This half term we were thrilled to be invited to trial the new Beast Quest family trail, based on the books and specially created for this half term at Hampton Court Palace. We enjoy going to the palace and it never fails us for a great day out! Sadly last minute illness left us enable to go so we deployed our friends to try out the trail for us:
I’ve never ventured to Hampton Court Palace with children before, I’ve always thought of it as a lovely day out for adults, but maybe not so appealing for kids. This half term however, an evil wizard called Malvel has unleashed a host of beasts loose around the palace, and some brave beast questers are needed to save the day. I know just the people for the job!
The price of the quest is included in the general admission ticket, and will take you about 1 hour and 20 minutes to complete. Once you pass through the main entrance and enter the base court, you will spot an interesting character in a bright blue robe enlisting new questers. The children were given a codex each, showing where we will go on a map, and lift up flaps to open when charms were uncovered, plus a magic spell to uncode to defeat the evil wizard. The Beast Quest is led by energetic and enthusiastic role players, and imagination is the key here. The actors are aided by nothing more than a few screen projections and the odd prop, and I am sure my children felt like they had encountered a host of beats within the palace.
The quest is aimed at 7-12 year olds, but all are welcome. We had a four year old with us who was engaged throughout the whole experience. Things got a little bit hairy in the Tudor wine cellar where we encountered the dragon, as it was a little bit dark and noisy, but a quick retreat to the doorway was all that was needed.
I found the whole experience charming. The children were engaged and involved for the whole duration of the quest, while the adults got to see a lot of the palace without any complaints from little ones.
Also included in the general admission price is admission to the magic garden. This is a high quality play area including climbing equipment, slides, water fountains, a sand play area, plus an outdoor coffee shop. We saved this bit for last which worked well as the kids didn’t want to leave. Busy periods will limit time spent here to 90 minutes.
Beast Quest is running throughout the day until 28th October 2018 and can be completed at your own pace you can find out more here.
Disclosure: We were given free tickets in exchange for this review, it has not influenced the review in any way!
I’m really ashamed to say that despite being a museum professional and living within 30 minutes or so of Bletchley Park we hadn’t actually been until today. I think its possibly because we tend to have a bit of ‘museum fatigue/ indifference’ about places nearby as they seem so reachable that we just don’t make the effort to go as a family. SHAME ON US! Bletchley Park is completely awesome, it is so worth a visit that we are considering going back again next week.
We were invited along to Bletchley for its Vintage 1940’s weekend. This happens once a year and the site fills up with 1940’s re-enactors (and geeks). There was the chance to shop vintage fashions and bric a brac, learn how to swing dance or meet with the army! Lots of the visitors also dressed up which added to the atmosphere. It really gave an excellent flavour of life at the time.
For those of you who don’t know, Bletchley Park is the home of the WWII Code breakers, Alan Turing being the most famous, it was where the Enigma machine code was deciphered and a top secret place employing the brightest and best. You can tour the buildings where the codes were broken (absolutely pivotal to the allied success in WWII and see some of the machines. Along the way you can find out all about the spies who worked there, their stories and daily lives. There is even a James Bond exhibition.
We particularly enjoyed looking at the old cars, this one was owned by Mick Jagger who bought it when his production company was making the film Enigma at Bletchley Park.
The interpretation at Bletchley Park was great, we liked all the films which brought it all to life and there was a handy audio tour guide. As adults we enjoyed the exhibition panels, although they were a bit wordy for the kids, so make sure you take up the chance to do the trail to keep their interest. One of the really nice things about it was that there was always a guide on hand to answer questions or provide a bit of added detail. Particular hats off to the man staffing the National Radio Centre who did a fantastic job engaging the children so that we could have a look at the displays in peace.
We enjoyed lunch in the cafe which had plenty of seating an an excellent view of the children’s playground which enabled us to enjoy a peaceful cup of tea! It did get busy but there were plenty of spare tables which is virtually unique and I think related to the variety of places to buy food. It should also be said that there are plenty of toilets which are essential when out and about with kids.
Sometimes days out with children can be stressful particularly on busy Bank Holiday weekends, however Bletchley provided the perfect day out for us. There was plenty of parking, toilets, food options, loads to see and do, it didn’t feel too crowded (although there were clearly loads of visitors) and we all learnt something new. There was something really thrilling about standing in the places which had such a powerful impact on the war and without which if the war had taken a different direction, when you think about it, our family might not even exist.
If you’d like to visit you’ll find out all the information you need here: https://bletchleypark.org.uk/
Bletchley Park are holding the worlds largest swing dance lesson on June 23rd 2018 and attempting to break a Guinness World record. It should be jolly good fun, maybe we’ll see you there?
