Today we visited College Lake Nature Reserve which is located in Bulbourne in Buckinghamshire close to Tring.
Its managed by the Wildlife Trust and was a former chalk quarry which has now been converted into a nature reserve which is home to over 1000 different forms of wildlife.
The reserve is completely free to visit and there is plenty of on site parking.
You enter through a visitors centre which has a lovely little shop and information about the site and there is also a cafe which sells lunches, coffees and ice creams etc.
When we arrived a lady asked us if it was our first visit and then talked us through the site and the different paths that you can take. We opted for the full two mile circular walk but there were shorter options than that.
The lady told us about mammoth tusks and ammonites that have been found at the site and explained how millions of years ago the area was under a tropical sea.. She also showed us a list of wildlife that had been spotted recently at the reserve. We found all the staff to be extremely friendly and great at engaging the children.
As you head round the reserve there are various viewpoints and hides that you can take a break at which give great views of the site. There is also a variety of different areas such as wildflower meadows, woodlands and marshes etc to explore.
One of the first areas we came to was a woodland glade which had a totem pole, a wooden bear and carved badgers in it. From there we headed towards an interesting hut which had animals skulls and horns and fossils in it which you were free to handle and the boys found interesting. There was a small second hand book shop in this area.
The visitors centre had details of various events they have on over the summer holidays and the lady working there said they are always popular and very hands on.
We had a lovely morning here and I'd say you need about 2 hours for a full visit.
Last week we went to visit Woburn Safari Park in Bedfordshire. Its really well signed from the A5 and from the M1 junction 13. We used Tesco Days Out Vouchers to pay for our visit but there are often 2 for 1 offers and of course booking online usually works out cheaper than paying on the day.
Woburn is split into two main areas, a drive through safari and then a foot safari. My recommendation is to do these in the opposite order. All the cars and school trip buses etc tend to go on the drive through safari first as it follows on from the road where you enter the park which means its often crowded and slow moving and your view of the animals is not always great.
If you follow the turning for the foot Safari and adventure play areas first you can get to these before they get too crowded.
In this area you can park up and explore the shops and cafes etc before continuing round. There are walk through areas with lemurs and wallabies here and make sure you get a leaflet with the times of talks and shows that are on throughout the day. We'd recommend the sea lions which also has a 3D experience and the elephants where you can get really up close to them.
There is a good variety of animals here like porcupines, meerkats, tortoises, snakes etc. Also worth checking out are some fabulous play areas including an aerial rope course, astro slides etc and even an indoor soft play area inside a wooden ark !!
We really enjoyed going in the aviary where you can give free flying lorikeets a drink of nectar whilst they sit on your hand, and close to here is a lake on which you can ride pedalos in the shape of a swan and they are really fun. There is also a train ride included in your ticket price which departs from this area.
We had a picnic lunch and then headed off to do our drive through part of the safari. This worked out really well as the vast majority of cars had already been through the drive in and were now parked at the foot safari end and we could drive through at our own pace, got a really good look at the animals, getting really close to them and no sitting in queues all the way round.
Woburn is a full family day out and we'd all highly recommend it.
Over the last few weeks using a kit from a company called Insect Lore, we have been watching caterpillars metamorphasize into butterflies.
We did this once before when my eldest was little and thought we'd do it again for our youngest.
We got the kit from Amazon, although I'm sure it is also available elsewhere. This is the one we used https://www.amazon.co.uk/Insect-Lore-10416-Butterfly-Garden/dp/B00000ISC5/ref=sr_1_1?ie=UTF8&qid=1468786794&sr=8-1&keywords=insect+lore+butterfly .
The kit comes with a butterfly habitat, feeding pipette and a voucher. The voucher you send off to the Insect Lore company and they send you a small tub with 5 caterpillars in them. They are really tiny when they arrive but in the next week grow to 10 times their original size.
For those that are not keen on creepy crawlies there is no need to handle the caterpillars as the tub has air holes at the top and contains a brown substance on the bottom which is the caterpillars food.
You leave the caterpillars in the tub until they turn into chrysalises which they start doing by hanging from the lid in a j shape. Once they have hardened over a couple of days into the chrysalises you take the lid to which they are attached and put this in the butterfly habitat.
About one week later your butterflies should start emerging. There is something kind of magical about the whole process. The butterflies climb onto the side of the net and you can see them testing out thier wings.
After a couple of days you release the butterflies on a warm day in your garden. The boys really enjoyed this and although they were sad to see them go they were excited that the butterflies were going to lay eggs and start the life cycle all over again. We had one very placid butterfly which sat on James's hand for a while before leaving which was really sweet.
I would highly recommend this activity for children and it is something they'll always remember and a lot more intresting that learning about life cycles from a book !