We take our children to stay at a landmark hotel in the centre of Stratford
What is it
The Grosvenor Hotel is a landmark hotel in Stratford town centre with 76 rooms. It used to be known as the Villare Hotel but now has its original name back.
Where is it?
It’s in the centre of Stratford, a few minutes’ walk from the main attractions.
Our ground floor room had a large bed and a sofa bed, tv, desk and en-suite. It was very hot but a fan was set up ready.
Our room was a good size and simply decorated.
It is family friendly?
There were quite a few families staying here when we visited. There is nothing specific designed for children but the rooms are a reasonable size and it is walking distance into Stratford.
Food and drink
Breakfast was a simple choice of cereals, toast, fruit and hot options like egg, bacon, sausages and tomato. Our children enjoyed having branded cereals they could choose from.
Breakfast at the Grosvenor Hotel
We also had afternoon tea here which included a selection of sandwiches – egg, cheese, coronation chicken and tuna, plus chocolate brownies, lemon cake, strawberries and scones with cream and jam.
Afternoon tea at the Grosvenor Hotel
There is a lounge and bar area which serves discounted drinks during Happy Hour between 9pm and 11pm.
*The hotel’s position is good, it’s a nice walk along the canal to the very centre. Don’t miss the entrance to the canal, which is across the road from the hotel.
*The staff did their best but I felt like more were needed, they were run ragged on reception and at breakfast. The young man who served us afternoon tea did an excellent job and seemed happier than some of the other employees.
The hotel bar
*There is a back entrance from the car park so you don’t need to keep going up and down the front steps.
An outdoor area at the back of the hotel
*As it is a grade two-listed building there is no lift so let the hotel know if you need a downstairs room.
It’s a short walk into Stratford town centre if you cross the road, turn right and take the canal path.
There is loads to do in Stratford – Shakespeare-related attractions such as his birthplace and school, shops, boating on the River Avon, restaurants and cafes and of course theatres. See our top picks here.
Address: Grosvenor Hotel,12-14 Warwick Road, Stratford upon Avon, CV37 6YW.
Parking: There is a car park and it costs £9 per night to park your car. The car park did get full when we visited so arrive early to park and then leave your car to walk into Stratford.
This is the school where William Shakespeare was taught in the 1570s, where he wrote his first works and saw inspiring actors perform plays.
Shakespeare was able to attend this local grammar school as his father was Mayor of Stratford.
The attraction is guide-led and their passion and enthusiasm for the building shines through.
The best bit is where you get to sit in the schoolroom with an actor playing the part of Shakespeare’s teacher Master Thomas Jenkins. We even had a Latin lesson. It is very interactive with adults and children getting involved in the fun. The 20-minute lesson was a real highlight of our visit, especially when our daughter got to play the part of Julius Caesar.
A lesson at Shakespeare’s school
The visit here starts with a guide explaining about the history of the building, visitors watch a short video and then learn about a painting discovered in the Guildhall.
Later, you can dress up in Tudor clothes and learn to write with a quill and ink in a classroom still used by King Edward VI School in Stratford.
Writing with a quill
Time taken: One to two hours.
Address: Shakespeare’s Schoolroom and Guildhall, Church Street, Stratford-upon-Avon, CV37 6HB.
New Place, built in the 1480s, was William Shakespeare’s home from 1597 until he died there in 1616.
At the time it was also known as the Great House as it was the largest in Stratford and the only one with a courtyard.
Sadly, the medieval house was demolished in 1759, today you will find a museum there and an Elizabethan garden.
The gardens at Shakespeare’s New Place
The museum has a nice introductory animated video about Shakespeare and his return to Stratford which was interesting.
However the gardens are definitely the best part of New Place, they are beautiful with space to run around and lots of statues and information boards for children to learn about Shakespeare and his plays.
Time taken: Around 45 minutes with children
Address: Shakespeare’s New Place, 22 Chapel Street, Stratford-upon-Avon, CV37 6EP.
We try out a city centre hotel in Stratford close to its top family attractions
Hotel Indigo Stratford upon Avon.
Where is it
It is in a great location in the centre of Stratford, opposite two tourist attractions – Shakespeare’s Schoolroom and Shakespeare’s New Place.
What is it
It’s a boutique hotel with 93 rooms in a stunning building made up of a Georgian townhouse, a 16th century building and a modern wing.
Is it family friendly?
Our children really enjoyed our stay but we didn’t see any others during the trip – this classy hotel seems more aimed at couples, friends and older families.
Inside the hotel
However, staff couldn’t have been nicer.
Our suite was in the Tudor section of the hotel and was a heady mix of modern comforts and 16th century character.
The main bedroom in our suite
The fun layout was made up of two rooms with a Jack and Jill bathroom in between and a wide, furnished corridor which also links the two.
The main bedroom had a big comfy bed and the second room had a sofa bed which the children loved.
The second room
The decor was modern and quirky. There are plenty of nods to Shakespeare with paintings of characters from his plays on the walls. Our children enjoyed discovering which plays the characters were from.
Further rooms are in the Georgian townhouse section and the contemporary wing. There are rooms suitable for families in all three areas of the hotel depending on if you want traditional Tudor or a more modern-style room.
Food and drink
Breakfast was served in the ‘Feasting Room’ and included a good continental spread of cereals, pastries, toast, hams, cheeses and extras like carrot muffins.
Breakfast at Hotel Indigo
Hot food to order such as a cooked breakfast, French toast with fruit and honey or egg, hash brown and spinach on a brioche bun, was delicious.
You can book a table to eat dinner in the upscale, on-site restaurant The Woodsman, which serves a changing menu made up of farm-to-table dishes like deer, boar, beef and lamb.
The chefs cook in an open kitchen, using a wood fired oven and charcoal grill.
It is quality over quantity – there were five main course options when we ate there including cod and a vegetarian mushroom option. My pork was melt-in-the-mouth delicious with a side dish of crunchy potatoes.
This is not the restaurant for you if you are after very simple food or pub favourites, but we really enjoyed the tasty fare and the desserts were equally delicious and well presented.
There was no printed children’s menu, but they offered to make a smaller version of any of the main meals or serve sausage and mash, chicken or fish goujons and chips.
Chicken goujons for the children
*The snacks in the hotel room like popcorn and crisps, are complimentary.
*The fun layout of our room.
*The great central location – we could just leave our car here and explore the town, without having to worry about finding somewhere to park in Stratford.
There is a gym/fitness room, bar, nice little seating areas dotted around and also a pretty little garden with tables to sit at.
Opposite is Shakespeare’s Schoolroom and Guildhall. This is where William Shakespeare went to school and has guides showing you around the different sections who are passionate about the site and its history.
Also opposite is Shakespeare’s New Place – the site and gardens that housed his home for 19 years.
Plus, there are other interesting places to see nearby, boat trips on the River Avon, shows at the Royal Shakespeare Society and dozens of places to eat and drink on the doorstep.
Read our full, detailed round-up of the best places to visit in Stratford.
The hotel entrance at the back of the building
Address: Hotel Indigo, Chapel Street, Stratford upon Avon, Warwickshire, CV37 6HA.
Parking: There is a small car park which costs £10 per car per night. It can not be booked in advance and is first come, first served.
We stay at the magnificent Mallory Court Hotel in Leamington Spa
Could there be a warmer welcome than the one we received at the glorious Mallory Court Country Hotel and Spa in Warwickshire.
This stunning venue is everything a hotel should be – a luxurious home from home, exquisite food, wonderful staff and beautiful gardens – take a look at our exclusive video tour below.
We were thoroughly spoilt here and loved every second.
Mallory Court Country House Hotel and Spa.
Where is it?
Between Warwick and Royal Leamington Spa in Warwickshire.
What is it?
This beautiful country house hotel and award-winning restaurant is set in 10 acres of gorgeous gardens.
Mallory Court Hotel
It also has a spa, function suite and civil license. Plus, some of the rooms are dog-friendly.
It’s privately owned by the Eden Hotel Collection and is one of the most prestigious hotels in the county.
Is it family friendly?
