Christmas at the Lower Drayton play Barn

We have had the most wonderful time at the play barn. We love it here anyway with one of the biggest indoor soft play areas and all the usual farm animals to meet and greet but it’s had a festive make over which makes it all the more magical. When we arrived we were greeted by a friendly elf who handed us over our passports and gave us a little bit of orientation – the kids of course wanted to have a run around the soft play before we did anything so we enjoyed our adults complimentary hot drinks tokens from Honey Pots Cafe before starting our adventure.

The adventure began when we took a trip up in the “naughty or nice” lift and were greeted at the top by several elves who enthralled the kids. Stamping their passport for the first time and getting them involved in a conversation about Christmas to suss out if they’d been nice enough to meet Santa – and sure enough the kids were all invited to meet the big guy himself who enjoyed having a chat with them all and was happy to let us snap away lots of pictures. One of the good elf’s captured a family picture for us all too.

After our Santa meet the kids were given free reign to choose their own gifts from Santa’s toy shop and there were lots of different toys to choose from – all surprisingly good quality for a grotto and each managed to find something they loved before we moved on to complete our passport stamps.

Upstairs in the play barn the party rooms have been beautifully transformed in to different workshops – our first was a glitter heaven and each of the children were invited to get crafty with their own wooden decorations. Our elves were on hand to help with every step and fully prepared with all the colours and supplies they needed to achieve their stamp.

The upper soft play pitch has been turned in to a faux snow ball fight zone – with white balls and balloons everywhere this is a lovely zone for a high octane snowball tournament or a sensory moment for little ones to soak up the lights colours and textures. We had a little play and earnt another passport stamp before we checked out my personal favourite room – the gingerbread bakery.

The staging for this room wouldn’t be out of place in one of the garden centres we’ve visited recently, the attention to detail is brilliant and the kids were invited to pop on their aprons and get busy with some sweets and icing to decorate their own gingerbread cookies. Again our elves were very attentive and made sure every child had a lovely experience and a fabulous cookie to take home (or munch on).

My sister and I got a little bit emotional with the kids writing their letters to Santa, it’s the first time they’ve really been able to write their own letters – Arlo asked for robots and bakugans, Lincoln asked for a scooter and Paloma just wrote to say “I love you, from Paloma” – they spent so much time writing neatly before posting letters.

In between all of the activities we managed to head out to see the animals – Arlo asked a very patient elf the name of every single small animal and put her to the test – Rocket the Guinea pig was a firm fave and he decided to name the baby chicks after Santa’s reindeer – and then ran out of names so then we had Rudolph 2, 3, 4, 5…. You get the picture!

Downstairs at Honey Pots we opted for a couple of portions of chips and a toastie meal deal – there was quite a variety of different food options including hot/cold and lots of great looking cakes too. The kids ran around the indoor soft play for a while and then we ventured to the picnic barn with the big slides and the inflatables – we practically had this space to ourselves and spent a good hour running around like loons before the cold defeated us and we went inside.

Ham and cheese toastie meal deal from Honey Potts

Our passport had one final activity left to complete so we went to find out what the story was all about and found a movie screen with hay bales and blankets set up for a viewing of a mischievous elf story featuring many characters we had met throughout the day. It was at this point we realised we hadn’t been outdoors and absolutely needed to find the zip wire and bouncing pillow.

As the sun set we had the outdoor area to ourselves and had one final hurrah with some role play in the fire engines before we said our goodbyes to the elves and the cattle who were turning in for the night. I genuinely can’t recommend this experience highly enough. It was a fabulous day throughout and the team at the farm were working so hard to make sure every child had a magical time. The place has everything you need to capture that Christmas spirit and get you feeling festive.

Xmas at the farm is available to book until Christmas Eve – peak and off peak pricing applies – check out their website here for more information.

Our tickets today were provided for the purposes of review however as always all thought and opinions expressed are our own

Panto’s back – Oh Yes it is!!! Beauty and the Beast at The Belgrade – review

Beauty and the Beast at the Belgrade Theatre in Coventry is the must see panto experience in the Midlands this winter. Be transported to the town of Middle Widdle on the Piddle (somewhere near to – but not quite Nuneaton) for a few hours of silly fun with Billy, his mum Dolly Mix, alongside Maurice, Grub and of course the stars of the show Beauty and the Beast alongside a dance troupe who perform as gremlin waiters, skeletons and villagers as well as an Olympic mop team!

Bought to the Belgrade by Imagine theatre, a production company run by husband and wife team Steve and Sarah Boden, Beauty and the Beast is a sheer delight for its entire three hours running time. There was so much jam packed in to this performance we have far too many highlights to share but I have to say that we really did have a wonderful experience full of belly laughs – it was obvious just how happy the cast were to be treading the boards once more and this feeling was echoed by the audience in the auditorium.

We visited for a matinee performance: my mom, Arlo and my nephew Logan and each of us had our own favourite moments from the show so I can truly say that there’s something for everyone and it’s a real family friendly panto.

The sets were beautiful with all manner of small details adding to the enchantment of the story. As we entered the theatre the stage was set with the castles on each side and between acts the props and sets changed swiftly to immerse us in to the middle of the action. The same level of attention to detail was apparent in the costumes – and none more so than in the extravagant outfits worn by Dame Dolly Mix, played by Iain Lauchlan, whose mere stage presence had us in fits of giggles. Lots of cheeky innuendos kept the grown ups amused throughout the performance, Logan smirked throughout all the cheeky toilet humour and Arlo kept asking me if the flying saucer fascinator was real.

