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RHS Harlow Carr, Harrogate

What a treat to get some sunshine for our visit to Harlow Carr today. These beautiful gardens were able to show off their spectacular Autumn colours, and we could enjoy them at our total leisure! Jess was entertained throughout with an Autumn I Spy activity, so was on great form… meaning we all had a great day.

Website: https://www.rhs.org.uk/gardens/harlow-carr

Parking: It was a busy day, but there was plenty of parking in the three free car parks. Alternatively, you can walk through the woods from Valley Gardens in Harrogate; map here 👉https://www.rhs.org.uk/gardens/pdf/harlow-carr/harlow-carr-map-of-walks.pdf

Pushchairs: There are surfaced paths around the gardens.

Facilities: Good facilities, although be warned to two Betty’s tea shops had long queues.

Things to see

The gardens are predictably gorgeous, with lots of different areas to explore. The kitchen garden is a great place to start, and it’s lots of fun guessing what everything is (to be fair me and hubby struggled at times!)

Another highlight is the woodland walk, not least because of the beautiful colours at this time of year. This part is not marked as wheelchair accessible on the map, but was fine for our pushchair. After the recent rain there was also plenty of opportunities to jump in the mud!

Around the lake and the Lakeside gardens are just stunning. Until 10th November, Harlow Carr are hosting Seventy Days of Sculpture, and the lakeside provides a focal point for some of the fantastic pieces on display.

The Streamside walk is lovely to take in and wonderfully calming!

Activities for children

On entry we picked up an Autumn I Spy leaflet which was fantastic for Jess, keeping her entertained the whole way round the gardens. We didn’t have a pen to tick off the things she saw, so we just used mud rubbed in the boxes (which was an activity in itself)!

The play areas are small, but enough to keep little ones entertained, with obstacles to climb, balance and swing on.

Dotted around the gardens there is plenty to keep interest and to look at!

If like us, you enjoy a good picnic, there are picnic benches around the two play areas, and covered benches at the Teaching Garden. I’d definitely recommend taking something with you if you go at a weekend. We had stuff for Jess, but had planned on enjoying Betty’s… but the queues looked pretty long and with James screaming we couldn’t face waiting!

So overall, a lovely day! Whilst entry isn’t cheap, if you plan on returning, annual membership works out a decent price, and with changing activities and events throughout the seasons, it would be a good investment.

Grosmont to Goathland Rail Trail

We absolutely LOVE this walk, and I’m so pleased Jess is big enough to walk it now so we could do it as a family. The route is under four miles, and you can create even more excitement with a one-way trip on the Pickering-Whitby train line to get to the start.

Route: A well signposted route between Grosmont and Goathland (3.6 miles).

Pushchairs: All pushchair friendly, especially after Esk Valley, where the path is wide and flat following the original rail line. Leaving Grosmont the path is steeper and narrower, but it’s short lived and much easier after that!

Facilities: Both Grosmont and Goathland stations have toilets, there are pubs in both villages, and you pass a pub at Beck Hole on the way.

Parking: There are a couple of car parks in Goathland (£3 all day), both are cash only.

Does every pre-schooler go through a stage of train obsession? Jess doesn’t play with toy trains but wants to see them, go on them, talk about them. So this is the perfect walk for her; not only do you get to go on one, but you can watch them chug past and listen to the horns as you go!!

We boarded a Diesel in Goathland to make our way to Grosmont; if you want a steam engine make sure you check which trains they are beforehand! It was fun to see, Jess loved waving out the window and the traditional tickets getting stamped. It was also I think the first time I was able to do the old stick your hand out the window to open the door thing. Loved it.

Once we were in Grosmont we headed to the Station Tavern for a spot of lunch. The food was great with a good children’s menu. We timed it brilliantly, leaving the pub in time to see the steam engine at Grosmont station. We started the walk with the aim to get to a good point to watch the train go past (and do some more waving). Leaving the village you climb a little hill (great viewpoint but we were rushing to glimpse the train so no picture) and rejoin the train lines next to old carriages.

