Whitley Common Playground – #CountryKids

After a couple of weeks’ break from the #CountryKids linky that I usually join in with, I thought I’d share this quick post. Weekends have been very busy going over to our new house and sorting stuff like cleaning, shifting junk that the previous owner just left there, and preparing it for the decorator, so I haven’t had much time to blog our outdoor adventures. As the weather has been so nice, we’ve been spending a lot of time outdoors, either in the garden with the paddling pool or at the local park.

I realised that I hadn’t yet blogged about a park local to Granny and Grandad’s house where we’ve been living, the one that I find the least stressful to take both boys to on my own – Whitley Common Playground. The big park that is nearest to us is hard for me to take them to on my own because there are no fences around the playground so Joel just runs off, and Andrew tries to climb on the teenage climbing frames whilst my head is turned running after Joel – bit of a nightmare! But the Whitley park is much better for us in this respect.

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It’s not huge, but it’s the perfect height and experience level for the boys to do on their own. Obviously I’m there to help and watch them too, but I only have 2 hands and eyes in the front of my head. There is also a fence around the toddler section, which slows Joel down when he tries to escape – he has just learned how to throw his whole weight on the gate to open it, but at least I get longer to spot that and run after him than an open field! And because the climbing frame is just right for him, he doesn’t often try this on anyway. The ground is that lovely squishy astroturf too, which is great at cushioning any falls.

Andrew loves going down the fireman’s pole, as you see in the pictures above, and this is great because it’s the smallest pole like this in a playground that I’ve seen and he is getting good practice at doing this without being very far from the ground at all. He also likes playing with the clock on the end of the climbing frame, telling me what time is is, and on the other side of this there is a ship’s wheel that he likes to stand at and turn, pretending that he’s ‘driving’ a ship. There is quite a bit of space just to run around on the soft ground too, and when there are other kids his age there too, they often end up playing a game of chase on this, which he really loves.

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Joel is definitely a climber – he climbs wherever he can (or can’t!), whether that’s on furniture at home when I’m not looking or climbing frames that are really too big for him, he has no fear! But the small toddler frame at this park is perfect for him. He also likes to climb the slide, though I try to dissuade him from that, especially if there are other children trying to come down it. I think most kids go through a phase of wanting to climb slides rather than slide down them, and he is definitely there right now.

As well as the toddler section of the playground that’s within a fence, there is also an older kids’ section outside of the fence next to the common – an open field where lots of dog walkers go, which is some distance from any road so it’s quite safe anyway. Joel quite likes trying to climb up on the bigger climbing frame, as you can see above, and actually with a bit of help even this isn’t too difficult for either of the boys, and they enjoy sliding down the bigger slide at the top of it. In this section there’s also a big tyre swing that Andrew likes to go on when there are other kids his age, but Joel is happier on the toddler swings in the fenced part.

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As I said, it’s not massive, but there is a variety of things to play on that are all brilliant for the boys’ current size. They don’t seem too fussed by the seesaw, which you can just about see in the distance in the picture above, though Andrew likes standing on the ground and pushing it up and down with his hands, and Joel occasionally comes by to see what he’s doing.

I’m glad that we’ve had such a good park close to where we’ve been living, and I’m glad that I’ve now written a record of it to look back on when the boys are bigger. The local park at our new house is perfect for Andrew’s age and older, which will be good for them to grow once we finally move at the end of the month.
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A walk around Rydal Water – #CountryKids

One thing that we were amazed about when we were on holiday in the Lake District recently was just how much Andrew was willing to walk. He can be a bit fussy when we’re at home, walking some of the way to places but not reliable enough for me not to take his sling to hop him up on my back if he gets tired. One day in the week away we decided to do a walk around Rydal water, up above the lake on Loughrigg terrace for most of the way, except at both ends when we came down to the waterside to cross the river. On the map this is about 3 miles, plus some climbs. Although we took his sling, Andrew walked pretty much the whole way, only being carried for a couple of 5 minute periods. He was our little mountain goat 🙂 I think his bargain walking boots for 99p off eBay might have helped spur him on, and the odd go-faster snack.

