Today we visited Hughenden Manor which is a National Trust property in High Wycombe. It is fairly well signed around the area and has plenty of on site parking.
Hughenden Manor is the home of former Victorian prime minister Benjamin Disraeli. During the 1940's it was also used as a top secret map making base by the RAF. The house is surrounded by acres of parkland and woodland ready for you to explore.
As we headed to the house from the car park there was a woodland obstacle course complete with an aeroplane that led you down to an orchard which is ideal for picknicking in as it has plenty of tables.
This brings you to a courtyard where you have a shop, cafe and second hand book shop. To the side of the courtyard is the walled garden which provides produce for the cafe and has a real variety of herbs, vegetables and fruits growing in it. There is a willow tunnel for children and the staff were really friendly.
There were small wheelbarrows and watering cans for younger children to use around the garden and there was a children's spotting trail to do also.
When we left the walled garden we followed the signs for the woodland walk and gardens. This took us past a really good view of the surrounding parkland and farmland and there were a lots of really good trees for climbing. This path eventually brings you round the back of the manor to the formal gardens and to the beehives where we saw a lot of activity.
The formal gardens at Highenden are certainly not as impressive as others that we have seen but they are pleasant enough and they had lots of free deckchairs out for people to relax in the garden in the sun.
We decided to visit the manor next. On arrival the friendly guide gave the children an I spy sheet of things to find in each room and we started to make our way around the house which is set over three levels. The boys found portraits of Queen Victoria, A marble cast of Disraeli's wife's foot and a table shaped like an eagle.
We headed down to the basement which has information about Hughendens role as a secret map making base during WW2 and they had a small shelter kitted out as it would have been at the time.
There was also a room preserved in 1940's style which they both really liked. The good thing about many of the rooms at Hughenden is that you are invited to touch things and explore and there were 1940's games and jigsaws out for children to play, and other things to look at and they particularly enjoyed trying out a typewriter.
We continued upstairs which is preserved as it was when Disraeli lived there and was interesting to look around. On this level there was a room which had been styled as a Victorian playroom and there were toys and costumes from that period for the children to try out and also costumes from the 1940's. There was a good variety of things to do here.
After we finished the boys spy sheet the guide gave them both a sticker and we headed for the Ice House bunker which is worth a quick look.
The boys enjoyed looking at yet another typewriter, (funny how old they seem now and such a novelty to the boys), gas masks and RAF uniforms. They also enjoyed answering the phone where you'd get random pre-recorded people speaking to you. David was speaking to a Major and then James picked it up and it said It was Fred from operations and did James want to join him for a crate of Beer ? They both found that funny and James said yes !!
It took us about two and a half hours to explore the site and I'd recommend you leave at least this much time for it, but there are further walks and acres of parkland to enjoy if you want to extend your stay.
We recently visited Gullivers Land and Dinosaur Park in Mitlon Keynes. It is really well signed from the M1 junction 14 and it has lots of its own free parking.
Gullivers is split into two main sites. The main theme park and a separate park which encompasses a dinosaur and farm park, Nerf battle zone and a splash park zone.
We started our visit at the dinosaur and farm park as it opens slightly earlier than the main park. You enter through a dinosaur themed shop and are immediately greeted by large animatronic dinosaurs including a moving model of what looks like the Indominus Rex from Jurrasic World complete with sound effects.
In this area there is a dig site where you can hunt for fossils and bones and a small learning room which has various fossils you can look at and study and different types of rocks and materials too.
There are so many moving dinosaurs as you go around the park and there are also lots of static models. Les and the boys went up the observation tower near the entrance of the park to get their bearings.
There are walkways past some of the models and play areas dotted throughout including climbing walls and nature areas (complete with moving T-rex) and ride on toys for younger visitors.
The reptile house had various lizards, snakes, turtles etc in it to view with lots of information about them too and there is a Jungle Cruise boat ride that takes you past some more models and the guide for it was really funny so we would highly recommend it.
As you go through the dinosaur park it leads you to the farm park which had various enclosures with your typical farm animals in such as goats, turkeys, cows, sheep, rabbits etc. It also had some small play areas as you walked round and a tractor themed ride at the end of the area. There was an indoor soft play area here too for younger children.
After we had finished at the dinosaur park we headed to the main Gullivers Land site which is just next door.
Gullivers is a theme park as such but is no where near the scale or budget of places like Legoland or Alton Towers. It claims its age range is roughly 3 - 11 years old and I would say that is about right. There are rides for very young toddlers up to roller coasters etc for older children.
There was easily enough to keep you busy all day long and a good variety of activities to do. It was also good that if you were to visit on a very busy day there are lots of play areas dotted around between the popular rides.
