I’ve started the countdown to Christmas and have been looking for perfect gifts for people who have everything. Its a tricky one as i’ve got a reputation for finding great gifts but this year i’m quite stuck.
Fortunately earlier on in the year we were sent these fantastic Colouring Books by Noisy Crow who have been collaborating with The British Museum. I’ve reviewed some of their other books and they are just great, they would have been perfect for me as a child or as a mum reading to my child. However, these colouring books are even better as they meet the criteria for doing something crafty and mindful, they’re useful and interesting.
You can chose from either Fabulous Flowers & Perfect Patterns or Amazing Animals & Beautiful Birds. Both are illustrated by Rachel Cloyne who was inspired by objects in the British Museum collections. Her illustrations are real works of art in themselves, but brilliantly once you’ve coloured them in you have a card and an envelope (each book makes 24 cards)!
A card to colour
If you’re looking for the perfect gift for a history/ museum loving creative friend then this is it. You can find more information here
At this time of year its a good idea to start building a bookshelf of Christmas stories for the children. I have a friend who wraps up the books and they act as an advent calendar which is a great idea. From experience it is best to be organised well in advance as it takes the stress out of Christmas and so i’m already focussed on gathering our books with a view to creating a book advent calendar this year. Angel’s Great Escape is definitely included!
The book tells the story of Angel and her decoration friends who are trapped in a box in the home of the mean family who live in the same street as the good family. Angel and her friends need to escape on Christmas Eve in time to meet Father Christmas. This is a delightful, original Christmas story with beautiful illustrations. One of the problems I tend to find with Christmas stories is that they are either too long, too short or simply retell the same story. Angel’s Great Escape is a perfect length for 5- 8 year old bedtime reading and its original with nice quirky illustrations.
The first book from the independent publishing company And So We Begin which was set up by Kirstie Rowson Angel’s Great Escape sets the bar high, we cant wait to read more from her.
When you drive through Broxbourne Woods you wouldn’t think that within the hornbeams there is a whole wildlife park with dinosaurs, a train and a speedway museum but thats exactly the beauty of Paradise Wildlife Park.
We visited Paradise Wildlife Park on one of those typical British September Sundays, the park was buzzing with people enjoying themselves. We were given a map of the site which had times of all the shows. The bird show was nearby so we headed over and what a treat it was. The staff were clearly well informed, it was a small enough audience to really feel part of the show and the birds were close and impressive.
One of the things which Paradise concentrates on is its big cats and there are plenty to look at and learn about. The big cat area is really great as its wheelchair/ pushchair friendly and allows you to have a look at the cats from lots of different angles. We loved spotting the baby jaguar which was absolutely adorable.
There aren’t just big cats though, there is loads to see. Inside the reptile house we got to meet a special turtle and ask the keeper questions. We saw otters, wolves, penguins, pigs, sheep and all sorts of things!
The great thing about Paradise Wildlife Park is that when the kids get bored of the animals there are loads of other things to do. My kids loved the different playgrounds and in particular the slides which kept them amused whilst we had a chance for a sit down and a cup of tea. We went on a little train ride and spotted dinosaurs and we even visited a speedway museum.
The absolute joy of Paradise Wildlife Park is that although it is busy, there is so much to do that the queues for things are very short. There are plenty of toilets, places to sit down and eat and its not so massive that it wears you out. Its fairly easy to park and you can by pass the shop on the way out which is always a winner for me as it prevents the end of day meltdowns. We had a fabulous time and will definitely return soon as there is so much going on. If you are looking for a great stress free day out in Hertfordshire then we would highly recommend a trip to Paradise Wildlife Park.
Sometimes a book can really strike a chord with children or make them think quite deeply about things and The Snow Lion is one of these books. This is a magical story about a little girl who moves house and is quite lonely exploring the house which is painted white all alone. She discovers a white lion who becomes her friend and helps her to gain the courage to meet lots of new friends.
My children responded well to this message, the lion resonated as an imaginary friend who encourages them to go outside of their comfort zone.
The book is very memorable, not least because of the beautiful illustrations by Richard Jones which are very poetic and gentle and sit perfectly with the story.
I’d suggest that this might well become a staple of future children’s bookshelves. Its one of those books which I think can be quite medicinal for children, it can be read in preparation for tricky moments and as a subtle way of suggesting an answer to an issue. However, it is a lovely heartwarming story which is perfect for a good bedtime read.
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.