The walk was relatively easy, but with stunning views on the way round. We found all sorts of nature to look at and pick up. Andrew took a liking to a stick that was just the right size to be a walking stick for him, and Pop got out his pen knife to carve him a handle by stripping the bark off it at the top. At one point we spotted a tree with a hollow trunk, so Andrew hopped up inside it and thought this was hilarious. Joel was on my back for the first part of the walk until we stopped for a picnic lunch half way round, and then did some walking himself. High up on the terrace we got some amazing views down to Rydal Water on our way around.

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At the far end of the lake we came back down to the water level and had our picnic by the river that runs between Grasmere (lake) and Rydal Water. We then walked along this river towards Grasmere, and crossed over a bridge that was fantastic for Pooh sticks, just before the lake itself. We stopped on the shore of Grasmere for a little while, so the boys could have a play. Andrew was keen to try and learn stone skimming techniques from Grandad and Pop, and Joel was fascinated with a rather large rock that he could sit on and jump off! The weather was quite warm by this point, so we were happy to stand around for a bit. The view across Grasmere towards the village of the same name was lovely.

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As we carried on, we walked up again onto the terrace on the other side of Rydal Water, to continue our circular route around it. The views back across the lake were still fantastic, with fewer trees in the way on this side. Both boys were walking on this side for a while, until Joel got tired again and went back on my back, though as I said, Andrew was keen to carry on walking himself. As we neared the end of the lake, towards the car park where we had left the cars, the path came back down near the lake shore again. This was another great excuse to try some stone skimming, and Joel even went for a little paddle in his boots. Both of them clearly found this a lot of fun!

The walk was just the right length for a day out with toddlers, and we all enjoyed it with the views and the weather being particularly good to us.

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Linking up with the fab #CountryKids linky over at Coombe Mill’s blog

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Watendlath tarn walk – #CountryKids

A few days into our Lake District holiday and the weather looked lovely when we woke up. We looked at the forecast too, which said it would be nice all day so we decided to head off into the fells and do a family friendly walk. We drove the cars from Keswick to Rosthwaite along the side of Derwent Water through Borowdale. There’s a handy Ntaional Trust car park at the foot of the fell that we wanted to walk up, though it was pretty full and we only just got enough spaces. Once we’d togged up with walking boots (including Andrew’s absolute bargain Karrimor ones from eBay), various layers of jumpers/coats and the slings, we headed off up the path, saying hello to the sheep grazing in the field as we walked past them.

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First there was quite a gentle, winding climb, and then it got steeper, but Andrew was amazing and walked most of it, except one carry in the sling from Daddy at the steepest part. We took our time and took in the breath-taking views. Behind us we could see the snowy summit of Scafell Pike, highest peak in England, and the very green valley floor around Rosthwaite and surrounding villages. There were plenty of sheep grazing in the lower pastures, and the odd few on higher, rockier ground.

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We passed between two craggy hill tops on either side, and then we were at the highest point of our walk. There was a gently undulating walk over the top of the fells and then we had a short downwards walk towards Watendlath tarn and village/hamlet. The views of the tarn (small hilltop lake) were stunning as we came down, and Andrew was still keen to walk all of this, holding hands and taking it slowly over the rocky rubble path on the way down. Once we were down, we just had to nip over a quaint bridge and we were on the right side of the stream to find a nice picnic spot by the tarn.

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The boys (and all of us) were ready for a break and some ‘go faster’ lunch. We even made a couple of doggy friends who came over to sniff at our picnic and lick up the crumbs. Joel was itching to walk/run around having been in the sling most of the way on the harder walk, so we were glad we had his backpack reins to keep him out of the tarn, though the shoreline was very shallow so he had a little paddle with his boots on.

All fuelled up, we headed to the tea room for a drink, though the boys and I were hoping for an ice cream because it was really quite warm by then, but their seasonal delivery was only due in the following day so we just missed it! Nevermind. It was a beautiful tea room to sit outside at – there were lots of little birds flying around and coming to pick up crumbs off the tables and the ground.

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The return walk was back the way we came, so a bit of a climb to begin with, then a gentle undulation, then a steeper descent. This time the views over to Scafell were in front of us, when we could look up from watching where we were stepping down. Andrew wanted a bit of a carry towards the end, but he’d done incredibly well. Joel was so tired he had a nap in the sling near the end of the walk, and didn’t wake up when we transferred to the car – he must have been shattered from all the fresh air.

We had an excellent day out, and it was lovely to get fell walking with the boys so that they could experience this important part of holidaying in the Lake District.

