In a small town called Tring in Hertfordshire is a branch of the Natural History Museum set up by the Rothschild family. Its fairly easy to find and close to the town centre and has its own car park and a new overflow car park. The museum is free to enter.
Inside there are various cabinets filled with all kinds of birds, fish, corals, mammals, insects and other creatures all of which were collected by the Rothschilds. It is interesting to see the true size of the animals and one of the most striking is the polar bear you come face to face with when you first enter.
There are four floors of exhibits including a small room telling you more about the man whose collection made the museum possible. At the moment there is also an exhibition about Antarctica which is open till the end of August I believe and again is completely free.
Nearby, and accessible through the overflow car park (following signs) is Tring Park which has free roaming cows and sheep and a woodland area with follies, obelisks etc and is well worth a walk around on a sunny day.
We went to visit the London Aquarium which is located in County Hall next to the London Eye.
As you enter the aquarium, you cross over a glass floor with sharks swimming underneath you, and that sets the scene for what you are going to experience here. There is a brilliant variety of sea creatures from leafy sea dragons up to sand tiger sharks (James's favourite).
All the tanks are set at different levels and visible for even the youngest viewers. There is a touch pool where you can feel star fish, and various interactive displays and information boards telling you all about the creatures you are seeing. The boys enjoyed the walk through tank which had a clear tunnel where you could watch rays, bonnet head sharks and other fish swim over you.
There is also a new interactive experience which makes it appear that an orca is splashing about in front of you and a polar bear and cub walk in front of you too. This was a hit with the kids especially as when you walked along the floor ice appeared to crack under your feet. In this area there was also a hurricane simulator capsule which was great fun.
The Aquarium is well located next to many other attractions and is very easy to find. After our visit we headed to Jubilee gardens which is in front of the London Eye. It was a good spot for a picnic, has a good play area for the children and had lots of musicians and street entertainers in the area adding some atmosphere.
We then took a ride on the London Eye. Its the second time the boys have been on it, the last being when they were a lot younger. Before you board you go into the visitors centre where you watch a short 4d film (about 5 minutes long), about the eye where you feel rain on you, snow falls on you and the floor vibrates etc. It was a fun way to get the boys enthused about going on the eye and whilst we were waiting to watch it there was a short video about the construction of the eye.
We then boarded the London Eye. We had fast track tickets and if you are visiting at the weekend or any other busy time I'd highly recommend getting them, as the queues can be massive and we waited about 2 mins in total so was worth it.
The "flight" on the London Eye lasts about 25 mins for a full rotation and your pod is air conditioned and has interactive terminals that can tell you what you are looking at if you are unsure. It goes without saying that the views were great !!
We had a lovely visit to see bluebells at Ringshall which is part of the Ashridge estate on the road between Ivinghoe Beacon and Ashridge in Hertfordshire.
There are many places around the Ashridge estate where you can see bluebells, but the best area is Ringshall as there are far more here and they are protected better. Just opposite the entrance gate is a free parking area and most of the paths are wide and flat so they would probably be suitable for pushchairs etc.
The bluebells themselves of course are beautiful and the paths lead you around the site, taking in views of the neighbouring fields in which there were lots of lambs and very noisy sheep to see.
The whole site would not take longer than about 30 - 40 minutes to go round so its not massive but well worth a visit.
Recently we went to visit Jordan's Mill. It is the home of Jordan's Cereal and the Ryvita company. Its located near Biggleswade in Bedfordshire, and is well signed from the A1.
We did a self guided tour which cost us £1.65 per adult and children under 16 are free. There was an option for a guided tour which I think was about £5.
First we headed through the shop and restaurant area to the original mill itself. It was really interesting as you could see the water wheel spinning and see all the various cogs, pulleys and machinery turning. On each floor there was information explaining what the various machines do and how the wheat is sifted and sorted. On the top floor was a video showing this process.
Behind the main mill itself is an education centre which had hands on activities for the children. For example, areas where you could try and grind your own flour, information about the Jordan family, models of various types of bread and what the inside of a husk of wheat looks like etc. There was also information about bee keeping.
We headed from there out to the Mill gardens. These gardens are really nicely set out and have planted in them various types of vegetables, grains, fruits and herbs.
From there we crossed a bridge to the meadows which is the summer have a lovely display of wildflowers. There are balance beams and a woodland area to explore and you can see bee hives close up and watch the bees coming in and out of them.
This was a really lovely place to visit and its not massive so I'd say you could comfortably see it all in about 1 and a half hours.
Today we visited Knebworth House which is just off of the A1M near Stevenage. Its really well signed and easy to find. Knebworth tends to open mainly on the weekends, bank holidays and school holidays, so if you are planning a visit check their website for up to date opening times. I would highly recommend Knebworth for all ages. It is very family friendly and there is easily enough to do to fill a whole day.
It has a variety of different areas of garden, from formal styles to woodland areas and even a maze with a gorilla in the middle. There are various sculptures and wood carvings to look at on your walk too.
The gardens lead you to one of the things that makes Knebworth special. A forest full of Prehistoric creatures and dinosaurs. There are fibreglass models of over 20 different dinosaurs and prehistoric creatures like mammoths and sabre tooth tigers. Each one has an information board with facts about them and at the end of the trail there is a sound board which has a handle you turn to listen to the sounds of some of the dinos.
If you are feeling artistic there is a chalk board you can use to draw a dino and a brass rubbing area for dino rubbings too.
We then explored the house which you have to do on a guided tour which lasts approx one hour. It was good and interesting but a little bit long winded for the kids so i'd probably recommend it for slightly older kids and adults.The house itself was great for the kids to look at as it is decorated with loads of turrets and gargoyles etc.
As you leave this area there is a good little shop which mainly stocks dinosaur themed items and a small restaurant. You then drive down towards the exit which leads you to the adventure playground. There is loads to do here for all ages of children, from bouncy castles to water play, swings, climbing frames, a wooden play fort and the highlight - slides.
And not just any old slldes but a long astroslide, a corkscrew slide and a freefall slide. The kids , David in particular loved the freefall slide and went on it in excess of 20 times. He also made me go on it 6 times. It was terrifying but in a good way !! I Would recommend giving it at least one go.
A good family fun day out.
Today we visited Ascott House, which is a National Trust property located in a village called Wing, between Leighton Buzzard and Aylesbury.
The house itself is owned by the Rothschild family and we've popped into it a couple of times, but the main attraction for us is the gardens.
Ascott is known for its display of daffodils in the spring, which is well worth seeing but it also has many different areas of gardens all of which are different in styles.There are woodland walks, formal gardens, open areas, fountains, and even a topiary sundial.
The boys particularly like the man made mini hills for running and rolling down and there are lots of trees to climb but no designated play area as such. However due to the variety of areas there are it keeps their interest anyway.
If you intend visiting Ascott I'd recommend checking the National Trusts website for opening hours as they can vary and often it is open in the afternoon only rather than all day.