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Lightopia REVIEW: Christmas at Heaton Park, Manchester 2020

Lightopia REVIEW: Christmas at Heaton Park, Manchester 2020

We take our children on a family trip to an award-winning Christmas light festival

Family festive opportunities are in short supply this year so our trip to Lightopia at Heaton Park in Manchester was eagerly awaited.

Organisers promise a safe and socially distanced event.

We took our children after school for a 5.20pm start, here is our full guide to the Christmas festival.

What is it

The Lightopia Festival – Christmas at Heaton Park – is an award-winning and socially-distanced lantern and light festival.

It takes place around a series of lit art installations and laser beams, which have been set up at the park in Manchester.

Heaton Hall

Heaton Hall

When it it

Lightopia at Heaton Park runs from November 20, 2020 to January 3, 2021.

The event is closed on Mondays and Tuesdays, except during school holidays and closed on Christmas Eve and Christmas Day.

Gates Open at 5pm, last entry is 8.30pm and it closes at 10pm.

How much are tickets

Tickets are booked in advance, they are £20 online for adults (or £22 on the day), £13 for children (or £15 on the day) and £60 for families of two adults and two children (£68 on the day). Children under three can go free.

Essential carers of disabled visitors can attend for free, the disabled visitor pays the normal admission fee.

A peacock at Lightopia, Heaton Park, Manchester

Our highlights

*What we called the Rainbow Tree

Children stand on a circle and their moving feet sends different coloured lights shooting up the tree, creating a beautiful display.

Rainbow Tree

Rainbow Tree

*The laser show on the lake.

Visitors are directed to stand in socially distanced spaces to watch this lovely show towards the end of the trail.

*Food and drink

There are stalls and bars dotted around the trail selling food like hot dogs, carvery baps, chips, donuts, malled wine and hot chocolate.

Tunnel of light at Lightopia, Heaton Park, Manchester

Top Tips

*Prepare to queue at the start, entry is in 20-minute time slots and we did have to wait when we arrived, but it is organised very well so that you are spaced out from the groups in front and behind.

*It’s quite a spaced out route, you will walk a bit further than some other light shows, so take a buggy if you have young children.

Tinkerbell/a fairy at Lightopia

*It is all outdoors so dress for the weather and ensure children are wrapped up warm and wearing sensible footwear. You will always be on a path but look out for the occasional bit of uneven ground as it is dark.

Other questions

Is everything included in the price?

All the displays are included in the ticket price. There are stalls selling food, drink and those flashing hand-held contraptions that our daughter loves. It was card only for payment.

How long will it take?

It takes about an hour and a half but that depends on how fast you walk and whether you buy food and drink. Take your time walking around, to take it all in, you certainly don’t need to rush.

Where to park

There are car parks on site and it is best to book in advance, then follow the directions on your email confirmation.

How to book

To book tickets, visit www.lightopiafestival.com

Address:

Heaton Park, Sheepfoot Lane, Manchester, M25 0BP.

Social media

Follow on Instagram and Facebook @lightopiafestival #Lightopia

Animals at Lightopia

(We received free entry for the purpose of this review, all views are our own).

The 8 BEST beaches in and around Abersoch in north Wales

The 8 BEST beaches in and around Abersoch in north Wales

The best beaches for children and families around Abersoch on the Llŷn Peninsula

Families staying in Abersoch on the Llŷn Peninsula are spoilt for choice when it comes to fabulous beaches.

It’s one of the reasons that people with children return to the area year after year.

Our two children adore the beaches around the area – here are our favourites.

Abersoch main beach

The main beach in Abersoch is the busiest, easiest to reach and most user-friendly in the area.

Barbecue on Abersoch Main Beach

Beach hut barbecue on Abersoch’s main beach

It stretches about a mile and a half with plenty of golden sand, a steep hill up to beach huts and sand dunes to explore.

At the far left end (if facing the sea), near the South Caernarvonshire Yacht Club/SCYC, there are some rock pools at low tide.

At the other end of the beach towards the lifeboat station, there is less soft sand but it tends to be quieter and dogs are allowed.

The beach is sheltered and safe for swimming under normal conditions, with a motor boat exclusion zone. It is also popular for water sports like sailing and wind surfing.

There are great views – it faces St Tudwal’s islands and behind that, west Wales mountans.

Where is it?

The beach is a short walk from the centre of Abersoch and and can be accessed from two car parks detailed below.

Parking

*The main car park is Beach Car Park, Golf Road, Abersoch. You have to pay to park all year round. A very short walk brings you past a shop/cafe and out on to the slipway in the middle of the beach.

There is another, smaller, pay car park at the SCYC (yacht club) end of the beach and there is also a cafe there. Access to the beach is via a short, steep slope.

Abersoch main beach facilities

*Three cafes along the beach serving ice creams, sandwiches and burgers plus beach equipment.

*Toilets in the main car park.

*Some of the beach huts are available to hire.

Dogs

*Dogs are allowed on the right side of the slipway all year and the rest of the beach except between April 1 and September 30.

The Warren beach

This long sandy beach is mostly used by people with chalets at the upmarket Warren Holiday Park.

 

The Warren Beach in Abersoch

The Warren Beach

However it is still a public beach and one of our favourites. It’s a good beach for bathing and there are several streams to play in.

You can also explore the rocks around Llandbedrog Head. The wide expanse of wet sand at low tide means plenty of space.

It’s usually pretty quiet as it can be harder to access unless you are staying at the Warren.

Where is it?

This one and a half mile long beach is in front of the Warren Holiday Park and stretches from Abersoch harbour to the headland of Mynydd Tir-y-Cwmwd.

The Abersoch end is known as Traeth Tywyn y Fach while the headland side is called Quarry Beach.

Parking

*Abersoch end: Park along the A499, then walk through the National Trust’s Tywyn y Fach property.

*Quarry Beach end: There is a car park behind the beach which can be reached via narrow lanes off the main Abersoch to Pwllheli road by the red postbox.

*Via The Warren holiday park: Park in a layby on the main road and walk through the holiday park along a public footpath.

The Warren beach facilities

There are no toilets apart from at the holiday park for people staying there.

There is no cafe or shop, so take supplies!

Dogs

Dogs are allowed at all times.

Hell’s Mouth (Porth Neigwl)

Porth Neigwl, better known as Hell’s Mouth, is a windswept beach which gets its name from the amount of shipwrecks which washed up here.

Hell's Mouth beach

Hell’s Mouth beach

This is the area’s premier surfing beach and often sees big waves.

The beach is mostly stony with some sandy areas and – at four miles long – has plenty of quiet spots.

Take care when swimming as there are strong currents and undertows – it is only suitable for strong swimmers.

There are low sand dunes with some World War Two concrete training structures to discover but stay away from the crusty cliff edges.

We love it for a wild and windy walk as it’s only a short drive from Abersoch.

Where is it?

It is on the south-west side of the Llŷn Peninsula in Llanengan, near Pwllheli, LL53 7LG.

Parking

There’s a free car park with about 15 spaces and then a five-minute walk down a sandy path to the beach.

Facilities

There are no toilets or catering.

Whistling Sands (Porth Oer)

Porth Oer is better known as Whistling Sands for the noise the sand makes if you step on it. A noise and an idea which children love.

Sand castles at Whistling Sands beach

Whistling Sands beach

This beautiful golden beach is a perfect size for families.

There is plenty of soft sand, a nice gentle bay for swimming and rock pools at either end to mess about in.

The beach is in one of the more remote parts of the Llŷn Peninsula and a 25 minute drive from Abersoch but is well worth it.

Explore the small caves at the right hand end of the beach, and climb up the footpath there for spectacular views (hold on to small children).

Where is it?

It is in Aberdaron, Pwllheli, LL53 8LH. (Not to be mistaken for Aberdaron Beach).

Parking

There is a National Trust car park on the road above the beach. It is a very steep three-minute walk down (and a slower walk back up)!

Facilities

*Toilets

*A cafe on the beach serving hot and cold food and drinks including pizza and ice-cream which you can eat there or take on to the beach. The pizza is delicious.

Pizza at Whistling Sands

Pizza at Whistling Sands

Wishing I was there now and eating this pizza instead of just writing about it!

Llanbedrog Beach

This beach is an easy stop-off with children as there’s a car park, toilets and a cafe.

Beach huts at Llanbedrogg Beach

Llanbedrog Beach

It’s a good place for children to swim, plus there are streams and pools to play in.

Intrepid families can walk from the beach up the steep steps to the top of Llandbedrog headland Mynydd Tir y Cwmwd, but keep hold of children.

hildren play in the stream on Llanbedrog Beach

Llanbedrog Beach

Half way up is the Tin Man sculpture.

You can also walk to Oriel Plas Glyn y Weddw art gallery and cafe.

But there’s a restaurant right on the beach plus as it’s a sheltered spot, you could try a beach barbecue.

Where is it

In Llanbedrog, between Abersoch and Pwllheli on the south side of the Llŷn Peninsula.

Parking

There is a National Trust car park a two-minute walk from the beach (up a hill and steps). Address: Llanbedrog, Pwllheli, LL53 7TT.

Facilities

*Toilets near the beach.

*Restaurant on the beach serving alcohol, hot meals and ice creams Aqua Beach Bar.

Porth Iago Beach

This small horseshoe-shaped bay is spectacular but tricky to reach.

Porth Lago Beach

Porth Lago Beach

To get there you must drive through a private farm and pay an entrance/car park fee to reach a grassy parking area.

From there you walk down narrow and steep tracks to reach the remote beach.

It is a sheltered cove with some excellent rock pools and makes a good swimming spot.

The sand is soft and there are amazing views to be had by following the Wales Coastal Path in either direction from the cliffs above the beach.

Where is it?

Port Iago beach faces south-west on the Llŷn Peninsula in Aberdaron, between the headlands Graig Ddu and Dinas.

Parking

The car park above the beach is accessed through Ty Mawr farm which has a pay and display parking machine so take some £1 coins.

Address: Rhoshirwaun, Wales, LL53 8LP, United Kingdom.

You can also reach the beach on foot from the Wales Coastal Path via sand dunes.

Facilities

None.

Dogs

Dogs are allowed but have to be in vehicles when going through the farm.

Porth Colmon Beach/Penllech Beach

This large beach is a tricky one to get to but is a rewarding find once you get there, at low tide.

Porth Colman Beach

Porth Colmon Beach

It can be muddy as the route from a car park follows a stream. Once you reach the beach, there is a steep walk down to the sand.

The beach itself is wide with dramatic rocks, lots of rock pools and in the middle there is a channel which you can paddle and play in.

There can be strong currents so swimming is not advisable.

Aerial view of Porth Colman

Porth Colmon

Where is it?

Penllech Beach is a mile north of Llangwnnadl on the northern tip of the Llŷn Peninsula.

Parking

You can park at a small car park on Afon Fawr and then follow the beach path for about 10 minutes across a field.

Facilities

None, there is a cafe at a near by campsite about a ten minute walk from one end of the beach.

Dogs

Dogs are allowed.

Morfa Nefyn Beach/Nefyn Beach (Porth Nefyn)

This is a lovely, sandy, two-mile beach but the most memorable part of it is the pub at one end, the Ty Coch.

Nefyn beach with Morfa Nefyn and a heart written in the sand

Picture available to buy as a greetings card or picture at Sand-Writing

There are a few beach huts and some great views as well as rock pools at low tide near the headland.

We like to walk from the car park down on the beach, along to the next section, Traeth Porthdinllaen, where the pub invitingly waits and then back along the road through the golf course.

Where is it?

Between the village of Nefyn and the fishing hamlet of Porthdinllaen on the north coast of the Llŷn Peninsula.

Parking

There is a National Trust car park above the beach – address Morfa Nefyn, Pwllheli , L53 6DA.