Linking up with the fab #CountryKids linky over at Coombe Mill’s blog as usual

Country Kids from Coombe Mill Family Farm Holidays Cornwall

Whinlatter Forest Park – #CountryKids

On the second day of our Lake District holiday, we decided to visit one of our favourite places not far from the holiday home – Whinlatter Forest Park. As the name suggests, there are lots of trees, and several paths that wind their way through them on the hillside. There’s also a Go Ape! course in the tree tops, and the park is popular with mountain bikers who hare up and down on the trails through the forest.

Once we’d parked in the already pretty full car park (it was a relatively good weather Sunday in the Easter holidays, so everyone was out), we made our way up to the visitors centre. Granny spotted a sign which said that there was currently a Gruffalo trail in the woods and that we could get an activity sheet for it from the kiosk. So we queued up and got our sheet, then set off into the deep dark woods in search of a Gruffalo!

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Andrew was tasked with spotting the signs that had an arrow and a picture of the hairy creature with terrible claws and terrible teeth in his terrible jaws. We made our way through the winding paths, guided by Andrew’s navigational skills. Every now and then there was an activity log by the side of the path, which encouraged the kids to think about things related to the Gruffalo story. For example we had to match up animals like a mouse, snake and fox to their different homes, use our five senses to notice things in the woods, and write our names using sticks. This was all very fun whilst being educational and teaching us all about the forest. The sheet that we’d got from the kiosk was handy to write our answers to the activity questions down on, but in the end we forgot about this and decided it would be useful to repeat the activities when we got home to see how much Andrew could recall from the experience.

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One of the activities was to collect 10 natural things from the forest floor. So as we walked, Andrew collected various items like stones, twigs, leaves, feathers and bark, and stuck them in the pockets of his yellow mack until they were full to the brim. We also had some lessons on tree-related things from Pop, the tree consultant, including the resin that we could see seeping out from holes in one tree’s trunk. Despite the first half of the walk being uphill, Andrew was keen to walk most of it, though he did get tired and hitch a lift in the sling on Daddy’s back near the top, then he got out again later on the way down. We joked that Daddy blended in well with the woodland with his squirrel print fabric sling.

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Joel was mostly happy to be carried in his sling on my back, but as we neared the top of the walk, he got restless and wanted out, so he then walked all the way down again with Pop holding his reins, which was quite a way for little legs. The route back down the hill brought us through the adventure playground. This is a fantastic area for kids (and grown-ups!) of all ages. There are climbing frames and swings, but also some more unusual pieces of playground equipment including an Archimedes screw that picks up water from a stream and drops it off onto a wooden run which you can dam up in places and then release the water. Andrew was fascinated by this, and Joel liked the look of it so much that he climbed in! There is also an area of the park with gravel that you can shovel into buckets and tubes and then lift them up using pulleys onto the climbing frame which has chutes where you can drop the gravel down again. This was also popular with the boys — the adults as well as the kids!

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At this point we were nearly back down to the start again. Once we’d had a good go on the playground, we decided that we’d all earned a nice drink and snack in the cafe. Clearly everyone else had thought this too so it was packed, but it was just about warm enough to sit outside with coats on, and actually we got a lovely view of the bird feeders hanging near the cafe, which were attracting lots of little birds to the seeds.

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We had a lovely day out, and learned some interesting facts about the forest and its wildlife. Did we find the Gruffalo? Well no, but didn’t you know, there’s no such thing as a Gruffalo! 😉

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The sand park – #CountryKids

Whilst we’ve been living at Granny and Grandad’s house, we’ve done lots of park trips, just like we used to back in Cambridge. The nearest park to us here in Coventry is the War Memorial Park, which is the biggest in the city. In fact, considering it’s only a 10-15 minute walk from the city centre, it’s easy to forget you’re in a big city whilst walking through its green fields.  We love it because it’s perfect for bike riding and getting a good walk in the open air, and yet it’s so close to home. Not to mention that it has an aviary, a skate park, and a couple of nice cafes.

Right in the middle is Andrew and Joel’s favourite bit: the ‘sand park’ as Andrew calls it. This is a play area that, unsurprisingly, has sand on the ground. It hasn’t always been like this – I remember playing there as a child and it was bark chipping underneath the climbing frames etc. The sand means that it’s almost like a mini beach, which is a nice idea for kids living in one of the most central cities of the UK, miles from the actual beach.

