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! 😉

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.

Audley End miniature railway – #CountryKids

Last weekend was action packed, especially considering we’re moving house soon! But as packing seems to be under control, it was great to be able to go to both the Mill Road Winter fair on Saturday (which I blogged about last week) and the Audley End miniature railway on Sunday. We’ve been meaning to go to Audley End for a couple of years now, since Andrew has been very into trains, but we’ve never quite got around to it, and there’s nothing like leaving a place to remind you to go and do all the stuff you always meant to do! Two of the boys’ Godparents had also offered to treat us to a trip out somewhere for Joel’s birthday present, so we thought this was just the place to meet up with them.

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The railway is open for rides in the spring and summer months, plus some special events in the Autumn and Winter at weekends, such as the Christmas specials in December. We knew the trains started at 11am, so we got there pretty much bang on 11am, though had we have known that the car park would be open before that, we probably would have arrived earlier because already there were quite a few families parked, getting out of their cars, and queuing up at the station. We met our friends and joined the queue, after we’d waited at the pedestrian level crossing for a train to go past, which Andrew was most fascinated with! We had to wait about 45 minutes in the queue, but fortunately all three kids were fine during that time, and it was a good chance for us all to catch up. As we got nearer the station, there was an elf walking about talking to the children and being generally friendly.

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Finally we were near the front of the queue and just made it onto the next train. Each little compartment in the carriages was just right for 2 adults and 2 children, though we don’t get to sit right next to our friends because we were the last on. But once we got going, this didn’t matter anyway because there was so much to see that we were looking out of the train the whole time. Andrew was fascinated, and barely smiled the whole time because he was concentrating so much on taking it all in and pointing out what he could see. I wasn’t sure how much Joel would like sitting still, but he absolutely loved it too, and was happy to sit still and look out, smiling all the time.

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All the way round there were little shelters with (toy) animals in, which were decorated up with tinsel and other Christmas bits. We also saw some little wooden houses and signs naming the places we were riding through. The route is mainly through the woods, and it definitely had a magical Christmas feeling to it with all these things we could see between the trees. There were some tunnels too, which the boys enjoyed, though I wasn’t too keen on as you could really smell the smoke and steam of the train as we chugged through them.

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Then we started to slow down, though we weren’t near the station. As we came to a halt, to the side of the train was a large hut, again all decorated like the smaller ones we’d seen, but this time Father Christmas came out and greeted us! He walked along the length of the carriages with a couple of elves, talked to us all, and gave the children a present each and a sweet treat to anyone who wanted one. Andrew was keen to unwrap his right away, and was very happy to find a lovely soft toy penguin inside. Joel was interested in his too, and underneath the paper as he ripped it off was a lovely soft toy snow leopard. The boys were happy with their presents, and Father Christmas waved us off on our way back to the station. We even saw his sleigh and some reindeer just past the hut.

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Eventually we drew back up at the station and got off the train. It was a decent length ride for little people, and I was glad that we’d combined a trip to a railway with seeing Father Christmas, because at only £6.50 per adult and under 2s are free, I thought it was very reasonable compared to some of the local places where you pay £5 each just to go and visit Father Christmas in a grotto. And besides, the boys are too young to really appreciate Father Christmas yet, but combined with a train, it went down very well!

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We then headed over to the play ground where we attempted to have a bit of lunch, though the kids were more interested in playing on the climbing frames, slide and see saw, especially as there was a train made out of wooden logs – even complete with a bell to ding. Joel’s party trick was to try and climb up the slide, and Andrew ran around like a Duracell bunny before we persuaded him that it was probably a good idea to head home and all have a nap. We had a fantastic time at Audley End, and were so glad that we’d managed to go before leaving the area.

Linking up with the #CountryKids linky over at Coombe Mill’s blog – why not pop over and see what other families are getting up to outdoors!

Country Kids from Coombe Mill Family Farm Holidays Cornwall

Trip to Coombe Mill – #CountryKids

Ever since I came across the Coombe Mill blog through the Country Kids linky that Fiona runs every week, I thought that it would be lovely to visit one day, either by staying there or by popping in when we’re down that way. As we go on holiday to Tom’s parents every summer, I thought it would be a possibility to have a day trip there this year, as it’s only just over an hour’s drive in good traffic. I was so glad that we managed to make it, just before Fiona and family set off on their family holiday.