We also found a fab indoor role play area for toddlers, that although it was far too young for my boys looked really good for younger children and had some really hands on fun things to do in it.
Gullivers has lots of refreshment kiosks, shops and a restaurant dotted throughout the park and loads of toilets which was really handy as you didn't have to walk far to find the nearest one.
If you have children younger than teenagers Gullivers is a good full day out and we'd recommend it.
Woodside Animal Farm is just off of the A5 near Dunstable in Bedfordshire, and is well signed from both Dunstable and Luton. It has lots of free on site parking.
Woodside is a fairly small site but it has some really good opportunities for getting close to a range of different animals and the staff are all incredibly friendly and knowledgeable.
You enter via the shop which sells farm animal related toys and also pet supplies and fresh eggs from the farms chickens, geese and quails. At the rear of the shop is an area where there is poultry for sale and there are always some chicks and ducklings on view here.
As you head into the main park there are several different areas to visit. Just in this area alone there are chickens, llamas, a european eagle owl, A tortoise, goats and sheep.
There is a free tractor ride that takes place at various times during the day which is really good for getting your bearings of the site.
Near here is an indoor soft play barn which is suitable for children aged up to 11 with a separate upstairs area for children under 3. On the ground floor there is a cafe selling snacks, meals, drinks and ice creams.
Next to the play barn is the animal handling barn. They have various animals in here including rabbits, guinea pigs, chinchillas, corn snakes and a boa constrictor. All the animals have information signs about them giving lots of useful facts.
t certain times during the day they do a hands on session which I'd highly recommend as the staff are brilliantly knowledgeable and respond really well to the boys questions. They have held bearded dragons, chicks, rabbits and cornsnakes and got to stroke owls and chinchillas too.
It is worth seeing every area of the park, as there is a really good range of animals to see such as, geese, turkeys, donkeys, shetland ponies, alpacas, flamingos, ibises, peacocks, pigs, and even lemurs. Most of these animals you can feed and the food is available from the shop when you enter. The birds are in a separate walk through area.
In addition to all of the animals there are little play areas dotted around the park including swings, playhouses for toddlers, a sandpit, an obstacle type play area, bike and scooter area, crazy golf and trampolines.
There are also two funfair type rides, a carousel and teacups. You can go on these as many times as you like and its all included in your entrance.
Woodside would take approximatley 2 hours to see everything it has to offer. I would recommend it for younger children as the play areas are more suitable for them as our boys now aged 9 and 6 are starting to find them a bit young now compared to other local farms.
Recently we visited a brilliant science centre called @Bristol. It is in the city centre and is well signed from all approaches to Bristol. It is also close to other sites such as the next door Bristol Aquarium and SS Great Britain. which is only a 5 minute walk away. The centre does not have its own car parking though but there is multi-storey car park less than a 3 minute walk away which we used.
@Bristol is a fully interactive and immersive science centre. Every exhibit is hands on and there really are things to suit all ages from toddlers to adults.
There are planetarium shows throughout the day and we'd highly recommend them . We watched one called "We are Aliens" and it was really good.
All areas of science are explored, there are exhibits about your senses, DNA, Brains, Childbirth etc all in one area and a favorite for the boys was a vein viewer machine that showed you where your veins are inside your body by scanning your arm.
There are exhibits about food and where it comes from, water and different ways to control it, electrical circuits, planets and space and even a giant hamster wheel that you can run in which was a big hit especially with Les !!
There is also a great area upstairs which is partially dedicated to animation and particularly to Aardman films and characters such as Wallace and Gromit , Shaun the Sheep and Morph as they orginate from Bristol.
They have tracing tables, various tools and computers you can use to make your own animations and models of some of the main characters.
Also upstairs are various exhibits about structures, vibrations, magnetism, construction, and extreme weather, and a really fab corner all about bubbles where you could make some really humungus ones.
The staff are fabulous. They did a chocolate workshop for the boys telling them all about how chocolate is made, how to taste it like a pro (the highlight for them !) and what is used to make white, milk and dark chocolate.
The man doing it was so engaging and the children loved it. There were other workshops during the day too and plenty of members of staff wandering around and talking to children to explain what they were looking at etc.
As you exit there is a small shop which had some really interesting things and a small cafe area.
I would highly recommend a visit. We were there for 6 hours and still probably didn't get to do it all, so a full day of fun.
A couple of weeks ago we went to visit Stonehenge in Wiltshire.
Stonehenge is a world heritage site and is so famous it needs little introduction, but basically it is the best preserved neolithic monument in Europe, a unique stone circle made around 2500 BC.
Obviously Stonehenge itself doesn't change much over the years but the visitor experience has changed quite a lot recently . There is now a fully fledged visitors centre which has its own large free car park, a large gift shop, a restaurant and then the Stonehenge exhibition.