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Andrew in particular likes to play with the sand in the main bit of the park if we remember to take implements or if he finds some there. There is also a smaller section to one side, also with sand on the ground, that has buckets and pulleys, so you can lift sand off the ground and transport it around the climbing frame and do various things with it like put it down chutes, through a mill and through a colander. This provides lots of entertainment, and is just the right size for Joel to climb on too.

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It’s not quite like the beach in that there is no water most of the time. During the school summer holidays they open up a water area that has fountains another water features that the kids can run through and play in. I don’t think we’ve ever actually seen this working though!

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Generally the boys really enjoy this park, but I tend only to go there if I’m with another adult these days. The trouble is that most of the equipment is a little too old for them apart from the one section with buckets, and they both try to climb on the sections meant for older kids and teenagers, which I find stressful on my own. So we usually go to another park when it’s just the 3 of us. I’m sure this phase will pass, and we can go back there the 3 of us when they’re older. The sand is a lovely feature though, even if it does get everywhere – including all the way home!

Linking up with the fab #CountryKids linky at Coombe Mill’s blog as usual.

Country Kids from Coombe Mill Family Farm Holidays Cornwall

Coombe Country Park – #Country Kids

This week the boys and I went to Coombe Country Park near Coventry – a park that I used to go to quite a lot as a child. It’s changed over the generation in terms of the details like playgrounds and the visitor centre, but overall it’s still the same big country park that I remember. Coombe park is home to Coombe Abbey, which was built as a monastery in the 12th century and later became a royal home following the Dissolution of the Monasteries. For several generations it was owned by the Earls of Craven, and then was bought by the city council in the 1960s and the grounds were opened up as a park. The old building is now a hotel that is a popular venue for weddings.

The park a fantastic space for the boys to explore, including a playground that’s perfect for the two of them, and plenty of paths and open space to run and ride bikes on. Last week I wrote about how Andrew is coming along well with his pedal bike, but when I’m on my own with them both, it’s better for all of us if he’s still on the balance bike, because he still needs help from me for his pedal bike and Joel gets everywhere so needs my constant attention.

The first exciting thing that we came to when we got out of the car in the car park was a load of HUGE puddles! More like mini lakes than puddles really, which the boys of course loved to wade/cycle in. Andrew even got one of his wellies stuck in some hidden mud in a puddle at one point, so I had to wade in and rescue him! Good job I had wellies on too.

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There is an impressive long driveway leading up to the hotel, lined on both sides with a row of trees. It was a beautiful sunny (though chilly) day, and we noticed that there were plenty of spring flowers popping up underneath the trees – daffodils and crocuses were what we spotted. The shadows that the trees were creating on the grass were fascinating for the boys, gently swaying as the trees moved in the cool breeze.

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The next exciting thing that we came to was the playground. This is new since I used to come here, and the boys love it. They particularly like the little huts to sit down in at the top of the climbing frames. There are also plenty of bridges to walk across and slides to shoot down. It is well suited to their age range, as well as to older children. In the week it’s pretty quiet, and we had this practically to ourselves until our friends came to meet us.

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After a good hour on the playground, we went for a walk/ride around the park. I didn’t get loads of photos of the walk this time, because I was chatting to our friends and trying to keep Andrew in sight (easier said than done on his bike!) because there are a couple of lakes and streams. We forgot some bread to feed the ducks this time, but usually the lake in front of the hotel is a great place to do this and the boys enjoy it. This week there was plenty of mud to squelch through in the woods and in the open field at the far end of the park. We all got well and truly covered!

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Once we’d made our way back to the visitor’s centre near the playground, it was time for lunch, and we’d decided to eat in the cafe there with our friends. I’ve not eaten there before but it was very reasonable – good simple sandwiches and hot snacks like beans/egg on toast – we paid less than £10 for the 3 of us to eat. In the visitor’s centre opposite the cafe there is a room for kids that has various activities where they can learn all about the wildlife and nature of the park. Andrew particularly likes the game of snakes and ladders with the spinny wheel for dice, and there are lots of things to do like colouring and sensory experiences. It is very well done and we found it hard to drag our toddlers away from this when we had to go.

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All in all it was a fantastic morning-to-lunch out – I think it’s a sign that we’ve had good fun when we have to leave our wellies outside when we get home because they are still so muddy underneath despite trying to wash them in puddles! I’m sure we’ll be back there many more times as the boys grow up, just like when I was growing up.

