Our most recent visit was to Cliveden which is a National Trust property close to Maidenhead. Its well signed off of the M40 Junction 3. It has loads of parking spaces plus plenty of overflow parking for very busy days.
Cliveden is a perfect place for all the family as there is a real mix of things to see.
When you park up there is a converted stable yard with a small room,where you can watch a video about the history of Cliveden House. Nearby here is a National Trust shop and a refreshment stand. From here you enter the gardens.
As you go into the gardens, on your left you will come across the Cliveden Maze. Its a fabulous hedged maze that is quite challenging. Davids tip to everyone we came across was to find the middle always turn left unless you can't and then you should turn right . It seemed to work as we made our way to the centre and out again really quickly today.
Opposite the maze you will see the Japanese inspired garden with a small lake which at its centre has a Pagoda and you go across stepping stones to reach it. This is a really lovely area and often you can see herons and geese around the lake. There are a variety of different paths with stepping stones that you can take and the boys made us try all of them !
This leads you towards the Story Book play area, so named as in the play area you have characters from popular children's story books, like Kaa from The Jungle Book, Winnie The Poo, Peter Pan and Captain Hook. There are slides, a see saw, a play house and a variety of things to climb and balance on. I would say its aimed at children about 2 to 8 years old as David is starting to find it a bit too young for him now.
There is a small refreshments hut here where you can get hot drinks and ice creams etc and plenty of picnic benches to sit on.
From here we headed back towards the main entrance and this time followed signs for the house. Firstly you come across the "Love" fountain which is stunning and marks the end of the long drive towards the house. Cliveden is a large stately home that has now been turned into a very exclusive and expensive hotel and it is common to see some very expensive looking cars parked up in front of it. It has a beautifully ornate clock tower to the side of it and lovely gardens as you approach it.
Going round to the left hand side of the house brings you to the back terrace where you get a stunning view of the parterre and the surrounding landscape. This is currently being painstakingly restored and it was interesting to watch how they are restoring the building.
We walked the length of the Parterre and took in the view of the River Thames from the Chapel.
Cliveden is an absolutely huge estate and has many different areas. I would highly recommend the long garden, as its stunning with topiary figures, statues etc and is usually planted up in a stunning display.
There are many other areas to explore including, woodlands, a rose garden, the Canadian War Cemetery and other surprises hidden in the many acres that make up the estate.
Cliveden takes a minimum of 2 hours to see but I would recommend a whole day trip to be able to appreciate it fully.
Today we visited Woburn Abbey Gardens in Bedfordshire. It is well signed off of the A5.
Woburn village itself is a lovely place to have a walk around and it also boasts a fantastic safari park which we didn't visit this time round but have been to before and is also well worth a visit.
As you turn into the entrance for Woburn Abbey Gardens, you pay at a toll booth that you drive up to and then there is a 2 mile drive to the house and gardens through the deer park which is lovely and you can usually see many different breeds of deer very easily.
You eventually come to the car park and enter by foot through a small gift shop. Also in this area is a cafe and a small area where plants are sold.
As you enter the gardens themselves there is a large pond with Koi Carp in it and filled with lily pads. This faces the Chinese Dairy.
There is a very Chinese inspired feel to the gardens overall with a fantastic maze which at its centre has a small Chinese style structure and there is a Chinese Grotto too.
The gardens have lots of different areas to explore from a small kitchen garden to ponds, a sculpture gallery, tropical green house, an aviary, a grotto filled with shells and many other surprises.
The Abbey itself is also very interesting and has a whole room of Canaletto's famous paintings of Venice.
It occurred to me that I hadn't done a blog post about Stockwood Park. We are lucky enough to live just minutes from it and I know many of you have visited it before but for those that haven't let me tell you a little more.
Stockwood Park is located on the edge of Luton very close to the M1 at Junction 10 and is very well signed. The park itself has an 18 hole golf course with a driving range, an athletics track, a rugby club, acres of land to run around in and the Stockwood Discovery Centre. It also has lots of free car parks so there is always somewhere to park.