Nefyn Beach Facilities

Pub Ty Coch selling lovely food and drink, hailed amongst the best beach bars in the world!

Toilets: at the National Trust car park.

Dogs

Dogs are allowed on one side of the beach all year but are banned for the other side between April and September.

*Main picture available to buy as a canvas, print or greetings card from sand-writing.com.

The top 20 best National Trust gardens in the UK revealed

The top 20 best National Trust gardens in the UK revealed

Have you been to any of the country’s favourite National Trust Gardens?

A National Trust garden in Cheshire has been hailed the best in the UK on a list of the top 20.

Tatton Park scooped the top spot in research by Rated People, an index which uses Instagram and Google review data to work out how rated and picturesque each garden is.

The park near Knutsford has 50 acres of landscaped gardens which include a maze and a Japanese garden, plus 1,000 acres of parkland with deer and meres.

There is also a working farm and large playground. Read or full review and top tips here : Tatton Park in Cheshire with children.

Tatton Park

Tatton Park

The second best national trust garden has been named as Corfe Castle in Dorset.

We visited this castle as part of an Enid Blyton holiday.

Corfe Castle was the inspiration for Kirrin Castle in the Famous Five books, full story here: Four holiday in Dorset: Following in the footsteps of the Famous Five

Corfe Castle, the inspiration for Kirrin Castle

Corfe Castle, the inspiration for Kirrin Castle

Here are all the top 20 National Trust gardens.

1. Tatton Park, Cheshire

2. Corfe Castle, Dorset

3. Stourhead Landscape Garden, Wiltshire

4. Fountains Abbey and Studley Royal Water Garden, North Yorkshire

5. Clumber Park, Nottinghamshire

6. Lyme Park, Cheshire

7. Waddesdon Gardens, Buckinghamshire

8. Calke Gardens and Parklands, Derbyshire

9. Hardwick Gardens and Parkland, Derbyshire

10. Chartwell Garden, Kent

11. Belton, Lincolnshire

12. Scotney Castle, Kent

13. Anglesey Abbey, Cambridgeshire

14. Lacock, Wiltshire

15. Nymans, Sussex

16. Mount Stewart, County Down

17. Tyntesfield, Somerset

18. Mottisfont, Hampshire and the Isle of Wight

19. Dyrham Park, Gloucestershire

20. Bodnant Garden, Conwy

 

The eight best places for children on and around the Llangollen Canal

The eight best places for children on and around the Llangollen Canal

Top family activities around the Llangollen Canal

The Llangollen Canal is 46 miles long and crosses the border between England and Wales.

This navigable waterway runs from Llangollen in north Wales, through Ellesmere in Shropshire to Hurleston in south Cheshire.

We travelled much of it with our children: Canal boat family holiday review – we take our children on a 67-foot barge.

There was lots to keep them entertained, here are our top tips for what to do with children on a family boat trip along the canal or a holiday in the area.

Llangollen

The market town of Llangollen is a fabulous day out for children.

When travelling by canal, the part between Trevor Bason and Llangollen town is narrow and not suited to beginners.

If you don’t attempt it, it’s still worth spending time in Llangollen before you collect your boat or after you have finished your canal cruise if you are nearby.

To enjoy the town centre, join families relaxing on the rocks next to the River Dee. There are lots of flat stones to walk acroos on the river and shallow pools in between. Families often pop down there to enjoy an ice cream or fish and chips with a view.

Stepping stones in Llangollen

Llangollen

You reach the river stones via the Victorian promenade, which is a lovely walkway raised above the river. Next to it there is a large playground.

Children will also love the spectacular Horseshoe Falls, where the canal and river meet to form a weir, a couple of miles west of the town.

You can see kayakers flying down this part of the River Dee and there are pleasant walks.

Horseshoe Falls near Llangollen

Horseshoe Falls

Ellesmere

There are three meres near to this stretch of canal. You can moor up to walk around Colemere, or stop at Blakemere to admire the view.

If you moor up overnight in Ellesmere there is a walk to the town’s lake through woodland off the towpath near Blackwater Marina.

Blakemere at Ellesmere

Blakemere at Ellesmere

It is about a 10-minute walk through a lovely wood to the mere, then you can go to the visitor centre, or head clockwise around to the sculpture trail and wide-open playground.

The town itself is pleasant enough to stroll around with a few takeaways and Vermeulens Delicatessen famed for its pork pies. You can walk back to your boat along the canal next to a giant Tesco, which is handy if you need to stock up.

Llangollen Wharf

This wharf in Llangollen is part of a World Heritage site.

Welsh cream teas are served at the Wharf Tea Room, with views out over the town and canal.

You can try a horse drawn boat trip from here – they have been running from the wharf for more than 100 years. Trips are 45 minutes or two hours.

Horse drawn boats from Llangollen Wharf

Horse drawn boats from Llangollen Wharf

Llangollen Steam railway

This heritage railway line starts at Llangollen Station and runs alongside the River Dee, travelling through the picturesque Dee Valley.

It has events for families throughout the year such as meeting Thomas the Tank Engine.

Passengers can enjoy afternoon tea on a Llangollen Steam railway train.

Chirk Castle

This huge National Trust castle with 480 acres of parkland is a popular attraction.

If you arrive by canal, it is a long walk but if you have bicycles it is manageable. If you make it you will discover one of Edward I’s castles.

You might catch a demonstration of the guard’s armour and weapons.

Pontcysyllte Aqueduct

You can cross the Pontcysyllte Aqueduct by narrowboat or on foot – it’s the highest navigable aqueduct in the world.

Pontcysyllte Aqueduct

Pontcysyllte Aqueduct

It takes the Llangollen Canal over the River Dee valley and has fantastic views as long as you don’t have a fear of heights as it’s nearly 40 metres high!

Completed in 1805, it was designed and built by Thomas Telford and has 19 arches.

The aqueduct, which has World Heritage status, is a popular tourist attraction.

Trevor Basin

Next to the aqueduct is Trevor Basoi. It is worth stopping at this marina, which is the base for Anglo Welsh boat hire. We hired our boat from here: We review an Anglo Welsh canal boat with our children – is it family friendly?

Canal boats at Trevor Basin

Trevor Basin

There is a small cafe and a couple of lovely walks to view the aqueduct. One walk heads along the Llangollen Canal a short distance, down the original Offa’s Dyke path, through some narrow, steep woodland and out onto a bridge with a great view.

Alternatively, you could head out of the marina towards the aqueduct but before you reach it, turn left onto a public footpath signed Ty Mawr Country Park. Walk along the path and then turn right and head down to the river. It is a lovely spot, with a muddy beach, rocks to climb on and even a paddle in the river on a hot day. You then walk back towards the aqueduct and end up underneath its huge towers. This gives children a chance to appreciate the scale of the 200-year-old structure.

Moor up and explore

The beauty of travellng by boat on the canal is that you can stop almost anywhere. We found lots of lovely country walks this way.

The towpath is usually flat and often gravelled so is fine to cycle or scoot in a lot of places.

If your children are older you can send them off the boat along the towpath and collect them when you catch up with them further ahead.

Enjoy your trip!

RELATED CONTENT: Our 10 top tips for taking children on a canal boat holiday

RELATED CONTENT: Canal boat holiday guide for beginners – EVERYTHING you need to know

RELATED CONTENT: Top 10 canal boat family holiday destinations in England and Wales

The best beaches in and around Dawlish in Devon

The best beaches in and around Dawlish in Devon

Family-friendly beaches that children will love around Dawlish

There are a great selection of lovely beaches in and around Dawlish.

We stayed at Cofton Holiday Park and had a great time exploring the area – read our review and ideas – Delight in Devon on a family holiday to Dawlish with our children.

Here are our pick of the best beaches in and around  Dawlish.

Dawlish Warren

This is a flat, sandy beach with shallow waters. It is very family-friendly with lifeguards keeping watch over the summer months.

It is a Blue Flag beach – awarded for high standards of cleanliness and safety.

The large car park is set behind a grassy area which you walk through to reach the beach.

Dawlish Warren

Dawlish Warren

The sand is separated into sections by rows of wooden groynes. There is a high, sloped wall above the sand so only walk down via the regular steps provided and hold on to younger children’s hands as you approach.

There can be big waves on a windy day which makes the beach good for bodyboards and surfing.

Body boarders in the waves at Dawlish Warren beach

Dawlish Warren

But when the weather is calm it is a safe bathing spot too.

Heading from the town to the beach you drive past a large funfair and there is an ice cream shop and cafe opposite.

If you fancy a good walk, the beach travels up to the mouth of the River Exe. It also backs on to a wildlife reserve.

Dogs are not allowed on Dawlish Warren beach.

Address: Dawlish Warren Beach, Beach Rd, Dawlish, EX7 0NF.

Dawlish

The town of Dawlish has a beach which is a short walk from the centre.

Dawlish railway, beach and sea

Dawlish

It’s quite pebbly and travels all the way to Red Rock at Dawlish Warren.

We went on a windy day and the sight of the big waves bashing the sea wall was spectacular. Although paddling/swimming in the sea was definitely off the agenda.

There’s a railway station next to the beach. The railway line runs alongside the beach and there’s a wide footpath between the line and the sand.

Dawlish is a small but pleasant place for a stroll and there is a car park and on-street parking.

The river and church at Dawlish in Devon

Dawlish

The river runs through a park with ducks and swans. There is mini-golf in the park and plenty of cafes or ice cream shops.

We visited Gaye’s Creamery for their famous ice cream cone with clotted cream on top!

Dogs are allowed on part of the beach.

Address: Dawlish Town Beach, SW Coast Path, Dawlish, EX8 5BT.

We walked right alongside Dawlish beach and found:

Coryton Cove

This beach is about a 10-minute walk from the centre of Dawlish, if you start at the railway tunnel, you can follow the sea path round to the right (with the sea on your left).

Our childen had a great time here, it’s a sandy/stony beach with a sheltered spot/open cave, good for keeping warm unless there’s an easterly wind.

The curved bay is good for swimming and the dramatic red sandstone cliffs with the railway at the bottom forms a spectacular backdrop.

Coryton Cove beach, Dawlish, Devon

Coryton Cove

There are rock pools, a few colourful beach huts (some available for hire), a cafe with ice cream shop and occasional dolphin sightings.

The beach used to be known as Gentleman’s Beach, because in Victorian times only men were allowed to bathe there!

The nearest parking is on the street opposite the railway line. You can cross a footbridge from there to get to the beach or enjoy the view from the coastal path above. There is also a car park and on street parking in Dawlish town centre.

Dogs are not allowed on Coryton Cove beach from May 1 to September 30.

Holcombe Beach

This is one for the adventurous families.

Children on Holcombe Beach in Devon

Holcombe Beach

You park in Holcombe village and then walk down the steep Smuggler’s Lane to access the beach.

From there head under the railway line and up onto a sea wall path.

Keep a close eye on little ones as there are steep drops until you reach some steps down onto the beach. And the steps are narrow and open to the beach.

It is a sandy beach with good waves for bodyboarding.

You also get dramatic red sandstone cliffs at each end which you can imagine as ideal cover for smugglers who made use of this remote beach in years gone by.

There is a kiosk at the bottom of Smuggler’s Lane selling drinks and snacks.

This is also an excellent spot for train spotters as you can get really close to the trains heading in both directions along the line.

Holcombe Beach in Devon

Holcombe Beach

This narrow, isolated beach is used mainly by locals and there are no lifeguards.

Dogs are allowed on Holcombe beach.

Address: Holcombe Beach, Holcombe, Teignmouth, Devon, EX7 0JL.