As usual I’m linking up with the lovely #CountryKids linky over at Coombe Mill’s blog – which is particularly appropriate this week on the grounds of names!

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From balance to pedal bike – #CountryKids

A while ago I blogged about how Andrew loved his balance bike and was very good at riding it. Well he still does and still is, but for Christmas he was very kindly given a big boys’ pedal bike by Granny and Grandad. We’d noticed that he was getting quite big for his balance bike – the Early Rider lite – which he’s been riding for over a year, since just before his 2nd birthday. The saddle is on the highest position and his feet are well and truly touching the ground. At about the same time, he’d been noticing the big girls and boys of Cambridge riding on their pedal bikes, and decided that he too wanted to have a go. So we suggested to him that he wait for Christmas and see what surprises might come his way.

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And he wasn’t disappointed. Well, not until he got on it, tried to pedal off and fell off! I think he thought he’d just be able to do it as amazingly as he’d been doing his balance bike. That put him off a little, so we encouraged him to get on it step by step, doing just a few minutes on the drive with it each day and using his balance bike for longer trips out. We’d heard a tip that not putting the pedals on straight away helps kids get used to the new, heavier, bigger bike, whilst still acting like they’re riding a balance bike. It was also just a tad too big for him at first. But without pedals he was happy to sit on the cross bar and push himself around with his feet, just like he’s used to.

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Then one day a couple of weeks ago, when out riding (i.e. pushing) in the cul-de-sac with Daddy, he asked to have the pedals on. So they were quickly whipped on before he had chance to change his mind, and off he went, with Daddy holding the back of the saddle as he pedalled. He did really well, and over the next week, with more practice, he got even better at pedalling. So much so that when I took him out with his new bike one afternoon this week, all I had to do was lightly hold his coat at the shoulders – he was providing all the balance himself and I could easily have let go, but he liked the security of feeling my hands on him, even if just a little, because when I took them off for a second he screeched at me to put them back! And he didn’t fall off in that time.

I’m now trying to convince him that he really doesn’t need us to help at all, we’re not doing anything vital, but I think it’ll take a little more confidence. I’m sure one day soon though, I’ll just let go and he won’t notice, then he’ll pedal off into the distance. I’m already finding it hard to keep up with him on his balance bike – jogging after a 3 year old on a bike with a 15 month old on my back in the sling is a great workout – but once he’s off on his pedal bike, I think his speed with only be rivalled by me on my bike (which, incidentally, is in storage since we moved – there’s less need for it in Coventry than in Cambridge).

Despite the temporary lack of confidence, overall I think the skill of balance that his first bike has taught him has been key in him learning to ride a pedal bike so young. We’d heard that a balance bike was a good idea in this respect, but now we’re seeing for ourselves that it really is true. I remember learning to ride a bike without stabilisers, and I was quite a bit older than he is now. He will never even have been through the stabiliser stage, going straight from balance to pedal bike. I would definitely recommend this if you’re keen to get kids riding young.

Now we’ve just got to get Joel on the balance bike and we’ll be off on family bike rides before we know it!

As usual, I’m linking up our outdoor fun with the fantastic #CountryKids linky over at the Coombe Milll blog

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Fun in the winter sun at National Trust Baddesley Clinton – #CountryKids

Each week Granny has one day that she doesn’t work, and since we’ve been staying with her and Grandad, she’s mainly been spending that day with us. A couple of times she’s helped us go and look at pre-schools (i.e. she’s looked after Joel whilst Andrew and I went in to have a look round), and most often we’ve been swimming because that’s something I can’t do on my own with 2 toddlers and we love a good swim. But as this week was half term, we figured that the pool would be much busier than the usual quiet parent and tots session, so we decided to visit a local National Trust property instead, especially as the weather was so nice and sunny.

We’d seen that there were welly walks advertised through the NT app at both Packwood House and Baddesley Clinton in the afternoon, but as the boys were due a nap in the afternoon, we headed off first thing in the morning to Baddesley Clinton, thinking that we could just do our own welly walk through the lovely grounds there. When we arrived it was lovely and quiet, and as we walked off around the outside of the house there was nobody else in sight.