This blog has enabled me to have some fabulous experiences and in many ways it has changed our lives as a family and for that I will be very grateful. However, one of the biggest treats has been the chance to visit an exhibition at the Victoria and Albert Museum before everybody else. As a museum curator I used to work across the road at The Natural History Museum and I’d dream of visiting the galleries at the V & A without the usual crowds of people. I never thought in a million years that I’d have the chance, but this week I did and what an absolute delight it was!
Winnie the Pooh: Exploring a Classic is a completely ground breaking exhibition for the museum as it is the first time that they have attempted a family friendly exhibition. Complete with a slide, a table set for tea (or drawing), a river to pretend playing pooh sticks and some doors only suitable for kids you’d be forgiven for thinking you were in the Discover Children’s Story Centre rather than at the rather adult surroundings of the Victoria and Albert Museum. Recently the museum has really upped its game in terms of the staging of its exhibitions and this exhibition was jaw droppingly stunning, a real visual feast. It really is something that I could only aspire to with the exhibitions I (rarely) stage myself.
There really is something for all age groups in this exhibition, after all who doesn’t like Winnie the Pooh? The exhibition starts with an array of Pooh related objects, some familiar like Cath Kidston’s collaboration dress some not so and more historic. You can also have a look at the teddy bears which were the inspiration for Pooh himself.
For me, the joy of the exhibition was the chance to actually see some of the original illustrations created by E. H. Shepard, along with A. A. Milne’s family photographs and some of the original printers proof’s. There is a real thrill to seeing the originals of illustrations you are so familiar with and which are part of treasured childhood memories.
Carefully chosen quotes from the book highlighted around the gallery left me felt inspired to re-read the stories again with my youngest child. In fact, the whole space was a real delight to be within.
Sadly, my children were at school during my visit to the exhibition otherwise I know for sure that they would have loved it. I know what we are going to be doing this holiday…
There are loads of family friendly events and activities to go alongside the exhibition and you can find out more here: https://www.vam.ac.uk/exhibitions/winnie-the-pooh-exploring-a-classic
Warwick Castle is one of our favourite days out in the UK and we were thrilled to be invited to stay over in a Lodge in the Knights Village so that we could make the most of a visit and enjoy the new Wars of the Roses experience.
When we arrived at Warwick it was really clear and easy to find the Knights Village which has its own parking area. The reception staff were really helpful and although we couldn’t check in immediately as we had arrived quite early, we were given a special code which enabled us to use a secret gate to access the castle without having to walk to the main entrance. This was brilliant.
After a general stroll around the castle we decided to go and see Wars of the Roses live, partly as there are only 2 shows per day and we wanted to maximise our opportunities to see it.
Wars of the Roses Live is set in a specially-constructed riverside arena and is a spectacular show of knightly heroism, all included in the castle admission at no extra cost. We knew (from having friends who are re-enactors) that the show was staged by a group called The Devils Horsemen who are absolutely without doubt the best at jousting displays and horsemanship of this type in the UK- even appearing in Game of Thrones. So, with that in mind we were all really excited!
The arena holds a crowd of 2,000 and evokes magnificent medieval jousts recorded in historical sources. It really adds to the whole experience. The show uses the key players in the wider Wars of the Roses story with direct links to Warwick Castle include Richard Neville, Earl of Warwick – known as The Kingmaker, who switched sides from York to Lancaster and imprisoned Edward VI (whom he had helped to ascend the throne) at the castle; and The Kingmaker’s daughter, Anne Neville – born at Warwick – who became Queen of England upon marriage to Richard III. It really is an amazing spectacle, the horses were incredible and some of the stunt riding simply awe-inspiring. We loved it so much we went back and saw it again. Much discussion followed on how much effort it must be to train both horses and riders to do this sort of thing and whether it would be possible to learn quite quickly!
Top tips for watching the show- make sure you get in the queue nice and early to secure yourself a good spot. We made the mistake of standing on the decking and then lots of people stood in front of us, so stand at the front by the fence especially if you have small children. Also, make sure you’ve all gone to the toilet before you get to the arena, we saw so many people having to leave to take their children to the toilet as there are none nearby.
Without doubt this trip will be one of the highlights of our summer, not only because we really enjoyed our time in the Castle watching the Wars of the Roses, exploring the castle, watching the bird and the Horrible History show and generally just enjoying our time together. The thing which really made it was the chance to stay over in the Knights Village.
Being an archaeologist with children who really like and appreciate a bit of history you can imagine my utter delight at being faced with a medieval style bed (in fact I was so delighted I tweeted it and put it on my private Facebook page to which many of my archaeological friends remarked jealously). The whole experience was utterly fantastic, both luxurious and historic! The beds were comfortable with crisp bed linen and the wet room was as good as i’ve seen in any really top quality hotel.