Harry Potter Studio Tour London to reopen with new safety measures in place

Harry Potter Studio Tour London to reopen with new safety measures in place

Warner Bros Studio Tour London – The Making of Harry Potter gets ready to reopen to wizarding fans following Coronavirus closure

Harry Potter fans will not be waiting much longer for the reopening of the hugely successful Warner Bros Studio Tour in London.

The Making of Harry Potter – a look behind the scenes of the wizarding films – will reopen on Thursday, August 20.

It was forced to close earlier in 2020 due to the Covid 19 pandemic.

The attraction is at the actual Warner Bros studios near London where a lot of the filming for the eight Harry Potter films took place.

It includes sets like the Gryffindor Common Room, Hogwarts Great Hall, Diagon Alley and Gringotts Bank alongside thousands of props and costumes.

The Great Hall in Harry Potter

The Great Hall (Photo: Warner Bros. Studio Tour London – The Making of Harry Potter)

And from the opening date, the Slytherin Common Room can be seen for the first time along with iconic costumes and props belonging to some of the house’s cunning characters.

The Slytherin common room in the Harry Potter movies

The Slytherin common room in the Harry Potter movies

So what will be different when Harry Potter Studio Tour London reopens?

There will be a number of Covid 19 safety measures in place.

The attraction has made some changes to manage social distancing and keep everything extra clean.

Do you have to wear face masks?

Visitors aged 11 and over must wear a face mask unless medically exempt. They can be taken off when the wearer is sitting down in a cafe.

How will social distancing be managed?

There will be less visitor numbers and there will be a one-way system around the studios.

The shops and cafés will only accept cashless or contactless payment options .

Cars will be parked with spaces in between.

What will not be open?

Hogwarts Express on plaform 9 and three quarters at the Harry Potter Studio Tour London

Hogwarts Express (Photo: Warner Bros. Studio Tour London – The Making of Harry Potter)

The Hogwarts Express train carriage

Inside Privet Drive

The cloakroom and left luggage facilities

The Studio Tour shuttle bus service to and from Watford Junction Station will not be available

Will the toilets be open?

Toilets will be open with extra hygiene measures in place.

Will the studios be cleaned more regularly?

Yes, there will be extra cleaning throughout the day, especially of touch-points such as door handles and barriers.

And hand sanitiser stations will be positioned throughout.

Gringotts Wizarding Bank

Gringotts (Photo: Warner Bros. Studio Tour London – The Making of Harry Potter)

Will the cafes be open?

The Hub cafes, Food Hall and Backlot Cafe will be open but there will be less menu choices.

Seating in the cafe will be spaced and visitors must not pay with cash.

We have loads of useful Harry Potter Studio tour information and tips for you

READ NOW: Harry Potter Studio Tour London – our full guide, review and must-read tips

READ NOW: Harry Potter Studio Tour London – EVERYTHING you need to know

The studio tour is still pre-book only, tickets are available now from the website.

Review and pictures: Abbeywood Estate and Gardens in Cheshire

Review and pictures: Abbeywood Estate and Gardens in Cheshire

We take our children to Abbeywood Estate and Gardens in Delamere

What is it?

A country house with 45 acres of gardens, a small playground and woodland trails. Also a wedding venue.

Children at Abbeywood Estate in Delamere, Cheshire

Where is it?

Between Northwich and Chester directly off the main A556 road.

What did we think?

This is a quiet, relaxing spot for a fun family walk with an excellent cafe. The gardens are beautiful.

Gardens at Abbeywood Estate in Delamere, Cheshire

Highlights

Woodland trail – The landscaped gardens are stunning but the best part for our children was the woodland trail around the perimeter of the site.

You can follow the signs around, with a few shortcuts available if you want. The walk takes around an hour.

Woodland trail through Abbeywood Estate in Delamere, Cheshire

Playground – There is a small playground in shaded woodland with a climbing frame, swings and trampoline (closed when we went due to the Coronavirus).

Play area at Abbeywood Estate in Delamere, Cheshire

Animals – You can spot different animals on your walk.

There are a few horses, goats, sheep and an enclosure with chickens and rabbits. There aren’t loads of animals like a petting zoo but they are a pleasant distraction on the walk.

Animals at Abbeywood Estate in Delamere, Cheshire

Top tips

The map you are given at the entry doesn’t show the full size of the gardens so make sure you don’t miss out on parts of the woodland trail.

You can’t take picnics so make sure you eat in the car park or use the cafe.

Gardens at Abbeywood Estate in Delamere, Cheshire

Abbeywood Estate and Gardens information

Food: There is a large, pleasant cafe with indoor and outdoor seating, selling hot meals, sandwiches, cakes, drinks and tubs of ice cream.

Opening hours: The gardens are open Wednesday to Sunday in summer between 9am and 5pm.

Cost: Adults £6 each, children free.

Best for: Ages three and above.

Time needed: 90 minutes.

Access and restrictions: The site is mainly lawned with a few gravel paths. It is fairly flat but isn’t fully accessible for wheelchair users and for prams and pushchairs.

Address: Abbeywood Gardens, Chester Rd, Delamere, Northwich, CW8 2HS.

 

LEGOLAND Windsor launches the world’s first DUPLO roller coaster for young children

LEGOLAND Windsor launches the world’s first DUPLO roller coaster for young children

A new roller coaster aimed at pre-school children has opened at one of England’s most popular theme parks

The world’s first DUPLO rollercoaster has opened at LEGOLAND Windsor Resort.

The DUPLO Dino Coaster, for children aged around two to five, is part of the attraction’s bigger improved DUPLO Valley area.

The ride has dino-themed carriages which soar around supersized DUPLO dinosaur models, 18 times bigger than if you were to build them at home.

Legoland staff think it will be the perfect first rollercoaster experience for little ones, who need to be 0.9 metres or over to ride it.

The area has also has a new show and new supersized DUPLO models, great for family selfies, plus its own official character, Dexter the Dog.

Outdoor play area Brickville has become DUPLO Playtown with a new rocket play structure for budding astronauts and there is a new puppet show at the DUPLO Puppet Theatre.

DUPLO Valley Airport has a new look with with three coloured helicopters for little pilots to choose from.

Existing family rides at DUPLO Valley include the riverboat Fairy Tale Brook ride and the DUPLO train.

Duplo Valley, Legoland Windsor

Duplo Valley, Legoland Windsor

The area also hosts the resort’s outdoor water play areas – Splash Safari and Drench Towers.

Meanwhile the park has launched a new adult and toddler annual pass to be used while older children are at school.

For £49, a toddler (classed as under 0.9 metres) and adult can visit the theme park as often as they like during term time (Monday to Friday), with 20 per cent off at restaurants and a 10 per cent discount in the shops.

Children under 0.9 metres get free entry anyway to the LEGOLAND Windsor Resort all year round.

Day tickets are from £29 per person when booked online in advance.

Families can book a LEGOLAND short break at the unique LEGOLAND Hotel and enjoy the DUPLO Valley area with stays from £99.25.

The LEGOLAND Windsor Resort is aimed at children aged two to 12 and is open until November 1, 2020, visit here for opening hours.

It has over 55 interactive rides, attractions, live shows, building workshops and driving schools and 80 million LEGO bricks, all set in 150 acres of beautiful parkland.

We’ve got lots of lovely LEGOLAND content here at The Family Holiday Guide for you to enjoy:

LEGOLAND Windsor Resort – read our review and top tips here review and top tips

LEGOLAND Windsor – our 10 top tips to get the most out of your visit

How to beat the queues at LEGOLAND Windsor Resort with the Q-Bot Ride Reservation System

Will the home of LEGO live up to children’s expectations on a trip to LEGOLAND in Denmark?

Top tips for a family trip to the original Legoland in Billund, Denmark

New family attraction – magical woodland adventure park BeWILDerwood to open in Cheshire

New family attraction – magical woodland adventure park BeWILDerwood to open in Cheshire

A 70-acre unique woodland attraction is soon to open in South Cheshire

A family day out full of fun, imagination and adventure is set to open in time for May half-term.

BeWILDerwood Cheshire – A Curious Treehouse Adventure – is throwing open its wonky wooden gates on Saturday, May 23, 2020.

It is in a forest setting where children can ‘run wild’ and promises ‘no noisy rides, no technology and no junk food’.

Tree trails at BeWILDerwood Cheshire

It’s the second Bewilderwood site in the country – the first in Norfolk, has won a host of awards.

The sites are based on the magical children’s BeWILDerwood book series by Tom Blofeld, bringing to life a cast of captivating characters.

BeWILDerwood author and creator Tom Blofeld at BeWILDerwood Cheshire

BeWILDerwood author and creator Tom Blofeld

The Cheshire site, which has been in development for three years, will feature Curious Treehouses, Wobbly Wires (zip wires), Slippery Slopes and a variety of giant wooden play structures to navigate such as a Broken Bridge.

Slides at Tree trails at BeWILDerwood Cheshire

There will also be aerial ropewalks, climbing walls, balancing logs and mazes.

Slides at Tree trails at Swings at BeWILDerwood Cheshire

Face painting and activities like interactive storytelling shows and crafting sessions are included in the ticket price and parking is free.

It is aimed at children aged two to 2 but teenagers and adults can enjoy the equipment too as the focus is on family fun.

Grandparents having fun at BeWILDerwood Cheshire

Fun for all the family

Toddlers and children who are too small to go on the bigger bits have their own areas, Toddlewood on the Hill and Tiptoe Valley.

A todder at BeWILDerwood Cheshire

Food can be bought at the Cosy Cabin and Munch Bar and picnics are welcome.

Tickets are based on height rather than ages and can be bought online.

Grandparents having fun at Tree houses at BeWILDerwood Cheshire

Books from the BeWILDerwood series including A Boggle at BeWILDerwood, The BeWILDerbats and A BeWILDermuddle are also available to buy online.

Gate admission prices for 2020 are:

Born to BeWILD (Under 92cm): Free

Almost WILD (92-105cm): £16.50

BeWILD Now (over 105cm): £18.50

Still WILD (65 years+): £10.50

Address: BeWILDerwood Cheshire, Whitchurch Road, Bickley, Malpas, Cheshire, SY13 4JF.

We’ll be visiting to review soon and will report back!

Easter 2020 ideas for children around the South East of England – our top picks

Easter 2020 ideas for children around the South East of England – our top picks

The best Easter 2020 entertainment from egg hunt to lambing activities, walks and spring festivals

Spring is a great time for family fun and adventures and getting outside with your children.

Here are our pick of the best Easter activities planned around the South East of England.

Buckinghamshire

Waddesdon Manor is having a Cadbury Easter Egg Hunt from April 4 to 13.

Discover fun facts about nature and new parts of the gardens while taking part in an egg hunt around the grounds. Children £3, grounds admission applies.

Children can also enjoy an Easter petting farm at the manor which runs from April 15 to 19.

Get up close and personal with new furry, hairy or feathered friends this Easter, as animals return to Waddesdon’s stable yard. Free with grounds admission.

Dorset

Farmer Palmer’s, just outside Poole, is planning family-friendly Easter-themed activities.

The Easter fun includes hands-on experiences with the animals that populate the farm and an Eggstravaganza featuring hundreds of chocolate eggs over the weekend (April 10 to 13).

Entry from £12.50, children aged two are £5.50 and children under two are free.  For more information go to the website.

East Sussex

The annual Marbles Match and Easter Bonnet Parade takes place in the imposing shadow of Battle Abbey, site of the Battle of Hastings in 1066.

The marbles match at Battle Abbey

The marbles match

Visitors will be able to watch local teams lose their marbles in a traditional competition dating back to 1945. It starts at 10am on Good Friday, April 10.

Spectators of all ages will also be able to give marbles a try or take part in the Easter Bonnet competition. For more information go to the website.