Yes, our two loved it here and made the most of the grounds, exploring every lovely section.
The hotel’s main market is for adults who enjoy fine-dining and luxury but there is still a very relaxed vibe.
Our suite was fabulous for them – they had their own room, sofas and bathroom. They were even given a mini-welcome pack on their beds including a mini-bathrobe, slippers and a soft toy.
The ability to swim and play tennis or croquet, plus use the gardens to burn off energy is another plus.
There are other family rooms in the hotel plus standard rooms can take an extra foldaway bed or cot. Children are £25 per night including breakfast. Cots are £15.
There are 43 luxurious bedrooms.
We stayed in the Blenheim Suite, a very spacious two-bedroom, two-bathroom area with its own private corridor. In both rooms there are desks/dressing tables, televisions, coffee machines, lots of storage and plenty of places to sit and relax.
One of the bedrooms in our suite
It really was so easy to unwind here, there is everything you could need including toiletries, drinks and snacks.
Relaxing in their bedroom in the Blenheim Suite
The main bathroom even has two baths as well as a shower.
Food and drink
There are two options for dinner – we ate in The Dining Room. This restaurant offers fine dining at its best and has three AA rosettes.
The dining room
We enjoyed a five-course tasting menu, which was absolutely delicious including a choice of two main courses of lamb or plaice.
They use organically grown, seasonal produce from the hotel’s kitchen gardens to keep the menus fresh.
For children, they can make separate dishes such as sausages, chicken or pasta. Their children’s desserts included a heavenly sticky toffee pudding.
There is another restaurant called the Brasserie in the spa building where they do a £12.50 three-course dinner for children.
The breakfast is of a high quality – there is continental or cooked – both are served to the table by the attentive staff. They didn’t even act surprised when my daughter asked for three different types of cereal at once.
*The swimming pool is lovely and warm and a nice size to enjoy a family swim. It’s located in the spa in the grounds.
The swimming pool in the spa area
*The grounds are stunning – there is even a huge croquet pitch and equipment to play as well as a tennis court.
In the grounds
*Enjoying a drink on the terrace in the sunshine before going inside to eat.
*The welcoming staff throughout the hotel – on reception, at dinner and at breakfast they were so lovely and interested in how the children were enjoying the stay.
*Swimming costs extra, it is not included and is pricey at £15 per adult and £7.50 per child for one hour. Children under four can’t use the pool and family access is at set hours and needs to be booked.
*Car parking is free and there are plenty of spaces.
*Dogs are welcome at the hotel but check in advance to see if there is a dog friendly room available. We saw several dogs during our stay enjoying the grounds!
We stay at this revamped aparthotel in the centre of Leicester with our children
The Gresham Aparthotel.
What is it
This is an aparthotel (apartments with a hotel booking system), which opened at the end of 2021 following a £17 million refurbishment.
It’s in an iconic building which was once a department store, made up of several buildings designed in the 1800.
There are 121 apartments, a restaurant and bar, a gym and conference facilities.
Where is it
It’s in Leicester city centre, a five-minute walk from the cathedral.
Rooms range from a studio through to a two-bedroom apartment and a sky room with city views.
Our two-bedroom apartment
They all have a kitchenette, dining area and lounge area with television.
The one we stayed in was modern and clean with two bedrooms and two bathrooms. It was one of the apartments on the inside of the building so only had one window, but the lights are bright.
One of the bedrooms in our apartment
Is it child friendly?
It is not in the most salubrious of areas, but once inside, the children loved exploring the apartment. We entered through one of the bedrooms and gradually discovered more and more rooms, there was definitely plenty of space.
Another bonus was the smart tvs in both rooms which enabled them to catch up with YouTube and Disney+.
The other bedroom
Their bedroom was bright and spacious and it’s great having access to kitchen facilities, a fridge and dining table.
The lounge area was big enough for us all to sit down and enjoy a movie although the sofa could have been comfier.
It’s an open plan kitchen-diner and living space
There is a restaurant and bar on the ground floor called Black Iron Social which serves breakfast, brunch, bar snacks and dinner and seems really popular.
The bar and restaurant Black Iron Social
Plus there’s a Tesco Express around the corner if you want to eat in.
*The rooms are modern, fresh and clean. The size is great with lots of space to relax in.
*The modern facilities are a big bonus
*It’s a good central location in Leicester, you can walk to all the major attractions in the city centre.
*Make sure to ask for a room on the outside with windows, if you want them.
*It is on a pedestrianised street so if you have heavy luggage, get one person to drop the other off nearby before going to park your car.
Leicester has some great family attractions, including the National Space Centre and the Richard III Centre, read our full guide to places to go in the city here.
Address: The Gresham Aparthotel, 36 Market Street, Leicester, LE1 6DP.
Parking: The hotel does not have its own car park. There are car parks within a short walking distance, we used Newarke Street car park, which is about a 2/3 minute walk.
Leicester is a city in the East Midlands area of England with plenty for families to do, here is our guide to the best attractions to visit with children.
The National Space Station
The National Space Station is arguably the main family attraction in Leicester.
The National Space Centre
It’s been open for around 20 years and although the outside looks a little dated now, inside is a fresh and modern museum with plenty of hands-on attractions.
There’s a large ground floor area which explains all about the galaxy, with plenty of interactive elements.
You can also see space suits worn by the likes of Buzz Aldrin and Tim Peake.
There is a planetarium showing a film narrated by Ewan Macgregor which lasts around 20 minutes and explains the life of an astronaut.
You book a time slot and sit watching a domed-shaped projection screen above and around you – we made the mistake of sitting at the front so I would suggest sitting towards the back.
It feels as if you are moving around space which can be a bit disorientating plus it’s worth noting that it includes some medical details about the human body and sickness.
When getting to floors two, three and four you pass two rockets which are inside the centre.
The second floor showcases the UK’s contribution to the space race. There is a good video about some of the country’s pioneers and a nice interactive screen where children can design their own rocket and then see it fire into space.
Floors three and four are all about the Space Race between the Soviet Union and USA.
The third floor talks about the Russians’ role and you can take control of a capsule similar to Yuri Gagarin’s – the first man in space.
The top floor explains the timeline of the moon landings, telling the story of Apollo 11 and subsequent flights.
The timeline is clear and simple for children and they can feel a replica of the moon’s surface, as well as having a look at tiny piece of the moon too.
Suitable age: Best for children aged eight and above as some of the exhibits are quite detailed.
Food: There are cafes and snacks available on the ground floor. There was an ice cream van outside when we visited too plus picnic benches outside.
Parking: There are two large car parks with tickets costing £3 for the whole day.
Where is it: Two miles north of Leicester City Centre, off the A6 between Leicester’s inner and outer ring roads.
Address: National Space Centre, Exploration Drive, Leicester, LE4 5NS.
The discovery of Richard III’s remains under a Leicester car park in 2014, led to this excellent new museum.
Set over two floors, the first explains the story of Richard and the Wars of the Roses. It uses videos, timelines and interactive screens to set out how Richard became king between 1483 and 1485 and how he was killed at the Battle of Bosworth.
The second floor details how Richard’s remains were discovered.
A group of dedicated historians and enthusiasts thought he may be buried under a city car park. A huge dig proved them right and this exhibition shows how DNA testing and various techniques proved it was the king.
It is mostly aimed at adults but there is a good dressing up area where children can wear Tudor clothes.
Dressing up in Tudor clothes
The centre also gives children an activity sheet on entry with a quiz, colouring and a wordsearch to do around the museum.
The end of the museum is a simple room with an area of glass floor through which you can see where Richard’s remains were discovered.
The room has a friendly member of staff on hand to answer questions and children will enjoy walking over the glass to look closely at the site.
The glass floor through which you can see the spot where Richard III’s remains were found
Parking: There is no parking and the area around is pedestrianised. Long-stay nearby car parks include St Nicholas Circle NCP (next to the Holiday Inn, postcode LE1 4LF) and at the Highcross Shopping Centre (accessible from Vaughan Way, postcode LE1 4QJ).
