This summer the twins spent a fortnight with the grandparents whilst Paul and I worked (this has been the most difficult part of going full-time for me, not being able to spend the school holidays with my girls). At the end of the fortnight, Paul and I travelled up to the Midlands on Friday after work and we all spent the weekend together.

We have visited a number of places on previous visits, Sherwood Forest, White Post Farm and Newark, all of which are beautiful but this time the grandparents took us to Creswell Crags.

Creswell Crags

What is Creswell Crags?

It’s such a strange name that doesn’t give anything away, does it? But if you venture out to this beauty spot you’ll be surprised at what a great place it is for the family and especially for the kids.

map of creswell crags

The first thing that struck me was the fact that this place has been a stop off for travellers for thousands of years, we’re talking between 50,000 and 10,000 years ago.

The limestone gorge has plenty of caves along the sides and in some of them, stone tools and animal remains have been found along with the most amazing Ice Age rock art proof of the dwellers that passed by many years ago.

Creswell Crags cave home

We are lucky to have a number of caves used in prehistoric times in Britain and walking around them brings a quick history lesson to life – not just for the children! It’s impossible to not think about how it would have been and looked all that time ago. How cold would the caves have been to sleep in? How would they have kept themselves warm and safe with no door to close?

Situated on the Derbyshire/Nottinghamshire border Creswell Craggs has a large car park where you can leave the car all day for just £3. It is free to visit the site and walk around the lake and gorge and you can also stop off in the cafeteria and gift shop before making your way home.

There are two tours that you can book to attend The Ice Age Tour and the Rock Art Tour. We hadn’t booked anything and arrived at the wrong time to join a tour so it’s worth checking their website before you go for times and prices.

creswell crags flint knife blade

The Ice Age tour takes place in Robin Hood Cave, the largest cave on the site and you find out who lived there, why they were there and how the information was discovered.

The Rock Art tour shows the only Ice Age Rock Art known in Britain. It was discovered in 2003 and consists of engravings of animals, birds and motifs. The engravings are estimated to be 13,000 years old making Church Hole Cave the oldest in Britain.

Cresswell Crags pony ride

We chose to walk around Creswell Crags under our own steam. The walk is a leisurely one with the girls scrambling up every rock face they can to peek into the caves – which incidentally are closed and only opened by the tour guide. The photo above is down at the bottom of the gorge working our way back up to the centre. We also collected a bagful of wild blackberries on our way round and added them to our roulade pudding that nonna prepared that evening.

Cresswell Crags

There are lots of informative signs as you go round which the twins loved reading. I don’t think they could quite understand the extent of how old it all was but they found it fascinating and I know it’s the kind of information that stuck.

reswell crags

Down at the bottom of the gorge, we got caught in some light rain and the pair of them danced around having a good laugh and enjoying being outside in the fresh air.

creswell crags

Sometimes it’s when you least expect it that you get a really good photo. I love this one of Alice in the tree whilst we were waiting for the rain to stop.

Once we had completed the gorge, we worked our way back to the centre where there is a large green area with games for the children to play on – slides down the mammoth’s tusks and climbing frames. There are also some picnic tables, where we stopped for lunch and as you get to the top there is the gift shop full of fossils, semi-precious stones and plenty of other merchandise to tempt you.

If you don’t have a picnic, the coffee shop has snacks and drinks and there is also an exhibition that you can pay to enter too.

A great family day out enjoyed by all.

privet-drive-harry-potter

Harry Potter Studio Tour review

It’s 15 years since the film Harry Potter and The Philosopher’s Stone came out and having watched the film recently with the twins, it is still as gripping and fascinating as it was the first time I watched it with Tommy and Megan.

J.K Rowling really did have an excellent idea the day she wrote her notes down on a scrap of paper whilst sitting on a delayed train. She has captivated the world with her stories ever since and I love watching the twins work their way through her books. Alice is currently on the 4th book, The Order of the Phoenix and Bessie is polishing off  the 3rd, The Goblet of Fire. We keep on at her to finish so we can sit down and watch the third film together.

As a special treat for the girls I arranged with Warner Bros to take the girls to the Harry Potter Studio Tour in Watford. They are celebrating the 15th anniversary of the first Harry Potter film and as you can imagine there are a lot of extras to be had on the tour.

The twins were wowed from the car park onwards and didn’t tire of touring all day long. In fact they are still talking about it now and took their Harry Potter passports into school to show their friends.

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What is the Harry Potter Studio Tour?