Hampshire

Visit Gambledown Farm where in Spring, lambs are bottle fed, bluebells and daffodils are out and children can see baby chicks.

If you are looking for a family Easter break, the farm offers barn stays and glamping set in 270 acres of Hampshire countryside, go to the website for more information.

Chicks at Gambledown Farm

Chicks at Gambledown Farm

Gilbert White’s House Garden Bird Easter Egg Hunt runs from April 4 to 19. Children can hunt for painted eggs in the gardens and meadow, which are all based on the eggs of the birds which nest in the grounds. Find them all and claim a chocolate egg.

The cost is £3 in addition to the general admission price, adult £12, child under 16 £5, for more information go to the website.

Easter at Gilbert White's House

Gilbert White’s House

There will be an Easter Sunday Cruise and Egg Hunt on the John Pinkerton II canal boat on the Basingstoke Canal through beautiful Hampshire countryside on April 12.

Take a leisurely afternoon cruise to King John’s Castle where children can search out their Easter eggs. All trips are crewed by trained volunteer members of the Basingstoke Canal Society, a charity dedicated to safeguarding the canal. All proceeds are used to maintain the canal for the future. It is a two-and-a-half hour return trip.

The price is adults £12, children £6. Book online here.

The John Pinkerton II canal boat on the Basingstoke Canal

The John Pinkerton II canal boat

Jane Austen’s House Museum is arranging some family-friendly activities. There will be an Easter egg trail, family walks and a Young People’s Writing Workshop.  Booking is required for the workshop (April 4 to 19) and walks (April 8 and 15), go to the website.

Meet Bobtail Bunny and forest friends Betty Bunny, Hennie the Hedgehog and Red the Deer at Paultons Park from April 4 to 19, go to the website.

Easter at Paultons Park

Easter at Paultons Park

Butser Ancient Farm will be celebrating the ancient festival of Eostre and the goddess of Spring. Visitors will be able to meet the Saxons from Herigead Hundas with demonstrations, traditional crafts, cooking and DIY archaeology experiments. There will also be mini-mosaic making, wattling and more.

And Butser’s Roman IX Legion will be in residence in the Roman village with fighting and marching demonstrations, archery, Roman cooking, crafts and more.

It runs from April 10 to 13, prices are from £9 for adults and children aged three to 16 are £5. Go to the website for more information.

Kent

There will be Easter fun at Hever Castle from April 2 to 19 April.

Children can hunt for colourful carrots and bunnies in a free Easter trail in the castle or take part in two free Easter egg hunts in the grounds at 11am and 3pm.

They can also create an egg-shaped decoration to hang on the Easter tree in a free craft activity.

Admission prices, castle and gardens: adults £18.80, children aged five to 15 £10.70 and under-5s free. See the website  for more information.

Easter at Hever Castle

Easter at Hever Castle

Spa Valley Railway in Tunbridge Wells is having Easter activities from April 10 to 13 April.

Spot all the Easter bunnies alongside the railway between Tunbridge Wells and Eridge. A chocolate egg will be available (whilst stocks last) for all children taking part.

Resident steam engine ‘Ugly’ will be in action each day and standard fares apply.

Adult tickers are £10, children aged two to 15 are £5 and a family ticket for unlimited travel on the day is £28.00 when booked online in advance here.

West Sussex

Easter sees the return of the Worthing Observation Wheel. Standing at a height of 46 metres, the WOW is the tallest wheel on the south coast offering views of up to 10 miles across the South Downs and along the coast. See here for information.

Whatever you do, have a fantastic time!

Is the Caravan, Camping and Motorhome Show 2020 good for children?

Is the Caravan, Camping and Motorhome Show 2020 good for children?

A family day out at the Caravan, Camping and Motorhome Show 2020

The Caravan, Camping and Motorhome Show 2020 is a popular event every year with families.

The UK’s biggest display of leisure vehicles, static holiday homes, lodges and tents is spread over five halls at the NEC in Birmingham.

We’ve been today with our children – it was very appealing given the constant rain that has plagued the half-term holiday.

It’s a great price – adults are just £10 on the door this year (seniors £9) and children under 15 are free. Parking is free at the NEC but it is a long walk from the car park so consider getting one of the free shuttle buses especially if it is raining.

Once you get inside there are scores of caravans and motorhomes to explore – ours loved climbing inside, trying out the seats, working out how the beds worked and imagining they were ours.

There are lots of tents you can buy too, you can see all the different sizes and types all set up.

There are also extra activities, which make it more worthwhile taking children.

A climbing wall at the Children in a motorhome at the Caravan, Camping & Motorhome Show 2020

There is a climbing wall, a nine-hole mini golf course made out of miniature UK landmarks and a small circuit to try out electric bikes and electric scooters.

Mini golf at the Caravan, Camping & Motorhome Show 2020

The Haven stand had a fantastic ranger from Nature Rockz teaching fire lighting.

A ranger teache fire lighting at the Mini golf at the Caravan, Camping & Motorhome Show 2020

There is a theatre area with special guests like Shane Richie, Matt Allwright, adventurer Darren Hardy and chef, author, and Bake Off winner Nadiya Hussain.

We watched a chat with the rather lovely Dr Hilary Jones from ITV’s Lorraine, who was discussing the benefits of breaks and holidays, fresh air and exercise.

There was also a dog arena where we saw an agility demonstration and made friends with some gorgeous cocker spaniels.

The dog arena at The show runs until February 23 2020 at the NEC in Birmingham.

Plus there are holiday lodges and glamping tents and representatives from holiday parks and other destinations offering ideas for family trips.

And lots of stands selling everything you need if you go camping or caravanning.

The show runs until February 23 2020 at the NEC in Birmingham.

Gangsta Granny: The Ride comes to Alton Towers based on the popular book as part of the new World of David Walliams

Gangsta Granny: The Ride comes to Alton Towers based on the popular book as part of the new World of David Walliams

Grannies go free at Alton Towers in 2020 to celebrate the opening of the World of David Walliams

Staffordshire theme park Alton Towers has revealed that the star attraction of its soon-to-open World of David Walliams themed area will be Gangsta Granny: The Ride.

The world-first ride experience is inspired by Walliams’ biggest selling children’s novel Gangsta Granny.

Fans will also be able to stay overnight in one of four Gangsta Granny themed bedrooms in the Alton Towers Hotel.

Stay overnight in a Gangsta Granny room

Stay overnight in a Gangsta Granny room

We revealed last year that the World of David Walliams will be arriving at Alton Towers this Spring (2020) with a host of rides and attractions, bringing to life much-loved characters from the author’s children’s novels.

To celebrate the launch of Gangsta Granny: The Ride, Alton Towers is offering a new Grannies Go Free pass for 2020.

Published by HarperCollins Children’s Books, Gangsta Granny tells the story of Ben who discovers that his Granny is secretly an international jewel thief.

David Walliams works with Alton Towers on the new Gangsta Granny ride

David Walliams works with Alton Towers on the new Gangsta Granny ride

Comedian, actor and best-selling author David Walliams OBE said: “I’m absolutely thrilled that Gangsta Granny is becoming a ride at Alton Towers.

“I never imagined it would happen so it’s a real delight to see my characters brought to life in a ride.

“I’ve worked really closely with the team at Alton Towers to make sure the ride is just as funny and exciting as the book. I think children and their parents and even their grandparents are going to love it!”

The new 4D ride experience will see guests join the main characters as they attempt the greatest heist in the history of the world: to steal the Crown Jewels.

On-board a royal carriage, they will set off on a Crown Jewels tour only to be caught up in Ben and Granny’s adventure.

The ride will whizz, twist and spin passengers 360 degrees through a series of scenes where they will see, feel, hear and even smell an electrifying and unique retelling of the Gangsta Granny story.

Using state-of-the-art special effects, 3D projection-mapping and animation inspired by the artwork of Tony Ross, passengers will descend with Ben and Granny into the sewers, be chased through the streets of London and even come face to face with the Queen.

Gangsta Granny The Ride at Alton Towers

In other parts of the David Walliams area will be Raj’s Shop, a Royal Carousel, Raj’s Bouncy Bottom Burp and other surprises.

John Burton, Creative Lead for Alton Towers Resort, said: “David’s stories are full of witty characters, intrigue and exhilaration so it’s been a fantastic challenge to build all that into a new ride experience.

“It’s the first time we’ve attempted such a complex combination of a physical ride experience, high-tech special effects and brilliant story-telling to ensure guests feel they are with Granny and Ben on every step of their adventure.”

Alton Towers in Staffordshire, a member of the Merlin Entertainments family, is celebrating its 40th anniversary this year.

It opens for 2020 on March 21.

The park says the new area will open in the Spring but has not given an official launch date yet.

Grannies (and Grandads) go free

Alton Towers is offering one free adult (aged 60 and over) ticket per full price child ticket when bought by March 20. The free tickets can be used during the 2020 season (March 21 to November 1, 2020). For full terms and conditions, go to www.altontowers.com/tandcs

Gangsta Granny-themed rooms

There are four themed rooms in the Alton Towers Hotel. They cost from £281.50, based on a family-of-four with bed and breakfast, book via altontowers.com

Gangsta Granny Facts

It was first published on 27th October 2011.

The anniversary edition was published in 2018.

Gangsta Granny was David’s first children’s number one bestseller.

It stayed at the top of The Sunday Times top ten for 24 weeks.

Overall sales of Gangsta Granny are 1.75 million in the UK alone.

Gangsta Granny has also been adapted for the stage by the Birmingham Stage Company.

A television adaptation was commissioned by the BBC in 2013 and first aired on BBC One on Boxing Day 2013. The cast includes Miranda Hart, Rob Brydon, David Walliams as Ben’s Dad and Joanna Lumley as The Queen. It is currently available to view on Netflix.

David Walliams

David closed 2019 as the UK’s biggest-selling author. His titles took three of the top 10 overall bestselling books of 2019 as well as the top three bestselling children’s books of the year.

He is one of the most influential children’s writers and has revolutionised reading for children.

Since the publication of his ground-breaking first novel, The Boy in the Dress (2008), global sales of his books have exceeded 37 million copies.

Across his titles, he has celebrated a total of 55 weeks at number one in the overall book charts and more than 150 weeks at number one in the children’s charts – more than any other children’s writer.

His most recent novel, The Beast of Buckingham Palace, was published in November 2019 and went straight to number one in in the overall industry bestseller charts where it remained for four weeks and included the coveted UK Christmas number one spot.

*For more information on Gangsta Granny: The Ride and other new attractions inspired by the books of David Walliams visit  www.altontowers.com/Walliams.

Winter Funland 2019 Manchester – review and tips

Winter Funland 2019 Manchester – review and tips

We escape the cold and rain for indoor Christmas fun at EventCity in Manchester

Name

Winter Funland 2019

Where is it?

EventCity, opposite the Trafford Centre in Manchester

What is it?

The biggest indoor Christmas event in the UK. It includes a pantomime, ice rink, circus, Santa and huge funfair.

It replaced Winter Wonderland in 2018, which was at the site previously.

When is it?

Before and after Christmas – it runs for a month until January 4, 2020.

How long does it last?

Visits are in sessions of four hours.

What did we think?

It was good value for money compared to other Christmas events as it is mostly all free once you are inside including the fair rides, ice skating and two shows.

Plus it was a relief to know we’d be warm and dry whatever the weather after knowing plenty of people who have got soaked through after paying a lot of money for outdoor festive treats.

It perhaps lacked a big Christmas feel and would have benefited from more staff dressed up or more festive decorations.

But if your children love rides, you are on to a winner.

It includes:

*The funfair with lots of rides suitable for young children up to about 10, including carousels, mini coasters and dodgems. There were queues for most things but not horrendously long. It was a lot quieter in the last hour.

