Monday, 17 June 2019

Shire Hall Historic Courthouse Museum - Dorchester - Review

One of Dorset's newest attractions is the Shire Hall Historic Courthouse in Dorchester. It opened in May 2018 however it's roots go way back to the 18th Century when it served as an actual courthouse.

Bringing over 200 years of justice and injustice to life, Shire Hall promises a fun and interactive experience for all ages.

We are always keen to visit new places with the children but I have to say, I wasn't sure how suitable the museum would be for my two, aged 6 and 2. More on that later but let's just say I was pleasantly surprised!

Shire Hall is located at the top of the High Street in Dorchester (nearest parking is Top 'O The Town) and is open daily from 10-5am.

On arrival at the museum, there is the option of doing an audio tour or for younger visitors, there is a hands-on iPad app which was a big hit with Elliot! If you do choose the iPad tour then you'll need to give your credit card to the staff as a deposit but it's literally locked in a box so is very safe.

As we made our way into the museum, Elliot began to explore the app and it was a fantastic resource. It was easy to use and really held his attention. There were maps of each room, mystery boxes to find, lots of information plus games!

It's easy to forget how old the building is when you are stood in the front entrance/shop as it's so bright and modern. But as you head further into the museum and towards the cells, the temperature seems to drop a little, everything gets a little darker and you really start to get a feel of the history of the place!

One of the rooms has a large screen and a film on loop which gives a bit more information about the history of the courthouse, including the Tolpuddle Martyrs, one of the most famous trials held here. Elliot said he found this room creepy so he was keen to move on!

We then moved onto the cells which were my favourite part of the museum - it was crazy to think who might have passed through here all those years ago and what their crimes might have been. It was quite eerie down there too!   The cells were a lot smaller than I thought they would be and it was fascinating to see all the graffiti that had been left on the walls.

One of the cells had a chalk wall so visitors can leave their own marks, this proved popular with Elliot and Erin!

 Just round the corner from the cells, there was a wall featuring many different mug shots and the crimes committed - these ranged from stealing bread to arson. We were amazed to see one of the prisoners was just 7 years old - Elliot is 6 and he couldn't quite get his head around the fact that someone his age could do something so bad and end up in court!

One of the most intriguing things we spotted was a cell that was a little different from the others. The original floor had been removed and there was a low pit that could be reached by stairs. There were lots of ideas as to what the cell was for but the museum still doesn't know!

The next cell was a lot larger than the others and it was where the Tolpuddle Martyrs were held before their trial. The Tolpuddle Martyrs were a group of 6 farm labourers from Dorset who were convicted of swearing a secret oath as members of a friendly society - a forerunner to a trade union.

It was extremely interesting to read about this case - I had heard of the Tolpuddle Martyrs but didn't really know the story behind them. It's fascinating to think that their case paved the way for the creation of trade unions and the protection of employees rights - something that is as important as ever in 2019.

The final room to see was the courtroom and as we ascended the narrow staircase up from the cells, it was hard not to think about all those who had climbed those stairs to their fates. It gave me goosebumps thinking about it!

You might think the courtroom would be a bit boring for younger visitors but this is not the case at all.  Dotted all around the room are hats and dressing up props so children (and grown-up ones!) can immerse themselves into the characters. Elliot thoroughly enjoyed transforming into the judge with the coat and the wig!

After we had explored the courtroom (and tried on every hat several times over!) we took a look at the exhibition room. The museum has lots of events on throughout the year so it's worth checking the website but we were lucky enough to see the Tolpuddle Martyrs Remixed Exhibition.

Featuring art by Jason Wilsher Mills, the exhibition brings the story of the Tolpuddle Martyrs to life using augmented reality elements which can be seen using smartphones or iPad. Elliot loved this part! It was a really unique exhibition by a very talented artist.

Our final stop was the cafe which is a lovely bright area serving a variety of sandwiches, daily-changing lunches and amazing looking cakes. My husband went for a stew which smelt delicious, I had a chicken and bacon toastie (very nice!) and the kids were very happy with their lunchboxes which included a choice of sandwiches, crisps, fruit, drink and a penguin.

We had a really fun day out at the museum and it was a real surprise to find somewhere so child-friendly! The iPad tour for children was a fantastic resource and really enhanced our visit.

The museum offers lots of activites in school holidays such as slime making and storytelling so I think we will definitely be making a return trip! (It's worth noting that ticket prices include an annual pass which is brilliant value)

For more information and ticket prices, visit the Shire Hall Courthouse Website

*Disclaimer - We were provided with complimentary entry and lunch for the purpose of this honest review.  

Monday, 20 May 2019

BRAND NEW Mighty Claws Adventure Golf - Southampton - Review

Last weekend we were invited along to the launch of Southampton's newest (and most fearsome!) attraction - Mighty Claws Adventure Golf.