As you enter the exhibition there is a room which you stand in the middle of and it seems like you are standing in the middle of the stone circle, with images of it in different weathers and time periods projected onto the 360 screens around you.
From there you pass to the main exhibition area which shows you how the site has changed and has skeletons and reconstructions etc in it and lots of information about life in the stone age.
Outside the visitors centre they have built a small neolithic village using original materials which consists of about 5 houses that you can go in, that have helpful guides who will tell you anything you want to know about them.
There is also a replica of one of the stones that you can attempt to pull and it tells you how many more people you'd need to help you.
Once you have explored this area you can pick up a free audio guide and there are free shuttle buses that take you up to the stones.
When you arrive the audio guides tell you in several different languages all about the history and meaning of the site. There are also members of staff on hand who were very helpful.
Stonehenge is extremely well signed from all directions, and has lots of free parking. It took us about 2 hours in total for our visit but would depend on how long you want to look at the stones for.
We recently visited Longleat Safari and Adventure Park in Wiltshire. Its really well signed from the M4 and in the local area.
Longleat can be very expensive so its worth booking online to get it cheaper and looking out for offers. In the past we have used Tesco Clubcard vouchers to get in and this time we used the boys Blue Peter badges, but however you decide to pay for it you are guaranteed a full day worth of fun.
The all in one ticket is the best value as you can visit every single part of the estate using it with no extra charges.
As you enter the estate you pass by Longleat House which is one of the most impressive Elizabethan houses in England. It had a massive Lion sculpture in front of it when we visited which the boys were very impressed by.
You follow signs for the Safari Adventure and this takes you up to what is called the African Village. Here you park up and explore the first part of the safari park on foot. First you come to an area you can walk through with free roaming lemurs, there is also a walk through area with wallabies.
There are lots of shops and cafes in this area and an aerial walkway. There is also the giraffe and zebra viewing area. This includes a pier that you can walk along and you can feed the Giraffes from here, which we did and it was a great experience !! They have incredibly strong tongues and you really have to hold on tight !!
After you have seen everything in the African village, you then go back to your car to start the Drive Thru Safari. When you enter Longleat they give you a free CD to listen to in the car as you go through the Drive-thru area of the park giving you information about all the animals that you see.
The drive through part of the park takes you past lions, rhinos, cheetahs, tigers, wolves, flamingos, camels, vultures, and various other animals including the infamous Longleat monkeys. There is an option to avoid this area if you wish as they are well known for taking parts off peoples vehicles. We were very lucky but we saw them taking parking sensors and rubber trim off of other peoples cars. There is also an enclosure with deer which you can hand feed.
Once you have finished the drive thru part of the safari you come to the main car park where you park up and then head for the Jungle Kingdom. In this area you have walk through areas with monkeys, lorikeets, meerkats, skunks etc and you can see various other animals such as otters, porcupines, anteaters, coatis etc.
Behind this area is Stingray Bay which includes a walk through with penguins and a stingray touch pool.
Close by is the Batcave, which as you walk through it has free flying bats that fly around your head and you can see really close up.
There are lots of other farm and domestic animals in this area such as rabbit, chickens and guinea pigs and they often have parrot shows at various times during the day. There is also a green house with free flying butterflies which you pass through which gets you to the hands-on centre where you can hold snakes and spiders etc. This brings you out into the main store.
Whilst you are at this end of the park the gardens are worth a visit and the house too if you are interested.
There is a jungle cruise which is a boat which takes you along the lake to Gorilla Island where you can see a silverback and some lowland gorillas. You get a full commentary and in the lake itself you also have two hippos and a group of sea lions that you have the options to feed. I did it and I'd highly recommend it. The boys weren't so keen as you had to feed them sardines and they didn't like the smell of it !!
One of the things that impresses me about Longleat is just how close you can get to so many of the animals and there are so many feeding and walk through areas that its a really hands on experience.
In the adventure park there are lots of shops, cafes and restaurants and there are small ride on type activities for the children. This leads you towards the adventure playground fort which is a massive structure and has slides, scramble nets, roundabouts, trampolines, climbing frames etc. They also have an indoor soft play area and a splash park which are worth checking out.There is also a small railway which is worth a ride for younger visitors.
There is also a Deadly 60 attraction which is like a challenge where you have to answer questions and do different physical challenges to get to the end. I would recommend this for children aged about 4 and up rather than toddlers but it was very good.
Longleat also has a world famous maze. It is very challenging but one of the better mazes we have done.
Longleat is a full day out and needs that time in order to see all that it has to offer and we would highly recommend it to all ages.
Bowood is a country estate in Wiltshire close to the town of Devizes. It is really well signed and has tons of free parking.
This was our third visit having visited twice in previous years and it was just as much fun, this time round.