Have a look at our video (unfortunately my phone ran out of battery half way) but it gives you a good idea:
The other delightful thing about staying over was the ‘all you can eat buffet’ for dinner and breakfast (in a medieval style banqueting hall) followed by the evening entertainment. The kids had a fantastic time after dinner wandering around by the River Avon and learning circus skills, archery and having the opportunity to have their photograph taken with a falcon. It was lovely to see them doing something active and learning new skills.
Warwick Castle is one of those places which never fails to delight, it is both historic and entertaining and somehow there is always something new to see and enjoy. There was more than enough this time round to keep us occupied for two whole days which I must admit did surprise me. However, I think one of the nicest things about staying over was not feeling that we had to rush and see everything in a day.
Staying over in the Knights Village is clearly really popular, we spotted several families celebrating birthdays both young and old. Having an experience like this is a brilliant alternative to a soft play party or similar, so I could definitely see why people had opted to do this and my children seemed really keen on the idea for us going forwards. You can choose whether you stay in a tent (prices start at £49.75pppn based on a family of four sharing a Warwick Tent, just a few paces from the new show arena.) or a lodge like we did.
Overall a weekend at Warwick Castle is a great experience, we really made the most of our visit and made some memories we wont forget. However, if you cant stay over its well worth a trip to Warwick Castle just to catch the Wars of the Roses Live which will blow your mind if you like a bit of history and some fabulous horsemanship.
One of the best holidays i’ve ever had was our Ski trip to Austria. Of course, this was before children so we could make the most of the apres ski and have hours and hours of fun skiing down the slopes. I think what made it so good was that it was so different to our usual trips and the whole experience was just really good healthy fun.
Since we have had kids I’ve been really keen to take them skiing, but unfortunately I just haven’t been able to get together the funds. Its not that its any more expensive than a foreign holiday, its just that with three children to support its an extravagance booking a UK holiday cottage for us. However, if you have similar issues that doesn’t mean you cant enjoy the fun of the slopes here in the UK and I was thrilled when we were asked by Crystal Ski Holidays if the children would like to come and have a go at skiing at The Snow Centre in Hemel Hempstead.
Crystal Ski hosted a day of Skiing at the Snow Centre and provided childcare alongside lessons for the children to give the adults a flavour of their holidays. I know Crystal Ski are great operators for this sort of holiday because they hosted our Ski holiday. I was really looking forward to the day, if a little apprehensive about whether little Ned would be able to manage on ski’s without his mummy to cling to!
I didn’t have anything at all to worry about, the instructor was clearly used to three year olds and after a short while Ned was skiing a bit like a pro for someone his age. The boy and Fifi were simply enjoying the fun. I have to admit it was really awesome seeing them all enjoying themselves whilst learning a really healthy fun skill. They also got the chance to do a bit of sledging in the snow garden which was a great way to introduce them to the snow after a long hiatus here. In fact, I suspect this might actually be the first time that Ned can even remember any snow at all since last winter failed to deliver here in the UK.
I have to say that if you want a great fun day out with the kids which is a bit more unusual then a trip to an indoor Ski Centre is one of the best things you can do. Its good old healthy team building fun and something which I vow to do far more of after I saw them at The Snow Centre.
One of the things we got the chance to experience was Crystal Ski Holidays Childcare- the children’s hosts. I was very impressed because they all managed to get some words out of my incredibly shy children and by the end the kids were actually joining in with the activities and chatting away. If this is anything to go by I think they would be a valuable asset out on resort and enable the adults to get a bit of much needed ‘me time’ without any worry.
A family holiday away in the mountains has to be one of the best experiences you can give your children, not only will they learn a life skill, they’ll get a bit of exercise and see some amazing sights. If its something that you might consider then Crystal Ski have produced this really helpful guide. I was surprised to hear that it can be much more economical than I thought, average prices for a family of four can start from around £1500. I’m currently saving up as we speak!
Crystal Ski Holidays offer some great deals so its worth checking out what they offer. They fly from 23 airports and you can even travel by the Eurostar which could be very exciting. Here is the information they gave me, reproduced as I thought it would be useful:
Free places for kids
Take advantage of the free kids’ places on offer, there are great value family ski holidays to be had – the earlier you book, the more dates and accommodation you have to choose from.
81 properties offer free kids places for children under 11
135 properties offer free kids places for children under 15
Different ways to travel to your ski resort
Direct flights from 23 UK airports
Isle of Man
Eurostar ski train (direct)
From London St Pancras or Ashford, Kent directly to the Alps
For a travel alternative that’s friendly on your wallet, your schedule and the environment, you can’t beat the Eurostar ski train:
Check in one hour before departure.
Baggage allowance of two medium-sized suitcases, one item of hand luggage and free ski carriage.
Travel overnight on Friday for eight days of skiing – remember to grab an eight-day lift pass too.
Shorter transfer to your resort – usually under 60 minutes.
Watch this video to see why kids love train travel to the Alps