Sarah and Duck at the outdoor amphitheater

The Mac has done it again. Our first experience of live theatre in over a year was simply delightful. We were transported in to the whimsical world of Sarah and Duck, the BAFTA award winning children’s show for an hour on a summer afternoon. The setting for this performance is the outdoor amphitheatre at the MAC in Cannon Hill park which is just perfect because you can meet ducks before and after the show walking around the pools in the park. Click here to book your tickets this weekend.

Just before the show started we had the chance to read a book we bought from the merchandise on offer which included several of the story books and of course plushie versions of Sarah and Duck themselves.

The performance features all of the much loved characters recognisable from the books and tv show, even the flamingo and they’re all bought to life through skilled puppetry, designed by Lauren McEwen. Seeing how the stage props came together was magical in itself, turning the construction of the big top circus in to a song and seeing it spring in to life was like watching masterful design in action. The attention to detail was incredible and nothing went unnoticed by Arlo. Transforming the stage set in to a zoo to meet the penguins, and then back to the big top after a huge gust of wind blew it over, and then back to the park bench was masterful.

The show was engaging throughout, set at just the right pace for pre-schoolers. Continued repetition of words and phrases, sing along moments, a and audience participation kept Arlo occupied and interested in the storyline. I’m surprised at just how many references to the show the writers Pete Glanville and Sarah Gomes-Harris managed to include. If you love Sarah and Duck then you’ll know what I mean when I say the moon and the ribbon sisters were spot on!

The Mac always hosts great performances and the opportunity to experience a show in the amphitheatre doesn’t come around often, so head over this weekend – the performance is outdoors so be prepared with sun cream and/or waterproofs as it’s so unpredictable.

The Sarah and Duck show is on tour so head to their website to check out if they’re coming to your town.

Ten children’s farms worth visiting in the Midlands

Are you looking for childrens farms in the West Midlands? Here’s a selection of some of our favourite places to visit farm animals in and around Birmingham.

1. Attwell Farm Park

Attwell Farm Park is relatively new on the scene but it’s been a favourite of ours for a while. A beautiful farm park in Worcestershire. There are the usual range of farm animals to meet and greet outdoors and in their huge barn, plus there’s a cow shed and a barn outdoors with smaller animals such as bunnies and pigmy goats. The reason Arlo loves Attwell Farm Park is because of the extras, they have a huge bouncing pillow, a decommissioned fire engine and a newly revamped outdoor play area – plus indoor soft play, ride on tractors and a giant sandpit in the play barn. A small on-site cafe serves a delicious array of well priced snacks too.

2. Umberslade Farm

Umberslade farm was one of the first we ever visited. They host animal talks throughout the day which are announced with a ringing bell. The farmyard pigs have the funniest names and the barn is home to lambs and calves which you can feed at the right time of year. My personal favourite is the shire horses, whereas Arlo loves the ponies because he had a trekking experience (book separately) as a Christmas treat last year. They have a wonderful indoor play area which is made from natural wood and a brillInt outdoor park area with climbing frames for all ages. The on-site cafe serves food and hot drinks too. Make sure you head out past the duck pond to greet the chickens and say hello to Curly Sue, Umberslade Farms oldest pig. If you fancy a long walk the Estate has very scenic views.

3. Hatton Country World

This is one of the more expensive family farm days out in the Midlands but it’s a worth visiting, especially around Easter time when it’s lambing season and all the baby chicks are around to meet too. When it comes to animals there’s no shortage of creatures, with snakes lizards and exotic animals as well as the usual farmyard animals. My favourite event is the sheep grand national which is thoroughly enjoyable to watch, and Arlo loves the bird of prey shows and experiences.

Hatton is also home to a shopping village and hosts regular events such as the drive in movies and arts and crafts faulted throughout the year.

4. Oak Tree children’s Farm

Oak Tree farm in Walsall is a low cost alternative, it’s £3 for a little bucket of animal food, it’s the kind of place to spend a couple of hours on a quiet afternoon, with a small play area and plenty of room for a picnic and treats from the cafe available.

5. Forge Mill Farm

This little farmyard is based on the Sandwell Valley site and is just that, a small yard with the usual farm animals but in the most beautiful Victorian setting. Adults entry is just £2, kids £1.50 and under 2’s are free. You can buy bags of animal food for under £1 and wander around as many times as you like. We like to spend about an hour here before trekking across the bridge and around Sandwell Valley Country Park and the Swan Lake.

6. Bodenham Arboretum

Okay so this isn’t a place where the children’s farm is the main attraction, but in the middle of the grounds there’s a working farm yard and so you can enjoy a lovely wander around the pools and through the “deep dark woods” before meeting the cows, chickens and donkeys and heading back towards the main pool to spot the fish and ducks.

