Thursday, 9 July 2020

Visiting National Trust Properties (Dorset) in Summer 2020 with Phased Re-openings

Over the last few weeks, the UK has started to lift restrictions and more of our favourite places are becoming accessible again. National Trust has opened more than 100 of their parklands and gardens but visits need to be pre-booked so they can limit the number of visitors.

Tickets can be pre-booked each Friday via their website and you can pick a slot which suits you. The more popular locations such as Stourhead are getting fully booked almost immediately but we have managed to book tickets for Corfe Castle and Kingston Lacy here in Dorset without any problems. Members and non-members can pre-book but non-members will have to pay in advance. For us as members, we just had to enter our membership number and our spaces were booked. When booking you have to pick a 30 minute arrival time but there are no restrictions on how long you stay, although they cannot guarantee entry if you're late for your slot.

Kingston Lacy

Our first place we visited was Kingston Lacy (we've been twice recently) and we love it here, the grounds are so pretty and the kids love the space to run around! When we arrived in the car park there was a member of staff who ticked our name off the list and that was it, we didn't need to show our membership card.

Our timeslot was 2pm and it was very quiet, although there were cars in the overflow too. We followed the path in and there were clear signs regarding the walks around the garden and woodland trail. There was a one-way system in place which worked well. There were lots of families enjoying the sunshine but it was very easy to maintain a distance, even on the paths.

The Kitchen Garden is currently closed but we still had a pleasant walk around, passing the Japanese Garden and the beautiful meadow area. I've never actually seen the meadow in bloom like this, the daisys were so pretty.

The children enjoyed climbing trees, rolling down the hill on the front lawn, and best of all, playing hide and seek in the long grass!

The cafe was open on both our visits but just as a takeaway, there is no seating in the stables and the picnic tables have been moved onto the grassy area near the entrance. The toilets were also open and there was extra sanitiser available.

Corfe Castle

Corfe Castle is another favourite of ours and we were so excited to visit again. We arranged to meet some friends there and we both booked our tickets on the Friday before with no issues.

When we arrived in Corfe, I did notice that the carpark was very quiet and I assume this was because of restricted numbers in the castle. The visitors centre and toilets were also closed.

It's a really pleasant walk from the carpark, the path takes you around the foot of the castle and it's away from the road so alot safer for the children. There's a great little trim trail to climb along too which my kids love!

Once at the castle, we gave our names to the member of staff at the ticket tent and we were ticked off the list. Like Kingston Lacy, we didn't need to show our tickets or membership number. 

Our visit to the castle was much like previous visits however there is a one way route to follow around certain parts. This worked well and due to the low number of visitors, we didn't feel rushed. The children were able to explore and have as much fun as normal!

If you fancy a treat after your visit, the National Trust tearooms are open (public toilets too!), We decided to order fish & chips from The Greyhound pub which is right outside the entrance to Corfe Castle. We weren't able to sit in the beer garden as there were still restrictions in place when we visited, but we were allowed to take our food back into the Castle grounds where there were tables and chairs available.

Lunch with a view! 

It's fantastic that the National Trust have put all these measures in place so visitors can still enjoy a day out at their many properties. If you are thinking about booking a visit then I would definitely recommend going online as early as possible on a Friday morning to give you more chance of getting tickets.

For more information, please visit

Sunday, 31 May 2020

COVID19 - Life at Home - Ten Weeks in

So the last time I wrote about the lockdown, we were three weeks in and everything was still a bit weird although we were beginning to get used to the new normal. Fast forward to now and the beginning of lockdown feels like a lifetime ago! We are approaching our 11th week of lockdown and I can't quite believe it's gone so fast. The lockdown rules are due to change next week and it feels like there is a glimmer of hope that things are heading in the right direction of getting back to normal - although I do believe that this will take a long time. 

It doesn't look like Elliot will be heading back to school anytime soon as his infant school only have the space for the reception classes at the moment. He is due to start Junior School in September so I think his time at Infants has come to an end which is sad. Fortunately all his friends will be moving to Juniors too so at least they will all be in the same boat but I hope that there will be a chance to go back and say goodbye to all the lovely teachers! 