Where is it: In the heart of the city centre, next to Leicester Cathedral.
Address: King Richard III Visitor Centre, 4A St. Martin’s, Leicester, LE1 5DB.
Leicester Museum is free to enter and has lots of sections including Ancient Egypt, dinosaurs, wild space, Leicester stories, the Victorian Art Gallery, arts and crafts, Picasso Ceramics along with the Attenborough Collection and Leicester’s German Expressionism collection.
Leicester Museum and Art Gallery
It also hosts lots of temporary exhibitions and has activities including talks and lunchtime concerts, plus there is a gift shop.
Food: There is a museum cafe.
Parking: The museum’s own car park is in Princess Road West, use the postcode LE1 6TR.
The nearest major car park is the NCP on East Street, use postcode LE1 6NB.
Where is it: In the south of Leicester city centre.
Address: Leicester Museum & Art Gallery, 53 New Walk, Leicester, LE1 7EA.
All you need to know about popular Warwick Castle – the perfect family attraction
What is it?
Warwick Castle is a medieval castle, originally built by William the Conqueror as a wooden fort in 1068, and rebuilt in stone in the 12th century.
This historical tourist experience is hugely popular and attracts visitors from all over the world – we heard plenty of American accents on our visit.
Inside the castle
There is lots of to see and do plus there are live shows and experiences during the year including large arena jousting performances and the UK’s biggest birds of prey show, to help bring the castle alive for visitors.
Where is it?
It is unsurprisingly in the town of Warwick in Warwickshire on the River Avon, less than two miles from junction 15 of the M40.
*A fantastic show, the Falconer’s Quest – an outdoor bird show, made into a story.
There are a few rows of benches, but hundreds of other people sat around on the grass and on picnic blankets nearby to watch and had just as good an experience.
*The Horrible Histories Maze, where children can get a little book stamped at various stages.
*Archery and jousting lessons with enthusiastic staff dressed in medieval outfits.
Archery lessons at Warwick Castle
*Interactive storytime in the Princess Castle.
*For younger children, there are attractions based around the Julia Donaldson character Zog, including a great outdoor play area.
Zog play area
Warwick Castle Top Tips
*The Castle Dungeon is a 50-minute walk with live actors and special effects but is scary and so for over-tens only. You have to pay extra for this attraction, it isn’t included in the entry price.
*Get there early – we arrived about 9.30am for a 10am opening which meant we were at the front of the car park – although it was still a bit of a trek – and one of the first through the doors.
*Pay for your car park at the start – about 50 yards before the entrance on the right – there can be queues if you leave it to the end and it’s a set price (£6) anyway.
*If you want to extend your stay, you can sleep over at Warwick Castle in the Knight’s Village. There are 24 standard Woodland Lodges which sleep up to five and four Knight’s Lodges which are bigger and sleep up to seven people.
*There are tours running every half an hour covering different areas of the castle and its history. We joined a 30-minute tour which explained the 1,000 year story of the castle with an enthusiastic guide. It was well explained to suit children and gives you a good grounding for your day at the castle.
*You can scale the towers and ramparts but be aware this is a one-way trip and there are a lot of spiral stairs to climb that will tire out little legs (and big ones). But there’s a great view from the top.
*We used a Shakespeare’s England Explorer Pass which gives you entry to 10 top attractions across Warwickshire including Warwick Castle, Avon Boating and Stratford Butterfly Farm.
View from the top
There are plenty of food and drink options but it isn’t cheap. There was a pizza van making fresh pizzas (£11.90 for a basic Margherita), along with a fish and chip stall, ice cream vans and drinks outlets.
Lots of people brought their own picnics and there are plenty of lovely places to eat on the lawns and loads of benches to sit at.
The very first Masked Singer Live UK tour has begun
The Masked Singer is the surprise television hit that is part singing competition and part guessing game which sees celebrities dress up in crazy costumes.
Clues are given about each celebrity so you can try and guess ‘who is behind the mask’.
In our house we are avid viewers – the children love it – so we were thrilled when it was announced that a stage version was to tour the UK.
We bought tickets to the first night in Liverpool, so here is our review plus all you need to know.
The Masked Singer Live
We saw it at the M&S Bank Arena in Liverpool for the very first live show.
It will also be in London, Birmingham, Newcastle upon Tyne, Glasgow, Manchester, Leeds, Sheffield and Nottingham.
Who is in it?
*The host – as in the ITV show – is comedian and presenter Joel Dommett.
He got a great reception from the audience.
Joel Dommett on stage in Liverpool
*The panel is made up of singer and tv personality Denise Van Outen (Fox in Series one) and JLS star Aston Merrygold (Robin in series two), plus a different third celebrity judge in each city. Ours in Liverpool was Samia Longchambon from Coronation Street.
*Five of the favourite characters sing and dance – at ours were Panda, Badger, Dragon, Unicorn and Traffic Cone.
Sadly it is not the original celebrities inside the costumes, but other great singers. They don’t take their masks off so younger children may not realise.
*Then there are two new celebrities to sing and be unveiled at each venue in new costumes – Space Pug and Baby Dino.
Who was behind the mask?
In Liverpool we had Simon Gregson (Steve McDonald, Coronation Street), who performed as Space Pug.
Simon Gregson as Space Pug
And singer and friend of Simon Cowell, Sinitta, as Baby Dino, voted best by the audience clapometer.
*Solos, duets and group numbers from the favourite characters.
Badger, Dragon and Panda, plus Unicorn heading out on stage
*Most of the audience and all of the judges (including his Coronation Street colleague) guessing Simon Gregson to be Space Pug. The clues are much easier to guess than the television series thankfully.
*Joel going into the audience to ask people who they thought the masked stars were.
When is it?
April 2, 2022: M&S Bank Arena, Liverpool
April 3, 2022: The O2, London
April 5, 2022: Utilita Arena Birmingham
April 8, 2000: Utilita Arena Newcastle, Newcastle upon Tyne
April 9, 2022: OVO Hydro, Glasgow
April 10, 2022: AO Arena, Manchester
April 13, 2022: First Direct Arena, Leeds
April 15, 2022: Utilita Arena Sheffield
April 16, 2022: Motorpoint Arena Nottingham
April 18, 2022: OVO Arena, Wembley, London
Who are the guest judges at each venue
The third judge at each venue to sit alongside Denise Van Outen and Aston Merrygold will be:
How to pick the best cottage near the beach in Cornwall
This post was brought to you in collaboration with Classic Cottages – all words and opinions are my own!
If you are dreaming of a family holiday near a world-renowned beach making happy memories with your children, look no further than Cornwall.
Its striking coastline and golden sands are among the reasons why it is one of the leading holiday destinations in the UK.
And if you want to wake up just a stone’s throw from one of its glorious beaches, there are a lots of holiday cottages you can stay in.
They make the ideal base for a family, allowing you more space and freedom plus the ability to prepare your own meals, picnic on the beach or dine out when you choose. Cornwall has fabulous restaurants and delicious produce, not forgetting of course Cornish pasties and cream teas.
Some cottages have spectacular sea views and many also welcome dogs, so you don’t have to leave your pooch behind. Classic Cottages offers beach-side retreats of all sizes from cosy through to big properties for large groups.
They are all handpicked, inspected, regularly maintained and equipped with everything from bed linen through to coffee pots.
So, all you need to decide is which part of this beautiful county do you want to visit.
Where to stay in Cornwall
The Far West
If you are drawn to the turquoise waters of the unspoilt Far West, there is lots to do, including a trip to the island of St Michael’s Mount.
You can see this jewel in Cornwall’s crown from the village of Perranuthnoe, where you can stay at Classic Cottages’ The Hideaway.
This intriguing ‘Hobbit-style’ glamping retreat is on the edge of the village with a beach, pub and cafe on the doorstep.
The waves of the North offer famously good surfing conditions.
The area is great for all types of extreme sports including scuba diving and rock climbing. If you fancy staying here in a beach hut by the sea, you’ll love the accommodation known as Krowji.
It’s in the popular seaside resort of Polzeath and has wonderful sea views and even a conservatory.