We were already big fans of the Bournemouth based Mighty Claws so we couldn't wait to see what was in store for us in Southampton.

Mighty Claws Southampton is the 3rd one of it's kind to open (Bournemouth as mentioned before, plus Mighty Claws Colchester). As with the other locations, it has been adapted from a children's story, 'The Mighty Claws Follow a Monster' and is part of the Mighty Claws series written by Nat Luurtsema.

Set in a mythical land of giant sea monsters, mysterious shipwrecks and moving, life-sized dinosaurs,  Mighty Claws Southampton (or Viking Valley as it's known in the story!) promised to be a fantastic attraction.

Located just off the M27, Mighty Claws is easy to get to with lots of parking. As you pull in you'll spot a massive moving Tyrannosaurus Rex so you'll know you're in the right place!

We arrived bright and early and joined the other VIP's for the official opening of the course. We nibbled on mighty munchies and settled down for story time in the Golf Centre's cafe. This wasn't just any story time though, this was a reading of "The Mighty Claws Follows a Monster" book by the author herself!

Once the ribbon had been cut and the course officially opened, we picked up our clubs and headed through the gates of Viking Valley.

The course is really impressive with colourful life sized dinosaurs set amongst the 18 holes. Aimed at children 4+, some of the holes were very simple whilst others took a bit of work! Obviously we had Erin with us and although she is only 2, she still had her own club and gave it a good go...although she kept picking up our balls and popping in the hole so I'm not sure she totally got the rules ;)

As we visited on opening day, the course was very busy and we did spend a large chunk of our time waiting for the next hole to become free. But the good thing is, there are lots of things to keep children entertained whilst waiting.  There's animatronic dinosaurs to spot, water squirting raptors, a wobbly rope bridge and even an octopus to discover! I loved the fun little info boards at each hole - they were full of dino facts and even taught us how to pronounce all the tricky dinosaur names.

There's even a few holes where the ball has to be hit over the stream - needless to say, these were Elliot's favourite and he missed on purpose so he could hook his ball out of the water with the provided nets!

Both kids were highly disappointed when we reached the end of the course and I think they would have gone round again given the chance.

We had a fun day out at Mighty Claws and will definitely return!

For more info on ticket prices and opening times, check out the Mighty Claws website

*Disclaimer - We were invited along to the VIP opening of Mighty Claws for the purpose of this review, but all views are 100% honest 

Monday, 13 May 2019

SEA LIFE Weymouth - Lego Sea Explorers

If you're a regular reader of this blog, you'll know that recently we became Weymouth Sea Life Ambassadors. The kids love it there and they were really excited to find out that the latest event to open at Weymouth is Lego Sea Explorers - they have become Lego crazy over the past 6 months so excitement was high! 

Running until 2nd June, Lego Sea Explorers is an engaging interactive trail with a range of activities to learn about Sea Life's amazing underwater creatures. 

We were given a Lego Fact Finder sheet on arrival and we headed straight over to the marquee which is located just by the splash park. Inside we found a whole host of Lego themed activities and two huge pits full of Lego, just waiting to be built!

There were five interactive stations - Underwater Mosaic where we could use the provided bricks to add to the underwater scene, Roller Colour which featured lovely underwater pictures to colour in with the provided pens, Creature Creator which was an underwater puzzle, Ocean Illuminart, another colouring scene and Seabed Mosaic which was another build your own area. The mosaic ones were very popular and filled with children's names so of course, we had to add ours! 

As well as the activities, the pods are full of facts about the ocean's most exciting creatures including sharks, octopuses, starfish, crabs and seahorses. These facts will also help you unscramble the puzzles on the fact finder sheet! 

If that wasn't enough to keep the little one entertained, there is also a TV showing Lego films!

Once you have completed all the missions and filled in your fact sheet, Sea Explorers will be awarded with a limited-edition Lego Dive Team pop badge. 

Once we had finished becoming Lego Sea Explorers we had time to explore the rest of the park, including the brand new Turtle Sanctuary. This section was being refurbished on our last visit so I was excited to see it transformed. 

Inside looked completely different - gone were the dark tanks and dimly lit corners. Instead there were brand new turtle and terrapin enclosures which looked so much brighter! 

We also found lots of interactive information boards featuring topics such as sustainable fishing, seal rescue, marine protected areas and the hot topic of the moment, plastic pollution. It's such an important topic and it's fantastic that Sea Life has invested in these new displays to educate the younger generation. 

It wouldn't be a trip to Sea Life without a touch of a starfish in the rockpools and Erin took great pleasure in showing her Daddy how brave she was!