My mom’s favourite scene of the entire show consisted of Dame Dolly Mix with a fork, alongside Grub with a fish, Billy with a Bucket of water and Maurice with a blonde wig. I can’t even begin to explain what was going on, but we really appreciated the intricacy of the choreography and how challenging this must have been to perform – Arlo’s was sat beside me squealing with laughter as Billy managed to get poked in the bum and slapped with a wet fish! This skit bought the house down and rightly so – brilliant comedic timing!

Arlo’s favourite moment was the scene where the wolves managed to outsmart Billy and his mom – every child was out of their seats exclaiming “he’s behind you” and it was just so thrilling at that moment to look around as a parent and see so many children at panto for the first time and relishing in every moment. I found it quite emotional, and then when Beauty (Ruby Eva) and the Beast danced together to Iris by the Goo Goo dolls it sent me over the edge and I held my breath. I remember being four or five and seeing the Disney movie for the first time and being mesmerised – and for a moment I was experiencing those same feelings. The music chosen for the show really was spot on and had us all clapping along.

The one tune which has stayed with us all afternoon is “Soapy Soapy” (to the tune of Hokey Cokey) – a fabulous slapstick scene where poor Maurice (Peter Watts) was stripped down to his pants in the name of comedy. He did marvellously in this non speaking scene, where the stage was set with a huge sheet and Dolly and Billy went to town with bubbles and mops – it was chaos on the stage and had me laughing with tears rolling down my cheeks …. I also have to give a mention to the Beyoncé style moves from Maurice during the “best song in the entire show!” Great comic timing – it’s such a shame his character got thrown to the wolves in the end.

Honestly I could rave about this show all day – Arlo’s fallen asleep talking to me about mop stealing “naughty nickers” and said he had the best time ever. Thank you for inviting us to the show – Beauty and the Beast is running at The Belgrade until 4th Jan 2022 – good luck to the troupe for the rest of this run – next years panto will be Jack and the Beanstalk – we can’t wait to come back and see you again!

Give the gift of Adventure this Christmas – Moms in the West Midlands recommend!

This year has been the year the world opened back up again and we really made the most of exploring some new places, we’ve listened to our friends suggestions and had some wonderful experiences all across the Midlands and so we thought we would recap some favourites and invite some friends, other moms (and no that’s not a typo) in the West Midlands to also share their recommendations for family friendly places to visit across the Midlands all year round.

All of these awesome places offer annual passes which are a great gift idea, and offer excellent value for money if you visit a few times throughout the year plus membership often includes perks such as free parking and additional discounts – so without further a do let’s get right in to it:

The Botanical Gardens

Westbourne Rd, B15 3TR

We are personally recommending the Botanical Gardens. I have a single adult pass because under 5’s visit for free and a membership allows you to invite one guest to accompany you for free entry. Members also get the added bonus of free parking which saves £2 on every visit. An adults pass is £42 and family passes are £67 for the year.

We visit the gardens regularly throughout the year, enjoying the peaceful surroundings in the middle of the city. With tea rooms, two children’s play areas and of course the beautiful botanicals and glass houses there’s something new to explore with every visit. Our highlights this year include access to the dinosaur exhibit and some the live music events from the bandstand during the summer.

All things Wild

Station Rd, WR11 7QZ

The dinosaurs at All things Wild

Season passes valid all year from 1st Jan are £80 per person. Discounts for four or more multiple purchases apply. All things Wild is such a wonderful place to meet so many animals but the things which our Moms in the West Midlands seem to mention over and over again are the amazing mud kitchen, the barefoot walk and the dinosaur trail – if you have dinosaur mad little ones this is a place they will repeatedly ask to visit. There are many different outdoor play areas and there’s a fabulous indoor play area here too which makes this a great all year round place to visit.

Warwick Castle

CV34 4QU

Warwick Castle (Brummie Mummie Amy)

Brummie Mummie Amy recommends Warwick Castle. With three children ranging from toddlers to pre -teens Amy recommends this as a great day out for the entire family. Their gold pass comes in at £65 and we agree that this is an amazing annual pass offer. This membership gives members year round access to the castle, gardens and grounds and Warwick Castle hosts so many fantastic events throughout the year this represents excellent value for money as a single day ticket is £16- so even if you only visit once in each school holiday you’re already saving money.

Members receive perks such as discounts in store, restaurants and on overnight stays in the knights village, complimentary parking and exclusive offers to special events and exclusive experiences.

Merlin Passes

Various locations throughout the UK

Legoland Windsor (Moms in the West Midlands)

Merlin passes had to be mentioned. These passes are perhaps one of the more expensive available but have such a huge variety of big names Family attractions under one pass it’s worth exploring – with local venues such as Warwick Castle, the Sealife Centre and Legoland Discovery there’s plenty to explore a stones throw from the Midlands.

Alton Towers – recommended by Kiri.mumto2leiversboys

Of course if you like to chase big adventures then the pass also entitles holders to visit some of the UK’s best attractions such as Alton Towers (recommended by Kiri , Thorpe Park, the Blackpool tower and so much more. Even if you created a bucket list and only went out as a family once a month you’re bound to make savings – options include a monthly direct debit to spread the cost and members receive way too many perks for me to list.

Cotswold Wildlife Park

Ox18 4JJ

The Cotswold Wildlife Park

If you ever wondered what it was like to see a rhino living the highlife then this is the place to visit, it’s almost surreal seeing them graze in front of the glorious house. This independent park is home to some one of the UK’s largest zoological collections and a fabulous day out for all. We love the magnificent play area and the variety of animals to visit. Adult annual passes are £78 and kids 3 and up £55 with family options also available.

National Trust

Various locations throughout the UK

At £78 for one adult and kids or £128 for two adults and kids this pass is one which has had so many mentions. The National trust hosts over 500 venues across the country and so if you like to travel and find new places rather than return to the same place then this is one for you. Attractions include gardens, houses and parks – many of which have historical and cultural significance. National Trust members receive perks such as free parking and a handbook which is a useful guide to all of the different places you can visit.

