Go Ape Leeds Castle

We were recently asked to go and visit Go Ape and report back on our findings. In case you haven’t heard of Go Ape it’s the most amazing tree top adventure and there are various sites around the UK, the closest one to us is Go Ape Leeds Castle so we set off for a 4.30 appointment and luckily for us it was a beautiful sunny day (good for photos).

Go Ape Leeds Castle

You drive into the grounds of Leed’s Castle and the Go Ape reception is right by the car park and very easy to find. We made our way over and were asked to sign forms and acknowledge all of the safety procedures.

I was able to leave my sunglasses and purse in a bag at reception to pick up later and I was asked not to take photos on my smartphone whilst in the trees, again for safety reasons – if it drops on someone below it would really hurt.

Go Ape Leeds Castle

So with my camera across my body and family in tow we made our way to the Junior Tree Tops starting point.

We were fitted out with harnesses and once again the Go Ape staff ran us through important safety procedures before allowing us to start the trail.

Dad and I decided to top and tail our party with the twins in the middle and dad led followed by Alice.

Go Ape Leeds Castle

We arrive at our first departure point and stretching out in front of us are two ropes linked with planks of wood, a wire to hold onto as you walk and the wire where your harness travels at shoulder height (it’s for kids after all) dad and Alice shoot off, Alice better at it and more confident than poor dad who has to ask her to slow down. Then it’s me and Bessie.

Bessie looks at it and freaks out, completely refusing to take another step, ‘I’m frightened mummy.’ ‘I don’t want to do it.’

We hadn’t even started yet and I wanted her to try so taking the first steps across, I led the way one hand holding hers the other holding on to the wire for dear life.

Go Ape Leeds Castle

It is a bit nerve wracking stepping out seeing the ground a long way off below you but I kept holding onto Bess and coaxing her across the rope bridge to the other side.

When she arrived I congratulated her and repeatedly told her how clever she was. she picked up and slowly slowly she gained confidence as we walked around. 

I noticed other mum’s having similar problems at various stages of the course but all managed to help their children out and complete the course.

Go Ape Leeds Castle

The course is made up of 3 loops, the first one is an easier course with wires to hold on to, specifically put there until you gain confidence.,for this reason you repeat the loop twice. In fact once Bessie had gained her confidence there was no stopping her.

The third loop is slightly more difficult with no wire to hold on to but we all managed.

The best part of course is at the end of each loop you get to zipwire down to the bottom. I was a bit scared first time round to let go and throw myself off the platform but I did and actually I loved it.

Go Ape Leeds Castle

Verdict

We loved it.

The girls unhooked at the end pleading to have another go. They couldn’t because we were the last customers of the day but they made us promise to take them back at some point.

We had a fantastic time and would thoroughly recommend the Go Ape experience. I think for first timers it’s best if the children are accompanied, I imagine next time we’ll be able to let the twins go alone, much to dad’s disappointment.

Costs £17.00 per child, same rate applies for accompanying adult.

there is also a more advanced Tree Top adventure for older kids.

All details here Go Ape

Disclosure: We were offered 1 adult and 2 children’s places for the purpose of this review

Go Ape Leeds Castle

PaddlePak Trunki

The summer holidays are the perfect time to make plans to see old friends who live just that bit too far away to see regularly and as the summer had been so sunny Karin, author of Cafe Bebe who I met in my very early blogging days, suggested we meet at Burghley House and have a picnic in the beautiful Sculpture Gardens.

Burghley house Karin Joyce

Burghley House is England’s greatest Elizabethan House and is situated 1 mile from Stamford and just off the A1, perfectly signposted and a drive that takes minutes to complete. It has been the Cecil’s family home for over sixteen generations and you can read a fascinating insight to the family history written by Michael Exeter 8th Marquess of Exeter, 17th Earl of Exeter and 18th Baron Burghley in the link included.

We were blessed with sunshine and having parked the cars (for free) on the land sprawling in front of the stately home we made our way with the children to the Sculpture Gardens.

Burghley House fountains

The Burghely Sculpture Garden was reclaimed from Capability Brown’s lost lower gardens in 1994 and has a permanent collection of over 20 sculptures made using traditional and contemporary techniques. Apart from being beautiful and a joy to walk around there are a lot of fun elements for children to discover too. The garden has various areas to explore and the first you come across is the Mirror Maze and which child doesn’t enjoy looking at their strangely formed bodies in front of the wiggly mirrors?