We are still plodding on with the school work but I have considerably lowered the expectations and pressure - if we get stuff done, great but if we don't then we just do some more the next day! It's still been tricky getting Elliot to concentrate with all that is going on at home (i.e a crazy toddler!) but he's done really well and we have managed to get some lovely bits of work completed including a VE Day poster and some creative writing. 

Elliot even took part in his school's talent competition from home. He has been in the final for the past two years running so we had a lot to live up to....and I think we pulled something funny out of the bag! Elliot and his friend loved making this and we had some fantastic feedback from the teachers!  

Over the last two weeks we've been able to get out a bit more due to the lockdown rules changing and being allowed to go in the car to somewhere and not just for exercise.  Dorset is a popular tourist destination and has definitely been lots busier but we have stuck to walks in the countryside off the beaten track so we can maintain social distancing! 

Weymouth harbour JUrassic coastline

We've also avoided the crowds at Durdle Door and Bournemouth Beach and stuck to our local little park and beach. It's lovely there and one of my favourite places to visit with the kids - it never really gets too busy either which is handy. 

wave jumping at Hamworthy park

Lockdown has also bought some exciting opportunities. We were picked to be part of the Andy & The Odd Socks Album launch week and were sent some goodies to help us host a party. Obviously we couldn't invite our friends round but we were able to hold a zoom party with our friends and the children had lots of fun in the lead up to it decorating masks and rock star outfits. Elliot and I even made a huge poster! 

The highlight for everyone was when Andy Day himself joined our Zoom chat. I had told the Mums to expect this but the kids didn't know, Elliot was over the moon with excitement! They had a little chat and asked a few questions and it was really fun for them all. 

Zoom has been a constant throughout lockdown with my weekly choir sessions moving online and it's funny how it quickly becomes normal. We've done quizzes, held parties, had meetings - I wonder if we will continue to use the online meetups as much once lockdown has finished?! 

From next week the UK will be able to meet up with more people so we're looking forward to cautiously catching up with some friends - from a safe distance of course. I am also keeping my fingers crossed that this lovely weather holds out because it is so much easier to entertain the children when we're at home and the sun is out! 

Hope you're all keeping ok and managing to stay safe x

Monday, 13 April 2020

COVID19 - Life at Home - Getting Used to the New Normal

It's been three weeks now since the schools closed and life took an unexpected turn. Who could have predicted that we'd all be home schooling and only allowed outside for essentials and exercise?!

The last few days before school finished were really strange - much quieter on the school run with many families already choosing to stay at home and a really strange atmosphere. I couldn't put my finger on it but I think most people were worried and unsure of the future, I know I felt like that. I also felt really sad, sad that Elliot might miss out on his final terms at Infant School. Sad that they would miss their friends and teachers. And sad that life as we know it would change dramatically. I'm not ashamed to say there were a few tears, mainly from me. Thank goodness the ice cream man was there on the last Friday to cheer us up!

That weekend we went out for a walk in the forest near us, and although at that point, we didn't know for certain that there would be a lockdown, we had a feeling it might be our last day out for a little while.

The first day of home school was met with great optimism - we were up early and ready to join in with Joe Wicks, we had a timetable of subjects to cover and the snack cupboard was full! There was a real novelty of doing school work at home and Elliot was really eager to learn. We peaked far too soon though, as the days went on our timetable became much looser and some days we didn't even do any work as the children were having so much fun outside in the garden!

I have found it quite tricky some days to entertain both children at the same time. Elliot needs a bit of help with his work as he can get very distracted but Erin also wants my attention 99% of the time so I'm having to try and balance them both which can lead to arguments! Erin is only 3 so she doesn't have school work to do but I've printed her off lots of colouring sheets from Twinkl so she thinks she is joining in. Twinkl has actually been a fantastic resource for school work and my printer has been working overtime with all the worksheets we have printed.

We have been keeping in touch with school via Facebook/emails/apps and we even got a phonecall from Elliot's teacher which was nice. It is such a wonderful school and the teachers have done so much to make the transition to home schooling a bit easier. They have even been uploading stories to YouTube which has gone down well with Elliot and Erin. They are of course missing their friends but we've done some video calls, and this morning they spent a good 20 minutes on Messenger just switching between funny filters!

