Longleat Estate – Safari, hotel and country side walks

On our way to Cornwall before our holidays we always break up the long drive from Birmingham by staying overnight about half way….. on inspection of a google map the first time we planned the journey Longleat Safari didn’t seem too much of a diversion and so after a quick search on booking.com to find a hotel we booked our tickets online and set off early on a Sunday morning, arriving at the grounds to the Estate by 10.30am.

Longleat is simply breathtaking, the Estate is extensive and the safari park is just one of the attractions…. you know you’ve arrived when you spot the magnificent house…. parking is just behind this and lots of people were picnicking right in front of the most glorious statue – we decided to explore the outdoor attractions first to stretch our legs and take advantage of the sunny day, and pulled into the ample car park just behind the house. Don’t forget to keep hold of your tickets as you need these at various attractions in and around the grounds to participate.

A short walk from the car park we found the main square, from which there are eight different animal zones to explore.

Plentiful food options, gift shops and toilet/changing facilities. Each zone is uniquely designed and extremely well planned to not only provide all of the animals with comfortable enclosures but also to deliver a great guest experience.

Longleat is by far the busiest zoo we have visited, but with so much to explore it didn’t seem crowded and the different attractions such as the boat trip across the lake and the mini train ride are so well managed that a short queue for these wasn’t stressful even with a two year old – the train station had a clear sign displaying the time of the next departure which helps massively.

We opted for a fast food hut lunch as we had lots of our own snacks – fairly reasonably priced but nothing particularly different to any other theme parks – however we did note that the square entrance had a cafe/restaurant and there were many other options but with an excited two year old we didn’t want to sit down for a meal.

I’m going to share three highlights from the square – Firstly the “jungle cruise” because I didn’t expect to see the seals quite so close up, and have the opportunity to feed them too. Never mind the whole host of other animals you encounter along the cruise. The commentary was entertaining and informative this is a must do whilst at Longleat.

Arlo’s favourite zone was the monkey zone because this is the location of the walk through Lorikeet enclosure and where we also found the parrots too. This was the first chance had to get up close to the animals and he was amazed.

He has experienced the lorikeet feeding before at West Midlands Safari Park but this time he was extremely brave and confident enough to hold the nectar for the birds to sit on his arm – and after this he has been talking about birds non-stop.

Daddy loved walking through the brand new Koala Creek. This is a fairly calm zone compared to the others and great to wind down a bit after all the running around to just stand and watch Koala’s having a little snooze, they’re such lovely animals, and this latest addition to the Safari Park is worth exploring.

After a few hours we returned to our car, following directions around the estate to the drive through Safari, again showing out tickets before receiving a CD and purchasing a guidebook.

The CD is self explanatory, with commentary for each section of the experience which you can pause whilst you take in each area. Again there’s so many different areas it’s impossible to mention everything, but my favourite by far is the monkey section – you have to see it to believe it – but don’t do this if you have a car which you treasure because monkeys are partial to a window seal, wiper blade or anything else they can play with. (you can bypass this area).

The drive through is quite lengthy and we stopped many times just to take it all in, watching lions lounge, tigers pounce and flamingoes just being fabulous – the estate is so beautiful that it’s awe inspiring to just look around at the views as you journey through, and I would make sure you allow yourselves plenty of time to go around just so that you can make the most of this experience.

After all of this, there’s one more zone we like to explore and that’s the African Village. If you’d prefer to do the safari park as soon as you arrive in the morning then there is parking and a cafe/toilet facilities in this zone – we doubled back on ourselves to sit and have an ice cream at the end of the day whilst watching the giraffes from the platform, and there’s also a lemur walkthrough here to enjoy as well as my favourite gift shop.

We sat and talked about our favourite animals from the day for a long time at the giraffes, they’re just so relaxing to watch and the perfect way to end your visit to the safari park.

