Wednesday, 21 July 2021

10 Top Tips to Survive the Summer Holidays

It's that time of year again when I'm firstly wondering where this year has gone to, and secondly making plans for the Summer Holidays! Currently the UK is having a bit of a heatwave and I'm really hoping this lovely weather continues so we can get out and about and enjoy the time away from school.  

I used to feel a bit daunted by the thought of 6 weeks off school and having to entertain the kids but I've learnt that it needn't be scary, and it doesn't have to cost lost of money. You'd be surprised, some of the best days we've had are the ones which didn't cost anything! 

Here's my top tips for getting through those 6 weeks....

Brainstorm

The first thing we do is make a summer holiday bucket list, get the children involved and write down all the things they want to do. On previous lists we have had simple things like "have a bbq" right up to the extravagant "go to Peppa Pig World"! Obviously you might not get around to doing everything on your list but there's always the half term holidays :) 

Make a Plan

I find it really useful to make a wall planner which you can stick up in the kitchen - it doesn't have to be anything super fancy, I literally got a big sheet of paper and drew out the days/weeks. It helps that the kids can see for themselves what we're up to and I'm not constantly being nagged "what are we doing today?!". 

Snacks & Crafts

I always make sure I do a Home Bargains trip prior to the school holidays to stock up on snacks/ice pops. The kids are always hungry so it's good to have plenty in - also handy if you need to pack up a quick picnic. Much cheaper than buying lunch out.  I always restock the paper and crayons/pens whilst I'm there too - good for rainy days! 

Rainy Days

Speaking of rainy days (and I hope there won't be too many of them), the thought of a whole day cooped up inside can be a bit daunting, especially if the children are moaning they are bored from 8am! If you've exhausted the usual crafts/baking/films/board games then sometimes its fun to just get outside and play in the rain. Last summer on one particular day, we had a ton of rain and our road had loads of surface water - the kids went out in their wellies and had so much fun splashing about. 


Library Time

Local libraries are a great place to spend a bit of time, you can often find treasure hunts and colouring plus most libraries will hold a Summer Reading Challenge. Our local library even has a little cafe! 


Summer Hols Scrapbook

Encourage the kid to make a Summer Holidays Scrapbook or diary. They can collect leaflets from days out, or draw/write what they've been up to. You can even get holiday journals on Amazon which are a fab way of getting creative and a nice way of remembering what you've been up to. Good to look back on for inspiration too! 

Better With Friends

Reach out to your friends and get some playdates booked in. I actually find it less stressful when there's a group of children because they will generally entertain themselves! 



Free Days Out

Not everything has to cost money in the hols and there are plenty of options for a cheap, or even free day out. Pack a picnic and visit your local park. Go for a walk and look for wildlife. You can download lots of free scavenger hunts online which are a great way for keeping walks exciting - you can find a great selection here.  Geocaching is another great free activity - all you need is the app on your phone and you can start finding caches. There's a great guide for beginners here

A massive cache that we found here in Dorset

Cheap Eating Out

It's great to have lunch out now and again throughout the holidays but it can get expensive. If you look around you can normally find some great deals to keep the costs down. Brewers Fayre do a great breakfast, not only is it unlimited but kids eat free making it a fab bargain. Tesco have also recently announced that kids eat free over the summer when an adult spends £3.50. We'll definitely be taking advantage of this offer - lunch in Tesco and a mooch round the toy aisle would make a great time waster on a rainy day! 

Kids Pass is another good one to look into - currently you can do a 30 day trial for £1 and this will get you lots of discounts, including free kids meals at certain restaurants. 

Down Days

Lastly, don't be afraid to have a day with no plans! I'm always guilty of packing loads into our summer holidays and the kids (and me) end up tired and grumpy. Stay in your pjs, watch a film and just RELAX! 


Thursday, 24 June 2021

A Bank Holiday Weekend in London & Surrounding Areas

 Way back in 2019, my husband booked surprise tickets for us all to visit Warner Bros Studio Tour in Watford. Who'd have though two years later we'd still be waiting to visit! Having rebooked and cancelled several times, we were hopeful the easing Covid restrictions in May 2021 would allow us to finally visit. And thankfully WB Studio Tour opened it's doors to the public on 17th May giving us the green light to go - yay! 