Here the path is adjacent to the track, so if you time it right you can get right up close as a train passes!

The walk meanders through woodland and along fields, and over a stream where you can play Pooh sticks.

We were getting thirsty, so took at short detour to the fab little Beck Hole pub. Children aren’t allowed in the main bar, but are welcome outside and in the second little area. Also there is a sweet shop, so we stocked up on Gummy bears to help us with the last part of the walk.

Following the rest of the route is fairly uphill, but with the power of the sweets we powered through and arrived back at the carpark. If you haven’t been to Goathland before, definitely have a look around… you may well recognise it as the setting of the TV show Heartbeat!

It’s a great walk, we all enjoyed it and I’m not sure why we waited until an overnight stay in the area to do it, I definitely think it warrants a day trip!

 

 

10 ways to entertain kids on walks

We’re doing our best to get Jess used to walking. When she was little she joined us in a carrier, first on the front then on the back. And now she’s getting really good at walking longer distances, but at the end of the day she’s only three, and so whilst we might be entertained by the scenery alone, she needs a little more to keep her going. Here are 10 things that we do on our walks to keep her entertained.

1. Pack a picnic

Jess LOVES eating outdoors, so stopping for a ‘snic-snic’ is a key part of our walk. She helps us choose where to eat and before she goes she helps make up the bag. Even on short walks we stop for a snack… she loves finding places with a pretty view for us. Make sure to pop a waterproof rug in your bag in case there’s no benches.

2. Spotting and word games

The easiest game is good-old I-Spy. Jess isn’t great at letters yet, so we do colours with her. I’ve seen loads of games and spotting sheets for when she gets a little older, such as spotting different tree types, birds, insects. In a field of sheep, how many can you see? How many trees on a path? Get creative.

If they’re a little older word games could work well, you could play ‘Who am I?’, related word games, games beginning with a letter of the alphabet (can you find something that you can see on your walk for each letter of the alphabet), or memory games (I went on a walk to XXX and I took with me…….). The possibilities are endless!

3. Games-on-the-Go

When Jess inevitably starts saying that she’s tired, we keep her going with races to fixed points ahead. These don’t just have to be running races, they can be skipping, jumping and hopping.

Follow the Leader is super easy, just create actions for little legs to copy (singing I’m following the leader if you feel like it).

Playing hide and seek is another winner, with her running ahead to hide behind a big tree or rock.

4. Finding nature’s treasures

Sometimes when I’m super-organised I make a little scavenger hunt sheet up in advance with little pictures of what Jess has to find or see. It works well on walks that you’ve been on before so you know what might be likely. If you’re feeling time-rich you could even create bingo cards for all the family that you can re-use.

But if not (the norm), I pass her a little bag and she has to collect treasures. She’s only allowed ten, so has to decide which ones she wants to keep. Woodland walks are great for this, often she’ll just collect pine cones and choose which ones she likes, the last one she found a baby pine cone, a Mummy one, a grandad one… you get the picture!

You could also set a challenge of collecting different types of things, perhaps different colours, or make it more educational and collect different types of seeds. Collecting sticks is also a favourite game, which she can then use as drumsticks on various things that we pass!

5. Singing

Jess is at the age where she loves to sing, particularly nursery rhymes, which works for me as that’s about the limit of my singing ability. From my days working in summer camps I feel I’ve got a good selection of songs for when she’s older too (no doubt the type you might sing at Guide/Scout camps), but there’s also the option to play favourite songs from your phone. Anyone who’s been to a kids disco in Europe over the past few years might remember the classic ‘chu chu wa’ which also keeps her going!

6. Jumps and balancing

A one for the little ones really! Balancing on logs and roots and doing jumps off rocks and stones is always fun. She loves jumping over anything; small puddles, twigs, lines on paved paths!