The South Coast
A holiday home on the south coast of Cornwall is perfect for a family-friendly getaway, with fabulous beaches at Mevagissey, Falmouth, Looe and St Mawes. And if it’s sea views you are after, 4 The Beach has got them in abundance through floor to ceiling bi-fold doors.
4 The Beach
The apartment, north of Cadgwith, has board games to keep everyone entertained, plus a lawn and patio.
It’s a short stroll down the hill to Kennack Sands, which has a lifeguard in the main season and a beach cafe selling drinks, snacks and ice cream.
Further east on the south coast you’ll find Mimosa Cottage in the heart of St Mawes with views over the Percuil River.
It’s just a two-minute walk to the waterfront with restaurants, cafes and shops to explore and boats offering fishing trips, sunset cruises and regular ferry services to Falmouth.
Family fun, laughter, dance and song – plus Covid references – in Snow White panto at the Blackpool Grand
Christmas pantomimes are a fun festive tradition that fans had to forgo last year – oh yes they did!
So we decided to enjoy a bit of ‘he’s behind you’ this year with a trip to see Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs in Blackpool.
Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs
Blackpool Grand Theatre
It stars Vicky Entwistle (Janice Battersby, Coronation Street) as the Wicked Queen and Steve Royle (Britan’s Got Talent finalist/presenter/juggler/comic) as Muddles in his 18th annual Christmas appearance on the Blackpool Grand stage.
Jamie Steen plays Nurse Dolly, Chris Warner-Drake is Prince Frederick and Ellie Green is Snow White.
Warwick Davis’s son Harrison plays Soppy, one of the seven dwarfs. While another of the dwarfs, Pip, is played by Harrison’s auntie Hayley Burroughs.
Snow White and Muddles
*An alternative, frantic and very funny version of the Twelve Days of Christmas.
*A TikTok segment with audience participation.
*Vicky Entwistle is excellent with no trace of her Coronation Street character Janice Battersby!
*Steve Royle and Jamie Steen are hilarious and work well together – Steve even gets in a bit of juggling.
*The modern references to Covid alongside traditional Panto slapstick.
*The first half felt a little long but the laughs and the silliness really build in part two.
*The dancing and songs.
*The venue – it’s a lovely traditional theatre, plus you can combine the trip with a visit to the Blackpool Illuminations which run until January 3 for a double dose of festive magic.
When is it?
The show runs until Sunday, January 2
Tickets are £20.50 and £25.50 for adults, children and those aged 65+ are £2 less and a family ticket is £84.
We take our children on a family trip to a Christmas light festival in Manchester
We return for a second year to Lightopia, here is our full guide.
What is it
The Lightopia Festival – A Christmas Fantasy – is an award-winning and socially-distanced lantern and light festival, which also runs in London and at Alton Towers.
It takes place around a series of lit art installations and laser beams, which have been set up at the park in Manchester.
When is it
Lightopia at Heaton Park runs from November 5, 2021 to January 3, 2022.
Gates Open at 5pm, last entry is 8.30pm and it closes at 10pm.
How much are tickets
Tickets booked in advance 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.
Food and drink
There are stalls and bars dotted selling food like hot dogs, carvery baps, chips, donuts, malled wine and hot chocolate.
There are also Dine in the Light experiences, a formal and a less formal.
The Dome dining experience is a three-course meal in one of 10 illuminated Dining Domes which seat up to six or twelve people, before or after the light trail. This must be pre-booked.
Also new for Lightopia Manchester 2021 is a more casual dining experience at The Stables Courtyard Bar and Dining.
Tables are under a heated canopy and guests choose from a variety of food and drink outlets serving things like tacos, pizza, roasted chestnuts and festive beverages. You can reserve a seat or walk in on the evening.
*Prepare for a bit of a walk from the car park and a queue at the start.
*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.
*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.
*We have tried both car parks and the walk from the North, St Margaret’s Road, car park is slightly easier and quicker than walking from the South, Sheepfoot Lane, car park.
Is everything included in the price?
All the displays are included in the ticket price. You pay extra for fairground rides, food and drink and those flashing hand-held contraptions that our daughter loves.
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.
North – St Margaret’s Road, M25 2GT
South – Lake Car Park, Sheepfoot Lane, M25 0DL
Buy a parking ticket here – the same page you book your event tickets and scroll down – the parking is below event tickets.
We follow Harry Potter, Ron and Hermione into the Forbidden Forest and test our nerve among the creatures who live there
Harry Potter: A Forbidden Forest Experience.
What is it?
A night-time trail through the ‘Forbidden Forest’, known from being in the grounds of Hogwarts in the Harry Potter books and films.
You walk at your own pace around an illuminated route, seeing and hearing some of the iconic forest scenes as well as magical creatures from Harry Potter and Fantastic Beasts such as Hippogriffs, centaurs and spiders.
Hagrid and Fang
Where is it?
At the gorgeous Arley Hall & Gardens, in Northwich, Cheshire, England.
What did we think?
This is a magical trail as befits a magical world. The experience is carried out on an impressive scale – it was created by Warner Bros. Themed Entertainment, in partnership with Thinkwell.
It is very atmospheric and spooky, with Harry Potter music, sound effects, characters talking and eyes watching you pass, which could be a bit too scary for some younger children.
It would make a great Halloween or pre-Christmas treat for fans of Harry Potter and Fantastic Beasts.
The flying Ford Anglia
*Conjure a Patronus – choose your wand, point it and utter the words ‘Expecto Patronum’ to cast this spell, which sees off Dementors.
*Bow to a hippogriff and it will bow back.
*Try some Butterbeer (it’s alcohol-free), the wizarding drink loved by Harry Ron and Hermione.
Buy a butterbeer
*The food is delicious.
*Try out a deluminator – to put out the lights like Dumbledore.
*Hear Harry and Ron crashing in the flying Ford Anglia and see the car lights sweeping through the forest.
*Catch a glimpse of a white unicorn slinking through the trees.
*Spiders: Aragog and other big spiders lived in the Forbidden Forest and scare Ron in the Harry Potter books and films. They lurk in this forest too but those with arachnophobia don’t have to see them. You will walk through a section with ‘webs’ in the trees, then can choose to divert from the path if you DO want to see the spiders. Those who don’t, stay on the path. If you do divert, you will see large spiders drop down from overhead, stopping just above your heads.
*It is an outdoor trail in the dark so dress warmly with sensible shoes.
*You can buy Harry Potter and Fantastic Beasts merchandise.
Access and restrictions
It is a woodland walk so can be uneven so is not the best terrain to push a wheelchair. Motorised wheelchairs can be hired.
All ages are welcome, younger children may be frightened in places.
Allow about an hour and a half to do the trail and eat at the end.
There are places to buy food along the way or you can stop at the magical village at the end where our highlights included big marshmallows on sticks you can toast and smother with chocolate sauce , fish and chips, Cornish pasties and a roast dinner in a Yorkshire pudding. My son also enjoyed an edible wand.
When is it on?
It runs from Mondays to Sundays, from October 16 to December 15, 2021.
Sessions start at 6.30pm (October 16 to 31), 5pm (November 1 to 9), 4.30pm (November 11 to 28) and 4pm (November 29 to December 15). All sessions finish at 10pm.
Ticket prices vary by date and time, starting from £19.
Children under five are free and from five to 15 are a reduced price.
We take our children and dog to Love2Stay in Shrewsbury where we make exciting finds at our lodge before we even start to explore the rest of the site
Where is it?
Love2Stay is in the countryside on the outskirts of Shrewsbury in the centre of Shropshire.
What is it?
This UK holiday park is a fresh, modern, 22-acre resort where you can stay in anything from your own caravan through to a luxury lodge.
Watch our video tour below and then read on for lots more information.
Is it family-friendly?
Yes, it’s very family-friendly with lots for children to do.
There are two outdoor pools, a sand/beach area, a huge play area/playground and somewhere to play football. There’s also a pizza restaurant and numerous activities ranging from paddle boarding and archery through to den making and tie dying t-shirts.