We decided to book a few hotels either side of the tour date to allow us to have an extended weekend break and it was so fun to be able to plan things again - it's been too long! Here's what we got up to: 

Saturday

We set off from sunny Dorset and our first port of call was Reading. My husband has a good friend who lives here that he went to uni with so we try and visit if we're in the area. We had a lovely stroll at a local country park called Dinton Pastures and we found an amazing play area for the kids. 



If you're ever in the Reading area with kids I'd highly recommend a trip here - the play area was absolutely massive and there was so much for the children to do.  

We had dinner at a local pub before heading to our first hotel of the weekend, the Holiday Inn Express in Hemel Hempstead. With these kind of chains, you can't usually go far wrong and this HI was more than adequate for a one night stay. It was a bit of a squeeze in the room with all four of us but it was clean which is the most important thing! We found the staff on the front desk really helpful too. Our car is electric and we asked if they had a charger - they let us plug in through a ground floor window and leave it charging all night. Very handy!

Sunday

Breakfast was a bit different at the hotel due to Covid and there weren't any hot veggie options but there were sausage/bacon baps already packaged up and plenty of cold options like toast and cereal. The breakfast was included in the price of our stay and the kids were more than happy when they discovered the nutella sachets. 

We checked out and headed down the road to the Warner Bros Studios Tour and excitement levels were high when we spotted the huge buildings! I will probably do a separate review for the studio tours because it was absolutely brilliant and we had such a fantastic day. The last time I went was 8 years ago and there is so much more there now. I won't ruin it if you haven't been but Gringotts was AMAZING! 




The only disappointing point of the whole day was the long queues at lunchtime for the Backlot cafe but we made do with ice-cream and Butterbeer 🍦🍺


The gift shop is of course located just as you exit the tour and if you've never been before, it's pretty big. And they sell all sorts so you'd be hard pushed to leave empty handed! Elliot decided to spend his pocket money on a wand - always useful! 


We bid a fond farewell to the studio tour and started making our way into central London for the next stop on our mini break. 

Our hotel was the Premier Inn at Waterloo and the central location was really handy. We dropped off our bags and headed straight back out to enjoy the sunshine. The Southbank was really really busy - being a sunny bank holiday, everyone in London seemed to be out! We managed to get a table in Giraffe and found it was really reasonably priced for food,especially for the kids. 


We did plan on having a walk right along the Southbank but it had been a long day for the kids with lots of walking so we decided to head on back to our hotel. All in all, a great day 👍


Monday

We were up bright and early due to the hotel only having very early breakfast slots - 645am is a bit early to eat but as we'd already paid for breakfast it was either that or 1030am which was far too late! Bellies full, we checked out and headed towards the tube station (Waterloo) to start our next adventure. 

We hopped on the tube and headed over to the British Museum near Holborn. There are some fantastic FREE museums in London...I'll say that again - FREE! We did have to pre-book a time slot but I think that might just be due to Covid and staggering the amount of people visiting. From the outside the museum certainly looks impressive and we were excited to see what was inside. 


The British Mususem is one of the largest museums in the world and houses over 13 million objects, although obviously not all these are on display. The museum has nearly 100 galleries open to the public and you can see two million years of human history. Not bad for a free ticket! 


Currently the museum has Covid rules in place meaning there is a one way system around the galleries but we didn't feel this detracted from the experience at all. There were lots of staff around the museum who were happy to answer any questions or give some more information about particular exhibits.

The kids really enjoyed seeing the Egyptian Mummies and it was absolutely fascinating to see all the artifacts that had been discovered in the tombs.



There is SO much to see and you could probably spend all day without reading every single information board! I was a little unsure about how much our children would get out of it but we spent a good two hours and it was thumbs up from them. If you visit with children, check out the British Museum website where you can download activities and museum missions. 

After a visit to the Forbidden Planet shop for some comics, we stopped for lunch at a BrewDog pub. The weather was absolutely beautiful so it was lovely to sit outside with a nice cold drink. Not eaten at one of these before but the food was brilliant - lovely burgers and big portions, especially the kids meals. Check out the size of Elliot's burger! 



We spent the next few hours wandering through central London, taking in the sights and sounds. It was very busy, it's been a while since we've been to somewhere with that many people so it was a bit of a shock to the system. 