7. What’s that shape?

Shapes and pictures can be seen everywhere you look! Look at the clouds, puddles, bark on the trees, patches of mud, piles of leaves!

8. Stone throwing

Stones, acorns, pine cones or conkers, we see who can throw them the furthest (obviously in a safe space!!). Sometimes we go a bit crazy (ahem) and do kicking instead! If you’re headed on a path with a stream or river you could play Pooh sticks, or find things that you think could float (which lasts the longest?).

9. Storytelling

Adventures are EVERYWHERE when you go on a walk, and you can let your imagination run wild. In the woods can we see the three bears? What about the fairies? If we can’t why not? What are they doing, where must they be? Near a river we hunt for crocodiles, over a bridge Jess checks that there are no trolls underneath. Some family walks have trails and activities as you walk, so we make the most of them and add stuff as we go along.

10. Tree hugging

Jess randomly started doing this herself one day at Golden Acre Park, we try to find trees that she can reach round herself, and then bigger ones we try it if we hold hands.

Other ideas

So there are our top 10 things, but there are loads of other things you could try, how about taking paper and crayons for interesting rubbings? Or if they’re a little older stopping to draw a picture of something interesting they can see?

Weather can also help with entertainment, rain provides puddle jumping, sun provides shadow tag, and if you’re lucky, snow creates snowballs!!

What else do you do on walks to keep little ones entertained?

Wentworth Castle Gardens (NT)

This has been popping up on my news feed since it re-opened and I’ve been dying to see it! Absolutely did not disappoint. There really is a bit of everything; beautiful gardens, fantastic views, a sun monument, a castle to explore, and of course all the great facilities that you’d usually expect from a National Trust property.

Website: https://www.nationaltrust.org.uk/wentworth-castle-gardens

Facilities: Everything you’d expect! Toilets, cafe and play area. Lots of benches dotted about.

Pushchairs: The gardens are fine for a pushchair, although I’d imagine parts would get muddy on wet days. The whole property is on a hill, so it might be difficult for scooters etc for little ones.

Dogs: Are definitely welcome!

Technically, this is our second visit. The first was a bit of a disaster….We decided to take Jess’s new bike which she decided she didn’t want after about two minutes. They’re pretttttty heavy now she’s bigger! So Steve started carrying it. James started having a meltdown. The heavens opened. We all got soaked. Jess fell over cutting both knees and screaming until she was having a meltdown too…. and we abandoned the day in favour of a (well needed) drink at the amazing Strafford Arms down the road.

This time round the sun was beaming down on us when we arrived which is always a good omen. First stop was obviously the play area; not only because Jess LOVES them, but because it’s the first thing you come to! Being a Monday it was nice and quiet so Jess had the place to herself. Absolutely fantastic space, with a toddler area as well as a fort and zip wire! There are a couple of picnic benches there too if you want to set up for a while.

With the weather so perfect, we skipped the cafe in favour of a picnic. I mean why wouldn’t you with these fabulous views!

We were told at the entrance the walk to the castle would be half an hour to 45 minutes, and I was a little worried because Jess was sooooo impatient to see it (are we nearly there yet? IS an actual thing). She kept telling me she was the Queen and wanted to see her home. But I need not have worried, there’s absolutely LOADS to see on the walk up. Firstly passing the temple (with a big hill to roll down- after the downpours over the last few days we skipped this), and then up to the gardens.

The Victorian flower garden is gorgeous and FULL of colour, and there are two sets of stairs to (almost- not sure what to call them) viewing platforms that give more great views.

I’d seen a sign for the sun monument, and naively thought it would be some sort of glorified sundial but nope… that really is a proper monument there!!!

And then the castle itself. Simply glorious. Now I’m not really a person with a problem with heights; skydiving, bungee jumping, climbing peaks, never been a problem. But I HONESTLY NEARLY CRIED with Jess when we climbed the spiral steps to the top of the tower. Having James strapped to my front probably didn’t help, but I nearly stopped circulation on her arm as we walked backdown I was squeezing so tight!! But Jess had lots of fun, and I enjoyed it more with her running around (at ground level!!!!) and exploring the other remains.