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We started off on the journey down into Cornwall and made good time, so arrived in the later part of the morning. The first thing that Andrew spotted as we drew up in the car was one of the play areas, so he insisted that we get him out right away and he ran across to it, climbing up on the ship-shaped climbing frame, steering with the wheel and playing with the canon. He also liked the look of the trampoline, so had a go with some adult supervision from the other side of the netting.

Meanwhile I went across to reception and introduced myself in person to Fiona – it’s so nice to meet people in real life having tweeted with them and read their blogs. She was busy sorting things out to go away, and I felt very privileged that she was so welcoming and willing to spend time with us even though it was a big deal to get things done in order to leave the family business and go away for a week. Whilst she finished off a few things, I went back over and joined the others; my parents and parents in law were looking after Andrew on the playground. Very kindly, Fiona then came back over and invited us to their house for a cup of tea and cake, which was lovely, and we chatted for a while whilst three of her children came to join us, mainly for the cake!

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Then it was time for a farm tour, courtesy of Felix and Clio. Our guides did a great job of showing us all the animals. We saw peacocks, chickens, pigs, donkeys, deer, goats and rabbits. Andrew was very impressed, and was keen to stroke and feed animals where appropriate, as shown by the older kids. Joel also liked looking at the furry moving things, though he was getting a bit whingey by that point, maybe teeth, maybe hunger, maybe tiredness, who knows! We were all particularly impressed by the deer, who did a run by in front of us as Clio ran into the field behind them.

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Once the farm tour was over, and we managed to prize Andrew away from the other play areas that he had seen on the way back to the start, we sat down and had a picnic on one of the benches dotted amongst the lodges. I knew that Joel would like some milk before a nap, so I slipped into the BBQ hut to feed him – this is a fantastic hut that seats 15 people with a barbecue in the middle and a chimney that lets the smoke out, or is perfect for feeding a very distractible 9 month old away from all the sights and sounds of a family day out.

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After some milk he soon went off for a nap, so I went and joined Andrew on the play area where he was playing with Granny and Grandma. Fiona came and joined us for a bit too, and Andrew found her son Jed playing with the swing ball so tried to join in.

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After a while we headed back to the toddler-specific play area, which is full of ride-on cars. trikes and tractors, so right up Andrew’s street. He also spotted the soft play hut, and had another go on there (apparently he’d already been in when I was feeding Joel). Not that it was raining that day, but having an indoor play area is perfect for the British weather, because even though we often get togged up and go out in the rain anyway, sometimes it’s nice to have a dry place for him to burn off some energy, so I can imagine that if we stay there it would prove invaluable.

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We would have loved to stay and see the miniature railway running at 5pm, but Andrew was flagging and it was clear that he would need his nap in the car on the way home sooner than that. So we started to make a move towards the car. Once we got going, it didn’t take long for both boys to drop off (Joel had woken up from his nap as we transferred him but went back off again), and by the time we had driven through the winding lanes and reached the main road, they were both sound asleep. A sign on a great day out!

The whole family was very impressed by what we saw at Coombe Mill, and we will certainly be recommending it to other families who might be looking to holiday down in Cornwall. There is so much for young children to see and do, including helping out on the farm for feed runs which we didn’t get to experience, and it’s a great spot to go off and explore Cornwall too, from beaches to hills to towns. All the accommodation is well equipped for families with babies and toddlers, so it feels like a home from home. We are blessed with this ourselves in Devon, and at the moment I expect we’ll continue to stay with Grandma and Pop, but when the boys are a bit older we would love to go and stay at Coombe Mill for a holiday. It would be a lovely place to go with another family or two with children a similar age to ours.

So for this week’s Country Kids linky, Andrew and Joel got to be country kids at the place where Country Kids was born, and they thoroughly enjoyed it.

Country Kids from Coombe Mill Family Farm Holidays Cornwall