The Harry Potter Studio Tour is a trip behind the scenes to see the sets, make up, costumes, props and the area of creativity where the filming took place. It was an amazing day out and one I am sure we shall repeat at some point as the girls work their way through the other books.

From the moment you start your tour you are guided through the history of the film making by tour guides who are incredibly knowledgeable and can answer all of your questions as you follow the tour.

harry-potter-cloaks-Harry Potter Studio Tour review

It all starts with a film and explanation, the history is just as fascinating as the sets themselves, there is so much to take in you certainly won’t be bored.

The tour leads you through the sets and in celebration of the 15th Anniversary there are special extras on the way through. The girls were intrigued to see how the letters flying through the letterbox of Privet Drive was created and they got to take a letter home each with special Hogwarts seal on it too.

Harry Potter Passports

The girls were handed a passport each at the front desk and told to look out for hidden snitches as we followed the tour around. This made the tour even more interactive for them. They also really enjoyed finding the machines to get their passports stamped although dad and I had to step in to make sure they embossed the pages properly.

What does Butterbeer taste like?

butterbeer-Harry Potter Studio Tour review

I was determined to try it and we decided on one glass of butterbeer and two butterbeer ice creams for the girls.

I really enjoyed it although the girls and dad didn’t. The way I’d describe it is a sweet fizzy drink that’s not over fizzy with a similar taste to cola and on top a thick creamy head that lasts right to the bottom of the glass. Think of a coke float but the cream doesn’t melt. If I return I shall definitely order another and maybe even get a souvenir glass next time.

The Broomstick video

Harry Potter Studio Tour review

This was another must on our first visit and both twins thoroughly enjoyed it. First we had a photo taken with our cloaks on and wands and then we followed the queue around and the girls got to sit on a broomstick and make their own video. Be warned this is not cheap though. We payed £60 for the two USB sticks and one photo.

The Harry Potter shop

honeydukes-Harry Potter Studio Tour review

It is a huge shop and if you don’t stay together you will likely lose each other. You can find all sorts of memorabilia from wands (£26.95), to clothes to notebooks, to fridge magnets. There is something for everyone including a lot of sweets from Honeydukes. This then brings you out to the entrance hall where it all started.

Our verdict of the Harry Potter Studio Tour

EXCELLENT. Top marks from all of us, dad grumbled about the prices in the shop. He also grumbled at the queues for the various photo stops and broomstick flying but he always does that.

In his defence, if you can go on a school day I imagine it would be much quieter, I’d also advise being on the first tour or one towards the later part of the day. Our tour started at 10am and we didn’t exit the tour until gone 2pm. We stopped for lunch in Backlot Cafe and ordered mac n cheese for the girls and hot dogs for us (go easy on the mustard as it is hot!)

One tour guide told us the longest amount of time some guests stayed on the tour was 13 hours and you will see some hardcore Harry Potter fans whilst you are there.

Disclosure: We were given a family entrance ticket to the Warner Bros Harry Potter Studio Tour for the purpose of this post, all opinions are my own.

natural history museum london

The Natural History Museum is always a good idea and it’s somewhere I hadn’t taken the girls to so we were incredibly excited to visit recently and take in the Colour and Vision Exhibition before it closes on the 6th November.

The Colour and Vision Exhibition is the tale of the evolution of colour and vision and it explains how the earliest life on earth evolved into the enormous variety of colours we see in the natural world today. It shows rare species and specimens that demonstrate how colour is used in nature; a warning – the black stripes on a snake, a disguise like the chameleon or as a method of attraction, yes those wild colours on faces and bottoms that are quite unbelievable.

colour and vision exhibition

The girls were equally intrigued and repulsed by a creepy wall of real eyes that showcased eyes from all types of animals with a list to refer to to discover who the eye belonged to.

There were also three LG OLED 4K TV screens displaying images of the human eye as we walked around the exhibition, you could scan your own eye and add it to the 4K photography exhibition.

 

There is a lot of technology behind the exhibition and the above video shows the LG OLED tunnel which is really fascinating to watch and must have been even more fabulous to see and walk through.

Natural History Museum

Anyway back to our day out, it started of course with the dinosaur in the main hall and can I say that I thought it was small? This is clearly because I have a memory of visiting as a child and the dinosaur towering over me and seemed to take up the entire hall. Now either I have grown up or they’ve changed dino since I last went! The twins were still impressed though and that is the important bit.

natural history museum dinosaur

From there we walked down to the Colour and Vision exhibition and spent a good half an hour roaming around taking in all of the interesting facts about the evolution of these senses. I was happy to see lots of interactive stations which kept the girls amused and switched on. The image below shows words and colours, you collected the colours from boxes on the wall and associated them with each of the words.

colour vision exhibition

We walked around the entire exhibition and then made our way through the Human Biology part which we all found really interesting. It’s a part of the museum I never tire of and the sensation of sitting in the womb is one I’ll never tire of.