Just a short drive from the safari park through the estate is the beautiful Bath Arms which is a countryside pub with several rooms. This was the perfect place to rest for the night – shortly after check in we sat in the gardens with a cold drink and enjoyed the last of the afternoon sun, booked a table in the restaurant for later and went for a walk along the winding country lanes to “geocache” – (I’ll write another blog about that in the future).

Our evening meal was delicious, and exhausted after a long day we retired to our room, which was beautiful, with a huge bathroom and extremely comfy bed. After a peaceful night’s sleep we enjoyed a full English breakfast in the pub. Nothing was too much trouble for the team, with extra care taken with Arlo’s breakfast as the little fuss pot demanded different jam for his toast. We hit the road to continue our journey well rested and satisfied tummies.

We can’t wait to return to Longleat, there’s so much to see and do that it’s the kind of place we will visit time and time again as a family.

Beach Baby – Fistral Beach

This beautiful beach is a surfers paradise and various sources will tell you it’s one of the best surfing destinations in the UK. We have visited Newquay twice in both September and May just outside of the peak summer season.

There are huge car parks at Fistral beach which have an all day fee and a well established shopping and restaurant complex on the beach front with toilet facilities, deck chair rental and an ice cream store as well as outlets for surf hire and lessons. When we visited there were also life guards on duty too.

This beach is a vast expanse between two headlands and we recognised the ominous silhouette of the Headland hotel on the horizon as the setting for the infamous movie “The Witches” based on the book by Roald Dahl so we made sure to visit for an afternoon tea whilst in the area for a treat.

The Headland hotel is an extremely luxurious setting and the service and food quality was five star, we ate our lunch overlooking Fistral beach from the Cliff Top Terrace watching a storm as it passed over and faded away so that we could get back to the beach for the afternoon.

Back to the beach itself – it’s a beautiful clean and sandy beach with plenty of opportunity for exploring as the water is captured in rock pools towards the North headland as the tide moves out, and it’s such a vast space that there’s opportunity to sunbathe all day long too.

Behind the beach obscured by sand dunes is a golf course and you can walk along the cliff path to take in the wonderful seaward views. The beach itself is easily accessible from Newquay town centre and has public transport links too.

We have also eaten at the Fistral Stable which is a pizza restaurant which overlooks the beach and has outdoor seating. We found this to be extremely family friendly with high chairs and colouring activities but relaxed enough to enjoy a quiet drink too. We also made sure to get chips from the infamous Rick Stein restaurant.

There is something for everyone at Fistral beach and this is a must visit place if you are in the area.

Beach Baby – Bournemouth

Bournemouth is probably one of the most cosmopolitan beach destinations in the UK. You can walk from a department store to the pier in twenty minutes through a beautiful park.

The central focus of the beach is the Pier – a fabulous structure with amusement arcades, a zip wire attraction a café and a fabulous cocktail bar overlooking it all. Bournemouth beach has always been busy when we have visited and this is no surprise as there’s something for everyone here.

The beach has life guard patrols and various deck chair hire stalls, along with sea front cafe’s and public toilet facilities which were extremely clean. The area surrounding the pier was a hub of activity with games and activities for all ages and every Friday night there are fireworks over the beach which can be viewed from this area.

Whilst driving along the South Coast we paused for an afternoon, parked in the local event centre and walked through the park towards the pier and then along the promenade with Arlo in his pushchair enjoying a light summer breeze and an ice cream. There’s something unique about Bournemouth which makes it seem warmer than anywhere else!

Beach Baby – Sandbanks

This beautiful beach in Dorset is just along from Bournemouth towards Poole and well worth the drive, just to view the real estate – never mind experiencing the beach which is on a small peninsula which crosses the mouth of Poole Harbour.

We visited one April Morning bright and early to make the most of the sun before it got too hot, paddling in the sea and letting Arlo enjoy the clean sandy beach before a lovely breakfast at the Sandbanks beach Café.

Sandbanks is an award winning beach year after year and it’s no wonder – the sea sparkles like no other place in the UK and the sand is beautiful. On a clear day you can see the Isle of Wight.