7. Rays Farm

This is a little further out for us but a wonderful place to explore. The goat pen is a must – if you crouch down they will jump on your back. Rays farm has owls and a giant sandpit but the feature which sets Rays Farm apart is the woodland walk, which features the most beautiful wooden fairytale sculptures and is one of the best places for bluebells and wild garlic in the Spring.

8. Little Owl Farm

In Stourport this farm has one of our favourite petting experiences with the chicks and guinea pigs and have the friendliest and most patient teams. They have an indoor play area, cafe and all important ride on tractor too.

9. All Things Wild

Not just a farm, if you’re needing a full day out with more animals than you can date to dream of then this is the ideal place. Their dinosaur field alone is better than the WMSP exhibition. (Disclaimer: the dinosaurs aren’t real)

They have two outdoor play areas, an indoor soft play and the “biggest and bestest” mud kitchen ever! (According to Arlo). My favourite however is the barefoot Walk.

10. Sedgley Adventure Centre

This is the place to visit for forest fun, a whole new area to explore for outdoor lovers, and the main attraction is mini golf surrounded by Animals which you can pet. It’s quite a surreal experience I must admit but so much fun to be had. This isn’t a huge place to explore but great for a couple of hours.

We hope you find your own fabulous adventures, share your experiences with us on social media by tagging us on Instagram or Facebook and if you have any more suggestions let us know and we can add them to the blog!

For days out under £10 click here and for my guide to parks in Birmingham great for nature lovers click here

Visiting the Confetti Fields

This blog is going to be full of pictures, and I’m not even going to apologise for it.

The confetti fields have become some what of an Instagram sensation of recent years because of course it’s so beautiful everyone wants to get themselves the perfect new profile picture (including me). I first visited with Arlo’s as a baby and the sight of the vast spread of Delphiniums in all sorts of colours overwhelmed me. I wasn’t prepared, but of Course baby Arlo had 2/3 spare outfits in the bag and so we had a little photo shoot in the glorious sunshine.

If you’ve never heard of the Confetti fields, they’re owned by The Real Flower Petal confetti Company which is based in Wick, just past Pershore (a village worth visiting on its own merit) in the Midlands. The company makes wedding confetti from Delphinium Flowers which is of course a fabulous environmentally friendly product and as a side hustle, which has become a viral social media sensation, the company began opening up its fields for visitors to capture the flowers in full bloom just before the harvest.

This of course occurs for a short time and varies year to year based on weather conditions. Now this not so secret place has become a number one spot for photo opportunities and so when tickets are released they sell out fast – at this time of writing there are opportunities to visit but please check the website.

So the practical things to consider when visiting: this place is a field and as such is bumpy and muddy in places so you need to be prepared for this. Pack sturdy shoes, try a baby carrier if you want to walk down through the flowers as a pram won’t fit. The company provides portaloos and has a small pop up cafe which sells cake, ice cream and coffee’s – I strongly suggest bringing a picnic and a blanket to make the most of your time here. Arlo managed to find a fab spot to rest and enjoy his chocolate brownie.

The delphiniums really are the star of the show and as we visited on opening weekend we were met with an array of colour, you can see the potential in these flowers to bloom even brighter over the next few weeks of summer with buds waiting to burst all over. This year however we spotted a wildflower meadow as we arrived which was worth pausing to explore and photograph. If you’re planning on posting your pictures to Instagram then the best place to find the best hashtags is Catherine’s article here from her blog, The Growing Family. Get all these beautiful photographs out for the world to see.

This year due to social distancing restrictions the tickets were checked by the team upon entrance to the car park, which was a really efficient way to manage things and avoiding any long queues just to get in to the field. We had an arrival time and it was suggested to spend two hours at the fields to help maintain number levels and make it fair for everyone. This was plenty of time to walk in and around the fields twice and zig zag off the beaten paths too.

At various vantage spots around the fields props have been carefully placed, from haybales to the lookout tower and a vintage tractor and bus, there’s so many views to capture it’s impossible. In fact I put my phone away for half an hour just to enjoy myself and the atmosphere.

We played hide and seek together and raced along the back straight of the field where we met the team members working hard and driving back and forth to pick flowers and load them on to the wagon for sale at the exit. Everyone we met working seemed happy, and how could you not be surrounded by such beauty?

Arlo is a lover of nature and constantly outdoors, so he was in his element and I snapped away capturing him enjoying himself, and we watched from a distance as professional photographers set up shoots with models and extravagant costumes. (I think he was convinced that the fairies were real).

One thing I did do was pack a magnifying glass, an egg box and a scavenger hunt resource for him to play with – and he literally lay down in the ditches to greet all creatures great and small – he didn’t stay clean for long but I didn’t mind as he was having a great time. If you’re planning to visit to get some pictures then it’s worth considering what kinds of things will keep the kids busy and enjoying the day as we spotted a lot of disgruntled kids on our walk around.

