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! 

A return to sports clubs

When I was on maternity leave I signed Arlo up to every baby group I possibly could. Originally because this gave me the chance to connect with parents of babies the same age. It gave us a routine and something to do every day, as being away from work meant that I thirsted for social interaction. We began with baby massage and baby sensory groups, and with every short session we went to, practitioners taught me about the benefits of their particular specialities and how to put in to practice techniques learnt during the classes to continue at home.

Playing with coloured ribbons on a wooden loop helped him learn to track movement with his eyes and focus on different colours and textures. It was an opportunity for us to bond. These types of groups basically taught me how to be a parent, hints and tips such as how to rub the tummy of a constipated baby were invaluable and I still share the things I learnt now with other parents who are struggling with the same issues. Many parents will tell you about the benefits of sports clubs for children.

The first official sports club I signed Arlo up to was swimming lessons, with a franchise called Water Babies, from twelve weeks old he was visiting the pool. Some people thought I was crazy taking him to a lesson where the teacher would “dunk him under the water” but this was the highlight of his week. Of course they don’t throw babies in at the deep end on day one, the structure of the lessons is aligned to chapters which build skills in the water and by the time Arlo was one he could roll from his tummy to his back, and clamber out of a pool safely himself – he was super confident in the water. This in turn made bath time at home a fun experience too.

As a group of no more than half a dozen children in a lovely heated pool the lessons would focus on taking turns to do things like duck under water and go through hoops with the instructor, and when Arlo was a little bit older end with a group activity where Arlo would be balanced on a float with his peers and the parents would sing “jelly on a plate” and wobble the float and then all the little ones would all splash with delight in to the water together. With the heatwave last year over lockdown it was fabulous to be able to get a paddling pool in the garden and see him have so much fun.

Arlo could swim before he could walk – as soon as he began to find his feet I started to take him to gymnastics groups. He was always a little whirlwind and as soon as he learned to put one foot in front of the other he was running rings around me, and I had to baby proof the entire house. Gymnastics club gave him a chance to find his centre of gravity safely. Each lesson began with a sing along group activity and then “free play” on the apparatus – he would crawl across balance beams and loved running across bounce mats which wobbled beneath him. As one of the youngest in the group he would imitate the older more experienced children and try to follow and copy them to develop new tricks. I see him put these skills in to practice when he’s in a play park and jumping off equipment.

Arlo’s favourite thing at gymnastics was the trampolines and so we joined another toddler bounce group. This was a wild 45 minutes of jumping, and it amazed me how well behaved the entire group of children was. Listening to instructions and taking it it turns, making sure they were jumping in the right places and helping each other as they clambered up and down. I was most grateful for the exhaustion, Arlo used to come out from these groups, eat a banana and then fall asleep for his nap. He still runs around like a loose canon but he’s got balancing skills, and seems to be able to find his centre of gravity and be very self aware.

Football was a whole new adventure.

This was the first sports club where Arlo had to have a kit to match all the other children and he found this hilarious. Like swimming, the course was structured in to a progressive skills dynamic. Each lesson focused on play based group activities – colour sorting cones, fetching all the balls and returning them to coach, and taking it in turns to shoot penalties. Every lesson a player was given the weekly trophy to take home and at the end of every six weeks his squad would have a little ceremony and receive badges and a certificate.

At two years old the transition from maternity leave to work was smooth because Arlo had no problems heading to nursery, being so used to other children and structured activities he was confident and happy with the new environments. Our clubs and groups gave us a weekly routine, a way of spending quality time together at the weekends and he would relate Saturdays to football, waking up first thing, rolling out of bed asking if it was Saturday yet then rummaging around for his kit and rushing me out of the front door. Then lockdown happened.

I didn’t appreciate our sports clubs and groups until suddenly we were all on our own and all groups and activities were cancelled. It’s true what they say, you don’t appreciate what you’ve got until it’s gone. Our routine was up in the air and Arlo really missed his friends and clubs. Of course we made some amazing memories together over lockdown, and Arlo, now nearly four has amazed me with just how much he has grown in a year and how resistant he has been to all of the change. I did the best I could to encourage him to continue with his sports and we joined in with lots of online activities to try out at home.