The Grand Theatre

Lichfield street WV1 1DE

Something a little different here – purchasing a friends of the grand theatre pass for a loved one entitles them to exclusive priority booking and discounted tickets alongside invitations to exclusive events.

West Midlands Safari Park

Spring Grove, DY12 1LF

The Ice Age at West Midlands Safari Park (Moms in the West Midlands)

Moms in the West Midlands founder Sangeeta recommends the Safari Park – annual passes are £70 for adults and £50 for kids aged 3-15. As always members receive exclusive benefits including discounts in retail shops, restaurants, theme park wrist bands and more. Annual pass holders also get one free trip to Midlands theme Park Drayton Manor too so this membership offers the potential for great savings.

Giraffes on Safari (Mumof4_lifewithliz)

WMSP hosts various seasonal events including at Christmas and Halloween – during the summer opening hours are extended so you can really make the most of it. Our Safari highlights include the Ice and and Dinosaur exhibitions – not to mention the brand new route of the drive through Safari a 2-3 hour self drive experience which takes you across the plains of Africa and beyond with excellent views across the Severn Valley to enjoy too.

Lorikeet feeding (Mumof4_lifewithliz)

Arley Arboretum

Lion Lane, DY12 1SQ

For the most scenic views across the valley then a walk through Arley Arboretum is highly recommended by all. An annual pass is £30 for adults and £15 for kids. Highlights at the Arboretum for us include the fairy garden, the maze and the awesome Easter trails hosted every year. My top tip would be to check out the cafe for seasonal treats and delicious hot chocolate.

Bodenham Arboretum

Bodenham Lane, DY11 5TB

Another beautiful treasure of the midlands is this beautiful Arboretum with its five pool walk. Memberships begin at a similar £30 for adults and £20 for kids with family options also available. Bodenham hosts the most glorious winter trails and the annual pass also entitles you to visit the Living rainforest in Berkshire and Batsford Arboretum in Gloucester. Arlo’s favourite experiences at Bodenham include the working farm you can visit right in the middle of the woods, and feeding the fish in the lake because they come right to the surface.

Park Hall Farm

Park Hall, SY11 4AS

Twelve month memberships available at £48 with families of four at a reduced rate. Based in Shropshire this is another delightful day out with animals to visit, play areas to explore and our favourite – the barrel train ride. Members also receive a discounted Santa experience too.

Birmingham Museums

Various locations

We are all incredibly proud of our city and our diverse history and thriving culture. The Birmingham Museums collectively have eight different places to explore across the region and membership gets you unlimited year round access to all of these places – Thinktank in the heart of the city centre is home to the immersive mini Brum play village and the science garden and I think the pass is worth it just to be able to visit on a regular basis. A family membership is £95, adults £35 and kids/concessions £30. Membership perks include discounts in cafes and shops as well as exclusive member events.

The eight Birmingham Museum attractions are: Sarehole Mill, Thinktank Science Museum, Blakesley Hall, Museum of the Jewellery Quarter, Soho House, Birmingham Museum and Art Gallery, Weoley Castle and of course Aston Hall

360 Play

Kingfisher Shopping Centre, B97 4EU

360 play Redditch (Brummie Mummie Amy)

When you’re stuck for something to do on a rainy day then soft play is the answer. We are lucky to have some awesome indoor playgrounds in and around Brum, and many of them offer annual passes. One of the most popular suggestions from our Moms in the West Midlands is 360 Play based in The Kingfisher Centre in Redditch. This fabulous area has its very own merry go round, a huge soft play frame to explore and immersive play experiences with props too.

A peak membership pass for a year is £95 (currently on offer for £70) and is for one adult and one child. The best bit about this is the adult can be different for each visit so you can send mum, dad, grandparents or a childminder. Membership perks include discounts on food and special event tickets.

Twycross Zoo

Burton Rd, CV9 3PX

Image credit: Brummie Mummie Amy

Another awesome animal based attraction in the Midlands is Twycross Zoo. Recommended by Rebecca from House of Stew and many other local mums, passes are for Adults £65 and kids £50. This year round pass entitles you to visit every day (except for Christmas Day) and includes special events such as Easter and Halloween. With hundreds of animals to meet, and awesome indoor and outdoor areas to explore this offers a fabulous family friendly day out.

Twycross Zoo (House of Stew)

I’ve shared a blog post before covering some of our favourite family friendly farms in the Midlands and it’s delightful that many of these offer annual passes. Highlights for us include:

Hatton Adventure World

Dark Lane, CV35 8XA

Exploring Hatton (Kayla_89_xo)

Reccomended by Kayla_89_xo and many other moms in the West Midlands, Membership for the farm is £96 for individuals with a variety of family pass options available at discounted rates. We love Hatton and it’s year round family friendly events – the indoor facilities including the animal barn and soft play make this a fabulous place to visit whatever the weather and an added bonus is the beautiful surroundings and the shopping village with its array of stores to explore.

·         Unlimited entry to Hatton Adventure World all year round

·         Entry to Snorty’s Superslide Mania indoor soft play

·         3 members newsletters every year full of exciting news

·         Exclusive Members offer vouchers 3 times a year

·         Invitations to 3 exclusive members events at the Adventure World

·         Discounts on children’s birthday parties and Laser Combat parties at Hatton

·         Discounted entry to meet Father Christmas

· Complimentary and exclusive Hatton calendar every year

Birds of Prey experience at Hatton

Attwell Farm

Seafield Lane, B98 9DB

Attwell Farm is one of the places the kids request to visit most often for several reasons – recommended by Abby and Olivia Attwell Farm has the most awesome bouncing pillow and the “real” decommissioned fire engine. The kids always enjoy the huge soft play, sand pits, outdoor play areas and of course meeting and greeting the variety of farm animals too. As a grown up I can confirm that the cafe serves the most devious cakes and there’s always plenty of seating in the soft play which is an added bonus. Adult memberships £72 and kids £80.