As we left the field I chose to purchase two bouquets, one for us at home and one for nanny – Arlo wanted to carry the gift proudly but the bunch was bigger than him – at £10 these are extremely reasonably priced, cut fresh and hand tied by a team working at out in the middle of the fields all day.

On our way back to the car we decided to head over to the wildflower meadow and Arlo ran off miles ahead. He was most impressed with the ladybirds and bees in this area, not to mention that this field had the “whole rainbow of colours.”

The confetti fields are only open until 4th July this year so head over to their website to book

Think Tank at Millennium Point

Finally one of Arlo’s favourite places to visit in Birmingham has re-opened and we were delighted to be given press tickets to visit and explore this weekend. Navigating around the ever changing roadworks in the city centre was a nightmare but eventually we found the car park and arrived at five minutes before our ticket time. The entrance is within the millennium point complex which is also hosting a vaccination clinic and so the main entrance is now on the ground floor.

We’ve been learning all about space and the solar system and so our new Grogu plushie came along with us and Luckily we managed to book slots for a planetarium show- we chose “the little star that could.” (slots are very limited due to social distancing so plan ahead for this). As soon as we finished checking in which was a simple process, we began to follow the one way system which was marked out with unmissable red arrows, and we head out to explore the ground floor.

This space has some awesome machines. Of course Arlo is a bit too little to pause to read the signs and understand all of the science behind the installations but he enjoyed it none the less. With life size train engines and cars, not to mention fully functioning pistons and various interactive displays with buttons to press this was a fantastic place to start exploring. There’s really something for everyone here, and on previous visits his grandparents have enjoyed the tram, which they recall from when it actually ran in and around Birmingham.

We took the stairs up to the first floor which gave us an awesome view of the spitfire which hangs in mid air. The spitfire was manufactured in the city and it makes me proud to see exhibits which not only help to give kids a science lesson but also help deliver a bit of local history too. It’s great that the exhibitions feature so many different points of interaction and it gave me great pleasure to see Arlo enjoying new things over a year after our last trip. I feel as though we could return time and time again and learn something new.

There’s more to see on this floor, which focuses on science and Industry with a huge collection of exhibits. There’s so much space at ThinkTank we had no trouble social distancing and I noticed that the team were very present wearing gloves and cleaning the interactive displays regularly. Arlo wanted to touch everything, from changing tyres to rewiring robots. There’s so many screens activated with buttons which offer short informative clips relating to exhibits this it’s impossible to cover it all in a day.

The new our changing planet instillation was a space which Arlo really enjoyed on the next floor. I think it’s aimed more at older children in terms of educational value but the visuals really intrigued him. He’s been learning about “trash” and recycling at nursery and talks about this a lot at home so looking at the display about plastics opened up a valuable discussion opportunity.

There was more to explore on this floor, with huge displays detailing everything you need to know about the human body – from digestion – where to help push food along to the stomach before finding out about the contents of large intestines and colon and pressing a button to make a fabulous splash and flush noise. Each exhibit includes different sensory opportunities, designed to be interacted with. This was spot on for Arlo’s age and we spent a lot of time on this floor, because there’s more to see.

Arlo remembered the animals and ran around this display enough times to make me feel dizzy. By this point he had got the hang of the arrows and I found that they have been arranged in the most useful way to take you through the exhibitions. This floor is also where the gift shop is. I must say that gift shops are usually my worst part of the day but Thinktank has a wonderful selection of bits and bobs. Plenty of toys with educational value, beautiful books and pocket money toys which don’t break the bank. I even asked if I could come and visit the shop (thinking of birthday gifts) without having to pay entry and they said yes!

The top floor takes us up to Mini Brum which is easily Arlo’s favourite place. It’s a fully immersive role play for kids, with areas for construction, a doctors surgery, a cafe, post office, super market, mechanics, train station and so much more. Each space is built with little people in mind and inspires imaginative play. I personally would pay to come to ThinkTank just to visit this space with a toddler. Again this space had a queue system entry to allow for distancing and the team were constantly cleaning toys and equipment without intruding.

At some point in the day, about four hours after we arrived Arlo decided that he was feeling peckish and we we went back down to the ground floor and enjoyed table service at the cafe. I ordered an adults hot dog meal at £7 and a kids snack pack which had a sandwich, a carton of juice and other bits he could choose including cheese and grapes for £4.95. Service was efficient – mid meal I had to stop to rush Arlo to the loos and the lovely team helped us find the nearest ones and get back to our table with no problems at all. During the meal Arlo noticed other children playing outdoors in the garden.

The science garden is one of Birmingham’s best outdoor spaces for little ones – you won’t find a traditional play area here – every single apparatus delivers a science lesson and buckets of fun, although if you have a child like Arlo you might want to take a change of clothes as the water tables are bound to be splashed about in.

