The Eden Project

What a beautiful place. This is a “must do” if you’re visiting Cornwall.

It’s hard to describe what it’s all about because the experience is so breathtaking, but to put it simply it’s a huge project set up in a reclaimed China clay pit with two huge biomes (large greenhouse type domes) and surrounded by an outdoor garden interspersed with art and informative exhibitions.

This is a huge tourist attraction, with clear road signs and directions as you approach, and plenty of car parking space. Be prepared to walk, the car parks are quite a way from the main entrance and the entire place covers a huge amount of space with uphill walks so strollers are a must for little legs.

Entry fee is quite expensive but have a look on the website in advance. I visited with my partner and my parents back in September so opted for a couples membership at £80 which entitles you to bring an adult guest each. By returning again within the year the visits have cost us £10 per adult each time which is more than reasonable for a full day out.

We arrived shortly after opening at 9.30 and it was fairly quiet, there are toilet facilities at the main entrance, as well as a cafe – and don’t forget to pick up a map and check out the daily schedule – or if you want to be eco friendly then photograph the maps to save paper.

It’s difficult to miss all of the different eco-friendly messages throughout the project, from recycling, to saving water and beyond. I won’t go into detail as all of the things you learn are part of the experience, and some of the fact and figures are quite surprising.

My favourite art installation is the giant bee – bee’s are crucial to the eco system, they pollinate flowers and over a third of our food flowers rely on this process, and our bee’s are under threat for a variety of reasons.

Outdoors, Arlo’s favourite area was the sensory garden. A walkthrough area full of herbs and aromatic plants – we spent a long time walking through, using our senses to explore with delight…. mint, lavender, wild garlic and all sorts is on display.

The clever garden design is split into zones, each reflecting a different part of the world, from allotments, to American prairies, so much thought has gone into this and it’s truly as authentic as you can get, because the team at Eden work with people from across the globe when installing…. which I’ll come onto later.

The main attractions are the biomes. You enter at the centre, between the two, where there is a huge two level atrium, with the ground floor hosting the Eden Kitchen with long wooden tables with benches which means there’s plenty of space for large families, and an amazing menu.

We watched the chef’s from above as they prepared the fresh food from early morning and after our walk through the biomes couldn’t resist the menus… jerk chicken for me (£9.50) and Arlo had marinated chicken wings, cassava fries and corn on the cob.

Kids food is very reasonably priced at £5.50 – our membership earned us a 10% discount. A lovely little touch is the provision of paper rolls at the table for cleaning sticky hands.

We decided to explore the Mediterranean biome first, which transports you right there, with all sorts of little details. The plants are of course the main feature, however the sculptures and installations add to the atmosphere, there’s also a beautiful pizza restaurant here too.

We were invited by a member of staff to join a free of charge toddler activity “music in the med” – led by a charismatic conductor. Arlo really enjoyed singing and dancing along with musical instruments in this beautiful environment, and having checked the website there seem to be frequent activities for all ages so make sure to check before you plan your visit.

The walk through the biome led us toward Australia next, and my mum having recently visited Perth was delighted because it was so similar. After talking to the team, we discovered that indeed the Eden project had worked with a team based at Kings Park, so the plants here were planted with the advice of Australians, and not only that, the art work including the totems have been created by an Aboriginal artist too, so this truly is as close as you can get to Australia without the 24 hour flight!

Before you head into the rainforest biome there’s a cloakroom, toilets and a store on the upper floor. I would advise to rehydrate and remove layers as it gets incredibly humid inside. The biome is full of wildlife, and some of the most amazing rainforest plants. One one side of the pathway you could be looking at African jungle and the other, South American plants will line the route!

The route takes you up a winding path and there are water fountains along the way. You will meet some unusual little birds, discover new fruits and then end up in the clouds, just when you think the heat is too much, there’s a lovely little cold room to pause and rehydrate – ready for the rainforest canopy.

As you climb higher there’s a waterfall, a rope bridge and cloud formations to discover before heading back down through sugar canes to discover the BaoBao shack and grab a tropical smoothie.

In this biome we also discovered how a Nigerian artist created sculptures from reclaimed wood after the fire damage to Falmouth harbour. The wood originated from Africa in the 1930’s and we learnt all about how this particular type of wood from Africa is resistant to water so is used world wide by the shipping trade, and it was lovely to find out just how much thought had gone into this installation, and this delighted my dad to learn about his Nigerian heritage.

We spent all day at the Eden project, there’s plenty more to see and do including an indoor science exhibition and an outdoor amphitheater, and even tea tasting sessions.