Drayton Manor theme park and Zoo

Mile Oak, B78 3TW

Thomas Land at Drayton Manor (BrummyMummyDiaries)

Recommended by Hayley – Brummy Mummy Diaries, Just 40 mins drive from spaghetti junction, in Tamworth is Drayton Manor – home to 100 rides and attractions including Thomas Land and a zoo. With the annual pass you can visit whenever the park is open (check the website for closures) and enter seasonal events too. Family Pass for 4 people: £340 (£85pp) – Age 12+ £99pp – Age 4-11 £85pp – Age 2-3 £65pp and of course Under 2’s go free.

Members receive exclusive perks such as 20 £20 passes for family and friends to further share the gift of adventure as well as discounts to on site shops and restaurants, special events and hotels. Annual pass holders also receive a complimentary ticket to West Midlands Safari Park.

Dudley Zoo and Castle

Castle Hill, DY1 4QF

In the heart of Dudley is the famed zoo, the zoo itself features enclosures with the unusual Tecton architecture which attracts a mixed bag of opinions from visitors, especially as they offer a stark contract to the 11th century castle ruins – it’s unsurprising that the zoo has a protected status. Dudley zoo is a shining example of how attitudes towards conservation have grown over the years and the changes the zoo has experienced alongside its history are what makes us proud to have such a place on our doorstep. There’s such a wide variety of animals to meet, including some of the worlds rarest animals.

This annual pass is one which delivers the most value for money in the Midlands – adults £49 and kids £32 which offers unlimited entry for a year and you can also get a £15 annual parking pass too.

English Heritage

Various places throughout the UK

English Heritage is ideal for fans of historical architecture and for budding explorers. It’s most famed attraction is perhaps the beautifully mysterious Stone Henge but English Heritage proudly boasts over 400 attractions nationwide. Memberships start at £64 for one adult and up to six children. Perks include discounted entry to Warwick Castle and many other attractions as well as free parking and delivery of magazines and a members handbook.

Conkers

Rawdon Rd, DE12 6GA

Visiting Conkers – (House of Stew)

If you’re looking for the ultimate place for outdoor adventures then Conkers is it. Suggested by Rebecca – House of Stew – Membership is £18 for kids and £28 for adults with various family packages. Conkers is home to acres of woodland / forest to explore and has its very own ropes course which is great for an adrenaline rush. The barefoot walk is a highlight for a sensory experience and on rainy days there’s plenty of indoor activities to encounter too. We’ve visited so many times and still haven’t managed to experience everything Conkers has to offer. There something for all ages here to enjoy.

Ironbridge Museums

M54 J4 or 6 based on the attractions you wish to visit

Another place which has had so many nominations is the Iron Bridge Museums – with a family pass for one adult and up to four children costing £47 which gives you entry to all of the attractions including Blists Hill Victorian town. The iron bridge gorge itself is a world heritage site so well worth a visit.

Hawkstone Park Follies

Shrewsbury, SY4 5JY

The follies are open on selected dates throughout the year but a membership is still worthwhile as there’s so much to see and do. This is the kind of place to visit with your walking boots on and head out for a great hike so perfect for outdoor explorers and adventurers. This English Heritage attraction was one of the most visited landscapes in the 19th century but forgotten about and allowed to become overgrown until a huge project in the nineties set to restore it to its former glory. The views you can find at the follies and second to none and there are surprises to encounter throughout including a shell encrusted grotto, the Swiss bridge and gingerbread hall.

Black Country Living Museum

Tipton Rd, DY1 4SQ

If you’re looking for the best fish and chips in the midlands then the Black Country Museum is the place for you. This open air museum is where history comes to life, and it’s an experience quite unlike any other as buildings such as shops, houses and even a pub have been reconstructed to show what life was like for Black Country residents during the industrial revolution and beyond. They even host Peaky Blinders themed evenings and members of course receive discounts on special events, food, drink and additional tickets for friends and family alongside free parking. The best thing about a visit is the team of actors who do an excellent job of bringing the experience to life. It’s hard to explain but they have an awesome TikTok page you can visit to get a feel for the work they do.

Birmingham Wildlife and Conservation Centre

Pershore Rd, B5 7RL

Affectionately known by locals as “the nature centre” which was it’s name many moons ago, it’s hard to believe that such a lovely variety of animals lives behind the fence along the Pershore road, adjacent to Cannon Hill Park. A family season ticket is £86 (two adults and three children). This season ticket grants you year round access – highlights include the red pandas, the new pair of otters Charlie and Ceri, and the reptile house which is home to all manner of creatures. The conservation centre has its own cafe with an indoor play area too which is a bonus for rainy days and ideal for little ones.

Weston Park

Weston Under Lizard, TF11 8LE

A family pass for Weston park is £75, or for individual adults £30. This stately home is unlike any other in that nothing is “out of bounds” so you can bring a football, or take the kids bikes and scooters along to enjoy the space. The woodland adventure playground is one of the kids favourite play areas to visit, and members can also enjoy discounted (or free) entry to many events throughout the year including festive experiences and the summer fiesta.