This fascinating structure captured his attention for such a long time, the frame has a series of different mechanisms – pulleys, winches and wheels to be turned which when played with cycle a series of balls around the frame, and as the balls move around they hit bells making noises. It sounds really simple, looks really complex and it made the cogs in Arlo’s brain turn.

At our booked time slot we made our way back up to the top floor with our snack of dehydrated space food to visit the Planetarium. Tickets are £2.59 and there were several different shows on throughout the day. We watched a 25 minute show about a little star, an average star with no name as he journeyed through the universe – we eventually discovered was our sun and had an introduction to various different types of stats and all of the planets in our solar system too.

Arlo really enjoyed the show, it was his first experience inside an auditorium post lockdown so I wasn’t sure if he would sit through, but it was pitched at just the right level for his age. He’s obsessed with all things space related and so to come out of the planetarium and explore the exhibits with the Mars rover and a full size spacesuit was slightly overwhelming for him.

Then by the time we got to the interactive robots he could barely contain his excitement, he ran from screen to screen pressing buttons to make the displays light up and spring in to life. Once we had explored every floor I asked Arlo if he wanted to go home but he wanted to go back and revisit some of the spaces again, and so we went up and down in the lift – of course back to the digestive system to listen to the toilet splash once more.

Tickets to ThinkTank are bookable online, adults £14, kids £10.25 and under threes go free.

Tinktank is open Wednesday to Sunday, 10am-5pm. (During May half-term the museum is open 7 days 10am – 5pm)

Visitors can become a member of Birmingham Museums and get 12 months free entry to Thinktank Science Museum, plus other amazing museums in Birmingham!

Thinktank is part of Birmingham Museums Trust, a charity that cares for the city’s collection of over 1 million objects and artworks across nine venues, bringing people’s stories alive through exhibitions, special events and activities. All proceeds from your visit to Thinktank, help Birmingham Museums Trust continue to educate, inspire and entertain! 

All things Wild

Yesterday we visited All things Wild, a family attraction based near Evesham in Worcester. I have nothing but positive feedback for this place as we had such a wonderful time yesterday and we can’t wait to revisit. Of course yesterday the sun shone down and for the first time in forever we were wandering around in our t shorts for most of the day which certainly helped matters as of course everything is outdoors at the moment and the indoor attractions are closed.

This however had no impact on us as there was so much to do. When we arrived at our pre booked arrival time slot we were greeted by a friendly attendant at a small outdoor kiosk, and Arlo was given a wrist band to enter. The first thing he spotted was a fabulous wooden play area, and he would have been happy to run around this all day but as soon as he spotted the enclosure behind with meerkats and porcupines he realised that there were animals to see and off he ran.

The grounds are marked out in a one way system with arrows and no entry signs which makes it easy to wander around, and at various points there are short cuts so that you can skip around and get to your favourite places. I think yesterday we went around three times in total. At first Arlo ran around at speed just wanting to see everything and then when we got back to the beginning he said he wanted to go back to various places.

So where to begin? Just past the first few animal enclosures which are all beautifully maintained with healthy and happy animals we went through to a huge meadow, lawn and second play park area. This location of the grounds had everything, from a mud kitchen of childhood dreams, to a barefoot trail, musical instruments, a go kart track, mini golf and more. I did notice that throughout there were plenty of hand washing and sanitising spots and notices to politely ask guests to take only ten minutes at each area. With so much to see and do this isn’t a challenge.

Just beyond the open field there is a nature trail with some magnificent bug houses to explore and of course Arlo took his time wandering around here with big houses great and small along the route, plus all manner of sculptures, and informative signs to read. There are worksheets for trails you can print from the website in advance of your visit as around the site there are stamps to collect and so many things to spot.

Just after the nature trail we found the entrance to invite us to step back through time. I knew that this was a dinosaur attraction but I was not prepared for just how wonderful this would be and neither was Arlo. As soon as we got to the bend in this woodland path and could see the field ahead of us full of enormous dinosaur sculptures we were in awe.

I can’t even describe how excited Arlo was, he of course can identify all sorts of dinosaurs but we came across some new ones to add to his encyclopaedic knowledge.

Each dinosaur had a very handy sign with how to pronounce its name and more information about each creature. We also spotted interactive prompts throughout this area which were perfect for his age. “Can you stretch as tall as a diplodocus?”

There were Picnic benches and spaces spotted throughout the park providing plenty of room for families to picnic and maintain social distance, and it was a pleasure to greet so many families enjoying their days out on our travels. At the end of the dinosaur trail Arlo really enjoyed the play areas, mainly because they included lots of sand pits.

He was happy to clamber on board a real digger and then also play in a digger themed sand pit with a slide right beside it, placed in the shadow of a real army helicopter. It’s the stuff of his childhood dreams to see all of these things and get to look at them close up, and this is all before we properly had a chance to meet any animals. By this stage it was time for a snack and so we paused at the vintage bus shack for cold drinks and ice cream before setting off again.