On the walk back we saw more of the gardens, they’re honestly beautiful and THE TREES!!! Oooooooh!! I do think the weather helped but it’s just gorgeous.

Jess was getting tired and James was getting cranky (he had his third set of jabs earlier which might have explained it) so after another turn on the play area we decided to head home.

I’m looking forward to returning and trying the walk around the Parkland, I imagine there are even more spectacular views!!

If you do make it over there, let me know how you get on… I hope you enjoy it as much as we did!

Rachel xxxx

Skipwith Common, York

Another new discovery for us! This is a lovely nature reserve and one of the last remaining areas of lowland heath in England. It used to be a bomber training airfield in WW2, and signs of this modern history add to the interest. Today we followed the 2 mile marked route, which was on tarmac path all the way, meaning we could take James in the covered pushchair to shelter him from the downpours!

Website: https://www.friendsofskipwithcommon.org.uk

Parking: Free, we parked on King Rudding Lane.

Facilities: Picnic benches and benches dotted around, but no toilets (nearby villages do have some good pubs!)

Pushchairs: Everywhere is pretty flat, and our route was great for pushchairs (as long as you don’t mind puddles!). The longer routes are largely unsurfaced.

Route: We followed the red route from this map, and the Friends of Skipwith Common websites provides this accompanying information.

Dogs: Are welcome but as this is access land MUST be kept on a short lead.

When we first arrived at the carpark it was absolutely TIPPING it down and we questioned our sanity at getting out the car (even Jess, lover of puddles, suggested she could just stay in the car). But, we had two hours before we had to be at our friends house in a neighbouring village, and it is #getoutsideday, so on went the waterproofs and off we went. I’m so pleased we did, the rain actually lightened as we went round- definitely did it at the right time of the day.

The walk starts on a little loop through woodland past a picturesque pond, and despite initial reservations, Jess was immediately onside with the puddles… at least she was until she suffered a mini Dawn French moment and jumped into puddle capable of housing the Loch Ness Monster. Water over wellies, wet feet and wet leggings. Good start to the walk!!!

The pond we passed had a little viewing platform, and information sign.

It’s access land, and there were loads of brown sheep wandering around. It’s a bit surreal really, I’m used to seeing sheep roaming around fields so it was a bit odd to see them appearing from behind the trees!

There are a few viewing platforms dotted about, and on a drier day I could imagine enjoying a picnic or taking some quiet time to enjoy the view.

The remains of the bombers training camp are so interesting to see, and whilst Jess didn’t have a clue what we were trying to tell her about, we found it pretty impressive! There’s a memorial there too, again not something easy to explain to a three year old.

It’s a great place to explore, and we’re looking forward to returning to do some of the longer walks!

Rachel xx

Brimham Rocks, Summerbridge (NT)

This is probably one of the most iconic places to visit in Yorkshire. It’s the dream playground for adventurous kids, and, let’s face it, us adults too! If you haven’t been (errrrrr why not?!), in a nutshell this National Trust site is a collection of rocks which are millions of years old, sculpted into weird and wonderful shapes… with fantastic views over this amazing county. Pictures (especially mine!!) simply do not do it justice.

Website: https://www.nationaltrust.org.uk/brimham-rocks

Parking: Pay and display car park, free for NT members. Entry to the site itself is free.

Pushchairs: Whilst you can take pushchairs on the main paths, the main appeal of this place is to explore. I’d recommend a carrier for non-walkers.

Facilities: a ten minute walk from the car park is the visitor centre, toilets and refreshments. There’s an indoor area for picnics in bad weather, and lots of picnic benches outside, but no proper cafe.

We visited Brimham after doing a short walk in the area, and I was a little unsure on how much there would be for Jess (3) to do… memories pre-children consisted of heady heights and steep drops, but there really is something for everyone; and you can do as little or as much as you like.