LEGO Sea Explorers is running until 2nd June 2019 so you only have a few weeks to enjoy this fab event - for more information, check out the SEA LIFE Weymouth Website or Facebook 

*Disclaimer: We are Weymouth SEA LIFE Ambassadors and received an annual pass in return for regular reviews, but all thoughts and opinions are my own

Sunday, 12 May 2019

A Day Out at Marwell Zoo, featuring Brickosaurs! Review

Marwell Zoo near Winchester is one of my favourite places to visit and is somewhere I have been coming to since I was a little girl - in fact, one of my earliest memories is a school trip here when I was around 5/6!

Recently Marwell launched their world exclusive Brickosaurs event and we couldn't wait to visit. Brickosaurs is an amazing interactive showcase of over 2 million Lego bricks creating a whole host of colourful dinosaurs around the park. It's a perfect day out for the kids - animals and Lego, a match made in heaven!

I knew we would have a lot to see so we left nice and early and arrived at Marwell at 10 when it opened. We picked up our Brickosaurs trail map and off we went. It wasn't long before we spotted our first dinosaur although this one was obviously far too dangerous to be out and about in public!

he's behind you! 
As it was quiet we decided to hop on the little train that goes around the park and it's a great way of seeing the park and getting your bearings.

The zebras were full of the joys of spring and the younger ones were skipping around all over the place!

After the train dropped us back at the station, we grabbed a quick coffee from the gift shop/cafe and spotted a rather colourful velociraptor lurking in the corners. One to tick off our list!

One of the best tips I have for anyone visiting Marwell is to consider walking the park in an anti-clockwise direction. Most of the crowd will generally head past the penguins in the direction of the giraffes but we found that by heading in the opposite direction, it was a lot quieter.  We had the snow leopards to ourselves for a little while!

The Brickosaurs are scattered all over the park and easy to spot. Each dinosaur is accompanied by a sign full of fun facts like how many Lego bricks were needed to build it, and how much it weighs etc. How amazing would it be to have the job as Brickosaurs builder?

The largest touring Lego brick dinosaur model ever made is the mighty Tyrannosaurus Rex who we found outside Marwell Hall. At 8 metres long she really is a sight to behold!

Exploring the zoo is hungry work so decided to stop for an early lunch - and to stop the continued "I'm hungry!" comments! There are several cafes and kiosks around the park if you want to buy something but there are also lots of lovely areas which are perfect for picnics.

We love to have our picnic on the lawn at the back of the Hall - there are lots of benches plus more importantly, hills to roll down!

Marwell Zoo is currently going through some pretty exciting changes and is part way through a £17m investment programme which promises improved habitats for animals and more immersive experiences for guests.

One of the newest exhibits is the Tropical House which is home to an abundance of wildlife and tropical plants - and they have a sloth! I absolutely love sloths and I was really hoping to spot him but he was tucked away out of sight. Maybe next time! If sloth spotting wasn't enough to keep Elliot busy, he really enjoyed playing with the interactive tablets that can be found throughout the house.

The Tropical House spans two levels and is totally wheelchair/buggy accessible - just as well, Erin slept her way around this one ;) Colourful birds and butterflys swoop above your head whilst at ground level, you might spot mouse deer, tortoises, lizards and leaf cutter ants. We found the ants fascinating!

According to Marwell's annual audit last year, there were around 2000 animals and 143 species but this year's figure is likely to be higher because of the success of their breeding programmes. There are different things to spot around every corner and we loved seeing our favourites such as the Amur Tigers and meercats.

 I also have a soft spot for the very cute red pandas and it was lovely to see them in their new home.

 As if the animals and Brickosaurs weren't enough to keep the children entertained, there are also 5 adventure playgrounds to explore! My kids are obsessed with parks so we could have spent all day playing on these. Some are suited more for older kids but with a bit of assistance, Erin was able to clamber up most of the play structures and whizz down the slides with her brother!

After a quick trip to the gift shop, it was time to come home - what a brilliant day! Sadly we didn't get to visit the Brickosaurs Base Camp - the previous day had been mega windy so the marquee was shut for safety reasons but at least this gives us a reason to return. Plus there are 12 more Brickosaurs arriving in July!

Overall, Marwell Zoo is a fantastic day out for all ages and it really is value for money. There is so much to see and do and you can literally spend the entire day there! The Brickosaurs event is definitely worth seeing and is running until 1st September 2019.

For more info on opening times and ticket prices, see the Marwell Zoo website

P.S. If you need somewhere to stop for dinner when you leave the zoo, we can highly recommend the Dog and Crook pub which is just a few minutes away in the village of Brambridge. We had a lovely meal on the way home!

*Disclaimer: We were invited to Marwell for the day to visit the Brickosaurs, all words and opinions are my own. 

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