*An ice rink for ages four and up. It is fairly small and was not too busy when we went. There were several penguin supports for children.

*The circus – there are three performance times you can choose from in each session. You sit around a smallish round stage being amazed by a series of performers including a couple on rollerboots, two motorcyclists inside a sphere and acrobats.

*The pantomime/Christmas show – this was in the same area as the circus. It wasn’t quite as good as the circus and a few people walked out of our session. The four actors tried their best but the show wasn’t particularly Christmassy and two of them were in slightly scary alien costumes!

*Santa – this year’s grotto is next to the entrance and is open half an hour before session times so you don’t have to lose any of your four hours waiting to see Father Christmas. Queues to see him close an hour before the end of each session.

Fastpass tickets are available to visit Father Christmas to cut queuing time and give you an allocated 15-minute timeslot. Book when you buy your tickets.

Facilities for parents

*There is plenty of space to park prams and buggies.

*There is a quiet breastfeeding area and baby changing facilities.

*There is a baby chill-out zone where little ones can be out of their prams.

Food

You are not supposed to take your own food and drink inside.

There are stalls selling food and drink including pizza, carvery baps, chips, donuts, popcorn and candyfloss, plus plenty of tables to sit at to eat. There is also a bar.

Cost

All-inclusive tickets are £23.50 per person, under 3s and carers are free. It is £89 for a family of four — two adults and two children or one adult and three children. Children are aged up to and including 16. Tickets available via www.winterfunland.co.uk

Tickets can be printed off or displayed on the screen of your phone/tablet etc.

Parking is included in the cost.

What is not included in the cost

Food and drink, a present from Santa (this can be paid for before if wanted) and photo opportunities.

There is also a cloakroom charged at £1 per item.

Best for:

Children aged three to 10.

Access and restrictions:

The venue is fully wheelchair accessible but check which rides can be accessed. There is disabled parking and disabled toilets.

Address:

EventCity, opposite the Trafford Centre in Manchester.

Winter Funland Manchester postcode for satnavs is M17 8AS.

 

We visit the ‘Christmas capital of England’ whose festive market is hailed the best in Europe

We visit the ‘Christmas capital of England’ whose festive market is hailed the best in Europe

We take a festive family trip to Winchester

The city of Winchester is known as England’s Christmas capital and its market was recently voted one of the best in Europe.

So we take a December trip to the home of Alfred the Great to find out what its Christmas appeal is for children, plus see our video below.

The Winchester Cathedral Christmas Markets

The centrepiece of the city’s festive fun is this beautiful market which runs for 34 days around Christmas.

There are 110 stalls around Cathedral Close. You enter via the side of the building through some arches and onto the market which has dozens of stalls selling Christmas gifts, arts and crafts.

The main food and drink section of the market is at the far side. There are the usual selection of German sausages, Gluhwein and more. Our two enjoyed testing the pancakes from an excellent crepes stall, which was reasonably priced and properly cooked by two ladies from France. There was also a man toasting marshmallows and another roasting nuts.

Buying mulled wine at Winchester Cathedral Christmas Market

There is also a British Crafts Village section, which you enter via a small platform, with a nativity scene at the end.

The market is very popular with 350,000 visitors each year and it was busy when we went which means you need to keep a close eye on your children. Also, there are no toilets in the market itself, the nearest ones are at the Cathedral Visitors Centre.

The ice rink

In the centre of the markets is a covered ice rink. It offers one-hour skating slots through the day from 10am with the final one starting at 8pm.

The busiest times are in the late afternoon but numbers are limited so even in a full session the ice isn’t too busy.

A family skating ticket for two adults and two children costs £37.95. it also costs £5 to hire a Penguin skating aid, which is essential if your children are new to skating and makes for a more fun experience on the ice for beginners.

The rink has a large Christmas tree in the centre and viewing areas at either end for family and friends to watch.

You can collect your skates in the waiting area up to half a hour before your allocated time slot. All children’s sizes are catered for and there is a £1 charge to leave bags in a locker.

It is a great festive atmosphere with lights and music on the ice adding to the fun. There is also an ice bar and cafe next to the rink for hot and cold food.

Across the city

Winchester takes Christmas very seriously and even away from the cathedral there was a large market along the High Street when we visited. There were plenty of local stalls and food outlets at that market as well.

Further afield

The two nearest Christmas activities near Winchester are at Marwell Zoo, which we reviewed earlier in the year, read about it here. The zoo has a special Christmas at Marwell experience which can be booked as either a daytime or evening visit. Only the daytime experience includes a visit to the zoo itself.

The Watercress Line has a Santa Special train running until December 24. Children receive an activity pack and gingerbread on board while adults can enjoy white wine and mince pies. Tickets are available by advanced booking only.

Also, in Winchester there is a Meet Father Christmas event running at the Great Hall. From December 21 to 23, you can meet Santa in one of the city’s grandest buildings. Tickets include that all-important meeting plus a festive gift and Christmas-themed crafts.

Where do I park?

Parking is difficult but there are three park and ride options. If you are coming from the East, you can use either Barfield or St Catherine’s Park & Ride. Visitors from the south can use South Winchester.

If you want to try and get closer to the city centre, then the Chesil multi-storey car park is your best bet. We parked here and it was about a 10-minute walk to the cathedral.

For more information go to visitwinchester.co.uk

(We were given free entry to the ice rink for the purpose of this review. All opinions are our own).

Lapland UK 2019 – our full guide, top tips and review of this popular Christmas day out for families

Lapland UK 2019 – our full guide, top tips and review of this popular Christmas day out for families

We take our children to ‘Lapland’ in the UK for a full family festive experience

It is one of the country’s most popular Christmas days out for families who want to experience Lapland without the cost of travelling to Finland.

So here is all you need to know about Lapland UK, plus our top tips for visiting and please watch our video below!

What is it?

A full Christmas experience for children which tells the story of Father Christmas, complete with elves, snow, a personalized Santa visit, toy making, gingerbread decorating, ice skating and more.

Where is it?

In ‘Lapland’ accessed by magic from Lapland UK, in Whitmoor Forest near Ascot in Berkshire.

How it works

1. Children get a special invitation each to visit ‘Lapland’ through the post telling them they have been chosen to help Santa make toys. There is a special app you can use so that two of the elves you will meet, appear on your invitation through your phone to talk and build the excitement.

2. When you get there and check in, each child is given an Elf Passport to have stamped at various points. You can also buy Jingles here – elf money that the children can spend there – £1 is one Elf Jingle.

A pouch of Jingles

A pouch of Jingles

3. The tour starts in a round room where elves tell the Father Christmas story, teach elf rhymes and the elf wave and build up the excitement for the children (Little Folk) and adults (Big Folk) until finally opening the doors to ‘Lapland’.

The doors to Lapland

The doors to Lapland

4. You walk past snow-topped cabins to the toy workshop. Here, as in other places around the site, children have the option of entering through much smaller doors than the adults, which is a nice touch.

5. Inside the workshop, they are entertained by more elves and then each child helps to make a toy (a soft snowman our year, which they stuffed and added buttons to and a nose and scarf etc), which they hand over to be wrapped for Santa to deliver to children on Christmas Eve.

Making toys at the Toy Factory at Lapland UK

Making toys

6. Then it’s through one of several magical tree tunnels to the next area, a kitchen where Mother Christmas is waiting, she talks to the children, they decorate gingerbread biscuits then listen to a story.

Mother Christmas tells a story at Lapland UK

Mother Christmas tells a story

7. After that it is on to the Elf Village where you have an hour-and-a-half free time to ice skate on the outdoor rink, visit husky dogs and spend your Jingles in the toy and sweet shops, food and drink outlets. There is even a special post office where children can write a letter to Santa, have it sealed and post it themselves.

The ice rink at Lapland UK

8. Then it’s on to the main event – visiting Father Christmas. You walk through a magical forest, past elf homes and past the reindeer to a waiting area.

Elves come and out and call each family group through using just the children’s names. Then you are taken down a winding path to visit Santa in a log cabin, who amazes the children by knowing special details about them. He gives them a present (soft husky toy dogs when we went) and they find their names in his good book. They have a photograph taken by an elf.

Children look to see if they are in Santa's good book at Lapland UK

Are they in his good book?

9. In the next area, you collect your free photograph and are slipped a toy like the one your child made earlier so that Santa can deliver it on Christmas Eve. Then it’s out through a gift shop where there are lots of accessories you can buy for your husky! And then it’s out the door and back into the car park in ‘England’.

What is included in the price at Lapland UK?

*Parking.

*An elf passport.

*Elf newspaper.

*Making a toy activity.

*A version of the toy they made in the toy factory to take away secretly to give them on Christmas day.

*The gingerbread that the children decorate.

*Ice skating and hire of skates.

*Meeting Father Christmas.

*A gift from Santa – soft toy husky dogs our year.

*A printed family picture from the Santa visit.

What costs extra at Lapland UK?

*Food and drink.

*Reindeer food.

*Shop purchases.

*Extra pictures from the Santa visit.

What did we think?

This is a magical Christmas day out for young children and very well organized. The staff are all fantastic, taking on the role of elves and reindeer and the children loved it. It is a fabulous four hours of festive entertainment.

Is Lapland UK worth the cost?

This is a staggeringly expensive Christmas experience. It is a shame this costs so much money as it just isn’t possible for many people, particularly bigger families.

For the four of us it was over £450 on a weekday – which works out at over £100 an hour. We were lucky enough to be treated to it for a special family birthday. I don’t think we would be able to justify doing it again another year.

If you can afford it and want to splash out, make sure your children are the right ages to appreciate it, I would say, no younger than three and of an age where they still believe in the magic of Christmas.

Top tips for Lapland UK

*Do take advantage of the app to make your child’s invitation come to life, it is a magical start to the experience.

*Get there half an hour before your time slot to park, walk to the start, check in etc. You can not start the experience until your time slot so there is no point getting there any earlier.

*Buy Jingles at the start – £1 is 1 Elf Jingle, they come in a red velvet pouch. Children can use them to pay for things in the Elf Village and you can cash in those you don’t use at the end. We bought ours £5 worth each and it was enough (a lead for the toy husky from Santa was just £3 in the gift shop at the end, but beware there are lots of toys which cost a lot more)!

*Personalise your visit online. Make sure Santa has all the details he needs to show your child that he knows all about them. But don’t worry if you don’t get chance to do this as you can tell them at the desk when you are waiting to see the Big Man (just make sure little ears can’t hear you)!

*Ice rink – children can have skates which go over their shoes and are easier to balance on instead of proper ones. There are also support penguins for young children to hold on to or stand on.

*Consider taking a change of clothes in case children fall over on the ice rink. It was raining when we went and there is no cover so the surface was wet even though staff were frantically trying to keep the water off it.

*You could spend a lot of money in the Elfen Village if you aren’t careful as a lot of it is shops and food and drink outlets so take your time doing the ice rink and the Santa letter writing!

Our five-year-old’s verdict

“We saw Father Christmas and he gave us some huskies. And we went in the Enchanted Forest. It was fantastic! I liked seeing Santa Claus best.”

Address

Whitmoor Forest, Swinley Rd, Winkfield Row, Ascot SL5 8BD

Where to stay

We stayed at the Hilton Bracknell Hotel 10 minutes away, which has a fantastic swimming pool, read our review here.

Website

https://www.laplanduk.co.uk

Have you been? What did you think? We would love to hear from you.

 

 

 

 

 

Dunham Massey Christmas Lights 2019 – our review and guide

Dunham Massey Christmas Lights 2019 – our review and guide

The National Trust property in Cheshire hosts its popular illumination display for the third year

Thousands of visitors will be heading to Dunham Massey over the festive period to enjoy the magical light trail around the park and garden.