You can bring your own touring caravan or motorhome or stay in a glamping lodge (Safari Lodge) or luxury Woodland Lodge on the site.
Our woodland lodge
We stayed in a lovely new Woodland Lodge in a spacious plot – the children were thrilled when we arrived to find we had our own hot tub, huge hammock, bean bags and fire pit in the garden!
They decided this was going to be the best holiday ever, before we even got through the door.
Inside the lodge
Inside was a modern open plan lounge/kitchen/dining area, two bedrooms (one with two small single beds and one with a double), a bathroom with shower and an en-suite without.
The twin room
The main bedroom
It’s fully equipped with a microwave, dishwasher, fridge/freezer, oven and hob. The appliances were of a high standard and it was extremely clean.
In the hot tub
If staying in your own caravan or motorhome, there are fully-serviced pitches, warm clean facilities with private showers and complimentary toiletries.
Food and drink
The lodges are self-catering and we cooked in the kitchen and on the fire pit at ours. Each lodge has firelighters, kindling and logs supplied to get your fire pit roaring.
Plus there is a communal outdoor kitchen area with a fire pit, barbecues and woodfired pizza oven you can use.
There is an on-site cafe and pizza restaurant with indoor and outdoor seating, selling delicious pizzas, breakfast snacks and other sharing dishes like nachos.
A few items like eggs and milk are sold at reception. There are nearby supermarkets including Sainsbury’s Local, Co-op, M&S and Asda, all within a few minutes’ drive.
*Two outdoor swimming pools and beach.
The natural pool
A BioTop natural swimming pool – free of chemicals and filtered through a reed water garden. This gets very cold, you may need to bring a wetsuit.
A shallow pool for children to splash about in with water sprays that come on every so often, alongside the beach.
The children’s pool
*Small lake for kayaking, paddle boarding and fishing.
Paddle boarding on the lake
*Grassy sports field with two goals for playing your own games.
*A big playground/play area for climbing, swinging and sliding. It was an excellent play area mainly suited for slightly older children aged 6 and above.
The playground/play area
*An assault course for aged eight and over, which can be booked as an activity.
*A small cinema in a tent showing three films a day. All the films when we were there were family films.
*Yoga and pilates sessions.
*Woodland School sessions with fun activities.
*A cafe and restaurant.
The cafe/restaurant and reception behind the outdoor pool
Is it dog-friendly?
Yes, our lodge was dog-friendly and our dog Charlie loved it here – there is a lovely fenced-in space where they can run around off the lead and play and a fantastic adjoining agility area.
They need to be kept on the lead around the rest of the site and are not allowed in some areas such as the pool areas.
Charlie in the dog agility area
Love2Stay is in the heart of Shropshire, a county with lots for children to do.
Buxton’s historical Georgian centrepiece wows on a trip to the Peak District
The Buxton Crescent is a beautiful hotel in the heart of a Peak District town which for centuries has been famed for the healing properties of its spa waters.
This iconic, curved, Georgian building, started out as two grand hotels. And now, a 17-year project has restored it to this luxurious hotel and contemporary spa which sources the natural spring water from beneath it.
Visitors are travelling from all over to stay here, but is it suitable for children? We take our two, to find out what it can offer for youngsters.
Buxton Crescent Health Spa Hotel
Where is it?
It is in lovely Buxton in the Derbyshire Peak District, in a brilliant, central position opposite the Pavilion Gardens.
What is it
The Buxton Crescent is a five-star spa hotel which opened in 2020 following a £70 million restoration.
It has 81 rooms and a big thermal spa and is run by Ensana Hotels.
Buxton first became a spa resort when the Romans discovered warm, bubbling springs underneath what is now the hotel and settled in the area in around 78AD.
In 1789, the Crescent was built by the Fifth Duke of Devonshire to establish Buxton as a Georgian spa town.
It was originally two hotels, vsited by spa seekers who travelled from all over to bathe in Buxton’s thermal waters.
The building was later used for other purposes but by 1992 was derelict.
It was reborn following a huge renovation and the Buxton Crescent Health Spa Hotel opened in October, 2020.
The indoor to outdoor rooftop swimming pool.
Is it family friendly?
The hotel’s main market is adults including couples, older families and friends but it is surprisingly child-friendly and our two absolutely loved it.
They adored our suite (see accommodation below), the food and especially the indoor to outdoor rooftop swimming pool.
Plus, the location opposite the park was a huge bonus with its two play areas, boating lake, ice creams and mini train.
And there are so many amazing things to do in the surrounding area (more below).
We stayed in a junior suite which can hold two adults and two children. We parents slept in the main bedroom in a sumptuously comfortable four-poster bed beneath a magnificent chandelier.
Our bedroom in a junior suite
The children were in the lounge area where a sofa bed had been converted into a small double. They loved having their own room (and tv opposite the bed)!
The lounge became the children’s room
There was a separate bathroom with the biggest overhead shower head I’ve ever seen and a freestanding bath outside the bathroom within the area between the two bedrooms.
Food and drink
The restaurant is lovely, it’s elegant and serene so keep your fingers crossed for well-behaved children but it’s big enough to be able to relax.
There is a children’s menu with a great choice of food for younger diners. The pasta and meatballs went down well with our two as did waiter Joe’s napkin tricks.
Our meals were so tasty and there was a great choice of wine.
Breakfast was equally delicious, there was a good choice of cereals and lovely pastries, plus pancakes and cooked breakfasts.
There is also a Spa Cafe serving lighter meals and desserts with indoor and outdoor seating.
The main swimming pool
The rooftop swimming pool was the best I have ever been in, thanks to its warm temperature, which meant that for the first time ever I was able to get straight in instead of very slowly, while shivering. There was also the novelty of being able to swim from inside to outside and vice versa.
Children aren’t allowed in the spa or its two smaller pools but they are thankfully allowed in this one.
The drinking water
I know it’s just water, but the water here tastes so nice, we all drank a lot more than we usually would in the restaurant.
The town’s drinking well, St Ann’s Well, is opposite the hotel and you can fill up your own bottles here but the hotel is supplied directly.
Buxton Mineral Water is still bottled here and sold around the world.
Buxton is one of only two Roman spa towns in England – the other being Bath.
Famous faces who have travelled here include Mary Queen of Scots who came to ‘take the water’ in Buxton to treat her rheumatism.
Visitors to the hotel spa now find a relaxing, contemporary space where they can also bathe in the town’s water – it flows chemically untreated into a thermal pool surrounded by wall tiles dating back to 1924 and covered with a stained glass canopy.
Use of the spa is included with all stays and also includes a relaxation pool, spa baths, three saunas, two steam rooms, a gym, a salt cave, two relaxation pools and an ice fountain.
The spa is not for children so we parents took turns individually to enjoy it.
Treatments from the spa menu cost extra and include traditional beauty therapies along with wellness and holistic treatments.
The grade one-listed crescent-shaped building was designed by architect Sir John Carr.
Modelled on the Royal Crescent in Bath, this fine example of Georgian architecture feels wonderfully impressive as you arrive.
The staff were so friendly and helpful and went out of their way to assist and chat and make our stay extra special.
The Peak District is the country’s oldest National Park and there are loads of great family walks to enjoy among its rolling hills.
There are also lots of attractions that children will love. We visited:
*Poole’s Cavern and Buxton Country Park
A two million-year-old limestone cave with fabulous formations, read our review and guide to it here.
*Peak Wildlife Park
A lovely zoo where you can walk among some of the animals. It also has play areas, read our review and guide here.
Peak Wildlife Park
*We also climbed Shutlingsloe Hill, known as the Matterhorn of Cheshire.
The third highest peak in the county has a distinctive profile. It’s very steep and rocky towards the top.
Climbing Shutlingsloe Hill – the Matterhorn of Cheshire
We had an amazing time at the Buxton Crescent Hotel and we all would love to return, it’s a perfect destination for all ages to relax and enjoy the luxurious surroundings and beautiful Peak District.
We take our children to explore spectacular caves on a family day out in the Peak District
Poole’s Cavern & Buxton Country Park
What is it?