Arlo was exhausted by 4pm, we took the land train to the top and spent a long time browsing the gift shop and nursery before heading home. So many unusual items, ethically sourced, eco friendly and locally produced – I ended up buying some succulents and a fab bar of chocolate.

Thank you to the Eden project, we had a wonderful day and we will be back soon 🐝

May Day Mini Break

At the last minute we decided to pack overnight bags into the cars secretly and take the four wildlings on an adventure. It seems like every time we go on a day trip, the kids have so much fun they never want to leave.

Arlo literally sobs when he has to say goodbye, and the older cousins use diversion tactics to try and delay home time. Imagine their delight when we revealed that we were going to stay at a hotel. Together! All night!

I used Booking.com to make a reservation based on proximity to our Sunday trip to Arley Arboretum.

I often use this app to make last minute reservations as it is so simple to use. I used the filter to highlight the hotels with indoor pools and discovered Stourport Manor– a lovely four star hallmark hotel. This is ideally located for people exploring the Severn Valley Railway and other local attractions.

We arrived looking a bit worse for wear having been exploring the arboretum all day with four children in tow however we were greeted at reception warmly. The hadn’t received the details about the children from booking.com , so the additional beds in the family rooms were not made up for our arrival which reception apologised about but rectified swiftly.

Reception also called the leisure reception to ensure that there would be space for us in the pool, as the hotel was busy with it being the bank holiday, and so we ditched our bags, got changed and head straight to the pool.

The kids were delighted to be treated like mini adults and given their own spa towels and greeted warmly by staff, and we had the pool to ourselves for the best part of an hour. With changing facilities clean to the highest standards and a lovely kids splash pool we all had a fabulous time.

With it being so busy we decided not to take the kids to the restaurant downstairs and subject the other guests to our chaos – so we ate in our rooms, the beds had all been prepared whilst we were downstairs, and we gathered together to watch Jurassic a park on the TV screens before getting some sleep.

We all slept soundly, and the children delighted to be next door to each other were ready in their swimming costumes again at 7am. They had another hour in the pool before we went down to breakfast.

What a spread! I often stay away with work, but I can honestly say that the selection available here is one of the best, truly befitting of a four star hotel. With pastries and cereal, yoghurt and toast, all of the full English options, plus juices, coffees and fresh fruit we were spoilt for choice.

The staff and other guests seemed to be amused by how thrilled all of the children were, and the attentive service by the staff members made us feel extremely welcomed. Nothing was too much trouble, with staff happy to help us warm milk and fill our water bottles with cordial before we departed.

Check out was a swift process and we left after a sound night’s sleep ready to take on another outdoor adventure at Rays Farm to complete our Bank Holiday Mini Break. There’s so much to explore nearby we will definitely be back

The Fairy Tale Forest

We decided to conclude our May Day bank holiday mini break with a trip to Rays Farm, set in the Shropshire Countryside. With four children to amuse it’s sometimes difficult to satisfy all of the different age ranges, but here there really is something for everyone.

As we arrived we purchased tickets and animal food and headed to the farmyard to meet the animals. Arlo is now an expert when it comes to naming all of the animals and so he roused us all into a few verses of “Old Mac Donald” as we met rabbits, lambs, goats, chicks and ducks in the small animal shed.

We followed one little escapee goat across the courtyard to visit the llamas and donkey before heading to the open field to play with the goats. This is a truly unique experience, and the playful goats were happy to jump and skip around, and over us – this made our day!

We paused for a snack on the picnic benches before parking up the pushchairs and tying up our shoelaces to hit the forest trails. May is the perfect time to explore the beautiful English countryside and the work done along the trails at Rays Farm is inspired.

Along the entire route are wooden sculptures inspired by classic fairy tales, myths and legends. At the start of the route you can choose to go left or right at the big chair. There’s some giant boots you can try for size here too

We decided to take the woodland walk to the left first and came across Excalibur set in stone – alas none of us were strong enough to remove the sword and claim the English Throne – quite fittingly as we were here a news alert popped up to let us know that a new member of the Royal Family had been born.

We followed the path down alongside the brook, and were surrounded by a sea of the white flowers of wild garlic. All of the children were busy spotting wooden sculptures, and Logan the eldest at six years old pointed out an orienteering clip so we spent time looking for these along the route too.

The woodland walk is approximately 300yards and so if you have little ones with tired legs you can head back to the farm, however we marched on, and I’m so glad we did.

The pathway is a bit of a climb up and down, but there’s so much to see and so many rest stops that it’s a lovely route. Here we were delighted with the swathes of bluebells, and along the route were informative wildlife signs.

I won’t post too many spoilers with the sculptures, there’s plenty of nursery rhyme characters to meet along the way – including Humpty Dumpty.