And we’ve had sneak preview of this fabulous Christmas display, so here is our review, top tips and all you need to know, plus watch our video below.

What is it?

Dunham Massey – a National Trust property with deer park and gardens – is hosting its third annual Christmas Light Trail.

Thousands will head to the Cheshire site for the fabulous experience, which is perfect for families.

It features dazzling light displays, music, fairground rides, food and drink.

When is it?

The illuminations run from November 22 to December 30, 2019.

Ticket start times run every 20 minutes between 4.30pm and 8pm.

How much are tickets?

Tickets are prices from £17.50 for adults, £11 for children aged three to 16 and under-threes are free. A family ticket is £54.00.

Our highlights

*Before you go into the formal gardens, the house itself is lit up at the front with a fabulous laser display.

Dunham Massey Christmas Lights house

There is also a light display when you reach the back of the house, along with rings of fire.

Dunham Massey Christmas Lights house

*There are lots of memorable features as you go around including huge glittering reindeer near the start – apt for a park which is home to lots of deer, firework lights in the trees, a laser walk and lots more.

*The large lawn area inside the gardens is lit up in a sea of lights, changing pattern, in front of a tunnel of glittering lights.

*You can toast marshmallows in fire pits in the rose garden. These can be bought at a stand in the corner of the garden – £1.50 for a large marshmallow on a stick – there are several flavours including gingerbread and caramel.

Toasting marshmallows at Dunham Massey Christmas Lights

*There is different music as you go around including songs from Christmassy films – a Frozen song at the start thrilled our daughter.

*There are a few fairground rides in the Stables Courtyard for younger children – a carousel, helter skelter, merry-go-round and swing boats.

*There are food and drink stalls selling mulled wine, hot chocolate, hot dogs, chips, pizza, churros etc.

Top tips

*You are not supposed to take your own food and drink but I did see several people with their own marshmallows (and sticks) to toast.

*Wrap up warm – it is all outdoors.

*Book a parking space in advance – even if you are a National Trust member with free parking.

*Father Christmas appears on the trail as part of a small show. There is no grotto or individual meeting.

Other questions

Is everything included in the price?

Fair rides, food and drink are extra. You buy ride tokens – £2.50 each or £10 for five if bought in advance when you book your tickets.

Some stalls accepted payment by card. There is no cash machine.

How long will it take?

The route keeps to the paths and ensures you don’t miss anything. It is around a mile long and takes around an hour and a half but you can stay as long as you like until it closes. It is wheelchair and buggy-friendly but is dimly-lit in places and can get busy.

Can you catch a glimpse of the lights if you happen to be already at Dunham Massey when it gets dark?

If you are there just before the gardens close at 3.30pm, you may see some of the lights as it starts to get dark but you will not get anywhere near the full effect.

Do National Trust members need to pay?

National Trust members pay full price, there is no discount. Parking is free for NT members, but you still have to reserve a space ahead of time as the car park gets busy.

Address

National Trust Dunham Massey, Altrincham, WA14 4SJ

For more information and to book go to the website.

Harry Potter Studio Tour London – our full guide, review and must-read tips

Harry Potter Studio Tour London – our full guide, review and must-read tips

We take our children on a family trip to Warner Bros. Studio Tour London – The Making of Harry Potter

What is it:

The Harry Potter Studio Tour is a magical long look behind the scenes of the famous wizarding films.

It is at the actual Warner Bros. studios near London where a lot of the filming for the eight Harry Potter movies took place.

This is nothing at all like a theme park – there are no rides.

Instead, fans can explore the sets, see the thousands of props and costumes and have their pictures taken with iconic memorabilia and backdrops.

It has won lots of travel awards hailing it the best UK attraction and best family day out.

What did we think?

Harry Potter fans will adore this attraction. There’s absolutely LOADS to see. It’s a four-hour (or so) look at how the films were made.

It makes you appreciate how much work, talent and creativity goes into making films like these.

It’s a really memorable day out – our oldest child is a fan but our youngest – who is too young for the books or film yet – also enjoyed it.

Our highlights

*When you first enter the main lobby before the tour, a huge dragon hanging from the ceiling gives the wow factor. (Apparently it’s Ironbelly from Deathly Hallows Part One, but we haven’t watched that far yet)!

*The tour starts in a room where people in ‘pictures’ on the the walls are talking to you – fans, actors such as James and Oliver Phelps (who play Fred and George Weasley) and Harry Potter writer JK Rowling. Then you go into a small cinema and watch a short film with Daniel Radcliffe, Rupert Grint and Emma Watson talking about making the movies. At the end, the screen lifts up revealing the door to the Great Hall.

*The Great Hall – the iconic heart of Hogwarts Castle is the perfect area in which to start the experience. The space in the middle is clear for visitors but tables are laid for dinner along the sides. Sadly we didn’t get to enjoy a great feast!

The Great Hall at Harry Potter Studio Tour in London

The Great Hall

Models of the characters wear some of the costumes. It’s great to see the size of Hagrid at the front, next to the other teachers. The ceiling is arched but not enchanted (this was created afterwards with special effects). A guide comes in to the hall with you, pointing out areas of interest, you are free to explore on your own from then on.

Gringotts Wizarding Bank at Harry Potter Studio Tour in London

Gringotts

*Gringotts Wizarding Bank. Although this part is a reproduction of the actual set, this room takes your breath away as you walk in – it’s vast. And sparkly! With marble columns, huge chandeliers and goblin bankers sitting at their desks.

A goblin banker at Gringotts at Harry Potter Studios in London

*Diagon Alley – you don’t get to go in the shops, but can peep in at the famous store fronts like Flourish and Blotts, Mr Mulpepper’s Apothecary and Ollivanders wand shop. One shop even has a broomstick floating in the window.

Diagon Alley at the Harry Potter Studios in London

Diagon Alley

*The Hogwarts Express. You see the train at platform 9¾ and can climb on board, walking along the narrow corridor but not going in any of the small carriages. This train was the one used on location for exterior shots only.

A boy pushes his trolley through the wall on platform 9 3/4 at Harry Potter Studios in London

But you do get the chance to sit with your family in a carriage nearby with a green screen for a window. You have your picture taken (to buy if you want afterwards) and are given emotions to act, which is great fun. A video then plays on the screen/window to simulate the train moving through different landscapes, but be warned – Dementors appear at the ‘window’ at one point which can be scary so sit younger children nearer the camera.

*Wand training – our children loved being taught how to use a wand. Participants stand in front of mirrors and follow a demonstration video, learning wand moves, with help from a guide.

*The guides – they are fabulous. They are spaced around the attraction, are friendly, approachable and very knowledgable. They know loads of fascinating facts so make sure to talk to them.

*Green screen photo areas. You are put in Hogwarts robes, in the house of your choice, unless you have your own. You can pose for a ‘Have you seen this Wizard’ poster picture, ride a broomstick over London and buy the resulting pictures and video.

*Dobby the house elf interactive motion capture experience – stand in front of three different stages of the CGI process and watch Dobby reflect your movements – my daughter loved this bit and didn’t want to leave.

A girl uses the Dobby interactive motion screen at Harry Potter Studio in London

*Seeing the animatronic versions of creatures like Buckbeak the Hippogridd and how they were made.

*The props – there are so, so many amazing with such attention to details. For example in Snape’s Potions Classroom there are more than 950 potion jars with weird and wonderful props inside.

*The tour ends with a stunning model of Hogwarts Castle. There are interactive screens here showing how it was built (in 40 days) and how it was used in the films.

*The shop at the end is huge with lots of quality (expensive) merchandise.

Top tips:

*DO NOT turn up to the Harry Potter Studio Tour without pre-booking a ticket. Buy one in advance from the website.

*Book tickets as far ahead as you can as, even though 6,000 people a day take the tour, they sell out quickly.

*Tickets are timed entry, to control the amount of visitors entering. You can take as long as you want going round so it can get busier throughout the day. We booked our tickets for the first time slot of the day (9-9.30am the day we went) and didn’t have any crowds or queues to face – even half an hour behind us, people were queuing for things we hadn’t.

*Opt to have your tickets posted then you can go straight in on arrival, otherwise you have to collect them from a ticket window and there might be a queue.

*Arrive at least 20 minutes early to park and get through the security checks – bags are checked and people are scanned with metal detector wands.

*After the security checks you enter a room where you can collect a handheld digital guide for £4.95. These enhance the tour for adults and some children, they give extra details and facts for visitors as they walk around.

*Also in this first room you can collect a free children’s ‘passport’. They can be stamped around the tour and make for a nice memento. They also give clues for spotting the golden snitch.

*When leaving the door with the talking pictures to enter the cinema, go through the door on the left and then you can sit on the front row of the theatre and be first into the Great Hall. If it’s your birthday you may even get to open the doors.

*A couple of parts can be frightening –

The Forbidden Forest – it’s only a short walk through, but it is dark, there is fake mist rising and eerie sounds and movements.

Buckbeak in the Forbidden Forest at the Harry Potter Studio Tour in London

Buckbeak in the Forbidden Forest

If your children would be scared by big spiders – take the first turning on the right inside the forest to miss a part complete with a big Aragog and family.

If you have children who don’t want to enter the forest at all, ask a member of staff and they will take you another way round. Once through the forest, you come out at Platform 9¾ and see the Hogwarts Express – if you tell them this it might get them through!

The other frightening part for some children is at the end of the fabulous Gringotts section where a dragon appears to run at you breathing fire.

You can hear the roar from the room before, which causes the walls to ‘shake’. When you look in, it’s a set of a destroyed Gringotts made to look deeper than it is with a clever screen. A digital but very realistic Ukrainian Ironbelly moves towards you, setting the bank on fire. It’s a short sequence on repeat and anyone who doesn’t want to see it has about 10 seconds to run through this room before it starts again. Our children were worried so a heroic member of staff brandishing a sword to ‘defend them’, led them through.

Wands for sale at the shop at the Harry Potter Studio Tour in London

Wands for sale at the shop

*Be prepared to spend money once inside – we are normally careful but here we ended up paying for two green screen pictures and two green screen videos (£50), food in the café as we were away so couldn’t make a packed lunch, plus a little gift in the shop at the end, totaling £90 on top of already expensive tickets.

*For more tips and answers to all your Harry Potter Studios questions, go to Harry Potter Studio Tour London – EVERYTHING you need to know

Warner Bros. Studio Tour London – The Making of Harry Potter information

Food

There are a couple of cafes at the entrance/exit (Chocolate Frog Cafe and Hub Cafe) along with a food hall.

Half way around the tour is the Backlot Café with seating inside and out. Staff will supply hot water for heating up bottles here. This is also where to buy butterbeer and butterbeer ice cream. You can queue separately for this.

You can take a picnic, but you must eat it at the Backlot Café half way round.

Opening hours: vary throughout the year, check here.

Cost:

2019: Adult £45, child aged 5-15 £37, family (2 adults and 2 children or 1 adult and 3 children) £148,

2020: Adult £47, child aged 5-15 £38, family (2 adults and 2 children or 1 adult and 3 children) £150.

Children aged 0 to 4 are free but still need a ticket. Carers are also free.

You can also buy a complete studio tour package which includes a studio tour ticket, digital guide and souvenir guidebook. An adult package costs £54.95 for 2019 and £56.95 for 2020. A child package costs £46.95 for 2019 and £47.95 for 2020. These give a saving of £4.95.

There are also deluxe tickets including studio tour entry with a two-hour guided tour, reserve parking, a souvenir guidebook, a butterbeer, four free photographs and a video at one of the photo opportunities and a hot meal and drink.

The Deluxe ticket includes entry to the Studio Tour with a complimentary two hour guided tour, reserved parking, a souvenir guidebook, a Butterbeer, four free photographs and a video at one of our photo opportunities and a choice of hot meal and drink. They cost £225.