The Discovery Centre is completely free to enter and has any different areas. As you enter on your left is the Mossman Collection. Mr Mossman was a local man who in his lifetime collected lots of horse drawn carriages and similar items many of which have been used in films ranging from Carry On to Ben Hur.
The museum is quite hands on and there is plenty to see. At the end of this area is a temporary exhibition space which changes its displays throughout the year. At the moment it has a modern art exhibition called "Podules", which features sculptures made from recycled materials that are fully immersive. You can climb into them and experience different lights, sounds and smells.
Over the summer holidays this will be changing to a Lego exhibition about castles and knights. They had one last year about transport and had a 10 foot long model of Titanic amongst other things so I expect this years will be just as good. Their website has further details of the dates and other important information..
There is a cafe in the centre of the park with indoor and outdoor seating, which is located next to one of the play areas which is designed for younger children with slides, things to climb on etc.
This leads you onto a play area for older children with climbing equipment, slides, and things to balance on. There is also a bee gallery in this area with hands on things for children to explore.
Leading on from here is a fruit and vegetable garden whose produce is used in the cafe, there is also a fernery in one of the greenhouses along here and a sensory garden.
This leads you to the formal gardens which are lovely and to an area called "dig for victory" which has vegtables growing in it and chickens. If you follow this it takes you down to the galleries and a tractor that children can sit on.
The galleries have information and displays about the former Stockwood House, local geology including a video about cretacous fossils which they have many of on display, British wildlife, farming equipment, Roman Britain, archaeology and various other things.
There is also a Chinese garden and a large outdoor area with stepping stones that you can jump on and run around.
Wimpole Hall is a National Trust property just off the A505 near to Royston and is well signed off of the main road.
As you drive up towards it there are fields of sheep which when we visited were full of ewes and their lambs (apparently 330 lambs in total). There is parking near to the entrance which if you are not a National Trust member is £2 for the whole day.
Once you have parked up you head towards the stable block where you can get your tickets. Also here is a gift shop, plant shop, book shop, toy shop and cafe. At weekends and holidays there is a tractor ride which takes you to the farm part of the site and is free with your entrance fee. If you are visiting at any other time their is a pleasant 10 min walk through the woods to the farm instead and I'd recommend that as there are lots of things to look at on the way.
You smell and hear the farm before you get to it and the first area you get to is the piggery. We arrived just as they were about to be fed and the sound of squealing was amazingly loud. The staff were very good with the children and encouraged them to get involved in feeding the pigs and told us what breed they were etc.
There are various different activities that take part during the day and there are boards with the times of these displayed throughout the farm. We stayed to watch one of the dairy cows being milked and the man doing the talk was very engaging.
You then head into the main courtyard of the farm area where there are barns with horses, donkeys, bulls, rabbits and chicks to see, a tractor to sit on , buckets to milk and in one of the barns upstairs there is a model of a combine harvester explaining how it works and you can make the parts move.
Heading out of here you come to the orchards where there is a restaurant/cafe and a play area for younger children with see saws, ride on tractors etc then there are hay bales arranged like a mini maze type things which the boys loved jumping between.
If you head out of the farm and back to the main path, follow signs for the adventure playground which is a lovely little play area in the woods with various different things to climb, balance on and swing from.
As you head back to the main entrance you can visit the walled gardens to see various vegetables and fruits being grown and there was a lot of lovely blossom when we visited. This path will also take you towards the hall itself and the Dutch parterre.
You can go round the house on a self guided visit. It was once owned by the author Rudyard Kiplings daughter and they have a first addition of his novel The Jungle Book signed to his daughter on display. They have a family trail worksheet for children to complete as they walk round too.
Recently we visited Legoland Windsor. Its well signed off of the M4 and throughout Windsor.
Legoland can be very expensive so its worth looking out for 2 for 1 deals or you can use Tesco Clubcard points to exchange for tickets and its definitely a cheaper way of visiting.
