks ahead, where you can turn left to take the shorter route.

With children in good spirits, as our daughter was on this walk, you may fancy the longer route (10km), and continue the descent towards Manesty. After a brief walk along the road, you turn left towards the Lake and follow the path back all the way to Hawse End and the start of the walk.

Unless you fancy a detour heading into Grange, there are no facilities along the route. So you’ll need to take a picnic and/ or snacks with you. We found a great picnic stop on the side of Derwentwater, and enjoyed watching the launch pass us.

The path that returns to Hawes End is truly beautiful, winding through woodland along the Lake shore, with good prospects of the climb you’ve just completed. It’s fantastic. If you did get the launch to start the walk you could even pick it up earlier if little legs were getting tired!

Of course if the weather (or indeed the prospect of scrambling with an under 5) phases you, a great alternative is to take the bridle path half way up the fell and walk back along the shore line. You miss out on some of the fun but still get some great views.

Whatever you choose to do, make sure you spend time enjoying this truly fabulous area of the Lakes. It’s popular for a reason!!

👉Nearby in the area you could also visit Whinlatter.

Whinlatter Forest

For me, any trip to the Northern Lakes isn’t complete without a visit to this beautiful forest. It has spectacular views, walks for all abilities, as well as great mountain biking. I absolutely love it here, and truly cannot recommend it enough. In my opinion it really is the best that Forestry England has to offer; the absolute King of their forests. For many people visiting the area, they head straight for walks around lakes and their surrounding fells, but missing this place is missing a true gem.

When I was a child, I spent many happy times doing the Rabbit Run and Fox Trot over at Whinlatter (does anyone else remember those children’s trails?). I was so excited to take my daughter this weekend for the first time, and really hope she grows to love it like I have.

Website: https://www.forestryengland.uk/whinlatter

Parking: Pay at the machines after your visit, we parked at the main visitor centre.

Facilities: An adventure playground, toilets and cafe. A Go Ape is also on site.

A walk at Whinlatter is perfect in any weather, so we chose to come on a day that was actually pretty miserable. It was cold, windy and wet, which made the shelter of the forest so appealing! Whilst the poor visibility meant the views weren’t quite as good, it did mean the becks running through the forest were full of water and were beautiful!

There are a number of children’s activity trails to follow here, including the Shaun Glow Trail (which we’ve recently done over at Dalby Forest) and what looks like a great Gruffalo Sculpture Trail.

There are also a number of set walks from the centre, with super easy navigation following coloured markers. Map here.

Our walk

The Red Two Gills Trail and Blue Comb Beck Trail are both 1.75 miles, so we decided to combine them to make a longer route. It’s definitely not buggy friendly, and parts of the walk have steep drops, so your little ones need to be sensible!

We started off on the red route, climbing up through the trees from the visitor centre, past the adventure playground. The first part of this walk shares the route with the Gruffalo sculpture trail, which added some extra fun for Jess. But once the routes split, and the path turns off the forest track, this is where the walk really becomes much more fun. The narrow path winds through the trees alongside Black Gill, before the it opens up and you get more spectacular views!

Following the path down alongside Comb Gill, you reach a forest track where you can pick up the blue path. Just be careful not to miss the turning- the coloured marker faces away from the direction you’re walking, but really you just need keep on following Comb Gill downhill. It was so lovely on this path, we decided to stop for our picnic.

The path continued through the beautiful woodland, past a ancient sheepfold, a disused Dam and a pond before you climb back up to the centre, where you get further fantastic views.

If you have older children, you might want to try one of the other marked paths. Lord’s Seat (552m) is a fantastic fell to climb, such a different walk to others in the area, and one I remember doing with my parents over 20 years ago. Simply superb, and as a bonus you can bag them a Wainwright.

Whinlatter also has some amazing Mountain Bike Trails, perfect for those who are starting to get into the sport. The Quercus trail is only a blue grade, but is thrilling and stunning in equal measures.

Whatever you do on a visit to the Northern Lakes, just make sure Whinlatter is on your itinerary.

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