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.

Sand park 1

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.

Sand park 3

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!

Sand park 2

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

Exploring Coventry city centre – #CountryKids

It’s slightly odd living back in the city where I grew up. Some things haven’t changed, but others have, and I certainly don’t know much about entertaining small children here, though I’m learning. We won’t be here for long, so it’s not worth putting down lots of roots in terms of what I get up to with the boys in the week. One trip that I was planning to do on a day when we had nothing else on is a tour of the city centre – a part of the city that has changed quite a bit since I last lived here full time over 10 years ago. It’s still not perfect, there are city centres that I would far rather walk around, but it has come on since the days that I can remember visiting town.

The first real attraction that we came to when entering the centre from the direction in which we walked from Granny and Grandad’s house was Broadgate, which features the famous Lady Godiva clock and Lady Godiva statue. For anyone not familiar with the legend of Lady Godiva, she was the wife of Leofric, Earl of Mercia, and she rode naked on a horse around Coventry in protest against the unfairly high taxes that her husband was charging the town’s people. It is also said that a man named Tom watched her as she rode around, hence the name ‘peeping Tom’. When Broadgate was redeveloped after the Second World War (much of Coventry was destroyed in Blitz bombings), a clock was built – every hour on the hour it chimes and Lady Godiva rides out whilst Peeping Tom watches from above. Andrew absolutely loves watching this clock, and luckily this day we walked past it twice, both times near the turn of the hour, so we could stand and watch the show. Here’s a video of the clock in action, and in the pictures below Andrew is showing me what Peeping Tom did. As well as the clock there is a large statue of Lady Godiva overlooking the city centre precinct of shops.

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After we’d hung around waiting for and watching the clock, and Andrew had run around the black squares that are part of the design on the paving, we headed down the hill to the Transport Museum to warm up! This is a place that I just about remember visiting as a child, but it has been done up since I last went and is well worth a visit. There is no entrance fee (though anyone is welcome to donate towards its upkeep), and what you get for your (lack of) money is amazing. There are vehicles from across the centuries and across the world. It starts with bikes and horse drawn carriages, goes onto old motor cars, buses and trucks, and ends up with some very modern vehicles, not forgetting Thrust and Thrust 2, cars which broke the world land speed record. Both my boys were in their element, and would happily spend all day pottering around this fantastic museum. There are various activities and interactive displays for little ones, and the whole place is set up brilliantly for families as well as transport enthusiasts to get lots out of it.

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The museum also provided us with an hour of shelter from the cold day. Of course no eating or drinking is allowed inside though, so we had a quick pit stop outside when we left for a drink and biscuit. There is a large square outside the museum with a bench running around the outside where you can have a red plaque made with your name on if donate some money to the attraction. Towering above this square is the ‘Whittle Arch’ – a memorial (shaped like a double aeroplane wing) to Sir Frank Whittle, RAF engineer officer who was born in Coventry. I tried to explain to Andrew that this was a bit like an aeroplane wing, but he wasn’t too sure! On the side of the museum, there is a large screen, and as we walked past it was showing a film about some young people doing a dance class, so we stopped and did a few moves ourselves for a minute or two.

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Our next destination was Coventry Cathedral, and to get to that we walked up through a very old area of the city where you can see the remains of the old priory. Well, we couldn’t actually go into the building that now houses the excavated undercroft that day, but we stopped by the fountain (far left picture below) that was built fairly recently as part of the opening up of this historic site and behind which are some more ruins of the old priory. Then, as we walked up the road towards the entrance of the cathedral, Andrew spotted these mini fountains on the other side of the road, so we had to go and investigate. Unfortunately he didn’t have his wellies on as it wasn’t a wet day, otherwise he would have loved to jump in the water that was just spraying back down onto the pavement. This water feature is right outside one of the main buildings of Coventry University, which has an amazing view overlooking the cathedral – or should I say cathedralS…

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As I said above, much of Coventry was destroyed in bombing raids in World War 2, because traditionally it is a city of heavy industry, particularly cars, and the factories were used to manufacture weapons in the war. During one night of the Blitz, the old cathedral, St Michael’s church, which looked remarkably similar to a factory from the air, was hit by incendiary bombs and burned to ruins. The outer walls and the spire survived, and this ruin is now a symbol of peace and reconciliation through the work of the Cross of Nails charity administered at the cathedral – a cross made from three large nails was found in the rubble the day after the bombing. Then in the 1960s, a modern cathedral was built right next to the old ruin, attached via a giant canopy between them. We didn’t go in to the new cathedral this time, that’s a whole trip on its own, but I showed the boys various features from the outside, such as the etchings on the windows above the main entrance (top centre picture below) – several years of school trips to this attraction taught me many interesting facts about its design. We did, however, have a walk around the ruins, where I tried to explain to Andrew why there was no roof – quite deep stuff for a just turned 3 year old! He was fascinated with looking up at the spire, and I told him that one day we could climb up it when we’re with more grown-ups. Although there isn’t as much detail as in the new building, I pointed out a few items in the ruins, including the cross on the altar that is made from two charred wooden beams from the roof of the old cathedral.