When you arrive you need to pay for your parking at one of the ticket booths which is currently £5 and they give you a pass to show when you exit at the end of the day. Here they will give you a park map.
The park opens at 10am officially most of the year round but you can enter and walk round from 9.30am. Its worth arriving early especially at busy times of the year like weekends and school holidays. I would advise starting from the area furthest away from the entrance and working your way back as this is where most of the popular rides are and if you go early in the day the queues are not too bad.
We started with the Legoland Driving School where the boys earned their own Lego driving licenses and then headed for Atlantis which I would highly recommend as it has a submarine ride where you can see real sharks, rays and fish swimming past you and when you exit the ride there is a small aquarium area with a touch pool where you can get your fingers cleaned by a shrimp !!!!
There are rides for all ages from those for thrillseekers to those that are much more sedate. The boys would recommend the log flume which they made us go on in excess of 5 times in a row but you will get soaked. If you are going any time other than a very hot day where you would dry out I'd recommend taking waterproof coats or a cheap poncho (I was told they sell them in poundland) as you get very wet on some of the rides but they are all good fun.
If you get fed up of queuing there are loads of play areas, a pirate themed show to watch, Miniland which is like a model village all made of Lego of course and various other quieter areas to explore like the Duplo splash park, a 4D Film, X Box gaming zone and various areas where you can build Lego models. These never get particuarly busy so can be a good escape from the busyness of the park. The Star Wars Lego area comes highly recommend from both boys and is a walk through area so no need to queue here either.
Legoland is a lot of fun but very expensive so I'd recommend taking a picnic to keep costs down as its expensive to eat on site. There are lockers you can use rather than carrying stuff all round the park and the staff are all very helpful and friendly. Worth a visit for any Lego fan !
This afternoon we went to Dunstable Downs which is just outside the town of Dunstable and is well signed. It is a chalk downland and part of the Chiltern hills, which gives spectacular views for miles. It is the highest point in Bedfordshire and It overlooks Dunstable Gliding Club. When there is good weather you can see many gliders flying over head and today there were plenty of kite flyers and picnickers. It is an ideal spot for both. It is a site looked after by the National Trust and there is plenty of parking on site.
If you have never been before the visitors centre is a good place to start your visit. It has a cafe/resturant, and a shop including a small second hand book section. They have various leaflets with details of different walks you can do in the area. There is also a kiosk outside selling refreshments and ice cream if you want to sit outside or have a dog with you etc.
From the overflow car park there is a straight path leading down towards the woods.
If you follow this it will bring you to the Chute Wood play area which is a natural play area for children with various things to climb on, balance on and explore and there is a lovely little nature trail walk you can do through the woods. Ideal on a hot day to get some shade !
Our latest adventure was to the "Jump Arena" in Luton, which is an indoor trampoline park located in the Galaxy Centre. There is a similar place in Milton Keynes and a new one being built in Stevenage too.
Jump Arena boasts over 50 interconnected trampolines including ones on the walls ! It also has a dodge ball area and basketball area, foam pits you can jump in, balance beams you can battle on and a giant air bag you can jump on to. There is no lower or upper age limit on the trampolines so grown ups can join in too.
When you arrive you have to watch a short safety video showing you the do's and don'ts of trampolining and afterwards you go into a locker room area, where you put on your grip socks which are provided by Jump Arena (the lockers are £1 each, if you need to use them).
The staff were extremely friendly and really engaged with the boys, and obviously genuinely really like children. At all times the children were fully supervised by the staff. They showed them various different ways of using the equipment, entertained them and encouraged different groups of children to do things together. I cannot praise them highly enough on their helpfulness.
For those not bouncing there is a cafe upstairs with a balcony from which you can see the entire site, so you can sit back and relax whilst keeping an eye on the kids. Jump Arena is fully air conditioned too so the children don't overheat too much.
For more details about Jump Arena check out their website at www.jumparena.co.uk.