Nothing here seems off limits, literally anything goes so you can scramble and explore to your hearts content. In this world of health and safety it’s massively refreshing to be able to test your boundaries, although we had to keep a close eye on Jess and there is always the scope for idiot behaviour (the horrendously sad episode of last year case and point).

There are plenty of photo opportunities, and for even more entertainment watch the hoards of selfie takers with their multiple pictures of various expressions in EXACTLY the same pose. I realise this might be an ironic observation, given the fact I’ve included a number of pictures in this blog but HONESTLY….

A previous visit with friends!

The views are spectacular, and at the visitor centre there’s a great picture that not only shows you the names of various rock formations, but also points out key locations on the distance such as York Minster!

To make sure you see everything check out the property map, but you may be like us and just go where your feet take you!

We love a good trig point!! The one at this site is just behind the visitor centre.

Whilst we let Jess pretty much dictate our visit by pointing to which rocks she wanted to climb (and us saying no to 90%!), the National Trust website suggests some good ideas for a more structured visit;

  • A Spot the Rocks trail, taking you on a guided walk of the key formations
  • Picking up an explorer backpack from the visitor centre which teaches children about wildlife and geology on the site
  • Geocaching; there is a series of seven easy to find which are perfect for children.
  • Child friendly events– look at the What’s On page to discover Storytelling and Nature Explorer dates.

So to summarise; if you haven’t been, or it’s been a while, make it a priority. I definitely had left it too long (although not sure if my heart could take Jess climbing at a younger age). It’s much better in dry weather when the rocks aren’t slippy and you can enjoy your lunch taking in the views. If you’re planning a full day there perhaps check out one of the activities they have for children. Enjoy!!

Beach holidays with a baby and pre-schooler

How we make holidays to Sunny Spain work!

A bit of an unusual (and rather long) blog post for me, but after walking, I suppose my next favourite hobby is holidays! I just love being in the sun, eating all that fabulous food, relaxing by the pool, and at three, Jess is currently on her 10th beach holiday (all mainland Spain or the canaries). ‘Holiday chat’ is the sort of thing that comes up when talking to other mums, so I thought I’d share some of our top tips for enjoying holidays! Obviously every child is different, and so is every family, so what works for us won’t necessarily work for you, but here it is anyway in the hope it’s of some use to someone .

Accommodation

We’ve stayed in a variety of places abroad with our little ones, from hotels and apartments, to villas. I think in reality this will come down to where you can afford, but I’d try to get as much space as you can. One room in a hotel is definitely do-able, but you’ll find yourself overflowing with ‘stuff’, and after bedtime it restricts where you can sit and enjoy a drink in peace (hope for a good balcony). We’d rather pay for a bigger room in more basic accommodation rather than be cramped somewhere swish. Again, that might be preference. On this most recent holiday we got a two bedroom apartment, so Jess had her own room, we could put James in the travel cot in our room and enjoy using the kitchen and dining room, and living area to make drinks! If you’ve got a really little one try to stay somewhere with kitchen facilities so you’ve got a proper fridge and sink.

Another recommendation if you’ve got a walker is staying somewhere with a splash park. Chances are you’ll be enjoying your holidays outside of school holiday time whilst you can, so we’ve always found these places relatively quiet when we go. The splash park of where we’ve regularly visited is really shallow and separate to the pools, so you can watch your children play in the fountains from the safety of your sunbed. In other places it’s deeper, it still keeps them entertained more than a pool would but you need to stay next to them.

Baby and child equipment

Firstly, don’t stress about this. I suspect you’re not planning on visiting a third world country. So most places will have most of what you need. Travel cots will be available from pretty much everywhere that you would want to stay. Hotels will have high chairs in their restaurants (as will restaurants when you eat out), and the villas we’ve stayed in have often had highchairs, toys and even stair gates. So whatever you think you might need, make sure that you ask before you go. Our apartments even have a stash of pushchairs that people have left behind.