Just behind the bus Arlo spotted some “creatures” and so it didn’t take long for us to set off again, following the one way system around a series of paddocks and enclosures. I was expecting children’s farm animals, and was more than happy to meet chickens and goats etc, but I wasn’t prepared to come across camels and zebras here too, never mind everything else!

The variety of animals All things Wild has to engage with is immense. Arlo didn’t know which way to look and was totally in his element as we ambled along at our own pace. Every so often Arlo would spot something new and run off ahead to investigate, the design of the enclosures is fantastic for little ones with viewing windows at just the right height throughout the park.

Most of this area has very wide paths and so people could pass by us safely as we took our time greeting all manner of creatures from parrots to monkeys, and again picnic benches spotted around for rest spots, by the end of the day I’d easily covered my 10,000 steps and more. The pathways are all flat so easy for strollers and pushchairs to navigate.

The farm yard walk through experience with the friendly goats was a highlight for Arlo as they crowded around us for attention, and he confidently stood right in the middle of them all. Then we went on to meet donkeys and a pony and bunnies – and we also spotted a lovely little collection of Fancy mice just like Bingo, Arlo’s mouse at home before coming to another hand washing station.

After this area we washed our hands after handling the animals and I was expecting to be back at the beginning again, but we turned left and went on another route, which took us through an Australian themed area with kangaroos, Emu’s and all sorts just before we came to the boundary line where there were more goats to greet along a beautiful trail, and just opposite some Rhea’s. Now Arlo knows the difference between a Rhea, an Ostrich and an Emu and will talk about this for an hour if you ask him.

We paused under the blossom trees beside this path to have another snack, but before I could pack up Arlo was off again as he spotted something in the distance, and he ran back to tell me he’d found some lemurs. I did spot signs here and back in the Australian yard for walk through animal attractions which are closed for the time being but this didn’t dampen our day at all, Arlo didn’t even notice and so the next time we get a chance to visit and I tell him he can walk through enclosure with parrots – he’s going to be beside himself.

We got back to the beginning after two hours and Arlo had another run around in the play park, and I got us some chips from the take away cafe (and I noticed an insane looking indoor soft play area behind some closed off screens). There were plenty of benches around the play park and two structures, one for the little ones and one for older children so Arlo enjoyed these for a while before coming over to tell me he wanted to see the dinosaurs again, and so off we went. The second time we wandered around the grounds we spotted so much more we’d missed out because there is just so much to see.

Arlo’s favourite spot was another sandpit which had a hidden dinosaur fossil to find. We’ve been making our own fossils with clay at home and it made his day to discover T Rex teeth.

There were swings and more sandpits and of course a second chance to visit the ice cream kiosk at this stage before heading back to see more animals. My personal favourite were the beavers, I don’t think I’ve seen any before and didn’t realise they were so big.

There was also a huge selection of birds and parrots Arlo took his time watching, especially because we found the parrots, with an African Grey just like Sam at home. We also spotted Macaws and Hawks in different spots and now we were mid afternoon some of the monkeys and other animals we didn’t spot earlier were out and about in their enclosures.

We were enjoying the warm weather and so for the remainder of the afternoon we wandered around again taking shortcuts and headed back to the meadow and play area, where Arlo became head chef of the mud kitchen. I watched him from a distance just enjoying himself and playing happily with other children also making the most of the sunshine and then we both took off our shoes and went along the barefoot walk together – a fabulous sensory experience.

We had such a wonderful time here and I honestly can’t recommend it highly enough. At the end of every day I ask Arlo what his favourite things were and last evening he told me “everything” before reeling off a list of animals. He eventually fell asleep in the car on the way home exhausted from our day and clutching on to his dinosaur toy purchased from the gift shop.

The tickets were £14 each – amazing value for money, car parking was free. There are toilet and hand washing facilities, a reasonably priced take away cafe at the main entrance, along with the ice cream kiosk and picnics are welcome. Even with the indoor attractions closed this makes for a fantastic day out and is now on the top of the list for recommendations of family days out in the Midlands.

The Zog Trail at Warwick Castle

We had a wonderful day out last week at Warwick Castle. The unpredictable weather we’ve been experiencing lately seemed to settle for one day and the sun shone down on us as we explored the castle grounds. I booked our tickets online in advance and the trail was included in the ticket price. If you aren’t familiar with the story, it’s a fabulous tale from the author of the Gruffalo. A dragon called Zog enrols at dragon school and the trail followed the book as he progresses through each school year.

Arlo is very familiar with the story and the backdrop of the castle emerged him right in to the magic of story telling. I packed a bag with our book and a stethoscope (if you know you know) and as soon as we arrived we were greeted at the castle entrance by lovely team members who gave us our trail passport to stamp throughout the grounds. You will require a face mask at the main entrance. The first year at dragon school Zog learns to fly.