Trentham Gardens

Stone Rd, ST4 8JG

Membership to Trentham has its perks – such as early entry – so members can arrive an hour before everyone else and priority ticket purchase for special events. You can also bring along family and friends at a 20% discount. The year round fairy trail at Threntham is one of the best trails in the Midlands to explore with beautiful sculptures around the gardens and then Trentham Gardens always hosts excellent trails for Easter too. We love visiting to walk around the vast lake which hosts many water sports and we can’t wait to come back next year and take a trip on the Miss Elisabeth boat and maybe bring our fishing rods for a quiet afternoon of fun.

Monkey Forest

Trentham Estate, ST12 9HR

Monkey Forest (mumof4_lifewithliz)

A stones throw from Trentham gardens is monkey forest – adults passes are £30 and kids £22. Liz from mumof4_lifewithliz has recommended this attraction and so we are avidly waiting for the announcement of the beginning of the 2022 season. Members not only get to visit throughout the opening season but also can few proud that memberships contribute to the valuable conservation efforts Monkey Forest is making.

If you have any top tips which you think local mums would be interested in hearing about, or if you’re a local business and want to be featured then please get in touch – we can’t wait to hear about your amazing adventures!!

The enchanted garden at Webbs of Wychbold – review

Quite possibly the most beautiful festive experience I’ve ever had. It’s impossible to describe just how magical the light trail around the riverside gardens is but I will do my best – my pictures do not do this justice at all. Arlo at age four was enthralled throughout and I was left feeling quite emotional and overwhelmed by the environment, especially when we walked through the woodland path and found a rainbow bridge having recently lost our pet cat.

We usually visit Santa at the grotto Webbs Garden Centres – this event is entirely new and the attention to detail the team have put in to decorating the gardens is truly remarkable, it’s a beautiful place to visit anyway but this is something else. There are the most beautiful light installations throughout, with different themed areas and displays to happen upon, and lights placed in some of the best places to also showcase the beauty of the gardens themselves. Plenty of different spots to pause for festive family photos.

I highly recommend this to families looking for a festive experience. Arlo is four and so found them entire hour we spent in the gardens magical – he recognised the stories behind the gingerbread man and the Jack and the bean stalk displays but his favourite element was the woodland walk with all the different animals. The entire experience took us about an hour.

The theme is based on fairy tales you will instantly recognise with large books throughout featuring popular quotes. The entire garden is filled with Christmas music and sound effects as you walk around I’m not sure if they’re on a loop or there are motion sensors as each display had its own unique sounds. We heard “fe fi fo fum” as we passed the giant and ran across the bridge as we heard a troll.

If you’re familiar with the gardens you’ll know exactly what I mean when I say that Santa is near to the hobbit house, in a purpose built hut, and he was lovely and chatty with Arlo, reminding him of course to be good and to leave him a mince pie on the big day. Just before we turned the corner to greet him snow machines were bursting out flakes from their spots hidden in the trees and Arlo gasped in amazement.

The important info:
adults £16 / kids £10 / under twos free off peak (£18/£12 through December) book here

Suitable for prams and wheelchairs throughout as the entire route is on pathways

Open from 4.30pm. And this was just right for us as it began to get dark as we entered.

There are lanterns to purchase at the beginning £3 each or two for £5

A little hot chocolate hut in the middle selling some festive treats like candy canes etc.

There is a pop up marquee at the end with a toasty fire, drinks and snacks to purchase. Arlo had a kids hotdog and chips and I drooled at the red velvet cake.

You greet Santa near the end of the experience, you don’t book, just have a little chat as you pass by his hut and of course take some pictures – his elf gives the little ones a set of stickers and a badge.

There are also the Hygge pods close by to book for a special treat £25 per head for a festive afternoon tea and Prosecco (minimum four people)

Of course the garden centre is open too and worth popping in just to see the displays inside and make some festive purchases. Arlo loves the sing along snowmen right at the entrance. Webbs of Wychbold is the place to visit to invi tree the festive spirit in for 2021.

The haunted castle – Warwick Castle at Halloween

We love all things spooky – Halloween is bigger than Christmas in this household and so we jumped at the chance to attend a press day at Warwick Castle at the launch of their Halloween extravaganza. With all sorts of spooky attractions there’s great fun for all the family to enjoy with the castle providing the perfect backdrop to events.

We arrived before lunch time on a crisp Autumn day and were given our map and information about new events attractions for the half term and so spent a little time checking this out, planning our day and deciding which way to walk – there’s a handy app to download with all of this information and we booked some of the free attractions using the app but the team are abandoning this process for a walk up process.

So first things first – the boys wanted to see the Falconers Quest. This is the birds of prey show which takes place on the lawns at the back of the castle in front of the boat house and I have to say as a bird fan, it’s truly magnificent to behold. The show is the most exciting bird show I have ever been lucky enough to see with a sound system playing out an immersive story about the quest of a young man who dreams of working at the castle and has to prove himself. The birds swoop overhead throughout to the delight of the audience and I can’t put into words how breathtaking this experience truly is.

As the show finished we ambled up the lawn and to the castle – taking a rather backwards route and we quickly started to notice some strange happenings. With a headless horseman standing proudly in the shadow of the keep Arlo was quickly immersed in to Halloween mode. The team of animators working in the grounds really made the day special – we found that wearing costumes helped us to stand out and that they all wanted to engage in conversations about how to find the horseman’s head and who could have possibly cut it off.

On the lawn at intervals throughout the day were troll hunting and spell casting sessions held by more characters which delighted the children who gathered around to wave swords and wands around frantically. Arlo’s four so was just the right age for this and nothing was too “spooky” for him. We sat at nearby picnic tables to enjoy our packed lunch but noticed families around us enjoying pizzas from a street food stall which smelt amazing. There are various outlets dotted around for food and hot drinks.