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The house is interesting because it is surrounded by a moat, and this fascinated Andrew, particularly as there were ducks swimming in it. There were also plenty of puddles to splash in on the path by the moat, so this satisfied the boys’ desire to get wet without resorting to jumping in the moat! We then continued on a path beyond the house, which took us around a lake surrounded by trees. It was so beautiful – the sun glistening on the water and the trees reflecting in the calm lake. We came to a few bridges too, across streams leading into/out of the lake, which the boys loved. They both did really well at walking, though Joel’s little legs didn’t quite make it all the way round before he wanted up onto my back.

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Andrew collected a couple of sticks, as usual, and we came back round towards the house on the other side of it. There was a lovely patch of snow drops and the birds were out in full force, tweeting away in the tree-tops. With these and the sun, it really felt like a spring day compared to all the wet days we’ve had recently, though it was a bit nippy out of the sun.

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As we walked through the more formal, walled bit of garden, Andrew was getting tired, so we spurred him on with the thought of a drink and snack in the tea room – it was only 10.30 by this point. You really can’t go wrong with home baked National Trust goodies. We shared a cupcake, gingerbread lady and shortbread biscuit between us; they went down well.

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By the time we’d finished, the house was then open, so we headed across there to have a look around. The boys aren’t really old enough to appreciate much of it, but they enjoyed having a brief explore through the old rooms with uneven floors and interesting objects. There was an activity for kids – a welly hunt – so Andrew was tasked with spotting all the little pictures of wellies as we walked around. Unfortunately I didn’t get many photos inside as you’re not allowed to use flash and I was too busy holding hands with one of the boys. But I did just about capture them on camera in the last room where there was a dressing up box with period clothes in – they loved putting some hats on.

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After this, we fed the ducks with some bread that another family gave us, and then we took another short walk down to the field at the front of the estate, to see the sheep and the tractor that was driving about. Andrew was also fascinated by what looked like a local electricity generator (I’m no expert, but there was one of those ‘danger of death’ signs that I associate with electricity) – in his words: “look Mummy, it’s a lightening, a lightening”!

By this time though, the boys were clearly very tired, and we knew that the car journey home and some lunch before nap would be a good idea at this point. There was just enough time to go back via the shop and claim our prize for counting the wellies in the house – a sticker for Andrew – and buy the usual bouncy ball souvenir, which Granny and Grandad always buy for them at a National Trust property.

It was a fantastic morning out in the fresh air and almost spring-like sunshine. The grounds and house were perfect for little legs to explore, and when we move to south Birmingham, this will be one of our local properties, so I’m sure we will be back many a time in the future.

Linking up with Coombe Mill’s fantastic Country Kids linky as usual – pop over there to read about others’ outdoor family fun.

Country Kids from Coombe Mill Family Farm Holidays Cornwall

Conkers: a fun family day out – #CountryKids

For his birthday, Tom was given a family ticket to the Conkers centre near Ashby de la Zouch. My Grandma had seen an offer online and decided to buy this for Tom for us all to enjoy. We had to use the ticket within 30 days of its purchase, so despite the slightly dodgy looking weather forecast, we decided to go for it this weekend, because there was no guarantee it would be any better next week when we had to use it by. But actually I think we picked a good time of year to go – it was very quiet, there were hardly any cars in the car park when we arrived and left, and this meant we had lots of parts to ourselves or with very few others around; I can imagine it gets packed on a warm sunny day and we’d have had to queue for the train ride, for example.

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We started off by walking out of the main entrance building – the Discovery Centre – and around the edge of the lake that’s just in front of it. As we neared the train station, a train was just pulling up, and as there was no queue, just one family on the platform getting on board, we decided to hop on it there and then – once Andrew has seen a train, it’s very hard to drag him away again anyway. It was a lovely little ride, and the boys enjoyed looking out at the trees, tracks, tunnels and other bits of the park that we could see. This took us to the other side of the park, to the Waterside Centre.

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Right next to this station is a huge adventure playground, with equipment for all ages from toddlers to pre-teens. The boys were off there as soon as they dashed off the train, trying to climb up the tall towers first before coming back down to the climbing frame and swings that were more their size. Andrew likes watching older kids on aerial runways, so although he felt he was too small for the long one here, he was happy to watch me have a go and cheer me on! We stayed here for a good half hour or so, with a few intermittent spots of rain, and other people coming and going during that time.