This beautiful large sculpture greeted us very near to the main entrance and it was easy enough to figure out how the trail worked – with five different locations to represent the school years in the book all marked out with bright orange and blue bunting, so there’s no chance you can miss the locations in the grounds which are marked on the map. Everything is of course outdoors and so although there were little queues as families ahead of us were taking pictures, it was easy to maintain social distance, and this was the same throughout.

As we wandered down towards the castle we were greeted by a knight, and Arlo was in awe – we in fact met several characters dressed up as we wandered around the grounds and they were all fantastic, happy to pose for pictures but also really engaging with the children, bringing the magic and immersive experience to life. This particular knight noticed Arlo’s personalised clothing and so greeted him with a “good day sir Arlo” which delighted him.

The second and third parts of the trail were near to the horrible histories maze and so we spent a decent amount of time getting lost in World War One trenches and a Viking armoury before we even entered the castle courtyard. I think it’s fascinating for Arlo to have this kind of experience, I have a fondness for history myself and to see him connect the dots and realise that Viking’s are (or were) real and not just fiction is fabulous.

Back to the trail – the second and third locations were interactive – there are “stamping pads” in front of each exhibition display which Arlo was familiar with because at the Christmas light trail these were jumped on to change the colours of the lights in the castle grounds. This time the set for the second year of dragon school gave our delightful roars with a good stomp, and the third year display shot out water to put out the accidental fires. At each display area the story of the book was to be heard as it was read out over the tannoy system.

As we headed across to the Castle, Arlo spotted another Knight, on horseback and at this point he decided he wanted to be a knight too – and conveniently the first gift shop was just through the gates and so he got a sword, shield and helmet. I did notice that some families had come prepared and their kids were dressed up as knights for the outing (a great idea if you want to avoid the gift shops on the day). These accessories came in very handy when we went back to Dragon School.

The interior castle grounds are decked out with socially distanced bench seating and there are mobile catering units here serving all sorts of snacks and treats, so here was a good spot to pause for elevensies and to use the loos, before heading across to climb up on an adventure up the castle fortress. “Sir Arlo” led the way and as we got to the top we paused for a while to take in the scenic views which were stunning. Clearly a great spot for a castle, and there’s some interesting signs throughout this area which let you know all about the history of the castle.

I took so many pictures at the castle, how could you not?

Arlo stopped and looked over the grounds spotting a Zog trail location in the distance and so we ambled down and strolled across the river to learn to rescue a princess. I love that in the book gender stereotypes and the tradition of fairy tales having damsels in distress is turned upside down.

Princess Pearl in fact is a strong independent character and ends up helping Zog and so this children’s book has a fabulous twist to its plot. None the less it was fun seeing the adventure course set up at this area to practice princess rescuing with the backdrop of the magnificent castle.

After all of this hard work it was time for us to find a picnic spot, and so back across the bridge to the expansive lawns we found a grassy riverside spot just opposite the boathouse, and to our delight we spotted deer across the water popping in and out of view. There were more mobile catering units in this area available and plenty of space for families to spread out and enjoy the spring afternoon and scenic views.

Arlo tucked in to his packed lunch and we pulled out the story book to read it through and recap our adventures of the day so far. With one more year of dragon school left to complete he was hyped up to wander around and try to find Zog again.

We took the long route the grounds through pageant field and around to the peacock gardens, playing hide and seek around some of the most magnificent trees on our travels.

There were peacocks everywhere you looked in the gardens, you could hear them before you saw them. We were lucky enough to see them display their feathers proudly for us to take some pictures and they seemed to love the attention, either that or they were competing between themselves.

There is a lovely terrace here overlooking the gardens which is open for seated alcoholic drinks if you’re tempted, and you can also purchase takeaway ice creams, which Arlo spotted a mile off. There’s another toilet facility here just behind the building too.

Just around from the gardens the final year of dragon school is set up, on the lawn in the shadow of the castle fortress. At this location Sir Gadabout appears at appointed times to award students with their gold stars. To earn your badge and complete dragon school you have to engage in a game of Sir Gadabout says (just like Simon says). This is where Arlo’s sword and armour came in handy – there was plenty of up and down, point to the sky, kneeling etc for him to participate and he thoroughly enjoyed this part of the day.

Once you’ve earned your final stamp in your passport you can meet and greet a mascot Zog and show him your star and get a photo opportunity. Of course as it turns out the Princess doesn’t need rescuing, but you’ll have to read the book to find out how their adventures end. We spent the best part of five hours at the Castle enjoying the open space, having such a warm day made it all the more enjoyable, well worth the cost of ticket entry, which was £17 for adults and free for under threes.