I think Its safe to say that lockdown is very nearly over, I took Arlo to the pool for the first time last week. He dressed himself for the occasion and jumped right in as if he hadn’t missed out on a year. I stopped to have a socially distanced chat with another parent who remarked that he had no fear of the water and explained that she was struggling with her little one, who at the age of just over one year had never been to a swimming pool before. It made me so sad to think that there’s so many children who have missed out on the opportunity for the social interaction which comes through attending sports clubs and it’s made me realise now how important they are.

My advice to any parent would be to look out for local groups and activities, use social media to find out what’s on – most sports clubs have got children’s groups so it’s just a case of finding a club which is age appropriate – get in touch and ask to visit for a taster session. I’m signing Arlo up for rugby next, because he loves a bit of rough and tumble and he’s also suddenly become obsessed with ninjas(no idea where from) so I’m looking for a martial arts group to help him learn how to take a safe flying kick, and not from my sofa.

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.

Exploring Middleton Hall

This beautiful Manor House and it’s grounds is certainly worth a visit if you’re in the Midlands, it’s just around the corner from Kingsbury water park, and makes for a delightful couple of hours outdoors. The hall is currently closed due to covid restrictions but with spring in bloom there’s plenty to explore within the grounds. On our visit this week we were delighted to be able to complete the Easter egg trail.

With nine eggs to find Arlo was ready to explore the grounds. The beautiful lake which you are greeted with as you enter the drive way is a sight to behold and the backdrop to the gardens. Before we set off I paused to grab hot chocolates from the cafe which is offering. Takeaway service.

We started our egg hunting on the nature trail, following a path alongside the lake and were greeted with our first egg very quickly. Giant and brightly coloured they are easy to spot from a distance. Each egg had clues which we had to solve to find letters which were then unscrambled to receive a treat at the end of the trail. With a little bit of help from Mummy Arlo was able to spot the clues – I noticed that families were enjoying solving the clues together, with older children participating. Some of the puzzles had us adults scratching our heads!

Along the nature trail we also spotted lots of fairy doors and ladybugs hidden in the trees, Middleton Hall is going to be hosting a fairy trail soon if you don’t have time to head out this Easter – this gives us an excuse to return again another day. Once we were satisfied we’d found all the eggs along the nature trail (HINT – it’s worth heading right to the bottom of the trail) we retraced our steps back to the lawn, pausing to explore the bug hotels for inhabitants along the way.

The lakeside path took us through a beautiful orchard next, which was ablaze with daffodils. We wandered through the trees and found some more eggs and clues to tick off our list and pausing to take in the views across the lake and feed the ducks too. Arlo loves being outdoors and exploring, and he was absolutely thrilled to find a door to a “secret garden” not far from this spot.

The walled garden is on the verge of bursting in to colour, it’s fascinating to visit places like this several times a year to see how things grow and change and appreciate the effort which goes in to maintaining such a beautiful space. On one side of the garden there’s rows upon rows of flower beds and we found another egg and clue hidden in a corner. Arlo’s has been planting flowers at home and so he’s very interested in plants, flowers and all of the colours at the moment.

On the adjacent side of the walled space there’s a wonderful herb garden. We took our time here as the clue had us hunting around in the flower beds and whilst we were there we set about smelling the leaves of some of the more unusual herbs growing and having a little bit of a sensory experience too.

Once we solved this clue we had eight letters and were almost sure of the answer but had one last egg to find to complete the task and so Arlo ran off, hot on the trail because he’d spotted this one on the way in and then he proudly took his clue card across to the yard claim his prize, and he also got a sticker because he found a golden egg on his travels.

Middleton Hall is open from Wednesdays to Sundays to visit, adults tickets are £7 and under fives are free. Visits must be pre-booked online and the Easter trail is running up to the 11th April. Click the image below to head to the website.