Best for: Harry Potter fans aged eight and above and equally interesting for adults!

Time needed: Around four hours but you can stay as long as you like.

Access and restrictions: Most of the studio tour is suitable for wheelchairs but some areas are difficult including the cobbled streets of Diagon Alley. It is also suitable for buggies/pushchairs/prams or these can be left in the cloakroom.

Address: Warner Bros. Studio Tour London, Studio Tour Drive, Leavesden, WD25 7LR

NOW READ: Harry Potter Studio Tour London – EVERYTHING you need to know

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Harry Potter Studio Tour London – EVERYTHING you need to know

Harry Potter Studio Tour London – EVERYTHING you need to know

We answer ALL your questions about Warner Bros. Studio Tour London – The Making of Harry Potter

The Warner Bros. studios in Leavesden near London were home to the hugely popular Harry Potter films for over 10 years.

And now fans can go ‘backstage’ at the Harry Potter studios where the magic was made.

Here we answer all your questions about Warner Bros. Studio Tour London – The Making of Harry Potter.

Also, don’t miss our full review and all our top tips here and watch our exclusive video of our day out at the studio tour below:

Is there a Harry Potter World or theme park in England?

No, there is the Harry Potter Studio Tour – a multi-award winning UK attraction near London.

What is the Harry Potter Studio Tour?

It’s a huge self-led back stage tour at the studio where a lot of the filming for the Harry Potter movies took place. You can see real sets from the films, costumes, props and creatures, plus take part in some interactive green screen fun.

Is this one of the best Harry Potter experiences?

Yes, the Harry Potter Studio Tour is great for adults and children because it is authentic. Many of the sets, costumes, props and creatures you see here were used in the Harry Potter films. They show the work and craftsmanship that went into the films.

Where is it?

It’s at Warner Bros. Studios, Leavesden, where much of the film series was shot, home to the movies for over 10 years. Leavesden is 20 miles from London, near Watford, England. The full address is: Warner Bros. Studio Tour London, Studio Tour Drive, Leavesden, WD25 7LR.

How to get there

You can drive by car and park in the car park directly outside or take a return bus tour from London or other parts of the country. You can also get a train to Watford Junction and then a shuttle bus, run by the attraction.

When did Harry Potter Studios open?

The studio tour opened on March 31, 2012. Unusually, the crew had saved a lot of the sets, props, animatronic creatures and costumes in case they were needed again for future films. They are now on show for the attraction, next to the working film studios where all eight films were made in Leavesden.

What can you see on the tour?

There’s far too much to mention but it includes The Great Hall, The Forbidden Forest, Gringotts banking hall, the Griffindor common room and boys’ dormitory, Snape’s Potions Classroom, Dumbledore’s Tower, the Weasleys’ Burrow, Hagrid’s Hut, the portrait of the Fat Lady, the Mirror of Erised, and the giant clock pendulum.

Dumbledore's office at the Harry Potter Studio Tour in London

Dumbledore’s office

There is also Malfoy’s Manor, Dolores Umbridge’s pink office, the Hogwarts Express, The Knight Bus, Privet Drive, the Hogwarts Bridge, Godric’s Hollow House, the Ford Anglia, Diagon Alley, Buckbeak, Aragog, the scaled model of Hogwarts Castle used in the films. Plus thousands more animatronics, props and costumes.

Children get on the Knight Bus at the Harry Potter Studio Tour in London

Trying out the Knight Bus

Blenheim Palace in the Cotswolds – our family day out review and top tips

Blenheim Palace in the Cotswolds – our family day out review and top tips

We take our children for a day out at Blenheim Palace in Oxfordshire

What is it?

Blenheim Palace is a grand historic house and gardens. This World Heritage Site was the birthplace and home of World War Two Prime Minister, Sir Winston Churchill.

It has over 300 years of history and is now home to the 12th Duke of Marlborough.

Where is it?

On the edge of the town of Woodstock in Blenheim, Oxfordshire, eight miles from Oxford.

The Great Courtyard at Blenheim Palace

The Great Courtyard

What did we think?

This is a grand venue and our two were excited to be visiting a ‘palace’. It is set in spectacular grounds with a large lake.

Our Highlights

*Our two really enjoyed having audio guides, which surprised us. There was no separate children’s commentary but we spent much longer inside the palace as a result of these devices, they enjoyed looking out for the portraits that were being shown and talked about on their handheld devices.

A ceiling inside Blenheim Palace

*You can walk or catch a little train from the car park to the Family Pleasure Gardens. Sadly, it was pouring with rain when we visited but on a dry day, we would have spent longer in this area which included swings, puzzles on the floor and a maze.

As it was raining we made a beeline for the butterfly house. It warmed us up and the children enjoyed being surrounded by butterflies.

*A 300-year-old cedar tree there, the ‘Harry Potter Tree’, was in Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix – Snape was dangling from it in a flashback.

Top Tips

If it is raining, take a towel to dry the train seats and swings etc. And, try to do the inside areas when it is forecast rain – the palace, the butterfly house, the shops/cafes.

Blenheim Palace information

Food: There is a restaurant and three cafes including a pizza café next to the Family Pleasure Gardens. Picnics are also allowed.

Opening hours: The palace is open every day from 10.30am to 5.30pm, park open daily 9am to 6pm.

Cost: Adults £27, children aged five to 16 £16, children under five free, family ticket (two adults, two children), £67.50. The price includes the audio guide.

Best for: Ages six and above.

Time needed: Four hours.

Access and restrictions: The site is largely accessible for wheelchair users and for buggies.

Address: Blenheim Palace, Woodstock, Oxfordshire, OX201UL.

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(We were given complimentary tickets for the purpose of this review, all views are our own).

Pictures © Blenheim Palace 2019

Cotswold Wildlife Park and Gardens – our review, tips and all the information you will need to visit

Cotswold Wildlife Park and Gardens – our review, tips and all the information you will need to visit

We take our children to Cotswold Wildlife Park and Gardens for a family day out

What is it?

Cotswold Wildlife Park and Gardens has 260 species of animals around 160 acres of beautiful parkland. This zoo has lots of rare and endangered animals.

Where is it?

The wildlife park is two miles south of Burford on the A361 on the southern edge of the Cotswolds, in Oxfordshire.

What did we think?

It is a cross between a traditional zoo and a visit to a National Trust-style stately home and gardens. There are lots of interesting animals for children to see, but adults can also enjoy strolling around the lovely gardens.

Watch our video below before reading our highlights, top tips and essential information!

Our Highlights

*There are good views of the animals, even for little ones thanks to cleverly designed fences and slopes.

*You can get face-to-face with the giraffes as there is a high viewing point called the Giraffe Walkway.

Two giraffe faces at Cotswold Wildlife Park and Gardens

*The adventure playground and skymaze is a fantastic play area for children, even those older and more daring.

The adventure playground

The adventure playground

*The fabulous gardens – beautiful to walk through on the sunny day we were there.

*The range of animals include red pandas, giraffes, rhinos, penguins, lions, wolves, tropical birds, meercats, zebras, tapirs, camels, otters, lemurs, monkeys, snakes and crocodiles. In case you have an elephant-lover, note that there are no elephants at this zoo.

A parrot at Cotsold Wildlife Park and Gardens

*There is a farmyard section where you can pet goats in an open field.

A girl pets a goat at CotsolA girl pets a goat at Cotswold Wildlife Park and Gardensd Wildlife Park and Gardens

Our top tips

*We asked a member of staff for the best route to walk around the park and as we had arrived first thing she recommended we visit the walled garden first of all. See the penguin feeding at 11am and the lemurs feeding at 12pm in the Madagascar area, then head around the park either clockwise or anti-clockwise. That brings you into the grounds in time for a picnic.

A meerkat relaxes at Cotswold Wildlife Park

A meerkat relaxes

*There is a little train which takes you around the park and which is worth doing to rest tired legs at only £1 per person (under 3s are free). It runs from April to October, weather permitting. There isn’t an organised queuing system though so make sure you don’t miss your turn to get on board. The train ride lasts around 10 minutes and departs from near the walled garden and playground. There is a place to leave pushchairs and wheelchairs next to the platform and there is room for two wheelchairs on the train.

*The lemur collection in the Madagascan Walkthrough, is only open for part of the day so check opening times if you are keen to do this.

*A guide book and map costs £2.50. If you just need a map there are boards around the site. Just snap one on your phone and take it round with you! Or click here for an online map.

*Dogs can be taken here as long as they are kept on a lead. There are some areas with free ranging animals that they aren’t allowed into including the Bat Belfry, Reptile House, Children’s Farmyard.

Cotswold Wildlife Park and Gardens information

Food: Picnics are allowed and there are plenty of nice spots and benches to eat them.

There is a restaurant – the Oak Tree Restaurant – behind the manor house. And seasonal (only open on busy days) kiosks selling hot drinks, ice creams and snacks.

Opening hours: Daily 10am to 6pm April to October, 10am to 5pm November to March. Last admission two hours before closing time.

Cost: Adults £16.00, children aged three to 16 £10.50, under 3s free. E-tickets booked online in advance are £14.00 and £9.50.

There are no disabled concessions but there is a discount for groups of six or more disabled people and their carers.

Best for: All ages but it is a large site so under 5s might get tired without a buggy.

Time needed: At least three hours, potentially all day if you take your time.

Access and restrictions: This is a flat site with good paths throughout so great for wheelchairs prams and buggies. There are disabled toilets in every toilet block as well as a Changing Places toilet near to the gift shop with a bed, ceiling hoist and shower (ask in the gift shop for the security code to get in).

There are wheelchairs available to hire for free. Mobility scooters can be hired for a charge and must be booked in advance.

Address: Cotswold Wildlife Park, Bradwell Grove, Burford, OX18 4JP

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(We were given complimentary tickets for the purpose of this review, all views are our own).

Crocodiles of the World – we visit the UK’s only crocodile zoo with our children

Crocodiles of the World – we visit the UK’s only crocodile zoo with our children

We review Crocodiles of the World in the Cotswolds and give our tips for visiting families

What is it?

This is the UK’s only crocodile zoo with 150 crocodiles and alligators plus other reptiles like Komodo dragons and giant tortoises. It was opened in 2011 by crocodile conservationist Shaun Foggett.

Two giant tortoises get fed at World of Crocodiles

The centre wants visitors to learn about crocodiles and see them closely but safely, to boost awareness and conservation.

Where is it?

Crocodiles of the World is at the bottom of the Cotswolds, a mile off the main A40 to Oxford not far from Burford, in Oxfordshire.

What did we think?

There are lots of types of crocodiles, caimans and alligators – creatures you don’t often see in zoos, so it was great to get up close to some of the bigger ones! It is fairly small, the site is a little ramshackle in places and some parts are very humid to keep the crocodiles feeling at home.

Highlights

*The zoo is split into four sections, the largest creatures are in the Crocodile House, smaller ones in the main zoo, there are also two outside areas including an education zone housing otters and meerkats.

*There are lots of talks through the day with something every half an hour between 10.30am and 4pm. The Croc Talk we attended was really interesting, relaxed and well delivered. We learnt plenty, including the difference between a crocodile and alligator (crocodiles have their bottom teeth visible when their mouth is closed, alligators don’t).

A man talks about crocodiles

The croc talk

*The Komodo dragon is an interesting sight and has a reasonable-sized enclosure next to the picnic and play area. A good place to sit, eat and relax outside.

*There is a small playground with modern equipment outside, which is handy as the main zoo and crocodile house are both very hot and humid so the creatures can feel at home. You need a blast of fresh air so the playground is handy. There is a small slide for under 5s and some good monkey bars in a climbing area.

Watch our video below before continuing to our top tips to read before you visit.