Returning to the West Midlands Safari Park

Every day for the last three months Arlo has been asking to go to the Safari park – as annual pass holders we would visit regularly prior to lockdown and it’s quite literally one of his most favourite places to visit and so of course it had to be the first place we went to when the countries outdoor attractions re-opened on April 12th.

We always park up as soon as we arrive and head to the walk about areas when they are the quietest. You greet the penguins first thing and then can go and wander around the ice age and dinosaur exhibits. Arlo literally ran through these areas as if he was checking that everything was still in place, and I found myself sprinting to keep up with him. With not too many people around in the morning we had unrivalled fun.

Of course the indoor attractions such as the reptiles and lorikeets are closed but as we were graced with the sunshine we were happy to wander around outside, and ambled down to the far corners of the Safari park to greet the hippos and I bought Arlo a wrist band to enjoy some rides, he’s now over 1m tall and so can go on quite a few of the different rides. As an annual pass holder I get a Discount on these and so he went on his first roller coaster, and my personal favourite – the Log Flume.

This area of the park opens at 11am and we noticed that the drive through Safari was jam packed when we first arrived, but cars started to space out by noon and the park area was a lot busier, so we went against the grain and retraced our steps back to our car, pausing to get some lunch. I usually take a packed lunch but we fancied something warm and so I queued up for a takeaway chicken and chips, and we paused to eat before heading on Safari.

We were delighted to see so many of the giraffes out and about from the moment we entered the drive thru, there’s nothing quite like the sheer delight of seeing Arlo’s face as they lean down to the windows and peer in to see if you have any animal food. I highly recommend purchasing a pack or two upon arrival for this experience.

The roads were still busy as we drove around but we really enjoyed watching all of the animals who seemed to be living their best lives – I caught this rhino rolling around in the mud to cool off and Arlo thought this was hilarious. I did ask Arlo to tel me his cavities animal and he said “everything” – and started listing off all the different animals in the order we usually see them, but things have changed recently at the Safari Park.

The route has changed and there’s still some building works taking place around the new Safari lodge area, and so now the drive experience takes longer, we were in the car for around two and a half hours, and I expect this would take longer in the morning. So it’s a good idea to use the loos before you start, there’s a one way system at the block in the car park so even though it’s busy, it doesn’t take long.

As we went past the cheetahs Arlo was in full form, telling me all about how they’re the fastest animal in the world. At home over lockdown I’ve been filling the gaps by letting him watch David Attenborough and so he acted like a little tour guide, and was telling me things which I had to fact check on Google as we went around, but he’s always right!

My personal highlight was meeting Inesh the new baby rhino, we watched as his mum and another rhino were having a little bit of a confrontation and running around their paddock. I didn’t realise that rhinos could move that quickly and we ended up watching for a good fifteen minutes, before moving on to see more of the animals.

You know you’re near the end of the Safari when you come back to the African plains and are greeted by the zebras and the giraffes once more. Animals often congregate here as they know they will get fed by visitors and so it can create a little bit of a bottleneck but the park keepers do well to herd the animals around and make sure they aren’t blocking the traffic. There’s two lanes for cars all the way around the park and so you can use these lanes and pass cars if you want to.

After we had completed the drive experience we went back to the walk around areas, Arlo had an ice cream and we went back on some more rides and wandered right to the back of the area to find the children’s play park and the African Village. The park at the Safari is a lovely space for little ones, very bright and cheerful and with plenty of bench seating, toilets with baby change facilities and a take away coffee stall it’s a fab place to pause with little ones.

Before retracing our steps back through the park at home time we visited lemur woods, at this time in the early evening it was deserted and all of the lemurs were gathered near the main entrance, anticipating feeding time I think, and so we got to see them up close. Adults have to wear masks in this area and there’s hand sanitiser at the entrance and exit, and in fact throughout the park to use.

Arlo had an absolutely wonderful day and it felt, dare I say it “normal?” I have to praise the staff, who were all really friendly and acknowledged Arlo as he greeted everyone he encountered. He fell asleep in the car on the way home and just like that our first day out of lockdown was over. I’ll be renewing my annual pass so that we can visit regularly.

The Botanical Gardens

Now that spring has finally made an appearance there’s an abundance of colour bursting in to life at the Botanical Gardens. We have been visiting the gardens since the 1980’s when I was a little girl so trips to the gardens are always nostalgic for me. There’s some areas of the gardens which remain unchanged and every time we visit we find a new corner to explore. This is a great place for us to visit with grandma now that we are allowed to meet up outdoors.

The peacocks greeted us as soon as we arrived. After checking in at reception we took a sideways route straight to the corner of the gardens as the glass houses remain closed due to social distancing requirements, but on a bright spring morning we were happy to remain outdoors, and we began to walk along the footpath to the left towards the bird houses.

An array of feathered friends could be heard chirruping from across the lawn as Arlo was delighted to make the acquaintance of a Macaw and a cockatoo, running around the bird houses several times and calling us to show us new birds he spotted each time.