If you don’t mind spending the money, we also regularly rent equipment. The places we’ve stayed in Spain have always had pretty hairy stairs so we’ve rented stair gates for our stay. When Jess was first out of a travel cot we rented a bed guard. This time round we hired a bouncer for James so we had somewhere to put him down in the apartment, as well as hiring a double buggy (we didn’t think we could fit cases, us and a buggy in the hire car!). Just google baby equipment hire and the name of your resort. We’ve found these companies are often run by expats and it’s quite an informal system, but we’ve never had any problems.

Nappies. Available in all supermarkets, but we’ve found are pretty pricey abroad so have tended to take a big pack with us, then we can just top up if needed when we’re out there.

When Jess was a baby we never took her baby bjorn away with us, and just used a pushchair. But this time we took it and it was SUCH a help. Firstly, we’ve always taken the pushchair around the airport and left it until the last minute to hand over. But actually it’s a lot easier without it. AND it means you have the carrier if you have any wait in customs before you get your pushchair back. Babies get heavy really quickly. It’s also come in handy on market day when you need to push your way through crowds!

Food and Drink

If you’re breastfeeding, brilliant! Super easy for you! Just be mindful that maxi dresses (my go to wardrobe on holiday) are not breastfeeding friendly so you might need alternatives. I’ve fed without any cover all over and no ones ever said anything.

If you’re still on formula the easiest thing to do (although not the most environmentally friendly) is to use the ready made bottles. These are not widely available in the rest of Europe, but you can order them in advance from Boots or Superdrug in the departure lounge before you go. Just make sure you’ve thought about how you’ll carry them on along with children and hand luggage. But we’ve ordered 30 bottles a time and a tub of formula for longer holidays!

If you’re happy on powder make sure you know how much you’ll need. You’ll probably need to buy bottled water to make up the formula which have a low sodium and sulphate content, but otherwise it’s the same as doing it in the UK. Whilst you can buy powdered formula abroad, the brands are different,so it depends how fussy your child is. That said, some brands are just operating under different names so might be worth doing a little research. Sterilising tablets are probably the easiest thing to use to sterilise bottles abroad, but be aware in some hotel rooms the sinks are quite shallow so you might find yourself out buying a mop bucket at 6am on the first morning (yes, that is the voice of experience there).

If your child is older than a year and on cow’s milk, this is readily available from supermarkets, either fresh or long life. If you’re in a hotel we’ve got it when down at breakfast, and in the evenings just asked a bar to fill her sippy cup.

Top tip; In Spain we’ve found most children’s menus offer pop or pure fruit juice to drink. Fruit shoots aren’t really a thing, so unless you’re happy giving your pre-schooler coke with every meal you’ll be ordering lots of still water. We fill up a small bottle with squash from the supermarket and just top it up (she’s not a massive fan of too much water).

Eating out? Expect to have a lot of children’s meals consisting of pizza, pasta and chips. I’d just say chill, it’s their holiday too. A quick trip to the supermarket can stock you up on fruit to make you feel better. We’ve found that pouches of fruits and yogurts are widely available in Spain and the Canaries. And if you’re self-catering you can usually find something healthy to make yourselves!

Right, prepare for what I imagine is a controversial comment. Often we eat our evening meals separately. Early evening we’ll go out with Jess, give her a kids meal and enjoy a drink. Then later we’ll either do a takeaway with her in bed, or choose a nicer restaurant where she just has a drink or snack. Obviously this only works if you’re self-catered. Whilst we’re eating we have tried to get James asleep and give Jess the iPad to keep her entertained (I know this isn’t for everyone- my thoughts on this are covered in this blog post earlier this year). It’s an altogether less painful experience- which is the point of holidays, right?!

Packing

If you’ve gone for a package holiday or scheduled flights you’ll probably have loads of luggage allowance, lucky you. Just don’t get too over excited, you’ll still need to move it, and a pushchair, car seat, hand luggage and children!

