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.

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.

Pretty Fly – Butterfly Farm – Stratford Upon Avon

A Sunday afternoon visit to The butterfly Farm in Stratford upon Avon.

Arlo woke up at 6am this Sunday and had me playing and running around after him all morning. As per usual he started singing “old Mac Donald” so I packed him and our supplies in the car, planning to go to our local child’s farm but he fell asleep en route.

I decided to continue a couple of junctions up the motorway so that he could get his forty winks and turned off at Stratford thinking we could have a little wander around as it was such a lovely day – and I ended up heading to the sports club for parking.

We had a wander over the bridge to get a bite to eat (I can highly recommend The Cox Yard for lunch) before heading to the butterfly farm.

Entry is free for under 3’s and adults are £7.25. I decided to ditch the stroller and head through to the flight area on foot. I was quite surprised at Arlo’s reaction to all the butterflies -he was very interested but also cautious and unsure a first – he wasn’t keen when they landed on him or if they flew too close to his face.

The flight area is like a huge greenhouse full of plants and flowers which the butterflies must love, and every so often there’s a feeding table set up so you can get really close up to look at the colours.

We went through into two side rooms to look at the chrysalis collection – Arlo is way too young to understand the life cycle of a butterfly but for older children this could be a fab learning experience. Arlo watched with wonder as one emerged.

As we continued along the pathway, we encountered a waterfall area and a bridge – it 20p to purchase a handful of fish food from a little machine and Arlo stood blocking the pathway for half an hour as he spotted one of the biggest koi carp I’d ever seen. Butterflies kept landing on him and he was blissfully unaware, until this little one must have tickled him. He stood still so patiently without me having to say “gentle” so he’s finally learning to respect animals and not touch them.

In another side room there were some insects and other creatures to encounter – I won’t ruin the surprise if you plan to visit but don’t forget to look up! Arlo was fascinated with the fish and snakes and kept running back and forth to the tanks….. and then he spent quite a long time watching a dung beetle do its thing before rushing over to a frog and saying “fwwrog” for the first time.

As always you exit via the gift shop, so after a couple of hours we emerged into bright sunshine and Arlo chose a little wooden snake. We sat in the sensory garden outdoors and ate our snacks before bidding our farewell to the butterflies.

If you’re visiting the area it’s certainly a memorable experience to add to your trip – you wouldn’t spend a whole day there, but there is plenty to do in Stratford Upon Avon – you’re a couple of minutes walk away from the boating area, you can get an ice cream, feed the ducks and wander down to the markets in Stratford too. I’ve picked up some leaflets and hope to take Arlo for a theatre experience in the summer.

West Midlands Safari Park

This week we visited the safari park – Arlo is learning new sounds and animal names every day and we’re really keen to encourage this whilst he seems so interested.

The challenge is there’s only so many animals you can see on a day to day basis “in real life” and I’m getting a bit bored of ducks and dogs.

We do as much as we can in terms of books, toys and the dreaded you tube clips of animals but there’s nothing better than an in the flesh experience and the Safari Park is right on our doorstep!

(I designed and made this little busy bag for all the animal toys)

So off we went with a bag full of snacks for Arlo and two cartons of animal feed- and of course he was delighted – it was enough to be allowed to come to the front of the car – he found the radio volume control immediately, but then he realised that there were some huge animals wandering very close by. He kept pointing, and saying “look” – he soon figured out that the animal feed bought the animals closer so he kept reaching into the box to pass some over to daddy and was brave enough to try himself a couple of times.

The safari park itself is extremely well maintained. An adult entry ticket is £24 however this also entitled you to a free return visit. Under 3’s are free and I thought this was fairly reasonable.

After the safari experience we parked up and walked into the grounds, visited the dinosaur exhibition and saw the penguins – we fed the lorikeets (£1.50 for a cup of nectar).

There’s a full schedule of animal encounters in the grounds every half an hour – we went to feed the hippo’s some cabbage before Arlo fell asleep for his nap, so we will revisit to meet the meerkats and lemurs.

We’ve picked up quite a few new animals from the gift shop to put in our busy bag on the way home.

Arlo seems to absorb all of the information from a day trip and we do try to utilise the opportunity – At home we ask him “what noise does a tiger make” or “what colour is a tiger” and he tells us the answers and he is also able to identify and pick up animals we ask for from a selection of animals spread out. Now we’re working on separating a donkey from a zebra and trying to figure out different noises to make for all the big cats.