The peacock seemed to follow us around and stood proud admiring the topiary bush of himself from the aviary and then appearing suddenly in flower beds as we wandered around.

We followed the paths around the circumference of the gardens, through a woodland walk and down to the school gardens which appears have just been replanted with vegetables. The butterfly house area right down the bottom was closed off but we did see freshly prepared beds ready for planting and so I expect this area will be in full bloom come summer time.

The “secret pool” at the bottom of the woodland walk and fern trail was a hub of activity for some blackbirds and Arlo enjoyed bug hunting amongst the roots of some of the more established trees, and this was the only area we encountered mud – most of the gardens are easy to explore with footpaths suitable for prams and strollers. There are some alternative little side paths to explore so it’s worth little ones wearing wellies.

We paused along the way for elevensies under a blossom tree. Throughout the gardens you can find peaceful rest stops like these benches but in busier areas such as the play area and main lawn seating areas are closed off for now to aid social distancing, it’s worth bringing along a picnic blanket for lunch on the lawns if you’re planning an all day visit.

We arrived early at about 10am and so we had the place to ourselves when we first arrived, lots of space for Arlo to enjoy being Arlo, we noticed pretty quickly that visitors arrived in droves and by the time we left the car park was full, but there’s plenty of space outdoors to explore.

We picked up a scavenger hunt trail from reception on our arrival and so Arlo was kept busy looking for different textures and nature finds throughout the gardens.

My absolute favourite spot is the pond which is abundant with fish, the magnolias scent was glorious and filled the air and we spent a while spotting goldfish and just enjoying the tranquility of this space. It’s hard to believe that you’re a stones throw from the city centre here.

The play area is another of our favourite areas, some of the spaces are sectioned off and Arlo was a little disappointed to not be able to play in the sand pit or on the big slides but I promised him we would roll down the grass lawns together so he didn’t remain downcast for long. We wandered up past the historical gardens and the fountain to find a brand new alpine rock area before heading to the promenade at the top of the lawns.

We had hot chocolates from the cafe hatch at the top of the gardens which is open for takeaways and then decided to do another circuit of the gardens taking a different route entirely, and chancing upon new spring blooms from different views. The gardens are well established here and there’s a huge variety of beautiful plants for garden fanatics to enjoy and so it’s ideal to visit with the grandparents.

We can’t wait to revisit in the summer when rainbows of flowers fill the space and hopefully live music will be able to go ahead, as planned. The restoration work on the bandstand has finally completed on and it’s looking absolutely beautiful at the moment. You must book online for visits to the gardens. Adults entry tickets are £6.00 and under 5’s are free. There is also a £2 charge for parking.

Cycling at Kingsbury Water Park

We had a wonderful afternoon at Kingsbury Water Park, we opted to hire bicycles to make sure we could see as much of the space as possible – and with fifteen different lakes and 600 acres to explore we will most certainly be coming back again.

The best bit about Kingsbury for Arlo was the play park area, and this is why we visited in the first place, as we had been visiting Middleton Hall just around the corner for the Easter trail. Kingsbury has one of the best play areas in the Midlands with multiple climbing frames to suit all ages – Arlo got a great chance to run around and whilst watching him from a safe distance I noticed Big Franks Cycle hire was open and so I went to enquire about hiring bikes on the spur of the moment.

You can hire bikes after filling in a short form and providing your driving licence as ID, there’s no need to book, but of course they are very busy and you might have to wait for a bike to become available – they have a range of different options, this three wheeled contraption with a seat and a safety buckle for Arlo was the machine of his dreams. He sat and enjoyed the high life taking in the views and munching on his snacks whilst I pedalled around the lakes.

There’s three different cycling routes you can take, the staff at the cycle hire were happy to give us advice and so we opted for route three, (the longest one) despite it being many years since I’ve ridden on a bike we were assured it would take us about an hour and this was spot on, even though we paused a few times an route to feed the ducks. The trails themselves were easy to cycle with surfaces paths throughout, all wide enough to pass walking families safely.

Whilst concentrating on cycling I couldn’t take many pictures along the way but the views were glorious even for an overcast day. We encountered people fishing and horse riding and we also passed alongside the Echills wood railway which is having some renovation work done whilst closed (due to distancing restrictions). I’ve promised Arlo we will come back and ride the train as soon as we can. Following the train route we found another fabulous adventure play park to explore at the end of a cycle trail and paused here for ice cream from the van and to meet some geese and moor hens.

It’s £4.50 to park at Kingsbury for the full day, the cafe is open at the moment for takeaway food and the toilet facilities are also open and you can purchase a day fishing permit from the visitor centre. Check out the Facebook page for the most up to date visitor information.

The bicycle I chose was £14 to hire for an hour. There are various different bicycles at different prices to hire for varying lengths of time.