Our final stop for the day was Hamleys - the kids have been getting excited about this for so long and all complaints of being hot and tired went out of the window when they saw the famous red shop! It's not mine and Paul's idea of fun, especially as it was the temperature of a sauna inside, but the things you do for your kids eh! 


We explored every floor and eventually the boys split off to find the Lego and Erin and I found ourselves surrounded by Barbies and LOL dolls. It took a while but they finally managed to choose something to spend their pocket money on!

Back out in the fresh air (thank goodness) it was time to head back to the hotel to pick up the car. It been a long hot day of walking so those last few miles weren't the fastest! Predictably, Erin fell asleep as soon as she got into her carseat, my fitbit said we'd walked 22,000 steps so no wonder she was tired. 


We arrived in Slough around 730pm and after a quick stop at the local Tesco for some sandwiches, we checked in at the Holiday Inn Express. We had another family room booked and this was a lovely large room with two double beds. Alot of the time a family room will have a double and a sofa bed/pullout bed which are never very comfortable so this was good to see. Erin was wide awake after her dangernap so bedtime was a bit never ending but we got there in the end! 

Tuesday

Big thumbs up for the Holiday Inn breakfast, thought it might just be continental but you could have a full english as well as all the cold options. Really good for a "free" brekkie. 

Starting the day with the all important nutella!

We checked out of the hotel and made the short drive into Windsor. We parked up in Alexandra Gardens Car Park and headed towards the centre of town. First impressions of Windor were wow, that's an impressive castle! It's one of those places that I've seen on TV so many times and it felt a bit surreal to be stood in front of it. Erin was fascinated to know that the Queen lived there, I think she was expecting her to be stood by the window waving at passers by! 


Our original plan was to walk some, if not all of the Long Walk but the weather was rather warm and we decided to save that for another (cooler day!) - instead the kids were happy chasing each other and pouring water over their heads to cool down! 


We did have a peek through the gates and it was pretty cool to see the Queen's Guards. We were really hoping to catch the Changing of the Guards in the town but sadly due to Covid this isn't happening at the moment. 


We spent the rest of the morning exploring the town and we eventually found ourselves by the river. The boat trips seemed to be really popular with most of the time slots sold out. There were also huge queues to hire out boats, the lovely weather definitely made everyone want to be out on the water! 


The kids had a quick go on some of the rides in Alexandra Park but we decided to call it a day and head on home. Heat + tired children = cranky everyone!

There's so much more in Windsor that we didn't get round to seeing so I really hope we get to visit again one day. If you want an in depth Windsor day out write up, have a look at my blogger friend Sabrina's post - she lives in Slough and has lots of lovely photo of Windsor and Eton on there. I wish I'd read that post before we went, super useful 👑

Both children fell asleep in the car on the way home, this never happens. So I'm taking this as a sign of an action packed, fun, weekend away! 


Tuesday, 15 June 2021

The Greyhound - Corfe Castle - Review

 Nestled right in the centre of Corfe Castle village is The Greyhound, a 16th Century Coaching Inn which is apparently the most photographed pub in the UK. If you've ever driven though the village, no doubt you have taken this very snap! I have lived in Dorset my entire life and have been visited Corfe Castle since I was a little girl, but I never get bored of this view.

Corfe Castle on a Cloudy Day

We were invited along to try out the food and having eaten at the Greyhound before on a number of occasions, I was looking forward to seeing what was on the current menu! 

We arrived at the pub for lunch and were shown to our table which was on the covered terrace. There were plenty of tables here, plus in the beer garden which overlooks the castle but it did get very busy so if you are planning to visit I would 100% book in advance to save disappointment. 

Standard Covid measures are in place at the Greyhound - masks on until you sit down, hand sanitiser on entry and they ask you to check in using the NHS Track & Trace - the QR code can be found on the menu which is handy. They do have a food ordering app to minimise contact but this wasn't working when we ate - the staff were all wearing masks though and happy to take orders. 

The menu is very varied and has options for vegan/veggies/ GF etc. It was great to see lots of local additions such as Portland crab, Dorset Blue Vinney Cheese and Purbeck Cider. The stonebaked pizzas sounded amazing but I chose Mussels with cider, leeks and chorizo. This came with chips and crusty bread. It's not a dish I'd ever attempt to make at home so I really wanted to try it - and I wasn't disappointed! The creamy sauce was so tasty and the portion was plentiful. The downside is the mess I created, maybe they could supply a bib for messy eaters too ;) 


My husband is vegan and he was excited see his favourite Moving Mountains burger on the menu. His only criticism was that he would have preferred a brioche roll rather than a standard burger bun but apart from that, he really enjoyed it! The sweet potato fries were especially nice. 