Bowood is home to one of the best adventure playgrounds in the UK. It was recently ranked third I believe.
It has a full scale pirate ship, aerial walkways, scramble nets, near vertical slides, a trampoline, zip wires, boat swings, a sandpit, and a sheer "death slide" amongst other things.
There is loads in the playground to cater for all ages and so much equipment that even on a very busy day it doesn't get too crowded. There is also lots of seating in this area so its perfect for a picnic.
Close by there is also a soft play tent for children up to ten set over two levels with various obstacles, a slide and a ball pool.
The estate also boasts a "Tractor Ted" themed play area with pedal go karts, a tractor you can play on and a barn with farm animals in it such as horses, pigs, sheep, guinea pigs, chicks, goats etc.
Also on the estate is Bowood House which is worth popping into, as it has amongst its collections, Napoleons death mask, Queen Victoria's wedding chair and the room where Joseph Priestley discovered oxygen. The boys highlight however was a taxidermied rug of a lion which they found fascinating. I just felt sorry for it !!
In front of the house are the formal gardens which are lovely and beyond that there is over 100 acres of parkland to enjoy including a lake and boat house and various follies.
The playground is the main reason that we have returned to Bowood and I cannot recommend it highly enough.Each time we have visited we have been at Bowood for the entire day.
On site there are a couple of cafes, gift shops and a resturant too.
We recently visited Devizes which is a lovely market town in Wiltshire.
First of all we headed to the Wiltshire Museum which is in the town centre. Its free for children and if you have English Heritage membership you can get in for half price.There is plenty of town centre parking but the museum itself does not have its own car park.
There had museum trail booklets that the children could do going round and when completed they got rewarded with a sticker.
As you enter there is an exhibition area about the Romans with mosiacs, Roman artifacts and dressing up things which the boys enjoyed.
From there you go through to an exhibition all about the stone age, which Wiltshire kind of specializes in. The museum is really hands on so you could look through microscopes,, put together pieces of pottery, make Stonehenge out of foam blocks etc in this area. They also had gold items from the time of Stonehenge which had recently been found.
The museum covers various time periods from Victorian schooling to the English civil war, the Bronze age, prehistoric, etc and has some reconstructed huts and a "Barrow" which children can go inside.
The boys dug for fossils, made flour, did brass rubbings, dressed up, coloured, drew and generally had fun doing all the different interactive things on offer.
The museum is not that big so an hour or so would probably be long enough to see it all. They have a small shop on site as you exit which had various things themed around the Stone age.
From here we headed to the nearby Hillworth Park on Queens Road which has had a recent £20 million pounds investment in it.
It was great for all ages with the park split into a play area and equipment for the under tens, tennis and basketball courts, a play area for older children including a climbing wall and zip wire etc, and an outdoor gym area for all to use.
It also had a reflection pond, cafe and aviary with cockatiels, budgies, love birds etc in it and lovely gardens.
The park is free and has adequate free parking spaces.
Finally we visited the Caen Hill Locks which are just outside of Devizes. You follow the Bath road following signs for Rowde. The Caen Hill Locks are a flight of 29 locks that rise 237 feet in under 2 miles and are worth a visit if you are in the area.
There is a car park on site which is owned by British Waterways and you can get a ticket from the Cafe located at the top of the flight of locks. The cafe sells really nice ice cream which was a real hit with the boys and it was a lovely area for a walk.
Due to the sheer number of locks many of the narrow boat owners appreciate a helping hand to open and close the lock gates and were very accepting of the boys helping them.
There are lots of side ponds with various waterfowl in them and there are lots of signs telling you about the wildlife that can be seen in the area.
Devizes turned out to be a lovely town that easily kept the boys amused for the day and I'm sure there are other places to visit in the town that are also worth seeing.
Last week we went to visit The Living Rainforest which is located near to Newbury and is well signed from there and also from the M4. It has plenty of free onsite parking.
We got a family ticket which they upgraded to an annual pass for free which entitles us to unlimited return visits for one year.
The Living Rainforest is a series of joined glasshouses which are home to over 700 species of tropical plants and animals.
There are free flying butterflies and birds and you can often spot a lizard walking along the path in front of you. There were signs telling you to watch your step as there were little chicks wandering around !
They had a really good variety of animals and the boys favourite was the armadillo. There were also lots of insects, tropical birds, snakes, lizards, monkeys, turtles, fish and other creatures.
The staff were great and at various points during the day they do talks about the different creatures. We watched a talk about Boa constrictors which was really interesting and engaging.
The site is not that massive so an hour or so would be enough for a visit.
There is a play area for younger children at the side of the building which was fun and there is a small cafe area too. The shop was really good and had a lot of handmade products that originated from countries that have rainforests in them which were really unique.