We noticed that the beach was starting to get very busy towards mid morning during the school holidays so no doubt that during high season that this place would be jam packed – something to be aware of if you aren’t a fan of the crowds.

Just like many seaside places, Sandbanks has a lovely miniature golf course and a fabulous kids play area with a lovely little sensory area for babies and climbing frames for the big kids too, with clean toilet facilities.

The only thing I will add is that parking fees apply everywhere here and it is one of the more expensive places to park – we paid £2 an hour just beside the café.

Beach Baby – Lulworth Cove and Durdle Door

I had to write about both of these places together because you can use one car park transaction to visit both equally stunning destinations. We visited in April and decided to head to the cove first of all.

Lulwoth cove is probably one of the busiest areas I have visited along any part of the UK coast line and it’s no wonder why. A short walk from the car park takes you along past some picturesque cottages before you happen upon the cove. It’s a white pebble beach cove with the most beautiful blue water imaginable.

We sat for quite some time here just soaking in the atmosphere and balancing pebbles together, this was after lunch and we noticed that the area seemed to calm down as people began to wander off to visit durdle door.

In terms of facilities, there is a visitor centre alongside the car park and there are some stores to buy the usual tourist essentials such as swimming trunks and flip flops as well as ice creams. We paused here for refreshments and to change from flip flops in to our walking shoes for the durdle door walk – which is no mean feat.

We jumped in the car to get to the closer car park rather than attempt the longer walk with Arlo and we left the push chair behind as we were advised that the terrain was fairly steep by the staff in the store.

Durdle Door: The walk to the cliff top was long and not easy going but well worth the effort for the view and the pictures. At the time we visited we were unable to descend to the beach due to safety however this is on our “to do” list for next time.

This walk isn’t a leisurely afternoon stroll and so if planning this with young children be sure to pack a rucksack with plenty of drinking water and supplies for the warm weather and take a sling for a baby – this is not suitable for anyone who doesn’t have a head for heights.

The route we walked was extremely busy but when you get to the top you get the best view of the iconic Durdle Door which is a natural limestone arch.

There was a small kiosk at the top of the cliff however this was closed at the time we visited so as I mentioned – do make sure you pack water and snacks – the walk took us a good hour and then we sat at the top of the cliff to watch as the sun started to fade.

Curly Hair, Don’t Care

Today we had a little tantrum during bath time when I approached Arlo’s tangled locks with a hairbrush. He’s been getting fussy lately and I don’t like to hear him say “ow mommy, it hurts” and so I decided that after two and a half years it’s about time we book in for his first hair cut.

This Barnet of his is clearly out of control – so I did a quick search for local kids hair dressers and came across Trimz and Tantrumz and booked us in for a first hair cut experience.

The booking process was all online and I chose the £16 option which includes the cut, a keepsake lock of hair, plus a certificate and a balloon.

We arrived at the salon in Halesowen a little early and Arlo was really excited to get in the door because he spotted the car seats and bright interior straight away. Whilst the hair dresser finished with her client I sat on some comfy seats whilst Arlo rushed through to the play room and it was fabulous to observe the friendly and gentle manner which helps put the kids at ease.

The first thing she said was “you don’t want me to cut all his hair off do you” and I was so relieved to hear this – glad that she liked his blonde fluffy and tangled Barnet because his style is “divisive” to say the least. Arlo was invited to choose which car he wanted to sit in and at first opted for the “bat mobile” – and the cut commenced.

The cut itself was extremely efficient, Arlo barely had time to notice as he happily munched an apple whilst watching a cartoon on the screens ahead of him. He did however decide he wanted to switch seats and try out the airplane which was no trouble at all – in fact even better as this one had straps which we could use if he decided to move around!

It almost seems ridiculous to go and only get a few millimetres of hair chopped off but I wanted to get Arlo used to the hair salon environment and hair cut process so that we don’t struggle in the future – the trim immediately made his hair appear healthier – I’ll leave the big decision making up to him – I’m sure he will have no problems letting me know when he wants to chop his curls off but today was not that day!