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Next we went into the Waterside Centre, mainly to use the toilets and nappy change facilities, which were all very quiet too. We spotted a table with a craft activity going on downstairs, so we took a look – they were indeed providing the materials to make your own Gruffalo mask! As Andrew is a big fun of the Gruffalo (I thought there was no such thing?!), we had to stop and make our own, which was just right for his age, with some help from me to read the instructions and direct him with the glue. We also spotted a table next to the craft which had all the culinary dishes mentioned in the Gruffalo book – roasted fox, scrambled snake and Gruffalo crumble – made out of junk modelling stuff and papier mache. They were brilliant, just how you could imagine a Gruffalo meal looking.

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Then it was time to go back outdoors for a bit, and walk along the trails on this side of the park. We walked around another small lake, then into the woods. It looked like a great place to build dens and play hide and seek, particularly in the summer when the trees would have leaves on and cover the area with foliage more than on this winter’s day. The path was suitable for a buggy, though we used the buggy for transporting our bags rather than the boys – they both walked some of the distance, and then one by one they got up onto our backs/shoulders as they got tired. It was just the right length of walk for us with kids whose legs are on the smaller side, though there are many more paths to explore on the other side of the park near the Discovery Centre, which is bigger than this side.

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We came to an opening with a covered outdoor amphitheatre. This is where we had planned to eat our picnic lunch, after I’d tweeted the centre the day before and asked if they had anywhere sheltered to have a picnic. This was a good recommendation – it kept us sheltered from the wind and kept Andrew amused with all the steps up and down that he insisted on doing whilst eating his sandwiches! There was of course plenty of space to sit down; nobody even walked through the amphitheatre whilst we were sat eating, looking terribly British with our outdoor picnic in winter.

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Having done a fair amount of what was on offer over this way, we headed back to the train which took us back to the other side of the park. Again there was just one other family and us on the ride. The rain became more set in as we got off the train and walked around the lake where we had started off the day, but it didn’t really bother us – we were all togged up, and Andrew had a whale of a time jumping in some awesome puddles that came to the top of his wellies in places. One place we could shelter for a bit was a covered viewing tower with a view across the park. The boys enjoyed going up the stairs, and we could hardly drag Andrew away, as he insisted that he wanted to keep going up and down them over and over again.

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We looked on the map that we’d been given at the entrance, and noticed that there was a labyrinth a little further round, which was enough to entice Andrew away from the fascinating steps of the viewing tower. He had done a lot of walking though, and at this point he got into the buggy for a ride around the labyrinth. There was a ‘spot the fairy’ activity as we went round, and Andrew was put in charge of counting up the fairies pinned to the walls. It was quite a long maze; at each turn we wondered how far it would be until the end, but eventually we came to the middle – a fairy house.

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As everyone was getting tired, we headed back to the Discovery Centre for some indoor fun. There is a lot to see and do in there! We learned all about different aspects of the environment in the fantastic hands-on exhibition. The giant model of a leaf was particularly popular with the boys, as we got to stand inside it and look at the cells and press buttons to see the various parts that air, water and sugar pass through – this took me back to A-level biology, this would have been a great place to go to get to grips with plant cell functions. I can imagine that this gets used for school trips in the week, it’s an interesting place to learn and all done very thoughtfully. Of course our boys didn’t learn as much detail as older kids would, but it was accessible on many levels, and they just loved looking at all the interactive displays and getting the sensory experiences.

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In amongst the educational bits, there is an ‘enchanted forest’ soft play area, up above some of the displays in a dimly lit (but in a good, mystical way) environment. It was only suitable for preschoolers upwards, so Andrew went up (with a bit of help from me to begin with to suss it out before he knew it was fine on his own), and Joel stayed down with Daddy, running around the fun exhibits, and finding the toddler play-tree in the cafe. Again, the soft play was all really well thought out, with lots of enclosed rope bridges and bits to climb over as if he was in the tree tops. Considering he had been flagging outside, he managed to regain a fair amount of energy to run off in the soft play – he always has a reserve of energy for soft play it seems.

There was also a Pirate entertainer hanging around in the big foyer, but unfortunately we weren’t there at quite the right time for his shows, though Andrew did get very excited about the balloon sword that he got from the Pirate’s stall. As Joel hadn’t napped all day, we knew that he was getting exhausted with all the running around, and decided to slowly head back to the car. It was hard to drag Andrew away, but the encouragement of a drink and a biscuit was a help, and he’d earned it with all his running around too. There was just enough time to call in at the gift shop and buy the inevitable bouncy ball – the boys’ favourite kind of toy souvenir.