You can also purchase plants and once restrictive lift visit the courtyard which has an array of small businesses hosted in the stables and a lovely new coffee shop too.

The Easter trail at Trentham Gardens

We have been out and about again today and this time our travels took us to Trentham Gardens, which are amongst the finest in Britain. A week ahead of Easter there has been a Beatrix Potter themed trail added to the grounds.

You can book online to visit the gardens. Tickets are £12 for adults and under 3’s are free. The Easter trail pamphlet is an additional £2.50 and can be exchanged at the end of the trail for a treat. We took the pre booked line at the entrance and avoided all of the queues, you do have to select an arrival slot time but if you’re early the ice cream shop is open and there’s also toilet facilities to use at the entrance.

Trentham Gardens site has a wealth of activities to participate in, we were given the winter and spring spotters guides and a historical one too, and it was fascinating to see the remains of Trentham Hall too. The extended site also includes a garden centre and a shopping village which will hopefully bounce back to life as soon as restrictions lift and with free parking this in itself is a grand day out, that’s without mentioning the monkey Forest and Tree Top Adventures (must be booked separately) which are also set to re-open shortly. There really is something for everyone here.

The extensive grounds at Trentham circulate the beautiful lake which has a mile long walk you can amble along at your leisure and there’s plenty to see and do. Arlo took along his own camera today and was busy capturing the ducks as well as spotting the infamous Jeremy Fisher along the trail.

The upper flower garden is where the majority of the Peter Rabbit trail was located so all of the markers can be found along paths which are easy to navigate with pushchairs, and it’s not too challenging for little ones. With such a vast area to explore we found that we had plenty of space and didn’t at feel like our social distancing was compromised. It feels as though spring is about to burst in to life with daffodils and early bulbs blooming to bring the first wave of colour through in the gardens.

Arlo was delighted to explore the display’s created for every single character, we were looking for letters on wooden eggs to complete a puzzle. He’s just starting to recognise letters and so as soon as he recognised a character from the books he ran ahead to find the “abc” for us. Then once he finished examining the displays he looked up to see the surroundings he would pause to catch his breath. The placements have been very carefully chosen with lots of open space and to take you around to some of the best corners of the gardens with great vantage points.

We also decided ahead to purchase the fairy trail pamphlet for an additional £2.50 – these permanent sculptures by a local artist are dotted around the gardens and the lake and you will encounter many of them if you keep your eyes peeled whilst looking for Peter Rabbit and friends. There is a one way system now around the gardens so some of these are harder to spot if you’re determined to finish the trail but this change helps the social distancing. Wanda the mermaid is a new addition and can be found basking in one of the fountains.

Hunka Munka the mouse was holding the last clue to find, and once we had all the letters we had to unscramble them to find a word to complete the trail. (I won’t post the answer spoiler.) The walk took us about an hour as we paused to feed the ducks in the stream and ambled slowly along and we then got the chance to play in the adventure park – the slide, maze and the barefoot walk remains closed but all of the other apparatus including the sandpit were available for Arlo and others to enjoy. We also went up behind the maze in to the open field where sheep were grazing just to say a quick hello.

We retraced our steps back to the lake and noticed that the Italian tea rooms were open to provide takeaway food and that there are also “pods” are being set up for family bookings which will provide fabulous views across the lake for afternoon tea. The toilet facilities here are also open. We sat and enjoyed our picnic and trail treats watching the nesting moorhens before continuing our casual stroll – I hardly noticed I’d achieved my 10,000 steps for the day.

We can’t wait to come back and visit as the seasons change, we want to finish the trail and visit monkey forest next time. I highly recommend Trentham Gardens as a Midlands based family friendly attraction. Click below to book.

Bodenham Arboretum

Bodenham has become another one of our most favourite outdoor places to explore, and is a hidden treasure of the Midlands. As you turn in to the main drive you’re greeted with a landscape of rolling hills and in spring time there’s plenty of lambs to see skipping in the fields.