Burghley House garden of surprises

But what caught all the children’s eye were the fountains. We quickly changed them into swimming costumes and crocs and off they went allowing us time to sit in the sun and chat whilst we listened to the excited squeals and laughter around us.

After a while we took a walk around the gardens as they are so pretty. I was fascinated with Neptune’s Grotto decorated in shells, the perfect inspiration for sand castle building. 

burghely house neptune's grotto

I found this view to be breathtaking, if only I could create this in my back yard.

Burghley House lavender

I loved the transforming obelisks and so did the children too, pleased to push buttons to see what happens.

burghley house obelisks

and finally the Exit Curtain, yes you have to go through it as Karin and I checked to see if we could walk around it but it does stop for a few moments, just enough time to allow clothed visitors to pass through.

burghley houe water exit curtain

We then decided it was picnic time and the girls were quite excited to dive into their Trunki PaddlePaks we have been sent to review along with lots of yummy Ella’s Kitchen products. I am in love with these backpacks, they’re the perfect size and are very lightweight so children are only carrying what they need instead of the weight of a heavy bag on top. 

PaddlePak Picnic Burghley house

They are also very simple to get in and out of with a clasp which gets wrapped three times and clipped to hold all in place. There are lots of models to choose from and two sizes, Alice’s Pink/red lobster one is slightly smaller £19.99 (but still big enough for all her needs) whereas Bessie’s dolphin is a bit bigger and costs £24.99. Can’t recommend these enough and the girls thought the Ella’s Kitchen juice in a pouch was delicious.

burghley house maze

The Sculpture Gardens are a delight to explore, I love art and so for me it was like opening a Christmas stocking and finding surprise after surprise. The children loved it too as they have to explore to discover, the maze kept them amused for quite some time as did the Teddy Bear’s picnic where bowls and bowls of porridge were made and served.

burghley house teddy bear's picnic

There were a few tantrums thrown, ‘They won’t let me sit in with them’ from someone who likes to be the boss.

burghley house sculpture garden

Funny faces were made in my only photo of the day

burghley house mask

And they hid from us in the den until we caught up with them.

burghley house sculpture garden

Here’s a selection of the other sculptures I spotted on my way around the garden.

burghley house sculpture garden

Thank you Karin, Ella and Sam for such a lovely day.

Disclosure: Trunki sent us two PaddlePaks and some Ella’s Kitchen products to go and have a picnic and we’d thoroughly recommend Burghley house as an ideal location if you’re in the area.

Ripley's Believe it or not London

We were recently invited to have a look around Ripley’s London collection and having never been before I was intrigued to discover what Ripley’s Believe It or Not! was all about.

The London Ripley’s museum is the world’s largest and it opened on 20th August 2008. It is home to over 500 exhibits from educational artefacts to the mind boggling weird and wonderful.

Ripley's price list London 2014

It all started when Robert Ripley picked up on sports feats in his cartoons in the New York Globe in 1918, slowly he added non sports features and then changed the name to Believe It or Not! where he indulged on a research for unusual facts with the help of his researcher.

Ripley's mini cooper london

The London Ripley’s Believe It or not! is set on six floors and the entrance opens onto the famous Piccadilly Circus. As we queued we past a robot and a Mini Cooper covered all over with Swarovski crystals – a million of them to be precise.

Robot Ripley's london

You then take a lift to the sixth floor and start to work your way down.

There is a LOT to see, a knitted Ferrari, a dinosaur, the sweet making machine out of Chitty Chitty Bang Bang. Everywhere you look there is something to marvel at and later on to be repulsed at, or horrified at. 

Ripley's Diana Ross

 

It’s a weird and wonderful collection, it’s a bombardment to your senses and to your morals.

Ripley's toast art

There is a fabulous art collection with famous faces made out of all kinds of objects and materials including human skin.

Ripley's human skin

On your way down you will be invited to take a tour in the hall of mirrors which is amazing and frustratingly good. The girls and I had a go but there were a lot of other kids in there shouting out to their friends, it scared the girls and we ended up leaving via the entrance which we had ended up at again.