We continued our journey into the centre of the earth and the girls were able to read about volcanoes, earthquakes and take a look at all the crystals and gems found on our planet – needless to say, thanks to the museum shop, we have a huge collection of crystals and ‘gems’ on the windowsill.

One of the most memorable parts of this area was the simulation of an earthquake where you enter a space and at a given moment it starts to shake and tremor as if you were experiencing a real earthquake. The set is a supermarket in Japan and you watch as products topple over on the shelves and you watch a video of shelves falling over. Big thumbs up for my two.

natural history museum

 

It was a truly memorable day out and I’m sure we shall return again at some point as it is impossible to see all of the museum and take it all in in one go. The girls loved it and so did we and although we visited on a Saturday there was still plenty of space to walk around.

natural history musuem

Top tips for visiting the Natural History Museum

  1. Arrive early, there is a lot to see and later in the day the museum will get busier.
  2. Do your research before so you have a clear idea of what you want to see first. You’ll be surprised how quickly time passes by.
  3. The museum is split into four colour-coded areas, there are plenty of maps and signs around but it’s worth looking at the map online to work out where you’d like to go.
  4. Print out the PDF from the website, as maps cost £1 once you are there.
  5. As with all London attractions, food and drink is premium so take water with you and snacks or treat yourself at the excellent restaurant or cafe.

Disclosure: We were provided with travel and tickets to the Colour and Vision Exhibition for the purpose of this post. All opinions are my own.

Hogwarts express

Kids love dressing up. Let’s be honest, adults love dressing up. In fact I’m not sure whether I know anyone that doesn’t love dressing up.

There are so few opportunities to don your favourite costume as you get older, but playing fancy dress can be a great activity for all of the family to enjoy. With that in mind, here are some fantastic days out for you and the kids where dressing up is fully encouraged…

The V&A Museum of Childhood
Whether or not you decide to dress up, this museum is more than worth a visit. Toys from the latest Pixar films share space with 1970s Barbie dolls and various Victorian creations. In fact, there really is something for everyone here. On top of that the V&A Museum regularly holds children’s activity sessions, including the chance to dress up as a true Victorian.

The Marvel Universe Live

Think of this like going to see an Avengers film at the cinema, except all the superheroes are really there and the CGI is replaced with some thrilling stunts and daring pyrotechnics. Of course, you don’t have to come dressed up as your favourite comic book character when it tours the UK, but don’t be surprised to find that you’re in the minority if you don’t.

Sutton Hoo

Two of the key players in the Marvel Universe are Thor and Loki, yet neither were actually invented by Stan Lee and are in fact figures from ancient Viking mythology. To explore more of this period you can go to Sutton Hoo, where there are ghost ships, ancient archaeological finds and ancient burial mounds to explore. Of course, there’s also the chance to dress up as an Anglo-Saxon villager.

Warner Bros Studio Tour

They say this is the Warner Bros Studio Tour. They say that if you visit you’ll get the chance to look at “sets” or “props”. But let’s call this place by its proper name. This is Hogwarts, or at least as close as you’ll get to it in the real world. And if you’re going to Hogwarts, it’s only right to be dressed in the appropriate school uniform. The real question is, Gryffindor, Hufflepuff, Ravenclaw or Slytherin?

Simon Plumb - lyme house

Credit: Simon Plumb

Lyme Park

Lyme Park is a stately home with all kinds of activities on offer, from Archery to adventures with Charlie & Lola. Perhaps most fun of all is the chance to dress up as an Edwardian and perform your own period drama re-enactments. The kids can join in as well, of course, or they can watch the Charlie & Lola show while leaving the fancy dress to the grown ups.

Nine Worlds

Another one for kids and grown-ups alike, this is a sci-fi convention with a real emphasis on inclusivity. There are games, talks and activities for all ages here and you can expect to find people in everything from Star Trek uniforms to full suits of armour wandering the hotel. It would be a shame if you didn’t all have costumes of your own, wouldn’t it?

Disclosure: A collaborative post

Only one week to go and the children will be at home for half term. This will be a mixture of work and play for me as I haven’t taken time off but will go into work for one day and work from home on the other two days but I do like to get a few treats organised for the girls to make sure we spend some memorable playtime together.