The visitor centre is adjacent to the main pool, and it’s a sight to behold as you walk down from the car park you feel

As though you’ve totally escaped to the wild – I highly recommend purchasing duck food to scatter in to the water because you will meet swans, ducks, geese and also some giant fish at this first pool and there’s also a visitor centre / farm shop with takeaway food options and toilet facilities.

We usually choose to follow the five pool trail which takes you right around the edge of the grounds, through woodland and past (of course) five pools and the interconnected streams. There’s plenty to see along the route – which in its entirety is about 4km, but you can cut back to the main pool and visitor centre at any time.

Along the route there’s a huge variety of trees and plants to see, and some great open spaces with breathtaking views for miles over the open country side. As you head along the winding trail there’s something new to be found around every corner.

My favourite place is down in the valley alongside the stream where there’s a fabulous den and some logs across the water to balance on. It’s a great place to pause and when we have visited there has literally been no one around so it feels as though you’re totally alone. This is the spot where we usually end up reciting our favourite stories.

Bodenham is also home to a working farm which has a variety of animals, which during Spring time is a wonderful place to visit to see the lambs and calves. Of course this area is Arlo’s favourite place. You can cut short the woodland walks and head straight to the farmyard from the main pool, otherwise this area of the grounds is at the end of the five pool trail.

On the opposite side of the big pool there’s further extensive grounds to explore at your own pace. We found a hidden bridge to a small island which was a great picnic spot, a gazebo surrounded by daffodils and we also found the beginnings of another trail which we have earmarked to explore in our next visit. We can’t wait to see the beauty of spring emerge at the Arboretum.

To find out more, including visiting times and entrance fees head to their official website:

Entrance prices are £6.50 for adults and £3.50 for adults with free car parking. There’s no need to book. The toilets are open and basic food and drink is available for takeaway. The restaurant is however closed at the moment.

Cannock Chase and the Gruffalo Trail

Spring has sprung and the days are now mild enough to enjoy a walk in the great outdoors. Cannock Chase is one of my favourite places to visit for a wander and is great value – as all you really need to pay for is the car parking.

We usually park up near the visitor centre and there’s ample car parking as well as a small cafe and toilet facilities, plus a bike hire and the go ape course too. There’s several maps here on clear signs which showcase all of the different routes you can take. The gruffalo trail is a fairly short wander around the forest, no more than a mile and it starts and ends right near the car park. There’s plenty of grassy space along the route to pause for a picnic and there’s two play parks in this area too.

The familiar characters from the book are to be found along the route. It took us around an hour to walk around slowly through this area looking for them all, even without the official map, which can be purchased from the visitor centre when it’s open, along with a certificate and a worksheet with learning prompts. I’m not sure which child rearing definition my style of parenting falls in to but I like to think we can combine both adventure and education on our days out, make it all fun and ensure that Arlo is so exhausted he gets a good nights sleep.

We were delighted to have found all of the characters which linked to the book and Arlo wanted to continue to explore the woods and so we decided to head off along one of the woodland trails, and I was happy to follow his lead. Cannock Chase is ideal for cycling and walking – with different routes clearly signposted to suit casual wanderers like ourselves or those more serious about their exercise. In fact part of the chase is being updated to create trails for the 2022 Commonwealth games so it’s going to get even better.

Cannock chase walking trail route maps

Cannock chase walking trail route maps

We opted to take the Fair Oak trail which is signposted with green arrows. The valley and the pools are a haven for local wildlife and we took our time following the trail this afternoon, pausing to inspect animal burrows and to feed the ducks. This route also takes you along to the famed stepping stones, where you can cross the stream safely or opt for a little splash around.

The trails are surfaced and suitable for prams up to this point, so you can turn back here, or you can cross between the pools a little bit further on if you want to continue. There’s a couple of small inclines but the main thing to remember is that these trails are used by cyclists too, it’s a great place for little ones to gain confidence on two wheels.

Forestry England has gruffalo trails and woodland to explore up and down the country so it’s worth checking out to find out if there’s one nearby.