There’s a fairy ring, a story telling witch and then three men in a boat looking over an assault course style play area.

The kids all had muddy knees, and the little ones were tired so without strollers they had piggy backs for the walk back, and then as we left the woods we stopped at the little crooked house for snacks, next to a field of goats at the far side of the farm.

We’d been exploring the woods for over three hours at this stage, and slowly ambled up the far side of the farm boundary to meet the pigs, Reindeer and the owls which bought us back to the courtyard.

We finished our day with some refreshments from the cafe and a little run around in the indoor and outdoor play areas, being followed by a mother hen with two chicks.

The farmyard is lovely, the animals are well cared for and very friendly but the stand out for us was the fairy tale forest. We will be back to explore again as the seasons change.

To read about our day out at nearby Arley Arboretum during our May mini break click Here

Have you got any suggestions for family days out in the Midlands? Have you been to Rays Farm? Which was your favourite sculpture? We’d love to hear from you

Arley Arboretum

What a beautiful place. It was my sisters idea to take all of the kids for a little mini break, so we booked a hotel, packed up the cars and headed off on an adventure for the bank holiday weekend.

Arley Arboretum is in Worcestershire, not too far from the beautiful banks of the river Severn where there are plenty of beautiful rest stops for scenic picnics.

The entrance to the arboretum in a lovely wisteria covered archway which takes you into the entrance courtyard, with a little cafe, outdoor seating and a hut to buy tickets. For an additional £3.50 we purchased a Peter rabbit trail booklet.

What a fabulous idea – the booklet and enclosed stickers have been designed with much thought, to guide you around the grounds following the story and looking for Peter at some of the most beautiful spots, at each location a picture of Peter was hidden with a little Beatrix Potter themed set up and we had to match stickers to the location.

The story began of course at Mr Macgregors garden. The first Peter was hidden in the beautiful courtyard at the first of the greenhouses, with a watering can and so we found the first sticker with the watering can, added this to our map and read the next bit of the story.

This told us to follow the signs – bright orange carrots painted on to signposts in the shapes of arrows pointed the way clearly, and as a little checkpoint we found Peter’s blue jacket in the gardens. At this point Arlo was fully invested….. he knows what a rabbit is and is familiar with Peter Rabbit so recognised the blue jacket and then began to point out the signs as we spotted them along the route.

We walked through the courtyard and through an arch into the grounds, past Mr MacGregors gate to look for Jeremy Fishers pond. This area was nothing short of stunning.

I won’t share all of the details and ruin the surprises, but along the route we met Jemima Puddle Duck, Mrs Tiggy Winkle and other characters from the books before finally finding Peter Rabbit.

The walk took us over an hour to complete, and we slightly overlapped with another route for older children called “the goblin trail” so even without the guidebook we decided to follow the signs for this trail too, because who can resist a fairy door?

Our route took us to retrace some steps back to the park area, and we spent a while here with a picnic, and being followed by pheasants. Throughout the day we’d heard the far off sound of the Severn Valley Railway steam trains and we were delighted to discover that just behind the park, was the perfect grass bank for train-spotting.

We sat and played tumbling down the hill before picking up the goblin trail clues again which led us along a path to a sensory garden, which is a work in progress but full of herbs which we took some time to investigate before heading along an enchanted pathway to the maze.

I took a picture of the maze map before we entered, and it took us a good 45 mins to find the centre and then find our way back out again. The kids loved running through, chasing dead ends and each other – by the time we’d finished here it was time to start a leisurely stroll back to the main entrance.

We took our time ambling through the woods and into the walled gardens, which are beautifully landscaped and home to chickens and peacocks which were free roaming, and we sat for a while on the tree swing just to soak up the surroundings, before heading past the fountains to the cafe.

We showed our completed Peter Rabbit trail sticker books and all of the kids chose their reward from a basket full of chocolate eggs and bouncy balls and all sorts of fabulous prizes, and then we ordered milkshakes and sat outside to enjoy our drinks and review the days “best bits.”

Organised Chaos at Kidtropolis

I don’t know what I was thinking yesterday but I decided to take Arlo and two of his cousins to “Kidtropolis” on my own – and what in theory should have been a fabulous day out almost turned into a disaster.

Before we even entered the event they were all playing chase in the queue, Literally a minute after I took this picture Arlo knocked Logan’s glasses from his face, Logan dropped Arlo. The glasses broke and Arlo then projectile vomited over all of us, whilst surrounded by thousands of people eagerly counting down 10…9…8 until the gates opened.