Poole’s Cavern is a two milion-year-old limestone cave. It is one of the best show caves in England – there are vast illuminated galleries to explore, filled with fantastic formations like crystal stalactites and stalagmites.
From the car park here is an entrance to Buxton Country Park – an uphill stroll though woodland to a hilltop viewpoint where you can look out across the Peak District.
Where is it?
It is on the edge of Buxton in the Peak District, in Derbyshire.
What did we think?
Poole’s Cavern is a fascinating all-weather attraction. The ancient, natural limestone caves are exciting with fascinating formations and an interesting history, which the guide explains. (All tours are guided).
Visitors explore the cavern (Credit: Visit Peak District & Derbyshire)
To be able to follow our time below ground with a walk high above in the country park, with great views, is brilliant.
*Austin, our fantastic guide around the caves, really kept the children (and us) interested with tales including what happened to the cavern’s biggest stalagmite and pointing out graffitti on a cave wall left by the Victorians. He also told us about the geology behind how the caves and formations were created.
*I had a secret chuckle at the prominent shape of the ‘poached egg’ stalagmites – you’ll see why when you get there!
*Solomon’s Temple – a tower at the top of the hill in Buxton Country Park – climb it to appreciate the Peak District views.
*The temperature in the cave is always 7C, so don’t forget jumpers or coats, especially in summer when you may not think to bring them.
*Guided tours are every 20 minutes and leave from the visitor centre exhibition area. Tours last around 50 minutes.
*The caves are lit but are still quite dark. At the end of the tour, the guide will turn all the lights off for a few seconds so you can imagine what exploring the cave by candlelight used to be like. You may want to hold your child’s hand for this bit. If one of you would not like this darkness, you can let the guide know beforehand.
*Buxton Country Park – we took the yellow route up to the to Solomon’s Temple and the green route back down again. It is quite steep.
*Also here is one of Go Ape’s highest adventure courses, with zip wires and aerial walkways. This needs to be booked separately.
Where did we stay?
We stayed at a beautiful five-star, spa hotel, the Buxton Crescent, read our full review of it next.
Poole’s Cavern and Buxton Country Park information
Facilities: There is a visitor centre which shows archaeology found in the cave and is interesting to look around while you are waiting for your tour.
There is also a shop selling rocks and minerals, toys, gifts and books.
And there are accessible toilets with baby changing facilities.
Food: There are two picnic areas plus a cafe selling drinks, snacks and light meals.
Opening hours: First tour at 10am, last tour at 4.30pm, every day.
Cost: Adults (aged over 16) are £12.50, children (aged five to 16) are £6, students and seniors with valid ID are £10 and a family ticket for two adults and two children is £32.
Best for: Ages six and above.
Time needed: The cavern tour takes around 50 minutes. The walk to the top of the hill in the adjoining country park and back can be done in an hour.
Access and restrictions: There are walkways and handrails. The first main chamber is 100 metres long and is accessible for wheelchairs and pushchairs. After that are 14 steps up and 14 back down again (you return the way you came).
Are dogs allowed at Poole’s Cavern? Dogs are allowed in the cafe and the visitor centre but not in the cavern, except for guide dogs.
Parking: There is a pay and display car park.
Address: Poole’s Cavern Visitor Centre, Green Lane, Buxton, Derbyshire, SK17 9DH.
We take our children on a family day out to Peak Wildlife Park
Peak Wildlife Park
What is it?
A small zoo with exotic and endangered animals from three continents including wallabies, lemurs and penguins.
It specialises in walk-through experiences.
Where is it?
Peak Wildlife Park is in Winkhill, Leek in the Staffordshire Peak District.
What did we think?
We had a lovely time here, it’s a nice size attraction to explore, not too big to tire out little legs.
Being able to walk among some of the animals, without enclosures, is fantastic.
You can walk among the lemurs, who entertained us with their playing and swinging, especially a cute baby lemur.
You’re allowed go gently stroke the wallabies, which resemble small kangaroos.
The penguins can be seen from three different vantage points, including through a window to watch them swim under water. You can also get right up close to them and they may even cross a path in front of you.
There are different play areas including an indoor soft play which is free to use. Outdoors is a bouncy castle, sandpit and more traditional play equipment.
An outdoor play area at Peak Wildlife Park
*Don’t miss any of the site
We thought we had explored everywhere but when we were near the exit, discovered an extra bit with more animals and play areas past the cafe.
You can pre-order food and drink from your smart phone and collect at a time that suits you by following this link.
We hadn’t done this so ordered, in person, a pizza to share and used the 20-minute wait time while it cooked to explore more. Staff give you a buzzer to carry which alerts you to when your food is ready if you don’t go too far out of range.
If you want go get even closer to the animals or it’s a special occasion, you can buy an Animal Experience.
Where did we stay?
We stayed at a beautiful five-star, spa hotel, the Buxton Crescent, read our full review of it next.
Peak Wildlife Park information
*The Courtyard Cafe serves stone baked pizzas, sandwiches, crisps, cakes and ice creams. There are gluten-free and vegan options.
*There are outside picnic areas and a family room you can eat in.
*Another area serves ice cream.
Opening hours: Peak Wildlife Park opens at 10am. It closes at 6pm in the Spring/Summer season and at 5pm in the Autumn/Winter season.
Cost: Adults aged 17 to 64 pay £12.95.
Children aged two to 16 are £10.95. Under-twos are free.
Concessions – senior citizens from aged 65 and students with valid card photo IDs pay £10.95.
Carers are free.
Annual pass: Peak Wildlife Park offers an annual pass which entitles you to visit as many times as you want for a year.
It costs £35.99 for adults (aged 17 to 64), £29.99 for children aged two to 16 and also for concessions (senior citizens from 65 and students with valid ID cards).
Best for: All ages who like animals but especially two to 10-year-olds.
Time needed: Two to four hours.
Access and restrictions: The park is fully accessible and wheelchairs are available to borrow for free. The paths are wide enough for mobility scooters.
There are disabled toilets.
Baby changing facilities: Baby change facilities are in the ladies toilets, disabled toilets and baby change rooms next to the family room.
Are dogs allowed?: No, dogs are not allowed at Peak Wildlife Park. Foxtwood Kennels, situated 10 minutes from the park, is happy to take dogs for the day, you can call them on 01538 266 667 to make a booking.
Address: Peak Wildlife Park, Winkhill, Leek, ST13 7QR.
The woodland adventure where adults can join in the fun as well as the children
What is it?
BeWILDerwood Cheshire is a family attraction based on the adventures of magical characters from children’s books written by Tom Blofeld.
BeWILDerwood author and creator Tom Blofeld
It’s all in a wood and includes treehouses, slides, den building, storytelling and zip wires.
Where is it?
It’s north of Whitchurch on the A49 in south west Cheshire near the border with Shropshire.
What did we think?
This is a lovely day out for families.
It’s a great size and laid out nicely in a circle so it’s easier to navigate.
The best bit for me was that adults are encouraged to join in all the fun!
Racing my daughter on the zip wire
*The zip wires: There are three sets of two zip wires with staff helping people on and off them. They are longer and faster than the ones you get at play parks and exhilarating to do together.
*The slides: You grab a little bag to sit in to ride the ‘slippery slopes’.
*Parents included: the fact that children and grown-ups are all allowed on everything together is really fun.
*Toddlers: There are smaller sized versions of the equipment for really little ones to go on.
*The mazes: The mazes are all created from wood and go up and down steps and over little bridges.
*Get there early: We were there at 10am when it opened on a Sunday and got straight on everything and nowhere was crowded. After lunch, we spotted queues for the zip wires.
*Times: Make a note of the times for any events like the storytelling (every hour from 12noon) and get there early to get a seat.
*Crafts: There is a craft activity on every day so remember to leave time for this.
My daugher wears her creation
*Clothes and shoes: Wear comfortable clothes and shoes such as trainers. If the weather is wet, you may need a change of clothes.
*Other BeWILDerwood sites: This is the second Bewilderwood, the first is in Norfolk.