We are really lucky to have a garden for the children to play in and they have certainly been making the most of the trampoline and slide. The sunny weather has also been a huge bonus. Our holiday to Florida got cancelled so if we sit on the sunny decking with our eyes closed, we can almost imagine we're on holiday!

I recently bought a Tuff Tray on Amazon which has been really useful - I like the fact it's on legs so the kids can stand up and play on it. I have been getting lots of ideas from Pinterest but one of the most fun activities we did was slime! I found an old packet mix which was just powder that you add water to - it was meant for the bath but I figured we could use it on the tray. I don't think I got the quantities quite right because it was really really gloopy but the kids had so much fun. But oh my god was it messy! They had it aaaaaaall up their arms and everytime they moved it would leave a long strand of slime. I had to put them straight in the shower afterwards, along with the tray!

One of the upsides of the last few weeks is getting the chance to explore our local area on our walks. Sometimes it's too easy to jump in the car and go out for the day, but not being able to do that has forced us to venture out to the places on our doorstep. Fortunately we live in a lovely area which is close to the sea so we have found secret beaches, shaded woodland areas and had lots of beautiful views across the water. An added bonus is that Elliot has got really confident on his bike too!

I was initially worried that we would all be climbing the walls after a few weeks at home but actually it's not been so bad and it's been so nice not having to rush around anywhere. Bedtimes have got a bit later and it takes us a while to get going in the mornings but it's nice for the children to be spending so much time at home with us....well, except when they're bickering over the tv again ;)

No-one is really sure when life will get back to normal but we'll carry on clapping on a Thursday evening. We'll carry on self isolating at home and hoping we get to see our friends and family in person really soon.

How have you been spending this time?

Wednesday, 4 March 2020

Andy & The Band Launch Party - Live on CBeebies!

Last weekend the kids and I headed into London for a very very exciting event - the Andy and the Band show live launch!

Regular readers of this blog will know that we have been fans of Andy's since Elliot was small and have followed his Odd Socks music career since the beginning. We love going to their live shows but the children were really excited to hear about a brand new show on CBBC featuring Andy and the Odd Socks. And they were even more excited to get an invite to the launch!

Saturday morning arrived and we were on the road by 6am...a little bleary eyed but raring to go. We parked at Richmond and hopped on the tube which was a massive novelty - the kids haven't really been into central London properly before so the tube was a totally new experience for them!

The launch was being hosted at the Royal Institution in Mayfair and when we arrived, the children were given an Andy and The Band lanyard which they immediately put on. We headed upstairs where everyone else seemed to be and waited to be let into the auditorium. In typical Elliot style, he was in the right place at the right time and managed to get high 5's when the band walked past!

It was soon time to head into the auditorium and excitement started to build as we spotted all the cameras and equipment! We found a seat and played a game of "who can we spot off the telly!" - the first being Dodge from CBeebies.

It was fascinating watching him - obviously he's a puppet but the man that moves him round and talks is just so funny! Elliot was really chuffed to get a selfie :)

Elliot also spotted Ed and Naomi from Marrying Mum and Dad - it's one of his favourite shows on CBBC so he literally ran over to them to say hello, it made his day!

Soon it was time begin and Andy and the band came in to rapturous applause - the audience seemed to be made up of mostly family/friends and fans so they got a brilliant welcome!

It was really exciting to hear that they would be playing live on CBeebies - apparently CBeebies has only been live once before so this was a real treat - it's not often we get to watch TV absolutely live.

The band had a few rehearsals, and they played some songs (including some new ones!) and soon it was time to GO LIVE!

After that we were able to watch two of the episodes of the new show and the episodes got a great reaction from the audience. Elliot and Erin were certainly transfixed.

Once the filming had been completed and the episodes watched, everyone headed out to have photos with Andy and the band. As always, Elliot was greeted like an old friend and even Erin was all smiles! Previously at meet and greets she has cried or screamed but this was the first time that she was not only keen to say hello, but actually smiled for the picture :)

We also caught up with some of the other Odd Sock families - we bump into each other at lots of gigs so it was nice to say hello.