As his cut was finished he received his certificate and he seemed very proud of himself! The whole process took no longer than fifteen minutes and we’ll be back again for another trim soon, but with the care advice and product recommendations we received today hopefully the fluff won’t get quite out of control again!

Thank you Trimz and Tantrumz – his curls have bounced back up already!

Ook book and app review

#gifted via the @officialemmasdiary #parentsquad – we were kindly offered the opportunity to review the @ookshq personalised story books. I shared an Instagram post as requested but I have so much to say (no surprises there) that I thought I’d write a blog post all about our Ook Book too.

Last week I downloaded the app via the App Store which was a simple process – I chose to explore it myself before sharing with Arlo. I was pleasantly surprised at how child friendly and simple it is to navigate, and found the concept to be entirely bonkers which Arlo went crazy for.

We created our little avatar or “ook” character and then took him on a little adventure – I don’t quite understand how we ended up going from a restaurant to a doctors surgery via a volcano however based on the choices Arlo made as we used the app our story was written. We also had to do some drawing challenges whilst using the app too.

Once we completed our adventure within the app I was invited to add a parental pin code to order our book which I think is a fab little added feature for security to prevent any unexpected purchases.

A couple of days later our book arrived via the post and I let Arlo open it up – check out his response in the video!

To be quite honest I was expecting a generic story with the main characters name replaced with his name however both Arlo and I were amazed to find that the entire book was based on our in app activity and so it was entirely personal to us…. including the drawings he had created too! He sat flicking through the pages because he couldn’t quite believe that the app had been bought to life and then we went back to the beginning to explore each page more closely.

He remembered things like the volcano and the belly button fluff he had chosen as the meal in the restaurant – I’m sure there were some more appetising options but I let him choose the whole way through and that’s what he went for!

The book itself is a paper backed book with lots of pages and printed to the highest quality which is was unexpected based on the speed it arrived.

The illustrations are detailed and colourful with plenty of talking points to engage Arlo – lots of small details in the backgrounds of pictures and opportunities to discuss colours, shapes, animals, foods and also count – which is something I look for in books at this stage – his “ook” has already become a book shelf favourite.

I can highly recommend this new immersive experience – it’s entirely unique and another fabulous way to introduce technology to children in an educational way whilst still reinforcing the value of books which is very important to our family.

To apply to join the Emma’s diary parent squad for the opportunity to review products like this then head to the website now

Creative Tonie guide

How to add content to your first creative tonie

So you’ve set your tonie box up and have been delighted and amazed by the concept. Now it’s time for you to create and upload your own content to a creative Tonie and make the experience even more wonderful.

This process is nowhere near as daunting as you think it will be and once you’ve got the hang of this you will be browsing the Tonie store for more creatives to play with.

First things first – I use an iPhone on a day to day basis so I can use the app but also have access to a laptop which makes the process a lot easier as you can convert, download, save and locate files. (This is how to use audio from YouTube).

Once you set up your Tonie cloud account there are two different audio clips you can add to your creative to test it works. The Tonie song is an “ear worm” and you will be humming this to yourself for the next week or so!

The most obvious thing for me to do was browse YouTube for some of Arlo’s favourite songs. I also searched for stories and found a fabulous five minute video of Michael Rosen reading “We’re going on a bear hunt” – I highly recommend choosing a favourite story so you can join in, having the chance to do the actions and gestures whilst enjoying the audio without having to read is a totally new immersive experience.

Click the “share” button on the YouTube video and copy the link into a file converter on a separate tab.

Once the converter has done it’s job it’s simple to download the audio file and save it on a laptop with a few clicks.

I repeated this with several other clips and then had a little playlist of ten songs and stories ready to upload onto my creative tonie.

The next bit is really simple, you log in to the Tonie website, using the app you select audio files from your phone and from a laptop you can drag and drop your audio files. You can rearrange the playing order before saving your changes.