*How to pronounce BeWILDerwood: the WILD is not pronounced wild but willed – I asked as I like to know these things.
Food: You can buy food and drink from two places – the Munch Bar and Cosy Cabin.
There are lots of places to eat a picnic.
Opening hours: 10am to 5pm, last entry at 4pm.
Cost: Prices are based on height and everything is included in the cost. Under 92cm are free, 92cm to 105cm are £17.50, those over 105cm are £19.50. Adults 65 and over are £12.50. Wheelchair users are free. Parking is free.
Best for: Children aged 2 – 12 but adults will enjoy it too.
Time needed: We stayed for four hours but you could stay longer.
Access and restrictions: There’s a path around the site which slopes in places. There is no access on the equipment for wheelchairs or pushchairs/buggies/prams but they can be taken in to the park.
We take our children and dog to explore this once secret garden in Cornwall
The Lost Gardens of Heligan
What is it?
The Lost Gardens of Heligan are Europe’s largest garden restoration project.
This secret garden was lost for decades until a door to a walled garden was discovered in 1990.
After an award-winning restoration, there are now 200 acres of subtropical gardens, woodland and jungle to explore.
Where is it?
The gardens cover steep ground in Cornwall, near the town of Mevagissey, not far from St Austell. It is in quite a remote location with small lanes leading to the entrance.
What did we think?
This is a wonderful place for children with a huge playground, lots of space, a farm and a brilliant jungle area. It’s a lot of walking and some of it is steep so younger children may get tired.
A giant’s head
This is the best area, jungle plants in a valley with boardwalks to explore and a wobbly rope bridge to cross. This was the part which captured our children’s imaginations the most.
Crossing the rope bridge
*East Lawn playground
This large playground has a lot of modern equipment and plenty of space to run around. There are also great views and it is a good spot for children to let off some steam
A small farm with pigs, sheep, chickens and horses. Ideal for younger children to get up close with farm animals. It is also near toilets and food outlets.
A fun stroll through woodland you can do either at the start of end of your visit. There is a small play area called the Giant’s Adventure Trail and look out for the Mud Maid sculpture.
The Mud Maid
Our top tips
*Plan your route
There is a lot of walking involved so we suggest making your way to the furthest point of the site initially and working backwards towards the entrance. That way you will avoid the crowds and won’t be too tired when you are furthest away from the way out!
*It’s uphill on the way back
Take into account that all the routes back to the entrance are uphill. It is a very steep walk back, so plan your route accordingly.
*A manageable route
The simplest way for families to see the most child-friendly parts of the gardens is as follows: Go down the Woodland Walk and then head for The Jungle, go around that area and then visit the East Lawn playground, then you can use the toilets and facilities at the Steward’s House Cafe and enjoy the farm before making your way to the exit through the beautiful Flora’s Green.
*The rope bridge
The rope bridge in the jungle area is 100ft high and among the longest in Britain.
Crossing it is a wobbly, fantastic experience.
But dogs are not allowed across it and people with a fear of heights might not fancy it either.
Fear not, there are ways around it, then you may also be able to get a picture of family members crossing towards you.
There are only two areas with toilet and facilities – at the entrance and then near Home Farm. There are large parts of the gardens with no facilities.
Dogs are welcome on a lead and it is a great place for them to enjoy and explore. The Lost Valley is the quietest area and a good one for those coming with dogs who want a more strenuous walk.
The Lost Gardens of Heligan information
*Near the ticket office – Heligan Kitchen, Coffee Bar, Ice-cream Hut.
*In the Steward’s Garden near Home Farm – Steward’s House Cafe, BBQ Hut, Ice-cream Hut.
*Picnics are welcome and there are lots of benches to sit on.
Opening hours: Daily April to September 10am to 6pm, October to March 10am to 5pm.
Cost: Adults £17.50, children aged 5 to 15 £8.50, under 5s free. Family ticket £48. Book here.
Best for: Children aged 5-15, you do need some stamina to get around so younger ones may get tired.
Time needed: Minimum of 3 to 4 hours to explore the best parts of the site. You could easily spend a whole day here though.
Access and restrictions: Mostly accessible but some steep slopes to navigate. The Jungle and wider garden routes are not accessible and not open to wheelchairs. Accessible Maps available from the ticket office.
Address: The Lost Gardens of Heligan, Pentewan, St Austell, PL26 6EN.
We have a family holiday at a complex of luxury self-catering cottages in the middle of Cornwall
The Valley, Cornwall.
Where is it?
The Valley is in a fabulous location in the centre of Cornwall near to Truro and Falmouth – perfect for exploring in all directions.
What is it?
A 13-acre complex of 46 luxury self-catering cottages and exclusive leisure facilities including an indoor pool, outdoor pool and tennis court.
Cottages at The Valley
Is it family-friendly?
Yes, it feels safe and secure and there are facilities for children including an outdoor play area, games room and swimming pools.
The Valley provides lots for free including highchairs, stair gates, bed guards and travel cots. There are toys and books to borrow from a room next to the reception too.
Plus, babysitters can be arranged if needed.
The 5-star two and three-bedroom cottages are spaced out across the site.
There are six types, we stayed in a Villa Gallery and absolutely loved it – we felt at home straight away.
It was modern and clean and spread over three levels as it is set on a hill.
The kitchen/dining room was on a mezzanine floor overlooking the lounge, all under a high ceiling with beams.
Off the kitchen was a balcony overlooking the pool.
The beds were really comfortable – our double bedroom had a desk, television and en-suite. The children’s twin room also had a desk and there was a separate bathroom.
There was a warm laundry room with washing machine and a third toilet in a cloakroom next to the front door.
It all felt really fresh and clean, with loads of room and storage.
Food and drink
The cottages are self-catering and our kitchen was well-equipped with everything we needed.
The on-site restaurant, called Azura, opens from March 30 until October half-term. It was closed when we visited but serves children’s meals and has an area where you can sit with your dog.
There are also restaurants and takeaway options in nearby Truro and Falmouth.
The outdoor pool heated from mid-June to mid-September.
There is also a heated indoor pool, with a spa pool next to it.
There is a small fitness suite in a room next to the pool.
*Tennis and squash courts
You can borrow rackets and balls from reception to enjoy games of tennis or squash or teach your children to play.
The games room has a table tennis table, pool table and table football.
There is a lovely play park with equipment for different ages, including swings, slides and climbing walls.
Is it dog-friendly?
Yes, dogs are really welcome here, which we really appreciated, this being our first holiday with our puppy Charlie.
Dog walks around The Valley
Ours was one of several dog-friendly cottages. Charlie received his own welcome letter, box of luxury food, ball and dog basket. Our cottage was near to an entrance to a dog footpath.
Lots of attractions and beaches nearby are dog-friendly so we could take him with us everywhere. The Valley can provide details of dog sitters if needed.
As The Valley is in central Cornwall, it is easy to reach dozens of beaches, gardens, towns and attractions.
Both north and south coasts are easily accessible.
This huge tropical garden and massively popular tourist attraction has been recognised by the British Travel Awards as the best UK Leisure Attraction for five years’ running.
Beaches – we were blown away by the spectacular beaches and beautiful blue sea. We visited during the Easter holidays and they weren’t too busy.
Cartwheels on Holywell Bay, where Poldark was filmed
Nearby beaches include Perranporth on the North coast, Holywell Bay near Newquay (which features in Poldark), Gwithian near Hayle and Gyllyngvase (Gylly Beach) in Falmouth.
We also visited Carne Beach on the south coast and Porthmeor Beach in St Ives.
We caught the King Harry car ferry to visit this small, pretty fishing village on the south coast.
St Mawes Castle
Our children enjoyed exploring St Mawes Castle, one of Henry VIII’s coastal fortresses, now run by English Heritage.
This National Trust garden on its own peninsula has stunning views over the Fal estuary as well as woodland walks. There is also an art gallery, cafe and gift shop.
A few minutes’ drive away from The Valley is the cathedral city of Truro, with shops, restaurants, parks, streams, a theatre and museum.
The port of Falmouth is a 15-minute drive from The Valley.