Odd Sock Superfans!
Soon it was time to say our goodbyes and head back to Dorset after our whistle stop visit to London. We had a brilliant morning and it was amazing to be part of the launch. Andy and the band work so hard and it's brilliant to see all the hard work paying off. I think it's fantastic for children to have such positive and talented role models to look up to and I'm sure the Odd Socks are going to get a massive influx of new fans this year!

Andy and The Band is now streaming on iPlayer and you can catch them playing live all over the Country this year. 

**A BIG thank you to Odd Socks HQ for inviting us along to this - see you soon :)

Monday, 2 March 2020

Jawsome Sharks & Friends - Top Trumps - Weymouth SEA LIFE

We love a day out at Weymouth SEA LIFE Adventure Park and in the half term holiday we headed down to check out the brand new Jawsome Sharks event. Running from 15th February - 26th April, visitors can take on a brand new quest for 2020 by helping Professor Finn find the missing Top Trump cards hidden around the park.

"Guests will learn fun facts along the way about the species of sharks and other amazing creatures that call the aquarium home. This latest activity marks an exciting new partnership with family favourite Top Trumps card games, which many of us know from the endless hours of fun provided as children" 

We are huge fans of Top Trumps and Elliot and Erin were very keen to start on this challenge!

As we headed into the park, we picked up our challenge sheets and pencils from the front desk and excitingly, our first Top Trump card of the day. As part of the quest, children can challenge any member of staff to a quick game of Top Trumps to see if they can win another card. This is a fantastic way of learning about the sea creatures and who doesn't love a fact!

We had a bit of a false start with our Top Trumps as the first member of staff we encountered didn't have any cards on him but this didn't dampen Elliot's enthusiasm as you can see from the pic above :)

We had lots of fun exploring the park zones and looking for the hidden Top Trumps. Some were easy to find but we had a bit of a tricky one which was being hidden by a stingray - he really didn't want us to see the info and we had to wait ages for him to move!

It was also really fun getting to challenge the staff - I think this was Elliot's favourite part of the day and he got some really interesting cards from different staff around the park. The staff are brilliant at Sealife Weymouth and it's something I always notice every time we visit - they are passionate about the park and always so friendly.

Of course we couldn't visit and not spend some time in Caribbean Cove - one of the best playgrounds in Dorset. The kids love it and could easily spend all day here!

Erin's still a bit too young to go on the big climbing frame but there's plenty to keep her occupied and she loved the toddler pirate ship.

The park is going through a bit of an update at the moment and the popular Ocean Tunnel display inside the Turtle Sanctuary is currently being redeveloped into an exciting new experience called Night and Day. This opens in April 2020 and we can't wait to see what they've done!

Once you have found all the Top Trump cards around the park and filled out your sheet, you will receive a special reward to take home...

We had a fab day out at Weymouth SEA LIFE and the kids were really chuffed to come away with a selection of Top Trump cards. I think having the staff there to swap cards with is a great way of getting the kids chatting, especially if they are a little shy.

The Jawsome Sharks and Friends event is now on until 26th April - for more information and tickets, please check out the Weymouth SEA LIFE website .

*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

Saturday, 22 February 2020

Top Tips for Taking Better Photos of your Kids

Before the kids came along, my camera was never far from my side and I loved snapping pictures of my friends on nights out, or stunning scenery on our holidays. These days I still adore taking photos but like most parents, my shots are generally of the children. The nights out have turned into playdates and days out and the holidays are filled with family fun and less cocktails!

Taking photos of children can be tricky because firstly, they don't stay still and secondly, if you have more than one child to photograph, it's a mission in itself getting them both to look at the camera at the same time

Tip#1 - Keep Things Natural
Asking my children to say cheese for the camera can bring out a variety of different smiles, and usually they can look a little forced! I much prefer a less staged shot where it's more likely to be a natural smile. Not like this one....!

"Say cheese!"
Tip#2 - Using the Camera Correctly
Technology has have moved on massively since my first camera and there are so many different options out there. You might prefer something basic like a point and shoot, or you might want to go top of the range with (Professional) Full Frame Mirrorless Cameras  . As with any new tech, it's good to have a play around with the settings and not rely on the automatic function - whilst the automatic setting is convenient, it doesn't guarantee the best photo. If reading the instructions isn't your thing, check out YouTube for how to videos and tips. 