Top 3 things to do at half term in Kent

Leeds Castle – Charlie and the Chocolate Factory

Leeds castle

We haven’t been to Leeds’ Castle for a long time and last time we went it was on the run up to Christmas. Leeds Castle had organised a Gingerbread trail and the twins really enjoyed it. For this half term Leeds castle have organised a Charlie and the Chocolate Factory trail which takes you walking around the beautiful grounds of the castle (so wrap up warm) hunting down clues and solving the riddles that will lead you to giant chocolate bars each with a golden ticket inside. Each Chocolate bar will have a different coloured wrapper which you have to match with the stickers that come with your trail card.

Once the trail has been completed you can show your card to the Maze Café & Grill where you will receive sprinkles on their new ‘bubble gum’ flavoured Kentish ice cream and at the ned of your day hand in the completed trail card at the marquee and claim your mini chocolate bar prize.

Leeds castle

Top tip: Lookout for golden tickets hidden inside special ice-cream cones, for your chance to win a tour of the never before open to the public Solley’s ice-cream factory in Deal! Silver tickets will win a delicious afternoon tea in the Fairfax Restaurant.

Charlie’s Chocolate Trail is £1 per person to enter and includes a chocolate prize at the end.

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Alvin and the Chipmunks

This weekend we were invited up to Leicester Square by Twentieth Century Fox to view the brand new Alvin and the Chipmunks film, the road Chip. Well, we can safely say it’s a great fun film with the adorable, if sometimes a bit mischevious, chipmunks. The story unfolds as Dave, the chipmunks dad, has a relationship with a doctor, Samantha, that is starting to get serious. Samantha has a son and the chipmunk’s first encounters with Miles are not good at all. They want to stop this relationship going ahead. When they find an engagement ring they set out to sabotage the relationship that takes them on a cross-country journey, through Texas and New Orleans (dad loved this bit best) finishing off in Miami. Of course they are also running from a ‘baddie’ who will keep uyou entertained throughout the film too.

Visit Canterbury

The beautiful city of Canterbury is only a 30-minute drive for us so I  am planning on introducing the girls to this amazing city over half term.

Canterbury was a major pilgrimage site in the Middle Ages. Ancient walls, originally built by the Romans, encircle its medieval centre with cobbled streets and timber-framed houses. Iconic Canterbury Cathedral, founded in 597 A.D., is the headquarters of the Church of England and Anglican Communion. With intricate carvings and stained-glass windows, it incorporates Gothic and Romanesque elements.

Canterbury cathedral

There is a lot to see and do, a list I will write here and hopefully tick off over the next few years so I hope it comes in handy for you too.

1. Canterbury Cathedral
2. The Canterbury Tales – Chaucer’s stories brought to life
3. Canterbury Roman Museum
4. Howletts Wild Animal Park – about 15mins drive outside of Canterbury
5. The Historic River Tours – great tours of the city on water
6. The Beany House of Art and Knowledge – museum and gallery
7. Westgate Gardens – lovely formal gardens by the river
8. The Goods Shed farmers’ market – by Canterbury West Station
9. The Marlowe Theatre (town centre) or Gulbenkian Theatre (University of Kent campus)
10 Shopping! Whitefriars shopping centre and many independent shops to enjoy

Please find lots of other top tips all over the country from some of my favourite blogs and above all, have a great half term!Helen gives you three unusual days out with kids at half term if you’re in and around London, plus a bonus craft activity for a pyjama day!

Helen gives you three unusual days out with kids at half term if you’re in and around London, plus a bonus craft activity for a pyjama day!

Penny has three easy creative projects to do at home which could also fire their imaginations for bigger activity, because we love it when one thing leads to another.

Alice has some simple but successful tips for keeping kids entertained on the beach even in this cold February weather.

Becky has 3 thrifty and simple ideas for half term happiness

Kirsty can help families in Hertfordshire, who need inspiration to help keep boredom at bay!

Cass shares her favourite three ways to have fun at half term without spending a penny!

Joanne shares three indoors ‘days out’ incase of horrid weather

Michelle introduces you to three fun seaside towns in East Sussex

Joy explains 3 ways that throwing a party can help with half-term entertainment. 

Emma has three ways to enjoy half term on a budget

Sarah showcases five different ways you can entertain the little ones in Norwich this half term

A visit to a National Trust property is always fun in half-term, here Michelle shares with you three of her favourites.