You can upload voice notes you have recorded yourself directly from an iPhone as these files do not need converting.

Now for the fun bit – make sure the top of the box is clear of Tonies, and you’re connected to WiFi and then you press and hold an ear of your tonie box and it will flash blue.

Once the box has worked it’s magic the light stops flashing and you can pop your creative tonie on the box and play your audio!

This seems like a lengthy process but once you’ve got the hang of it, it’s extremely simple and the only challenge is trying to manage the playlists when you suddenly have lots of ideas for content.

I have added theme tunes to some classic tv shows, and audio from the Ceebeebies bedtime stories and also the baby shark song (which I may live to regret). I still have 38 minutes of space left on this one after adding ten different clips. This can be split in to 99 different clips or “chapters”

My plan is to purchase several creative Tonies and then I can create playlists for specific themes and moods…. and eventually I hope Arlo will be able to tell me exactly what he wants to hear.

Kippers Snowy Day

Based on the award winning book by Mick Inkpen – the MAC are hosting a beautiful adaptation of this children’s classic over the festive period this year. Bought to life by The Slot Machine Theatre this is a unique style of puppetry theatre which is a perfect introduction for little ones to live performance.

We were kindly invited to attend a performance this weekend and share our experience and what a wonderful time we had. Arlo is two and a half and at this age their attention span is fairly limited so attending a theatre performance is something you think on paper would not be suitable for a child – however he was mesmerised from start to finish. Fifty minutes was the perfect show length for us.

I had ordered the book from Amazon prior to the performance and we have been reading the book at bedtime to get Arlo used to the characters and the story before our outing on a suitably blustery Saturday evening. I also took along a scarf – many children attended our evening performance in onesies and PJ’s and there was a distinct buzz of excitement in the atmosphere before the show.

We arrived early and managed to find a parking spot quite close by and also had a browse at some craft stalls in the atrium, before heading to the bar area to enjoy a drink and a snack together before the show. The atmosphere was festive throughout the centre with various events taking place and beautiful warmly lit Christmas Tree and decorations on display.

The route to the theatre through the atrium was decorated with paw print stickers on the floor which was extremely fun for all of the little ones to follow and stomp along to and we took photos in the cut outs too.

The corridor outside the theatre was decorated with the most wonderful murals and illustrations from the book, Children were oooing and aaahhing at the characters and Arlo loved the little Robin most of all.

The tannoy announced the opening of the doors to the theatre and we found our way to our comfy seats fairly quickly. The stage was set – a mysterious huge white square raised in one corner and this helped set the scene through the performance, becoming the “Big Hill.”

The tone was calm and soft throughout the show, which suited the story perfectly.The actors bought the puppets to life with songs and excellent voices which suited the characters perfectly. The songs were brand new and perfect for the performance, and Kipper had some wonderful dance moves too!

It’s fascinating to see children react to live theatre, with so many special effects on screens these days you wonder if visual concepts on stage will work or if they will say “it’s a puppet” – during the show I took a moment to look around the theatre and saw so many engaged little faces during the snow storm.

There were jokes for all ages, and audience participation when deciding how to decorate the top of the Christmas tree – for me however the best bit was seeing Arlo on the edge of his seat when one of his favourite characters was lost in the snow storm, and how relieved he was when they were found.

I really enjoyed the projected visuals of the snow angels – I can’t wait for a snow day so that we can get out and about to make these just like Kipper…. but I know I’ll probably end up falling over like Tiger!

The performance was 50 minutes long which was perfect for us, and as Kipper curled up in his bed at the end of the show we felt relaxed and ready to head home for a hot chocolate before bedtime and Arlo has been insistent on wearing his scarf since we saw the show.

Kippers Snowy Day is showing at the Mac Theatre until 31at December. Click the link to purchase tickets.

Our tickets were kindly gifted to us, however all opinions expressed in this review are my own.