All in all it was a fab day out, with activities indoors and outdoors for children of all ages. It’s well worth the entrance fee (which we of course received as a present). If you live near enough, there is even a yearly members’ ticket, which I think would be worth it if you could go more often than us. We will definitely be back again, and when the boys are a bit older, there will be different things for them to enjoy and get out of it.

Disclaimer: I received no incentive to write this post, and the views expressed are my honest opinions of our day out.

Christmas holiday outdoor fun – #CountryKids

For the past week or so, I’ve been wanting to write about the outdoor fun that we had over Christmas with Grandma and Pop down in Plymouth, but Joel isn’t sleeping very well at the moment – especially a distinct lack of naps in the daytime which means he’s very grumpy by tea time and often falls asleep in his high chair. This has left me with little time or energy after trying to help him nap using various means, so blogging hasn’t been possible. Plus we’ve been busy house hunting, which also leaves me with little time or energy! So finally, here is what we got up to outdoors over Christmas.

On Christmas Eve, the weather forecast said it would be windy but generally dry with the odd shower. We decided to head not too far down the road to Mount Batten, which is on the coast looking over the estuary towards Plymouth city centre. There is a good wide path next to the water and a barrier, so it was a good place to take Andrew’s bike, and there is also a park a little way up the hill which has a great view over the sea. We togged up with waterproofs and woolies to guard against rain and wind, and I should say that this was well before any of the high tides that were really dangerous in the south west after Christmas, as we would never have dared to go that close to the water then.

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Andrew absolutely loved the chance to ride his bike, as he always does, and particularly as it was near the sea and river. Joel was tired so he mainly stayed in the buggy with the rain cover on as a wind barrier so he could have a snooze. When we got to the park though, he livened up and was keen to have a go himself, chasing after Andrew and following him onto the swings and slides. The park was just the right size for toddlers, so they were very happy. On our way back from the park to the car, we saw a lovely seal asleep on a lifeboat platform near the yacht yard on Mount Batten. Apparently harbour seals are quite common here, and this one looked very happy snoozing on the warm rubber platform.

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On Christmas day, our time outdoors was a walk to church and back, and with all the festivities, there wasn’t time for a trip to a park. So on Boxing day, we headed over to the boys’ uncle and aunt’s house, firstly to see their pets – a lovely rabbit and 2 lively degus – and then for a walk down to the Tamar Bridge at the end of their road. Again, Andrew rode his bike whilst we all walked/jogged after him! First we headed down to the river shore underneath the bridge, where we also found a small park (only a couple of swings remain where there used to be a bigger park next to the river). Then we walked back up the steep hill (Andrew walked rather than rode his bike up), and then across the pedestrian side of the Tamar Bridge. In fact there is a split path – half for pedestrians and half for cyclists, so Andrew took to the side with the picture of a bike on, and rightly so! Joel wanted to walk, so he took to the side with the picture of a person on. It was a lovely bright day, and we all enjoyed getting out for some fresh air and exercise.

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The day after Boxing day was our last full day down there, and as the weather was still generally fine, we decided to head to another park. Grandma and Pop had noticed a new park at one of the coastal villages – Newton Ferrars – down the road from their side of Plymouth when they were out walking there one day previously. They knew that the boys would like it and thought it was a bit different from the local ones to them because it was all made out of wood rather than metal. And they were right, it was very popular! It was a bit wet underfoot, so again we had to tog the boys up with full waterproofs, but they loved it. There were a couple of slides (one small enough for Joel and one perfectly sized for Andrew), swings, a climbing frame in the shape of a pirate ship, a bridge with holes in that you have to step over, sand with buckets to play with it and lots more.

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The added bonus of this park was the lovely view that we got looking across to the village centre on the waterfront – another estuary reaching into the sea. Once we’d finished in the park, we walked through the woods – where Andrew did some off-road biking, and then walked down to the water to admire the pretty view.

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All in all we had great outdoor fun over Christmas, at places very local to where we were staying, where Andrew could ride his bike, Joel could have a toddle, and both could play on the playgrounds – nothing fancy, just good outdoor family fun.