In the courtyard grounds of the castle was “dead centre stage” and all long day various performances kept the crowd entertained – from puppets to a ghoulish disco and more. There was plenty of bench seating available for us to sit down and enjoy the shows – most of the time the kids were jumping around at the front and enjoying the music accompanied by ghoulish knights and ladies. It was here Arlo met the court Jester who I have to say was the kindest soul we met all day and he really took the time to engage with all the children who were shrieking with delight.

We went and walked along the castle ramparts to take in the views – this isn’t for the faint hearted because the spiral staircases and dizzying heights combined with the spooky Halloween vibe do send shivers down your spine but we felt proud (and somewhat relieved) to have made it!

Upstairs down scares was set up in the main Castle. I’ve done lots of scary mazes at various attractions so had a little idea of what to expect but for Arlo this was a first. The team who set this event up must have had so much fun coming up with concepts for each room, and again a fabulous team of actors and animators entertained us with more spooky humour which was pitched just right for kids – apart from the final room and jump scare with ghosts which had me screaming and running for the doors. I’d avoid this one if you have kids who are easily scared. I won’t ruin the surprises with pictures, it will take about fifteen to twenty minutes to wander around through the rooms and enjoy the experience.

The witches tower was the attraction which was in highest demand. There was no filming allowed for this experience which was truly unique – essentially an immersive story time for little ones with “Nightshade” the witch telling us all about her plans to turn a prince in to a frog and then getting us involved in the trouble. Again the attention to detail with the staging of the entire tower experience, from decor running up the stair well to the props in the entrance was magnificent – there was something spooky to spot everywhere you looked and I admire the creativity.

The Warwick witches are just fabulous. Staying in character seamlessly and pausing for photos with every single person who asked whilst also managing the entrance to the attraction. There are so many awesome opportunities to take pictures at the Castle that I’ll be sharing Halloween content for days. I’m not sure they expected a mid thirties witch to join the queue of five year olds in fancy dress but I felt right at home next to the cauldron!

Thank you so much to the team at White Tiger PR for inviting us again to enjoy this experience – we had a great time and highly recommend the Castle at Halloween for families looking to book a spooky adventure and also enjoy a full day out. We managed to clock up 14,000 steps through the day and didn’t leave until 5pm. There’s also a whole host of castle after dark experiences to book and of course the grounds and usual exhibits to explore and enjoy too.

Warwick Castle, Warwick, Warwickshire, CV34 6AH
The Haunted Castle runs from 23 -31 October 2021, from 10am to 5pm daily and features over 20 spellbinding shows and attractions.
www.warwick-castle.com, 01926 406610
Day tickets from £26 per person (3+).

Children under three receive free entry.
Visitors can download the Warwick Castle app to see showtimes and a detailed map to make visits even easier

What’s new Pussycat – a review

I have waited so long to be back in the audience of a live show. I’ve been a lifelong fan of the theatre and have a memory box full of programmes from performances I have seen, so when The Rep got in touch and asked me to come along to a preview showing of “what’s new pussycat” I was delighted.

Picture the scene: it’s 1965 and London is swinging. Tom Jones our protagonist arrives from Somerset trying to prove himself in order to woo the love of his life Mary. He arrives in Carnaby Street and quickly becomes part of the scene and then Mary arrives, not looking for him but ready to establish herself as the next big fashion designer – cleverly modelled on Mary Quant.

This love story, interwoven with hysterical plot lines which had the audience laughing out loud is interwoven beautifully with the music and lyrics of Tom Jones. written by Tony Award winning Joe Di Pietro, I am awed by how seamlessly the plot worked with the songs. My favourite moments were seeing how some of the most famed tunes such as “Delilah” and “Leave your hat on” were performed in “unique” ways which will have you wiping away tears of laughter

During the performance there were so many fun moments, all set in a time of tumultuous change. We can laugh now at genders roles being reversed, and there’s a running theme of female empowerment and the smashing of the patriarchy which is a theme still so relevant to all of us – the rapturous audience applause this evening given in support of one of the characters coming out of the closet was something really special.

Did I mention that the show is choreographed by the one and only Arlene Phillips? The talent of the entire cast was showcased with many different solo opportunities and seamless transitions between sets which cleverly paid attention to detail. From the costumes and props to the backdrops, there were so many hidden treasures to spot throughout for the pop culture and fashion of this era. I didn’t realise how much of a fan of the sixties I was.

Me this evening during the interval

I highly recommend booking to see this show – tickets start from £17.50 and are available to order online now for performances up until 14th November

The Rep is undergoing a refurbishment of the foyer area so allow a little extra time for your arrival. Interval drinks can also be pre-ordered.

The map of wonders

The team at Map of Wonders reached out recently and asked if we would like to review one of their maps. Of course we jumped at the chance, we live going on adventures and often end up in a random corner of the U.K. looking forward something fun to make the most of the trip. We have been lucky enough to explore most of the South Coast, from Kent to Dorset and have also ventured in to Wales too, but there’s so much we haven’t done.

The map arrived swiftly via postal delivery and at first glance it looked like a ‘normal’ OS map folded up neatly in to a handy travel size. I started getting nostalgic Duke of Edinburgh memories one flooding back but before I could even take a decent picture of the cover my little sidekick came along and decided he wanted to open it out. The map folded out swiftly and I could barely see Arlo behind it.

He started pointing out features on the map with its wonderful coloured illustrations of all sorts of different U.K. based tourist attraction and he was determined to pack up the car and head out to tick something off the bucket list straight away, but I managed to convince him to come inside and do some proper planning.

I haven’t been everywhere yet but it’s on my list

Arlo was quick to point out some of the smallest details, from animals which showed the location of zoos and wildlife parks to the awesome Waterfall. Arlo shouted at the top of his lungs that this was his waterfall… “remember mommy… that’s my waterfall… we went there the other day” – in actual fact we were in the Brecon Beacons last June and yes he did manage to walk behind a magnificent waterfall on an early morning trek outdoors.

