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.
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.
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.
*Before you go into the formal gardens, the house itself is lit up at the front with a fabulous laser display.
There is also a light display when you reach the back of the house, along with rings of fire.
*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.
*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.
*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.
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.
National Trust Dunham Massey, Altrincham, WA14 4SJ
For more information and to book go to the website.
How to guarantee a fun day out for children at the UK’s most popular zoo
Chester Zoo is the UK’s most visited zoo and one of the country’s largest. It is a favourite of ours and is home to 21,000 animals and 500 different species. Here are our top tips to get the most out of a day at Chester Zoo.
Get there early
Chester Zoo is the most popular attraction outside London and has nearly two million visitors a year, so can get busy really quickly.
To maximise your time, arrive about 20 minutes before it opens (it opens at 10am, so arrive at 9.45am at the latest).
That way you can park nearer to the entrance in the main car park rather than being ushered further away into a field. You can then hit the gates as soon as they open.
(Alternatively, if you want a short visit, you could get there two hours before closing, for the late entry discount).
The painted dogs enclosure at the edge of the zoo is one of the quieter areas to explore
Walk to the furthest point first
As everyone else heads straight to the elephants which are directly inside the entrance, you need to keep walking and walking.
Either turn right and head towards the rhinos and the Islands or turn left, over the bridge and towards the chimpanzee section.
Ignore everything you see until you get to the further reaches of the zoo, then work your way BACK towards the start.
If you do this you will get around 90 minutes – even on the busiest days – when it feels like your own private zoo.
The Islands boat ride
The queues can be long at peak times and your chances of actually seeing half of the animals lurking around the waters are mixed at best.
Either head straight for the Islands as soon as the zoo opens or give it a miss until nearer the end of the day.
You can easily waste an hour queuing and doing the boat ride at busy times when you would be better off seeing other attractions.
The Islands at Chester Zoo
Think of the zoo as two halves
On the map, split the zoo in two using the public footpath. Do one half at the start of the day and the other after lunch if you are making a full day of it.
Use the monorail to speed up the process and give weary little feet a break – a single ride is a quick way of skipping to another part of the zoo in double quick time. And it’s fun to see everything from above.
Use a single monorail journey to save time
Favourite picnic spots
There are loads of places to picnic and plenty of quiet corners away from the busy eating areas.
Our favourites include the benches next to the giraffes (especially when they are outside feeding), by the painted dogs enclosure at the far right corner of the zoo next to the antelopes, in the sunken garden and in the Islands section – although seating here is a bit limited for picnics.
What if it rains?
Most of the zoo is outside so it isn’t an ideal wet weather location but there are several good areas, which will take at least an hour or two to complete. The elephant enclosure and the monkey house near the entrance are good first or last stops.
The area with most undercover sections is on the far side of the zoo around the Realm of the Red Ape, which has orang-utans and snakes indoors.
It is also close to the small aquarium near the penguin enclosure, the Tropical Realm with birds and small crocodiles and the Spirit of the Jaguar.
Another good way of staying dry and seeing the zoo is to do the monorail, you can stay on and do a lap of the park. The Islands boat ride is also an undercover ride.
Chester Zoo membership
If you pay to be a member of Chester Zoo, you can visit as often as you like for free, plus you get other benefits. Children under three are free.
Our children love Chester Zoo and it always feels clean and spacious for the animals. But it is an expensive day out so maximise your time and take a picnic.
*Head for the farthest point of the zoo as soon as you get in and work backwards. There are fewer crowds and more time to see the animals up close.
Read our review of all the best bits of the fabulous Tatton Park in Cheshire plus the costs for National Trust members
What is it?
Tatton Park is one of England’s largest historic estates – it has a stately home, 50 acres of landscaped gardens, 1,000 acres of parkland with deer and meres. There is also a working farm and large playground.
Where is it?
Tatton Park is near Knutsford in Cheshire a few miles from junction 19 of the M6 motorway.
What do we think?
There are so many options for children on a day out here, truly something for everyone. You can explore the parkland for just £6 a day for a family – or pay extra for the other attractions.
The park is vast with plenty of different areas to explore.
There are two large meres where sailing takes place, woodland walks with deer to spot and places to picnic.
The wide paths through the park for cars are also popular with cyclists and supervised children on bikes and scooters.
You can park at different points inside (it is £6 per car, there is no National Trust discount for parking).
The gardens cost extra (free for National Trust members) but can be a quieter, different and beautiful area to enjoy on busy days.
They begin with fruit and vegetable patches before expanding off a central path to some fabulous areas.
Our particular favourites are around the Japanese Gardens (you can only venture inside on a guided tour) and the bridges over the pools. There is quite a tricky maze, regular family trails to follow, a fun scarecrow hunt in February, Easter Egg hunts at Easter time and other activities all year round.
Note – you are not allowed picnics, bikes or scooters in the gardens.
The peaceful Japanese Garden at Tatton Park
A five-minute walk from the main car park is Tatton Park farm. Entry is £7 for adults, £5 for children (half price for NT members). It is a traditional 1930’s working farm with pigs, horses, donkey and chickens.
There are old tractors to sit on and Aunt Mary’s 1940’s cottage. In one barn you can ride on toy cars and tractors.
Next to the farm is a good adventure playground, picnic area and woodland trails.
Pigs are just one of the animals at Tatton’s working farm
Home to the Egerton family, the house contains a huge library and other artefacts.
The main interest for children is exploring the large servants’ kitchen and living quarters, which are nicely done. The mansion is used for events at Easter and Christmas geared to children.
There is a huge playground next to the main car park which is always very busy.
There is often a small train to take children from the playground to the farm (at a cost). Burger and ice cream vans are on site too.
In the main stables courtyard near the garden’s entrance there is often a couple of carousels (£2.50 a go). There are also two restaurants – a large self-service area and the smaller Gardeners’ Cottage.
Unlike most National Trust sites, National Trust members still have to pay to park at Tatton Park, which costs £6, unless you park in Knutsford and walk in, but it is quite a walk to the main part.
However, entry to the house and gardens is free to National Trust members and entry to the farm is half price.
Tatton Park is geared towards children – you can have fun here without entering any of the paid attractions but if you do choose – the farm and gardens are the best value.
Our top tips
*Enter Tatton Park from the smaller, less-used Knutsford entrance and you can drive through the park to get a feel for it and park next to Melchett Mere for a good picnic spot.
Tatton Park information
Food: Picnics are welcome, except in the gardens. There are two cafes/restaurants in the courtyard, near the garden’s entrance – a large self service area called the Stables Restaurant, perfect for children and the smaller and more formal Gardeners’ Cottage. There is also a shop selling ice creams.
Opening hours: It varies depending on the time of year and the farm is open at more limited times, check here for details.
Cost: Car parking costs £7 (even to National Trust members). A Totally Tatton family ticket to all attractions is £33. Adult ticket £7 per attraction, child (aged four to 15) £5. National Trust members – free entry to gardens and mansion, half-price entry to farm.
Best for: ages three to 10.
Time needed: Doing every attraction is a full day out. Visiting the park for a walk or bike ride can be done in 90 minutes.
Access and restrictions: All Tatton’s shops and the Stables Restaurant are fully accessible to wheelchair users. Electric buggies (gardens only) and manual wheelchairs are available for loan but can not be used to move between attractions and in the park. Book a wheelchair loan on 01625 374400.
Address: Tatton Park, Knutsford, Cheshire, WA16 6QN.
Have you been to Tatton Park? Do you like it as much as we do? Let us know in the comments.
(Pictures in this article are courtesy of National Trust Images and Tatton Park).