Our top tips

*The biggest and most dramatic crocodiles and alligators are in the Crocodile House. It isn’t that well marked and we nearly left without seeing this area altogether!

*It is EXTREMELY hot and humid in the Crocodile House and can be close to unbearable for young children so head straight to the top section with the huge saltwater and Nile crocodiles then work back down. That way you see the best creatures before you get too hot and sweaty. Our son lasted less than a minute before he needed to go outside so missed this part.

A girl sits on a pretend crocodile

This one is not real!

*The talks are good and well-spaced out through the day, try and combine one Croc Talk and a feeding session too to get the most out of your visit. The site isn’t huge so without doing the talks it won’t take long to get around everything.

Crocodiles of the World information

Food: There’s a small cafe – Croc Cafe – which serves hot and cold food, drinks and ice creams. Picnics are allowed with tables outside near the playground.

Opening hours: Open every day, 10am to 5pm.

Cost: Adults £8.95, children aged three to 16 £6.50, under 3s free. Family tickets (2 adults, 2 children) £27.00.

Best for: Children aged four upwards.

Time needed: 90 minutes, a bit longer if you want to hear more talks.

Access and restrictions: The site is flat and wheelchair friendly, especially the main croc house. There are a couple of steps in other sections. There are disabled changing facilities.

Address: Burford Rd, Brize Norton, Carterton OX18 3NX.

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(We were given complimentary tickets for the purpose of this review, all views are our own).

 

 

The Forbidden Corner in Yorkshire – a magical and mysterious family attraction with surprises around every corner – our review and top tips

The Forbidden Corner in Yorkshire – a magical and mysterious family attraction with surprises around every corner – our review and top tips

We take our children to the Forbidden Corner in the Yorkshire Dales to see if it lives up to the hype

What is it?

The Forbidden Corner is a weird and wonderful family attraction, billed as the strangest place in the world.

This four-acre garden is a maze of paths, mysterious tunnels, doors, steps and underground chambers. Plus, quirky statues, strange noises and jets of water catching people unawares.

It was first created for private use and later opened to the public.

Where is it?

It is in Leyburn in North Yorkshire, in the heart of the Yorkshire Dales.

What did we think?

This is a unique family attraction, unlike anywhere else we have been. Our children were quite scared in parts but came away saying they had loved it.

Watch our exclusive video before reading our highlights and top tips below!

Highlights

*The ‘map’ you are given upon entry is not a map. There is no route, it shows you pictures of all the things you need to find in the garden, in no particular order, so take a pen to tick them off. There is no way to tell how big the site is or where anything is, it is a labyrinth with endless nooks and crannies to explore.

A big eye hole at Forbidden Corner

*We got there when it opened (11am the day we went) and there were only a few people waiting to get in, plus it never felt too busy as they limit numbers via booked entry times. You can stay as long as you want so I understand it may get much busier later on.

*There are several parts where you may get wet. Your movement triggers water sprays that will catch you if you stop. These bits are fun for children to run through, once they have built up the courage.

*When you think you must have seen everything, you find a whole new section or more paths to try.

*The carved wooden play area is beautiful.

The play area at the Forbidden Corner

The play area

*The cafe is reasonably priced with good options for children.

The cafe at the Forbidden Corner

The cafe

Top tips

*Don’t just turn up, you are unlikely to get in, you must book in advance and they limit numbers to prevent overcrowding. Book via the website.

*The first surprise you come to is a giant square head (main picture) – you make your way through its large mouth and it makes a loud burping noise as you pass its throat – if your children are scared of this as ours were, there are small paths each side to bypass it. They can maybe try it later if they’re feeling braver (our son later did it twice).

*There are other parts that can be frightening to some younger children or anyone who might be claustrophobic or frighten easily – in fact the whole experience is equivalent to a mildly scary haunted house at a theme park. It is free to children aged three and under because of this. There are underground parts that you can avoid – including the ‘mausoleum’ which has warnings outside and is not for the faint-hearted – our children didn’t do this bit.

A boy looks up at a giant woodcutter statue at the Forbidden Corner

*There is a word hunt where you look for brass letters and make rubbings of them, which adds excitement.

*To find everything, you have to explore every path and every option and some lead to dead ends. Check all the doors even if they look like they won’t open. Some parts are easy to miss like the play area or the little garden off it with a fountain which has a ‘show’ every 15 minutes.

*Make sure everyone goes to the toilet before entering the garden! There is apparently a toilet in the garden, but we never found it. There is one toilet in the play area, others where you queue to get in and outside by the car park.

*Try to stay together as it would be easy to lose each other and there is patchy phone signal. Keep hold of toddlers particularly as there can be steep steps around a corner or various paths to navigate and you won’t know which they have taken.

*If you need accommodation, there are apartments and barn conversions next to the entrance to Forbidden Corner. This was fully booked when we looked and we ended up staying at a youth hostel 25 minutes away, with stunning surroundings, see here for our review.

*You exit through a gift shop but the prices are reasonable.

*Forbidden Corner has special ‘blue days’ where you get four tickets for the price of three.

Forbidden corner information

Food: There are tables in the garden but picnics are restricted to a spot near to the car park. There’s a nice, reasonably priced cafe with children’s meals like pizza and chips and spaghetti bolognese (£3.45), plus jacket potatoes, paninis, pies (£2.10) and sandwiches. And cakes (special mention for the divine caramel and chocolate cake I devoured).

The children's menu at Forbidden Corner

There is also a restaurant next to the car park.

Opening hours: Open every day for around seven months of the year. Opening hours vary and you will be given an entry time when you book online (don’t just turn up). If you want to book on the day, call 01969 640638.

Cost: Adults £13, children (four to 15) £11, children three and under free, family ticket (two adults and two children) £46.

Best for: Ages seven to 12.

Time needed: At least three hours.

Access and restrictions: You can not take a pushchair or pram around, there are steps and narrow paths. It is also not suitable for wheelchairs. Dogs are not allowed at Forbidden Corner, only guide dogs.

Address: The Forbidden Corner, Tupgill Park Estate, Coverham, Middleham, Leyburn, North Yorkshire. Use the postcode DL8 4TQ for sat navs.

Have you been to the Forbidden Corner? What did you think? We’d love to hear from you.

We were given free entry for the purpose of this review, all views are our own.

Tittesworth Water/Reservoir, near Leek in Staffordshire – our review and tips

Tittesworth Water/Reservoir, near Leek in Staffordshire – our review and tips

We take our children for a picnic, walk and play at Tittesworth Water in the Peak District National Park.

What is it?

This family day out is around a water storage reservoir with walks, a good outdoor play area and cafe/restaurant.

The reservoir, fed by the River Churnet, is run by Sever Trent Water and was built in 1858.

The water from it can supply up to 45 million litres a day to homes and businesses.

The reservoir

The reservoir

Where is it?

It’s in the village of Meerbrook in the Peak District National Park, just off the A53, three miles north of Leek.

What did we think?

A wooden seat at Tittesworth Reservoir

This was a lovely day out, with a good mixture of walking and fun for the children in the play area. It was a sunny day and we took a picnic. We also had a snack later at the café, where you can sit inside or out.

The café/restaurant

The café/restaurant

Our highlights

*The walk – there are two main, signed routes – a red one of 1.5 miles or a yellow one of five miles, they both start out the same so you can decide further into the walk.

A stream at Tittesworth Reservoir

We did the red route – it’s not a circular route around the lake, the first part (which you also travel back along) is open and the second part through woodland. The longer, yellow walk is said to  have wonderful views and is hilly but the red is billed as wheelchair and buggy-friendly, but is narrower and certainly not flat in places.

The toddler play area at Tittesworth Reservoir

*The play area – a good size with some exciting equipment for different ages and a sand pit.

The play area at Tittesworth Reservoir

The play area

Top tips

*Some navigation systems (including Google Maps when we visited) take you to a farm. Helpfully they’ve put a sign up explaining it is not the reservoir.

*You can’t swim in the water but if you want to get on to it, go to Tittesworth Water Sports and Activity Centre. From there you can try sailing, kayaking, raft building and paddle boarding. For more information see this link.

*If you want to plan a walking route before you get there you can download a map of the site here.

Tittesworth Reservoir information

Food: There are plenty of areas for picnics (barbecues are not allowed). There is a nice cafe/restaurant with indoor and outdoor seating. It has a lunchtime children’s menu, with meals like pasta or sausages for around £4.25 or a child’s lunchbox, available all day, for £4.35. There are baby’s food and bottle warming facilities in the restaurant too. You can also buy ice creams from a kiosk in the corner of the play area.

Opening hours: Open every day except Christmas Day. Visitor centre opening hours are: April to September 10am to 6pm. February, March and October, 10am to 5pm. November, December and January 10am to 4pm.

Cost: Entry is free, car park is £3 for two hours and £5 for all day.

Best for: All ages.

Time needed: As much as you want depending on the child’s age, you could easily fill three hours.

Access and restrictions:

*The red route is signposted as suitable for wheelchairs and pushchairs.

*Dogs are welcome but must be kept on a lead.

*There are toilets around the site, including those with disabled and baby changing facilities.

Address: Tittesworth Reervoir, Meerbrook, Leek, Staffordshire, ST13 8SW.

All you need to know before visiting Stirling Castle – our family review and top tips

All you need to know before visiting Stirling Castle – our family review and top tips

We review Stirling Castle in central Scotland to discover if it is a good day out for children

What is it?

Stirling Castle is one of Scotland’s biggest and most famous castles. It was once home to Mary Queen of Scots and generations of royals.

Where is it?

In the centre of Stirling in central Scotland – midway between Glasgow and Edinburgh – it sits high on a hilltop, a steep walk from the city centre.

What did we think? 

This is a huge site with lots of nooks and crannies for children to explore.

Our children loved the castle walls, the various cannon battlements and exploring down staircases into random dungeons.

It is good for exploring but there are several formal sections which are great for children too.

Our highlights

*The Castle Exhibition – a good interactive section telling the history of Scottish kings and showing how skeletons discovered in the grounds were identified.

*The Palace Vaults – a series of rooms with animated games and hands-on fun. You can try on medieval clothes, learn about jester’s jokes and play ancient musical instruments. This section is very child-friendly.

*The Queen Anne Garden – a lovely formal garden with space to run around and sit, which has great views of the area.

*The Great Kitchens – discover the life of a cook and servant in the castle’s old kitchens. This is an entertaining area with a video and a recreation of the food on offer in the 16th century.

*The other areas are more adult-focussed but with huge historical value such as the Great Hall completed for King James IV in 1503.

Stirling Castle

In conclusion

This is a large, sprawling castle where children can really explore and embrace their imagination. 

Top tips

*There is an explorer quiz available for children to take round, which can keep them occupied even in the more adult-orientated areas

*There is a children’s tour every Saturday at 2pm for youngsters aged five to 12.

The view from Stirling Castle

The view from Stirling Castle

*Watch little ones closely around the castle walls, they are well signposted and fun to explore but there are some steep drops.

Stirling Castle information

Food: The Unicorn Cafe has a range of snacks and hot food with children’s portions. Children’s pick and mix boxes are also available. There is a lovely garden next door to eat outside.

Opening hours: 9.30am to 5pm in winter, 9.30am to 6pm in summer.

Cost: Adult £15, child (five to 15) £9, Under-fives free. Historic Scotland and English Heritage members free.

Best for: Ages four to 10

Time needed: Two to three hours

Access and restrictions: Free admission for carers, mobility vehicles available on site. Some areas not suitable for wheelchairs. The Access Gallery near the entrance allows those with mobility problems to discover the inaccessible parts of the castle.

Address: Castle Esplanade, Stirling FK8 1EJ

Have fun if you are visiting and let us know what you thought!