In the age of budget airlines this is our strategy. We have one big case. In there goes nappies, toiletries and kids clothes. We have a cabin bag each for our clothes and we pack light.

Hand luggage; one of us carries our personal possessions such as electronics, books and snacks. Another bag is the change bag. Jess’s bag (at three she now also pulls this herself) is for her toys, which means she gets them for the flight. I usually buy her something new for the flight too- a new book, stickers or magazine for example. And I download A LOT of episodes of Peppa and Blippi on the iPad.

If you’re considering a Trunki, make sure you’ve got spare arms to carry it if (when) they get bored of it.

Planning days out

Urgh. I hate the word planning on holidays! At home we don’t really do routines. But on holiday we absolutely do, we find it massively helps us get some much needed adult time!

Firstly, naps. An early afternoon nap is really important to us. Up until last year Jess was used to naps and would nap anywhere, so after she’d had her lunch we would strap her in the pushchair and she’d fall asleep whilst we walked to a nice restaurant and enjoyed a child free meal. Now, she doesn’t really do naps at home, but on holiday we let her stay up later if she goes for a nap. We put her down in the room whilst we sunbathe on the balcony with a glass of wine. I guess you take what you can get!

Bedtimes. When Jess was younger we used to get her pjs on normal time, give her milk in the pushchair and then have an evening out with her asleep next to us. Again, now she’s older this has changed. We go out earlier with her and, if we’re not in a villa etc, are back in time for the kids disco. We put her to bed after this then sit out with a takeaway if we’ve not eaten and a drink. Back to the earlier point about making sure you’ve got the right accommodation.

Contingencies. One of the problems with beach holidays is that if it’s not sunny the resort comes to a standstill. Sure, if it’s still warm you can still play on the beach, but if it’s rainy you can’t just go and get drunk like we did pre-children 😂😂 Make sure you do your research before you go and have a few places to visit in your back pocket if the weather turns. Animal parks and city visits have always worked well for us.

So there you have it. A pretty good description of how we’ve made our holidays work for us. We love them and have our next ones booked already 👍👍 Any other advice and good ideas? Please share them! I’ll add them onto the bottom of this blog (obviously will credit them to you!)

Rachel xxx

Ponderosa, Heckmondwike

This was one of the best surprises I’ve had in a long time. For a small zoo, there is loads to keep you entertained, and it’s got great facilities. It’s been miserable weather today and I almost caved to Jess’s pleas of soft play this morning, but I held strong and it was the best decision ever… even better there was a soft play there which we had to ourselves so Jess got her wish too!!

Website: http://ponderosa-centre.co.uk

Facilities: Excellent; lots of toilets and hand wash stations. Play areas indoor and out. Coffee shop and restaurant. Even a welly wash.

Pushchairs: Excellent for access, all entrances are level. So perfect for pushchairs. We only came across one set of steps all day, with ramp alternative!

The animals

It’s a small zoo, but it’s got great variety.

Indoors there’s a reptile house and small mammals. On a weekday there were two encounters. Despite Jess being happy in the past to stroke snakes, spiders, you name it, today she had the fear of stroking a tortoise shell 😂. So no pictures, sorry. Interesting fact- they can feel the touch on their shell!! Mind. Blown.

Outdoors we struggled to spot some of the animals, I think the wet weather was forcing them inside, but those that we did were interesting and well kept. Jess liked seeing the ‘kitty’ aka the serval, and couldn’t understand why she couldn’t stroke it!

The Play Areas

On a dry day I think there would be enough here to keep you entertained for a full day. There are two fab play areas as well as a giant ‘beach’ that would be perfect for picnics. The play barn is an indoor soft play area, which I thought was great,but signs are up saying it’ll be closed from November so I’m excited to see what it’ll have in its place!