There are walks you can take from and around The Valley – itineraries are available from reception.
Enjoying the view at Tintagel Castle
Further afield but worth the trip, we visited these ruins of a 13th century Cornish castle with links to the stories of King Arthur set high on the coast in north Cornwall with fabulous views, read about it here.
A tourist attraction for families with younger children – with visitors catching a steam train from the car park to the site, filled with outdoor play areas. Read our report on it here.
We stay in a beautiful cottage and explore the area and discover if Cornwall is dog-friendly as well as child-friendly
Our dog is barking furiously, drowning out the sound of waves washing the rocky Cornish shoreline below, as our daughter approaches a huge, sword-wielding man.
High on a rocky headland, peaceful family picnics are interrupted by what Charlie, our nine-month-old golden retriever, believes to be an urgent life-or-death situation.
Thankfully, the rest of us can see the the sword-wielding giant is only a statue – that of the warrior Gallos at Tintagel Castle.
It’s the first day of our dog-friendly family break to Cornwall and we’re exploring the dramatic castle, mythical home of King Arthur.
It’s a site which tests dog and human stamina. There are steep walks from the village to the castle and then down to the beach which houses Merlin’s Cave. It’s a challenging spot to visit but a worthwhile one, don’t miss our full review.
In fact, steep Cornish hills are quite a feature of our break, especially at our accommodation.
The aptly-named The Valley is in – yes – a valley, near the village of Carnon Downs just outside Truro.
It’s perfect for children and dogs. For the kids, there are indoor and outdoor pools, a tennis court, brand-new playground, games room and activities laid on during school holiday periods.
Swimmng pool and play area at The Valley, Truro, Cornwall
For the dogs there’s a range of walks on footpaths around the site, a cosy bed, welcome treats and his or her own comprehensive guide of dog-friendly activities, all waiting in our holiday cottage.
A walk near our cottage
The cottage, one of 46 on the site, is clean, fresh and very well equipped. Ours is a two-bedroom Villa Gallery over three levels.
There’s two bedrooms and bathrooms on the ground floor, then a lounge, toilet and utility room on the middle tier with a kitchen-diner on the top level complete with balcony overlooking the swimming pool and green fields.
Our cottage at The Valley
Read our full review of the accommodation for more details.
The staff are happy and efficient, their reception has a treasure trove of books, DVDs and games you can borrow. Every evening, a note drops through the door of our cottage with suggestions for activities around Cornwall.
We take Charlie to a range of dog-friendly attractions. As well as Tintagel Castle, we visited Lappa Valley to enjoy his first ride on a steam train and the Lost Gardens of Heligan where he could sniff out plants from around the globe.
But could he run free on the beaches? The answer is yes on most of them. Our handy cottage guide showed more than 60 beaches welcoming dogs across the county and we found some gems.
Charlie on Holywell Bay beach
Probably our favourite was Holywell Bay with huge sand dunes protecting a stunning beach framed by cliffs. Rock pools, caves and streams kept the children happy and there was space for Charlie to stretch his legs and chase balls – mainly those belonging to other dogs unfortunately.
Holywell Bay beach is where some of Poldark was filmed
Among the other sandy spots we loved were Carne beach on the Roseland Peninsula, Porthmeor at bustling St Ives and dramatic Gwithian with acres of wide-open space.
The Valley is centrally located in Cornwall meaning none of the county’s attractions – or its beaches – are that far away.
But one of the most spectacular sights is just a few miles from our cottage via ferry.
The King Harry car ferry gently delivers your vehicle across the River Fal on the way to the pretty village of St Mawes.
King Harry ferry
Once there, the stony shoreline, working harbour and gorgeous views lead up the St Mawes Castle, which overlooks the bay and has protected the area since it was built by Henry VIII.
There are benches in the grounds where we all sit and relax with the sun on our faces, Charlie gently snoozing at our feet, finally worn out by our Cornish adventures.
St Mawes Castle
We decide to let sleeping dogs lie and reflect on the truth that Cornwall is definitely dog and family friendly – unless you come face-to-face with an eight-foot high warrior statue.
We take our children and dog to explore the historical Tintagel Castle in north Cornwall
What is Tintagel Castle?
The ruins of a 13th century Cornish castle with links to the stories of King Arthur and Merlin the magician.
Where is Tintagel Castle?
This English heritage site is in north Cornwall (south-west England), set high on the coast next to the village of Tintagel with stunning views over the Atlantic.
It lies half on the mainland, half on a peninsula in the sea, known as Tintagel Island.
What did we think?
This was a memorable trip, the link to the myth of King Arthur captured the imagination of my son. He also enjoyed reading all the historical information dotted around.
But it is the stunning views from these clifftop ruins that will stay with me (along with the memory of all the steps)!
We all thought our picnic spot was our best ever – we found a little private bit away from the path with the most incredible views over the turquoise waters of the Atlantic Ocean.
Best picnic spot
Our children’s verdict: amazing.
Tintagel is thought to have been where Cornish kings lived between the 5th and 7th century.
Then the 12th-century writer Geoffrey of Monmouth named it in his History of the Kings of Britain as the place where King Arthur was conceived.
These legends are said to have inspired Richard, Earl of Cornwall, to build the castle here in the 1230s.
Tintagel Castle Bridge
This stunning footbridge, finished in August 2019, links the two halves of the castle for the first time in over 500 years since an original crossing was lost.
We cross the bridge
Before this, visitors had to climb steps and queue for a small bridge at the base of the cliff.
If you fear heights look away now – the bridge travels over a 58-metre drop.
Tintagel Castle bridge
This bronze statue of an ancient king stands high on the cliff – popular with photographers, not so much with our dog who didn’t know what to make of it!
The beach and Merlin’s Cave
Below the castle is a secluded beach known as Tintagel Haven with rocks and a waterfall.
Best of all, it is where you can explore Merlin’s Cave .
This large cave in the cliffs under the castle is said to have been home to Merlin, the wizard of Arthurian legend. (See our top tips for information about access to the beach).
Tintagel Castle top tips
Mobility and fear of height
This site is not suitable for anyone with mobility issues or a big fear of heights – there are steep paths and sheer drops.
When we went, a one-way system was in place due to Coronavirus restrictions and the route included a LOT of steep steps.
The path from the village to the castle and back is steep – so make use of the Land Rover service if you need to, particularly on the way back up. There is a small charge for people and dogs.
Check the tide times and visit when the tide is out. That way you can get to the beach and go into Merlin’s Cave.
The beach is accessed via steep steps and when we went, we also had to clamber over rocks.
Try to visit on a fine day – the ruins are all outdoors and the area is exposed.
The castle sometimes closes due to bad weather or high winds, so check before you travel, via the website, Facebook or by calling 01870 770328.
Dogs are welcome – we took ours – but they need to be kept on leads due to the steps, cliff edges and nesting birds. Water is available for dogs at the cafe.
Tintagel Castle information
Food: There is a cafe at the bottom of the hill (Castle Road) near to the beach. You can also take picnics.
Opening hours: From 10am to 4, 5 or 6pm, depending on the time of year.
Cost: English Heritage members are free. Adults are £15.70 (off-peak £14.50. Children are from £9.40 (£8.70 off-peak). Concessions are £14.10 (£13.10 off-peak)
A family of two adults and up to three children costs £40.80 (£37.70 off-peak) and a family of one adult and up to three children is £25.10 (£23.20 off-peak).
Best for: Children who can cope with the hilly site.
Time needed: We spent three hours here including the beach.
Toilets: At the bottom of Castle Road near to the beach are toilets. And there are others in the village.
Other facilities: A small shop and an exhibition exploring the stories linking Tintagel to King Arthur which includes a 3D model of the site showing how it has changed over the centuries.
Parking: There are pay and display car parks in Tintagel Village, 600 metres away from the site.
Access and restrictions: This site is set on a steep hill and there are uneven surfaces, drops and slopes. A Land Rover service is available along the road – Castle Road – down to the cafe and exhibition and back,. There is a charge and there may be queues. It doesn’t run during winter.