Ripley's car bonnet art

One part they really enjoyed was the graffiti wall where they were given a computer run aerosol can and invited to write their names (or draw) on the wall.

I must admit a lot of the exhibits were too advanced for my twins to enjoy but I know older kids would love and be fascinated by. There is something for everyone but if your kids are still at infant school like my twins I’d save this trip until they were a little older and they would get even more out of it.

I’d say perfect from 8 upwards.

Disclosure: We received free entry (me and the twins) for the purpose of this review)

 

Tower Bridge London

Tower Bridge is my favourite bridge over the River Thames out of the 34 that connect the two London embankments from the Queen Elizabeth II bridge in Dartford to the Hampton Court Bridge in East Molesey.

This year Tower Bridge celebrates it’s 120th anniversary and we were invited along to complete the tour to learn more about it.

Tower Bridge tour

My dad told me when I was a child that an American, Robert McCulloch, had visited London and wanted to buy Tower Bridge for his retirement real estate development on Lake Havasu. Only he made a mistake and bought London Bridge instead! This was a popular belief which is vehemently denied by Mr McCulloch and Ivan Luckin who sold the bridge but funny all the same.

Tower Bridge from walkway

I can certainly understand why anyone would want to buy the bridge as it is pretty spectacular and by visiting it we were able to see even more closely how unique this bridge is.

Tower Bridge was opened by the Prince of Wales (later King Edward VII) in 1894 after 8 years of construction. It was the result of a public competition to design a new bridge held in response to London’s massive growth and the need to connect both sides of the river as east London had expanded and was fast becoming an important trading port.

Tower Bridge walkways

Sir Horace Jones won the competition and worked alongside civil engineer Sir John Wolfe Barry on the £1.1m project. For more details visit the Tower Bridge website

The Tour of Tower Bridge

The tour starts on the Tower of London side at the north west tower. A lift takes you up to the walkway level which is 44 meters above the river at high tide and you arrive in a small room where you can listen and watch a wonderful enactment that explains the history of the bridge and a few details of its construction.

Tower Bridge tour

You can then walk along the walkways and take in the breathtaking views of London to the east and to the west.

Descent is via a staircase on the south east side but there is a second video to watch with more construction detail first. There is a lift also for those in need.

Tower bridge display

The way down has plenty of art and interesting things to look at and on arrival at the bottom you are back out on the street again.

By following the blue line you are lead along the bridge and down onto the walkway along the Thames. Once under the bridge the blue line leads you to the Victorian engine rooms and here you can see how the bridge used to be worked. When it was built it was the largest and most sophisticated bascule bridge ever built.

This was the winner of the most recent Design a Bridge competition, what do you think?

Tower Bridge design winner

The bascules were operated by hydraulics using steam to power the enormous pumping engines. The energy created was stored in six massive accumulators so when the bridge needed lifting the energy was available. The Accumulators fed the driving engines which drove the bascules up and down. The bascules only took about a minute to raise to their maximum angle of 86 degrees.

view form tower bridge walkway

Today the bascules are driven by oil and electricity rather than steam but the original pumping engines, accumulators and boilers are well worth a look as it is amazing. There are also interactive games to help the children understand how it worked.

tower bridge engine rooms

There are constant art exhibitions on show adding to the wow factor and making this a great place to visit for all the family

 art at tower bridge
 
An excellent exhibition which we thoroughly enjoyed
Disclosure: We were given free entrance for the purpose of this review, tickets aren’t expensive 1 adult + 2 children costs £14.10 see here

Buckingham Palace

For the girls birthday my treat this year was tickets to go inside Buckingham Palace and see how a real princess lives, a Royal day out. With an entire year of Sleeping Beauty, Cinderella, Rapunzel and then the Frozen sisters Anna and Elsa I knew I was on the right track.

I wanted them to start learning about our British history and about the Royal Family too. They have spotted ‘baby George’ on the TV and in newspapers so the discussion has begun.