We weren't planning on having pudding but the waitress asked if we'd like to have a look at the menu and to be honest, we couldn't resist! I had vanilla cheesecake which was topped with Biscoff crunch and served with Biscoff sauce and salted caramel ice-cream. How could I say no to that?! Paul had the sticky toffee pudding which came with warm caramel sauce and ice-cream. And a flake! 



We visited on a weekday lunchtime and I expected the village to be quiet but it was very busy and felt like a weekend! The outside area of The Greyhound was buzzing with families having their lunch and it was great to see them so busy. The kitchen were doing a fab job in getting the food out fast! 

We really enjoyed our lunch and I'd definitely recommend a visit to The Greyhound. If you're spending the day in the village and have tickets for the castle then you can even get 10% off your bill.


Have you ever visited Corfe Castle?

*Disclaimer - We were invited for a gifted meal in exchange for an honest review. 



Thursday, 22 April 2021

The Old Thatch Wimborne - Review

It's always good to find new local pubs to visit, especially after not being able to visit one in so long! The Old Thatch Wimborne recently opened their (beer garden) doors to the public after being closed over lockdown and it's great to see a business back on it's feet with brand new ideas, and amazing food. 

The Old Thatch is located opposite Stapehill Abbey and is just off the Castleman Trail which links Wimborne to Ferndown and Ringwood to Poole. Dating back to the 17th Century, it's even rumoured to have it's own ghost! Nick Pestana has been the landlord since 2018 and recently he joined forces with multi-award winning restaurateur Andy Lennox to transform The Old Thatch into an elegant Gastro Pub, Kitchen and Country Store. 

Nick Pestana and Andy Lennox

The Country Store will stock an array of freshly baked bread and cakes, local meats and dairy produce as well as general household items.

The pub menu will be locally focused and will include a balanced selection of butchery, seafood and veg served in a relaxed environment. 

It was our first ever visit to The Old Thatch although having driven past many times. It's a stunning character building set back from the main road, and has a large beer garden at the front which now has a canopy/heaters for wetter and colder visits! 


There are lots of covid measures in place - no indoor seating obviously- but hand sanitiser available and plenty of space between tables. All the staff were wearing masks too. 

Now, onto the food. The menu features lots of pub classics such as bangers & mash, fish & chips and steaks, and there is also an option of some yummy sounding sharing platters. I've got my eye on the "Local and Melted" option for next time - melted cheese and chilli jam to dip you bread into! I imagine once the pub is fully open in May, the menu will be expanded but I found there to be lots of choice and even some vegan options. I'd had a sneaky peek at the menu before our visit and everything sounded lovely but myself and my Mum both decided to have the burgers. Well....what can I say. It was a burger like no other!! Firstly it was absolutely massive, a homemade 8oz burger in a toasted brioche bun. Topped with cheese, bacon and all the trimmings. It was absolutely delicious! It came with spicy slaw and skin on fries which were perfectly seasoned. 

The Old Thatch Burger

We debated about having a pudding but we couldn't resist the brownie, especially as it came with salted caramel ice-cream. And it was just as good as it sounded! 


We had a really lovely lunch at The Old Thatch and were thoroughly impressed with the food. The members of staff that we encountered were all very friendly and helpful. I can't wait to bring the family back, I know the children will be excited to hear there is a play area! 


*Disclaimer - We were invited for a gifted meal in exchange for an honest review. Those yummy food pictures do not lie ;) 

Wednesday, 14 April 2021

A Visit to Portland Bill, Dorset

 Now that we are allowed to venture a bit further, we have enjoyed exploring parts of Dorset that we've not been to for a while. One such place is Portland, the southernmost part of Dorset and we took a visit here over Easter weekend. 

The Isle of Portland is connected to the mainland by Chesil Beach. Famous for it's stone, Portland Stone has been quarried for many years and can even be found in St Paul's Cathedral. Although the island is only 4 miles long and 1.7 miles wide, it has lots to offer and makes the perfect day out for a family. 