Food and Drink

There are picnic benches around all the outdoor play areas, as well as a covered area near the outdoor handling area, so plenty of space for you to bring your own. There is also a coffee shop on site (offering disposable cups for you so I could take my drink into the play barn) which sells a great variety of ice creams. The Lakeside restaurant is happily situated, see pics below, and although we didn’t go in looked to have a decent menu.

I think one of the best things about this place is that despite it being a really quiet day, everything was open and available. It’s one of my biggest frustrations when you head somewhere and half the facilities are closed off.

So try it, I’d really recommend a visit. I can’t wait to see what’s coming to replace the play barn and I’m looking forward to returning on a drier day to take full advantage of the play areas!

Exploring Sherwood Pines

Hugely accessible from Yorkshire, this great forest has plenty to keep you occupied for a day out. We seemed to be the only people there without a bike, but it has lots to offer families on foot! We’ve been to the area before; Sherwood Forest and NT Clumber Park are nearby but never stopped off… we’ll definitely be returning!

Website: https://www.forestryengland.uk/sherwood-pines

Parking: £6 all day, £4 if you squeeze it into two hours!

Pushchairs: Gritted paths mean routes we used were for pushchairs.

We’d promised Jess the Zog trail, and got her excited in the car by re-reading the story, so on arrival there was no question of doing anything else first! The activity pack was £3 and included a Zog face mask, stickers, activity booklet and animal reveal.

The trail itself was relatively short, so perfect for little walkers (but don’t expect it to take too long). Activities are a combination of Zog related questions (spot the dragons) and nature questions that get children to think and engage with their surroundings.

Certain activities are done to reward yourself with a star sticker from the activity pack. Jess is a massive fan of stickers so this went down a treat!

After the trail we found a picnic bench (there were plenty) for lunch. We sat next to a large field where families were playing ball games and running round, a great space.

Refuelled, we set off to do one of the two walking trails. The Dragonfly walk is just 1mile on gritted paths, and the Nightjar trail is 3miles, suitable for off-road pushchairs. They are super easy to follow (Jess was our leader) with marked coloured posts and plenty of benches dotted around the pretty woodland.

For Jess, walking without whinging is often for the bribe of a good play area at the end. Luckily we had a few to choose from, with a mixture of climbing, exploring, den building and sandpits!

Other activities that we didn’t try but that are available are;

  • The Gruffalo Orienteering Trail (£1.50 for the map) which is a really simple beginners orienteering course where you find 12 markers (although the link to the Gruffalo is only really by name)
  • Finding Gruffalo sculptures dotted about the woodland
  • Nets Adventure, which looked a bit ambitious for Jess, basically looked like huge trampolines with balls suspended in the air.
  • Go Ape
  • Mountain Biking

Next to the visitor centre there are good toilet facilities (changing area in male toilets too) as well as a cafe that we didn’t visit but seemed nice with indoor and outdoor seating.

Brayton Barff, 2km circular

We were visiting family near Selby today, so stopped off to do this short walk on our way there. It’s been a scorcher, but the well-surfaced main path is through woodland and so we thoroughly enjoyed the shade! Even better news is that if you come in spring you’ll find bluebells 😍😍

Route: https://www.yorkshirewater.com/things-to-do/walks/brayton

Parking: A small free carpark, it can get busy.

Facilities: None, but I’m sure you’ll find a decent country pub nearby, right? There are benches dotted along the path.

Pushchairs: At a little over a mile I’d say why not try to let your toddler walk, it’s a good early one! Otherwise the main route is completely buggy friendly.

The basic premise of Brayton Barff is a circular path around a hill. Whilst the path undulates, there aren’t any significant uphills/downhills. You get some lovely views over to Selby and Drax. There are lots of little trails to take you up the hill and explore, but these are not suitable for buggies. Plenty of little legs do though, and there are loads of examples of den building!

With little explorers I’m sure you could spend hours on this beautiful hill, but equally if you’ve got just an hour to kill when you’re in the area this is a great choice!