I found various Buckingham Palace tours on the Royal Collection Trust website and opted for a tour of the State Rooms and Garden Highlights tour. For 1 adult and two children under 17 the total cost was £63.75 and I think it’s important to note that most of this money goes into the Royal Collection Trust, a registered charity, find out more where the money goes here

Changing of the guard

Our time was set for 11.45, in hindsight I wish I had chosen a later time as the Changing of the Guards starts daily at 11.15, it would have been great for the girls to witness that beforehand, however we did get a glimpse of the guards as they made their way to the palace and it was stunning.

I would advise getting there at least 15 minutes early, we got held up by the Changing of the Guards and I had to run the last bit and queue to collect tickets.

Guards of Buckingham Palace

 

On entering the palace all bags are scanned and checked, my rucksack was kept and taken to the end of the tour for me to collect later. NO PHOTOGRAPHY is allowed inside the palace or on the Garden Highlights tour either.

Then, if you wish you can collect an audio guide. We went for the Family Audio and the girls loved it. It gives a great description of each room and on the guide you can touch ‘Rex’ the resident corgi who will tell you lots of extra secrets about the rooms you pass through. There is also a section with games and extra buttons to touch to find out about the art, or gilding or other objects of interest that you see around you.

Buckingham Palace detail

I loved spotting where the Secret Door hides in the White Drawing Room which the queen uses from her personal quarters, closed to the public into the State Rooms. It’s very clever and you have to look hard to see it.

We stopped half way through the tour to sit and watch a brief film made from the Royal Family’s personal videos, this year the focus is on Royal childhood and there are lots of toys, prams, clothes and more from various members of the Royal family.

Buckingham Palace Bow room exit

We arrived in the Bow Room which is also the end of the tour of the State Rooms at around 1pm. The girls were in need of a drink and something to eat and I was disappointed to discover there was no where to eat a packed lunch.

I took them to the Palace cafe and ordered a scone, some water and a cup of tea to tide us over.

Buckingham Palace cafe

We also visited the Family Pavilion which was air conditioned and had tables laid out with sheets to do some drawing or dot to dots on. There was a box of clothes to dress up in and an area to play in. There was also a blackboard where the children were invited to write on, every day pictures are taken and shown to the queen so she gets to see every message left. Whilst we were there the board was wiped clean and set up for a new set of young visitors but I was assured the photo had been taken.

Buckingham Palace - family pavilion

At 2.15pm our Garden Highlights tour commenced. Again no photos were allowed which I was really disappointed at as it was one of the major reasons I had chosen this tour. Our guide was Alan Lion and he led us along a very interesting walk through the private gardens passing the Royal summer house and a beautiful rose garden. There are trees centuries old planted by many royals including Prince Albert and I learnt lots of facts, like Queen Charlotte kept an elephant in her back garden. That the garden had been home to a giraffe and a zebra in it’s time and that the pesky fox have killed off the flamingo population.

Buckingham Palace Garden

8 gardeners look after the 36 acres of land and we walked around one side ending up at the bottom.

We decided we wanted to see the shop so we back tracked up the path and I was pleased to see there were a few ideas in there that were in pocket money reach but mainly above.

A beautiful pink Faberge egg caught my eye and the price tag £9,995.00 made me gasp but I guess that’s what they cost these days? I’m not sure what husband’s reaction would have been  if I had returned with it?

Buckingham Palace souvenirs

The tin tray costs £7.50 from this year’s Limited Edition, the crowns above were around £10 and the cushions start at around £35.

The girls each chose a Princess Alice at £12.95 and I treated them to the book ‘Does the Queen wear her crown to bed?’ which we all read later that night and will act as a great reference book too.

Top Tips for a Royal Day Out

1. Keep in mind the Changing of the Guard at 11.15 when booking tickets, the roads are closed and it is busy, if you want to add this into your day get there for 10.15 – 10.30 for a good place.

2. If going with children I think leave out the Garden Highlights tour and maybe add on the Royal Mews for a visit to the Royal Carriages instead.

3. No food or drink can be eaten in the palace and there were no facilities to eat outside either, we had to hang around for the Garden tour but opposite the palace is St James Park with lots of green space to picnic on and a play area for children to let off steam.

4. If you go to St James Park take some bread to feed the ducks but only in the designated gravel area.

5. Don’t forget to get your tickets stamped on exit so you can return one more time within 12 months to see the same tour.

6. Nearest tube St James Park or Victoria; we walked from St James Park through the park.

guard at Buckingham palace