Tip#3 - Get Down to Their Level
It's amazing what a difference this one makes. You can miss so much detail if you're higher than the subject and bringing the camera down to the child's eye level can help you see the world from their eyes. 

Tip#4 - Think About Your Background
My kids love bright outfits and usually wear tshirts adorned with their favourite characters. Combine these bright outfits with a busy background and your photo will just have too much going on to appreciate the subject. Simple backgrounds are the best and this can really make the colours pop! 

It's also worth learning how to take photos with a blurry background with can be really effective. Most phones have a setting that does this and I have taken some of my favourite photos using this function. 

Tip#5 - Lighting
I love experimenting with different light settings and nothing beats natural light! I especially love the golden light as the sun is setting and this can look really pretty in photos.

Tip#6 - Burst Mode
As I mentioned at the start of this post, kids move fast! Most phones and camera have a burst mode, or continuous shooting mode which takes a series of photos in quick succession. I've found this really useful for getting some perfect shots - it does mean you end up with a ton of similar photos but at least these days we have the luxury of digital and can delete the ones we don't need! 

Just a wizard jumping in a puddle! 
What are your top tips for capturing those magical moments? 

*Disclosure - this is a sponsored post

Tuesday, 4 February 2020

Driving the Golden Circle in Iceland with Kids

If you're planning on visiting Iceland then the Golden Circle will most definitely be on your itinerary. Taking in some of South West Iceland's most stunning natural sights, it's easily accessible as a day trip from Reykjavik.

Whilst I was doing our holiday research I found lots of tour operators running Golden Circle tours but I wondered if these would be suitable for children. Although I liked the idea of having a tour guide, we decided that self driving would suit us more. Elliot and Erin are 6 and 2 and I thought it would be much easier and much less stressful doing things at our own pace!

We hired a car through Blue Car Rental and we used Google Maps on our phones to get around. The Golden Circle is very popular amongst tourists though so you could probably get by with just using signs/maps! We found the internet coverage excellent in Iceland and we were able to use it pretty much everywhere we went.

Thingvillir National Park

Our first stop was Thingvillir (ÞingvellirNational Park which is one of the most popular tourist destinations in Iceland. It's the only UNESCO World Heritage site in Iceland and has a past steeped in history. The park is located in a rift valley, created by the movement of the North American and Eurasian tectonic plates. This makes for some jaw dropping scenery!

There is no entrance fee for the park but if you arrive by car you will have to pay a parking fee of 500 ISK, but this is valid for the entire day and at all parking areas.

There is a large visitor's centre with the usual cafe/shop/exhibits but we skipped this and headed straight for the lookout point. With it being a beautiful sunny morning, we could see for miles and it literally looked like a postcard!

We followed the main path that ran parallel with the cliff and were rewarded with more stunning views. The terrain was perfectly fine for the children however some of the lookout points just had a bar and were not child-friendly at all - Erin stayed on her reins the entire time (much to her disgust!) so we could keep a good grip on her.

There are several carparks dotted around the park so we decided that Paul should go back and get the car and drive onto the next carpark whilst myself and the children followed the path and enjoyed the views. This sounded like a good plan but we didn't realise that the further we got from the visitor's centre, the deeper the snow got on the paths!

We passed lots of people coming down a steep path (and most of them sliding down on their bums!) and my heart sank as it was the only way up to the carpark that Paul was parked in! (Little did I know that he was up top taking photos as you can see from the pic below...)

Can you spot us?!

With a bit of help from some passers-by, a few tears and rather alot of snow we managed to get to the top in one piece..well, maybe not my dignity. That was shattered after I face planted the snow on the clamber up! 

Gullfoss Waterfall

Gullfoss was our next stop on the Golden Circle and it was around an hours drive from Thingvillir. This was a good opportunity for the kids to have a bit of a rest after trudging through the snow - Erin was asleep literally minutes into our journey! 

A top tip if you're travelling along this route is to seek out the cheaper food options. Eating out in Iceland is notoriously expensive but a much cheaper option is to go for hotdogs which you can pretty much find everywhere in Iceland. We stopped at a service station (here) and discovered a really good grocery shop and the all important hotdogs!  We were able to have a quick lunch at a fraction of the price of any of the cafes and restaurants at the Golden Circle hot spots. 