The map is full of features, and there’s a useful key to demonstrate the type of attractions available. One thing we will certainly use this for is planning rest stops. We often end up pausing half way between locations to break up long car journeys, and like to venture a little further than a motorway service station. We tend to end up in places we haven’t researched as we are so focused on our destination and so this map will come in very handy in helping us find more fabulous adventures.

As always, I tend to catalogue our adventures with my blog and sharing photos on social media. One unique feature I love about the map is that the reverse side can be coloured in. My hope is that we can sit together after each adventure and colour in areas of the map we have visited, and turn this map in to a much treasured family keepsake. There’s some must see places to tick off the bucket list and lots of very useful family friendly advice. There’s over 1000 activities which will keep us busy!

I’m delighted to be able to offer you the opportunity to win your very own Map of Wonders. Just click the link below to enter. As always terms and conditions apply. This competition is free to enter. Closing date is October 31st at Midnight.

Products provided for the purposes of review by Strumpshaw, Tincleton & Giggleswick’s Marvellous Maps ~ marvellousmaps.com

Christmas is coming – family friendly Christmas activities in the Midlands

I can’t believe it’s September and I’ve skipped autumn, Halloween and all of the festivities and already begun planning ahead for Christmas. Last year we did manage to squeeze in some activities but just like everyone else, most of our plans were scuppered at the last minute and we were unable to participate in many of our family traditions. Every year at Christmas we love to gather together and share experiences. This usually begins with making our gingerbread village and doesn’t end until the last Christmas decorations have been taken down from the tree.

We have already booked in a few different activities and have found that so many people are excited to visit attractions and see live performances that tickets are selling out like hot cakes, so here’s a definitive list of some Midlands based family friendly days out to enjoy with your families this Christmas. As always please check websites and Facebook pages of each provider for the most up-to-date information / links provided are correct at time of publishing. Let’s make this year the best one ever!

1. The Polar Express

Based on the beautiful animated film starring Tom Hanks, which stormed its way in to the list of top Christmas movies of all time, there are several railways in and around the Midlands which offer immersive experiences. You can wear your pyjamas and transport your household directly in to the magic of Christmas on a magical train journey, sample a hot chocolate and maybe even meet the big guy in red yourself!

There are several places you can book which is bonus of living in the centre of the country – each railway creates its own magical experience and these tickets sell like hot cakes so keep an eye out of the social media pages and websites for re-releases and added dates :

❄️ Churnet Valley

❄️ Telford Steam Railway

❄️ The Severn Valley Railway

2. Christmas Lights

There is nothing more beautiful than seeing festive lights shine brightly as the nights draw in. I vividly recall the “light switch on” days of my childhood and now so many attractions in and around the Midlands host light trails with additional experiences to enjoy such as street food, craft markets and live music making the evening trips in winter worthwhile and enjoyable for all members of the family. Just remember to wrap up warm!

❄️ Warwick Castle – their festive light trail with the back drop of the castle is breathtaking. They host additional options such as stories with Santa for little believers to enjoy

❄️ Webbs of Wychbold are hosting a new light trail in their Riverside Gardens, and if last experiences of their grotto are anything to go by then this promises to be spectacular

❄️ The National Memorial Arboretum – from 7th to 18th December the arboretum will be illuminated with a kaleidoscope of colour after hours.

❄️ The Winter Glow in Malvern – Jingle the elf told me that this spectacular event with four attractions including an awesome ice rink and big wheel is not to be missed!

Festive Markets

There’s nothing more exciting than finding the perfect Christmas gifts for loved ones. I always find unique hand crafted treats from independent traders at street markets and tend to treat myself to sweet treats too. I like to try and visit as many different places as possible, especially smaller towns on the outskirts of the Midlands for a traditional expensive and these events really do make me feel festive.

❄️ The big one is back – Birmingham is hosting its famed Frankfurt Market once more and I couldn’t be more excited

❄️ Stratford Upon Avon – for a glorious Victorian themed market 9th -12th December

❄️ Worcester – their awesome market returns once more to bring festivities to town.

Theatre

Visiting the theatre at Christmas is a much loved family tradition , I have missed live performance so much this last eighteen months that I’m keen to squeeze in as many trips as possible. From Pantomime to ballet and everything in between, theatres across the Midlands all have some special events lined up, we are spoilt for choice with some awesome venues and shows this year.

❄️ The Stick Man – Julia Donaldsons much loved story is touring the Midlands with a special Performance at the Town Hall on Boxing Day

❄️Alice inWonderland – at the Old Rep until 17th December

❄️ The Snowman – hosted by Carrot Productions touring nationally and in Coventry on 23rd December

Something Different

❄️ The North Pole Experience in Nottingham at Thoresby Park is a new immersive family experience.

❄️ Winter Wonderland at the Midlands Snow Dome for thrill seekers and adventurers

❄️ Santa Safari – at West Midlands Safari Park for animal lovers what better place is there to meet Santa and have a fabulous day out?

It’s officially less than a hundred days to go until Christmas and so it’s okay to start playing Mariah Carey and looking forward to all of the festive fun!

Why beach huts are a Staycation Gamechanger

For those of us without our own home swimming pool,surely the next best thing is a trip to the beach! How convenient then, would it be to have your very own indoor space whilst you’re there? Over 20,000 British beach hut owners have prioritised exactly that. A creation that mimics all the home comforts you could need, is literally a short walk across the sand. 

 

What is a Beach Hut?

 

Essentially a beach hut is a glorified shed that sits in a row with others permanently along the coast line. Beach huts can be used for all manner of things from storing wetsuits, to hosting a table and chairs to eat at, to shelter from the rain or for making a cuppa after your swim in the sea. 