No big deal, I swiftly got everyone changed into clean clothes (I always carry lots of spares because these things happen)….. a member of staff quickly came over to help clean up the mess and as soon as the kids saw the soft play section all was forgotten.

The under 4’s section was the first we visited, and all the kids ran off in different directions – it was at this point I realised I probably shouldn’t have gone alone with three wildlings….. but it was too late to back out. There was a huge variety of attractions but it was quite difficult to manage the kids expectations, as there were different age restrictions for everything and it wasn’t immediately obvious and the map in the guide book didn’t have clear labels.

There was a huge inflatable assault course, I think this is one of the best I’ve ever seen and the older two went on this one several times. Each of these attractions was managed by an independent company with their own staff, and it seemed as though some were more professional and child friendly than others.

Logan was happy to join Arlo on a mini version in the under 4’s area and he quickly tired out so had his afternoon nap in his stroller whilst we explored some other areas for the older two.

The fair ground ride was a big hit – the boys were so excited and nervous at the same time! The roller blading arena was a fabulous idea – a really slick set up with skates and protective gear available in abundance. They had ten minute sessions and didn’t over fill the space so the kids had a really good time trying this activity out and have asked if we can go to a roller disco again.

I also have to take a minute to praise the bumper cars – I’ve never seen this style of car – the kids picked up the controls quickly and were delighted to discover the big red button with inbuilt water pistols.

Lots of high octane activities, most of which we had to queue 10-15 mins for and only lasted 3 minutes – as a side note I think allocating fewer tickets for each session would have helped to manage the queues and deliver a better experience for all guests – it was a nightmare trying to contain the excitement of the kids on my own, and the queues were a little bit on the stressful side for me.

There were some fabulous promotional areas, the big brands really pulled out all the stops with kinetic sand, messy play, wooden trains and tablets all providing lots of entertainment and this was something we could all participate in – the floss challenge with Phillips was fun and we all received a goodie bag full of surprises which I won’t spoil.

I would love to give the NEC a shining review as it is on my doorstep, and I love to support local attractions but there a few things which really do let the venue down. As this was an event specifically geared towards an audience of children and families it was disappointing to see a lack of catering options inside the event space and also to have to eat our snacks on the floor because there was no seating – next time inviting a kids brand and setting up a pop up cafe (like Ella’s kitchen at the baby event) would solve these problems.

I would also add a child/baby friendly feeding and changing area – one baby change toilet inside the event space was not adequate.

In a timed event session, wandering around the huge NEC concourse to find a subway sandwich or another toilet would have meant missing out on play time so I just made do with what was available.

We didn’t manage to get around the whole event in our four hours, and chose to leave queuing up to “meet and greet” characters, the kids preferred to play on the activities instead – I’m grateful that they made that decision for themselves (phew).

I think this event on paper is literally the stuff kids dream of, but for adults it’s the stuff of nightmares. I think I would probably brave it again, but would have to travel with back up adults and pack more food/drink supplies to avoid paying over inflated prices.

The loveliest Castle – Leeds Castle in Kent

We have been visiting Leeds Castle in Kent since Arlo was quite tiny. For the first year of Arlo’s life we lived in Maidstone before relocating and so I bought an annual pass for £25 (babies are free).I would pack up the car with a picnic and head out for a stroll around the grounds – whatever the weather. There’s always an abundance of things to look at whilst walking. The grounds are so beautiful and with local parks charging for parking then I felt the pass was excellent value for money.

14th January 2018
January

Throughout the grounds are various sculptures and beautiful things to discover. I made a point of stopping at this carved rest stop every time. During the school holidays they create little trails for children to follow along with an activity book and then exchange as they leave for a chocolate treat. Arlo was fascinated with the ducks/swans and from quite early on he would notice them and point – and one of the first animals he ever mentioned was duck – you can buy food at the entrance for £1 if you’d like a really close encounter, but be warned they are used to being fed and can gather around very quickly. You can also explore the interior of the castle – prams are to be left outside so I would pop Arlo in a sling for this and wander around indoors on a rainy day as there’s lots to learn about the local history – and some of it is not quite what you’d expect.

There’s a lovely restaurant about half way along the walking route, along with a Costa, and refreshment stores – and if you keep going through a beautiful kitchen garden there’s a brilliant play park, a cafe, the birds of prey display arena, a maze and a Battle of Britain presentation.

Arlo’s first ever experience playing in a park was at Leeds Castle – we had the place to ourselves one weekday morning.

Every time we visited there was more to discover. Our annual pass also gave us entry to special events happening at the castle, including the classic car show, medieval jousting event as well as the beautiful Christmas fayre – I’ll share our experiences at these events in another post.