Gullfoss is another of the most popular tourist spots in Iceland and this was evident by the amount of cars and buses in the carpark! There is a large gift shop and restaurant on site, and plenty of viewpoints to see the waterfall. 

If you were thinking about taking a buggy, you would only be able to view from the top as there were a number of steps going down to the lower viewpoints. There are rope fences which weren't really enough to contain a lively toddler so definitely keep little kids on reins if possible! 

The waterfall is impressive, and the roar of the water as we climbed down the steps was deafening! On sunny days you can spot rainbows above the waterfall like we did - although don't let the sunshine in our photos fool you. It was COLD! 

Geysir and Strokkur 

Next on our Golden Circle itinerary was Geysir, home to the famous erupting geysers - chance is if you've ever googled Iceland, you'll have seen a picture of the the water erupting out of the ground! 

Geysir is the original geyser but this one doesn't erupt as much these days. Strokkur however, goes off every 5-10 minutes so you will never have to wait long to see an eruption. The water is blasted to around 30 metres high! I found it so fascinating - it was brilliant to see it afar like in the photo above but once we got up close we could actually see the water bubbling in the ground. It would bubble into a dome and then kind of get sucked in and then at that point you knew the eruption would be any second! 

The kids thought it was brilliant and we spent ages wandering around looking at all the smaller geysers and waiting for the big one to erupt. It did take us by surprise at first though - we thought we'd found a really good vantage point to watch it erupt. Little did we know that the reason no one was stood there was that it was in the splash zone! Poor Erin looked like she'd been in the shower but they thought it was hilarious!

The pathways are mostly paved and definitely suitable for buggies although we left ours in the car and just had the reins. With steaming vents, hot springs and boiling mud pits you definitely need to keep an eye on little ones - there are roped fences but it would be easy for a child to slip under these.

On site opposite the main geothermal area there is a large gift shop, cafe, restaurant and hotel. We stopped for a hot chocolate and ice-cream and it was nice to escape the cold for a bit!

It's free to see the geysers and there is a large carpark but it does get VERY busy. Most bus tours seem to come and go pretty quickly but we actually spent a few hours here and it did get much quieter towards late afternoon. I'd probably say this was our highlight of the Golden Circle!

Kerið Volcanic Crater Lake

Kerið is a 3,000 year old volcanic crater lake located along the Golden Circle route. It doesn't really look much from the road but as you climb nearer the rim, you can look down and see the spectacular colours. The water is usually bright blue although it was iced over when we visited. However we could clearly see the red volcanic rocks of the crater wall beneath the ice and snow. The crater is 270m long, 170m wide and 55m deep and is very impressive! 

There are two options for a walk - you can take the steps down to the bottom of the crater or you can walk up and around the crater rim. We chose to walk around the crater rim - it was quite uneven in places and a little muddy/icy but Erin was on her reins and we managed it with no issues. There are no fences and you are up quite high so I didn't let go of her hand! The views are worth it though and it felt like we were walking on top of the world!

Elliot and Paul took the steps down the bottom of the lake whilst Erin and I headed back to the car to warm up. It looked pretty slippery so I'm glad we left them to it!

Northern Lights

We decided as we were out in the car we may as well try and get a glimpse of the elusive Northern Lights. We had a bit of time before it got dark so we took a slow drive back to Reykjavik, taking in the impressive scenery. Iceland is so beautiful and it was even more special to see if at dusk when the sun was setting. 

The kids fell asleep in the back of the car so we parked up at a quiet spot with little light pollution. As the sky fell darker and darker, we excitedly kept our eyes peeled for any activity.

We did spot some unusual light - it seemed to get brighter and wispy but it came and went within around 20 minutes. It wasn't until I looked more closely at the photo once I got home that I spotted the green tinge!

Our Golden Circle day was mega long and we didn't get back to our apartment until gone 10pm but having our own transport made it so much easier with the kids. It meant we could take our time and not be on someone else's schedule.

We all had a brilliant time and the kids really enjoyed the day - they certainly slept well that night!

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