 

Where Do Beach Huts Come From?

 

Despite most people thinking that beach huts were originally thought up in Victorian times, the concept of a portable ‘room’ or ‘bathing machine’ as they were known actually began in the 1700s. 

 

Prior to that the only folk who spent time at the seaside were generally fishermen, smugglers and pirates. 

Thanks to new medical advice that sea swimming was inherently good for you, people began visiting the beach and recognising how enjoyable it could be too.

 

The early bathing machines were essentially a horse drawn shed, deliberately portable so that bathers could travel from the top of the beach down into the sea and retaining their modesty whilst taking their naked dip.

 

Famously, King George III insisted that his own ‘medical bath’ would need not only the bathing machine but also a full quartet playing ‘God Save the King’ whilst doing so. 

 

By the time Queen Victoria was in power, visits to the beach and swimming in the sea in general was widely acceptable, but men and women would be kept separate. Queen Victoria had her very own beach hut built at Osbourne House in her beloved Isle of Wight in the 1840s.

 

By the 1900s, both sexes bathing together, along with wearing swimwear, had become the norm. That meant there was no longer a need for bathing machines to be moveable, and so the static beach huts we know and love today were born. 

 

Since then, demand has steadily risen for beach huts. No less so than during the pandemic, as Brits got accustomed to the potential loveliness and ease of a staycation. 

 

Quintessential Britishness

 

These picture-perfect mini houses by the sea are not just the ideal choice for a convenient, low maintenance staycation.

 

They’ve become a statement of personal expression too. 

 

The smartest pastel-hues to the vibrant paint-box beach huts are just the outsides.

Inside, they’re often fitted out to allow for all kinds of enjoyments, from comfortable beach sleep-overs tocharming summer evening dinner parties, with the sea air and sound of the tides setting the scene.

 

The Cost of a Beach Hut

 

These apparently unassuming huts are fast becoming one of the most desirable retro getaway opportunities.

 

So as you’d expect, the increased demand plus the modification of beach huts means a rise in prices too.  

 

Whilst back in 1980 you could buy your very ownbeach hut for just £100, in 2021 it’s feasible to pay awhopping £300,000 for a ‘high end’ luxury beach. 

 

Expensive Bournemouth, Brighton or Christchurch in the sunnier south or Wells-Next-The-Sea and Southwold on the spectacular east coast are some of the most desirable locations, which all ooze the unique andchilled, pure British ambience. 

 

Denisons, a specialist estate agents in the Christchurch area, confirm that prices have increased by 10% or so over the last year. 

 

In fact, of the 400 or so beach huts in Christchurch, Denisons tend to sell approximately five annually – sothe waiting lists can be long. 

 

Bearing in mind that the average UK property price is approximately £230,000, these prices are very steep, but beach hut converts wouldn’t change their lifestyle for a thing. 

 

In fact these low-maintenance little homes tend to remain in families for generations.

Unexpected Luxury

 

Traditional beach huts are usually made of timber, each with its own individual colour theme and modern or retro styling. 

 

The most beautiful can include sea-view decking, a barbeque or even a hot tub outside… but it’s on the inside that the 21st century has made the biggest impression. 

 

Some incorporate two, or even three-level living. Cosy mezzanine bedrooms, Wi-Fi, fully equipped solar-powered kitchen, hot water, toilet and maybe a cosy wood-burner and sofa, are all encased within classic whitewashed walls and wooden floorboards. 

Perhaps the ultimate luxury vision has been achieved by specialist architects Jak Studio. 

 

The Spy Glass beach hut at Eastbourne, combines nostalgia for this iconic symbol of Britishness, with a completely new physical form.  

 

Incredibly, the whole structure sits on a sleek timber turntable, allowing it to be rotated at will to track the movements of the sun. Owners can literally switch between the sand and the pier as their backdrop of choice!

 

Of course not all of our beach-life aspirations run so high. 

 

In many cases the beach hut contains little more than a set of deckchairs and the ubiquitous kettle and a game of boules. A simple yet charming way of bringing the whole family together at the beach, making the special memories that will last a lifetime.

 

The Beach Hut Checklist

 

Thinking about buying your own beach hut?

 

Be sure to check out all the facilities, such as car parking, bathroom availability, power sources (which may be solar or calor gas) and standpipes – remember there will be no mains water, and beach hut life is essentially camping with benefits!

 

It’s also wise to consider whether local facilities will be adequate when the sun does decide to disappear – cafes and restaurants, cinemas and play centres, zoos and castles are all worth investigating.

 

As they are outside, beach huts can of course be liable to erosion, flooding and even vandalism – so insurance is a must. A specialist company such as TL Risk Solutions, can provide comprehensive beach hut cover, with annual premiums from around £150 up to £400 or more.

 

Maintenance should be minimal, but it’s sensible to budget for a repaint every three or four years too.

 

Beach hut owners are effectively renting land from the local council, and this will incur an annual licensing charge that can reach £2,500 a year. 

 

Thoroughly investigate any additional local authority restrictions, for example around daytime-use only of beach huts, whether access to the beach itself is seasonal or year round, whether dogs are allowed, and whether the all-important barbecue will be permitted!

 

Remember that there may be options to rent out your beach hut at times when you just can’t get away. Rental is often by the day or week, and may be managed with a minimum of fuss by a local agent. Prices achieved will of course vary with location and facilities – from £1,375 a week for a three-bedroom, chalet-style beach hut in Tresco, Isles of Scilly, to £150 a week for a traditional wooden hut at Alum Chine, Bournemouth.

2021 may be the year of the staycation – but British beach huts have the style, situation and sheer ease of lifestyle which can be enjoyed for a lifetime.