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Once we’d finished here, we carried on walking through the centre and had a brief look down at the shopping precinct. Andrew pointed out what he could see from this vantage point, and by this time Joel had just about fallen asleep. I’d been in touch with Grandad who works in town, and he was looking forward to coming out of his office and meeting us for lunch. And where better to meet him than back at the clock where we had started – we were just in time to watch it strike 12 noon.

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We thoroughly enjoyed our walk around the sights of Coventry, and we’ll definitely be returning another time to the Transport museum for more vehicle fun.

This week I’m linking up again with the fantastic Country Kids linky over at Coombe Mill’s blog, because we had some outdoor fun in the city.

And finally…. swimming

At long last I’m writing a post about swimming! That category on this blog hasn’t seen any action yet. It’s not that I haven’t been swimming in ages (it’s so part of my routine that I can’t imagine not doing it), but just that more one-off ideas for posts have come into my head at a specific time, whereas this is more of an on-going thing. This post is a bit of a trip down memory lane, as I go through some of my childhood and teenage years, remembering how much swimming has featured.

Swimming has been an important part of my life for as long as I can remember. My parents took me when I was a baby and toddler, and I had lessons in which I learnt how to swim unaided when I was about 4. By all accounts I took to swimming like, well, a duck to water. Amongst my earliest memories are times spent swimming widths and lengths at Ernesford Grange pool in Coventry, under the instruction of Mrs Leigh – a slightly scary and bold-voiced but very good at getting kids to swim teacher. I remember ploughing through the ASA swimming badges, first the distance ones from 10m (1 width) to 1mile (about 60 lengths), and later the skill ones from stage 1 to Bronze, Silver and Gold (I even went back to do the Honours badge some years later after it had been invented as the next stage up from Gold).

At Bedworth pool when I was nearly 2 (click here for a (not great quality!) short video clip like this picture)
An outdoor pool on holiday in Cornwall when I was 4, with Mum and Matt (before we started going to France)

When I’d completed all the badges (not sure exactly what age, but sometime around the middle of primary school), I decided that I liked swimming so much that I’d like to join the City of Coventry swim club. That meant swimming twice a week (Friday evening and Sunday afternoon) at the main Coventry baths in the city centre, and one evening at a smaller pool in the suburbs. It was a big time commitment, and I’m very grateful that my parents were so supportive, as they had to do all the ferrying around and buying me kit (swim costumes, caps and goggles wear out quite quickly when used so much). But I loved every minute of it, and learned so much about how to swim with good technique. We also had regular galas against other clubs, and although I was never such a high flyer (or super fast swimmer) that I won loads of medals, it was fantastic to take part and be part of the team. This competitive training did me lots of good for school swimming too, as I was one of the strongest female swimmers in my year, and was awarded house colours (sorry, bit of a posh school term – prize for participating in and winning for my school-internal team) for helping us win in a few inter-house galas.

My stint as a competitive swimmer came to an end in my early teenage years. I had swum the times needed to move up to the next level in the squad, and that meant an even bigger time commitment involving early mornings before school. It wasn’t so much the time of day that put me off (I’ve always been a lark), but the extra time that I would’ve needed to put in would’ve been a strain on my school work, which was getting more important to me as GCSEs were looming on the horizon. I was no longer feeling the fun of swimming with all the pressure to train most days of the week, and I decided to call it a day, concentrate on my school work, and swim for leisure in my own spare time. I’ve done this ever since, and still swim 2 or 3 times a week (as often as I can with a baby) to keep fit and unwind.

Another big part of my childhood memories is spending much of the days we were on holiday in France in the pool! Most years from the age of 7 to 15, my parents, my brother and I spent a couple of weeks each July/August holidaying with in our caravan somewhere in France – we went to a different region each year. When Mum was booking each campsite, she was under strict instructions from her (might-as-well-be-a-fish) daughter that it had to have a nice outdoor pool otherwise there was no point booking it. We would usually go out and explore some local place in the morning, then come back to the campsite for a baguette and cheese lunch, and I would proceed to spend the whole afternoon and early evening swimming. Here are a few pictures from different years showing some of the French pools that I lived in 😉

A lovely pool in the Dordogne region of France (me aged 11 on the right, Matt aged 10 on the left)
The indoor pool at the Disneyland Hotel in Disneyland Paris
Another French pool (me aged 13)
Swimming in a lake in France (me aged 14)
On holiday in the USA when I was 16 (the first year we went further than Europe, but still we found places to stay with pools!)

To finish this first post on swimming. I’ll leave you with two of my favourite swimming memories from teenage-hood (just after my 18th birthday when we were on holiday in Australia). I swam in the Sydney Olympic pool, obviously ages after the Olympics, but still there was something amazing about pacing up and down those lengths, thinking about all those Olympic swimmers who had once swum there too and won Gold. Also on that holiday I swam in the Great Barrier Reef. I’m not normally a great fan of the sea – I love swimming, but only when I can see what I’m swimming in! But the water in the reef was so crystal clear that it was almost like being in a pool, and the fish and coral that we got to see were breathtaking.

Olympic swimming in Sydney 🙂 (I think I'm in the lane just to the right of centre!)
Me getting ready to dive in and snorkel in the Great Barrier Reef

That completes my blast to the past. In future swimming-related posts, I’ll write about swimming in my life as an adult, including swimming at university, swimming in pregnancy, and swimming with Andrew.