We started our Portland visit by stopping at the viewpoint at the top which faces out towards Chesil Beach. On a clear day the views are amazing and you can see all along the Jurassic Coast. 


Situated at the very tip of the island is Portland Bill and this was our next stop. In normal times, you can go in the visitors centre and even have tours up the lighthouse but due to Covid these have been put on hold. They are hopeful the Visitors Centre can open from 17th May but please check the PB website for more updates. 

We decided to follow a circular walk (this is the route we followed) which began in the carpark - at 3.5miles long it was perfect for the children and very scenic along the way. We headed up towards the cliff with the lighthouse behind us and could see as far as Charmouth and Lyme Regis. 


The walk then headed inland where we crossed straight across the Island and back down towards the South West Coast Path. As you can see we made some friends along the way!


The final section of the walk led us along the craggy coastline, past the quarries of long ago and again with stunning scenery of the Jurassic Coastline. 



Along the path you can see the remains of the cranes - these would have been used to load Portland Stone onto the barges where it was then shipped to London. 


Soon we were back at Portland Bill Lighthouse and it was time for a bite to eat. At our time of visiting, the Lobster Pot were serving takeaway food and drink. I did think the prices at the Lobster pot were quite high (£3.95 for a portion of chips) but this didn't deter visitors and there was a steady stream of people in the queue. 


If you're heading to Portland, other places that are worth a visit are Fancy's Farm and the Sculpture Park at Tout Quarry. The South West Coast Path runs all the way around the Island and there are lots of walking trails available. 

Have you ever visited Portland Bill? 



Thursday, 4 March 2021

Feeling Spooky at Exbury Gardens & Steam Railway, Hampshire

 Our October Half Term was a bit of a weird one last year. Obviously we had  lockdown to contend with but with the rules relaxed somewhat, we wanted to have a few covid safe days out to make things as normal as possible! 

We love a spooky day out and my kids love nothing more than donning fancy dress so it was with great excitement that we booked a day out at Exbury Gardens & Steam Railway in Hampshire for their special Halloween festivities. 

Managed by the Rothschild Family, Exbury Gardens has over 200 acres of beautiful walks and gardens, suitable for all ages. With the Steam Railway on site, it's the perfect family day out if you're visiting the New Forest area. 

We raised a few eyebrows as we pulled up with the Grim Reaper sat in the back of the car! We had pre-booked our tickets online and it was nice and straightforward getting in. We loved the spooky decorations in the foyer, one of those witches looked awfully familiar...

Once inside, we made our way over to the Rock Garden where the Halloween trail was. This was a big hit with the kids and we spent lots of time looking for the clues and letters. The decorations were brilliant and really spooky, but without taking away how pretty the gardens were. 



It was soon time to board the ghost train and we were all excited/a little nervous about this! The train station was decked out in fantastic Halloween decorations and I loved all the little details like the spooky posters. 


The steam train began it's journey and we were entertained by the ghoulish characters on board who told jokes and sang for us. Along the way we caught glimpses of more spooky characters who popped up alongside the carriage! 



The route around the gardens takes in Summer Lane Garden, Rock Garden, Dragonfly Pond and even through a creepy, dark tunnel. The little ones weren't too keen on the tunnel, especially when the witch appeared and chased after the train! 



Look carefully at the far side of the lake! 

There are a couple of options for food and drink at Exbury - obviously these depend on Covid regulations and seasonal openings. When we visited, Mr Eddy's Restaurant was offering take-away only but there were lots of  options for families and reasonably priced. We picked up some chicken goujons and fries (plus a giant burger for Elliot!) and were able to find a bench outside to eat on. I also spotted a vegan pop up kiosk near the entrance that seemed to be busy! 




We spent the remainder of the afternoon exploring the rest of the gardens and taking in all the gorgeous Autumnal colours. It really is a photographer's dream here in October with so many vibrant colours. 




We had a fantastic spooky day out at Exbury Gardens and will certainly return to explore the bits we didn't get to see. We loved the Halloween event, and we won't forget the ghost train in a hurry! 


At the time of writing, Exbury Gardens are currently closed due to Covid-19 restrictions but are due to reopen on March 29th 2021. The Steam Railway is scheduled to open on Monday 12th April. If you're planning a visit, please check the website before you go to ensure they are open. 











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