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Floating Picnics

Floating Picnics

After what seems like endless days of dark grey skies pouring never ending rain onto the sodden gardens, it’s hard to believe that it’s May this week! By this time as a family we normally have enjoyed a picnic or two! I’m desperate to get out my picnic rug, cool bag rucksack and my list of picnic places that I’ve been thinking about all winter, itching to enjoy the better weather when it was supposed to arrive!

Sadly the weather has evaded us but I will start to share some of the best picnic ideas in anticipation that things have to get better (don’t they?).

Row, row, row your boat

Quintessentially English. A beautiful, sunny summer day spending time by a river. My picnic idea is to take your hampers onto a rowing boat. We did this last year in Knaresborough, North Yorkshire on the River Nidd. It turned out as one of the best picnics we’ve had.

My husband Josh is a very keen rower, proper rowing boats a la Steve Redgrave (he also wishes he could be the Steve Redgrave type of rower as well!) We set off expertly rowed by Josh and the girls and I were perfectly placed so the boat was well balanced. At a quiet spot we pulled over to the river bank whilst we ate our lunch.  My girls were so thrilled we were eating on the river! The people in other boats looked at our ‘floating picnic’ with longing eyes. Drifting a little as we ate we had a lovely lunch. It made us feel as if we were part of ‘Wind in the Willows’ and we wouldn’t have been surprised to see Mole or Ratty in a passing boat!

The ‘floating picnic’ is now an annual trip to Knaresborough. We combine our picnic on water with an ice cream from the famous Brymor Ice Cream shop. Brymor ice cream is made with milk from Guernsey cows in the Yorkshire Dales and is delicious. There are over 35 flavours but my favourite is unchanged from my childhood- rum and raisin. We have to earn the ice cream as the shop is up a lot of very steep steps from the riverside up to Knaresborough Castle but it is so worth it! The castle dates back to medieval times and is another good place to explore (there is parking at the top of the hill as well if you can’t do the stairs).

We take our ice creams to Bebra Gardens, where in June, July and August there is a paddling pool for the children so make sure if it’s hot and sunny you take swimming costumes and towels. It’s easy to spend a couple of hours here just letting the children splash in the water. It’s also a great spot for a picnic and to meet friends.

There aren’t that many places in Yorkshire to hire rowing boats but when looking over the country as a whole there are plenty. My list of other ‘floating picnic’ destinations where I would like to go is as follows:

Henley- the ultimate rowing destination.
Oxford or Cambridge- this time have the picnic whist punting on the river.
Durham- with views of this historic city with cathedral and castle.
Stratford upon Avon- rowing out into the countryside.
Hyde Park, London- on the Serpentine at this Royal park way from the crowds.
Lake District- rowing on Windermere, Derwentwater or Ulswater with incredible views of the hills.
Norfolk Broads- there are so many places to row here the selection is huge!

So if you’re dreaming of the summer to come and thinking of somewhere to go try a ‘floating picnic’. You will all have a super time messing about in boats!

 

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Books, books and books brought to life

Books, books and books!

 
I was sitting at home this morning in the quiet after everyone had left for school and work thinking about what I would write about today and my idea was ‘Seven stories’ in Newcastle upon Tyne. It is the national archive and gallery which celebrates children’s books. Then a coincidence happened, I was watching BBC breakfast news and Julia Donaldson  (author of ‘The Gruffalo’, ‘Room on the Broom’ amongst many others) was on the sofa talking about her new exhibition at ‘Seven Stories‘!
 
I have a love for Newcastle upon Tyne. It is an incredible city for which I have a great fondness. I was at university there for 5 years and my sister has lived there for years until very recently. Obviously the advantages that I take from Newcastle are very different now from my student days but that’s what makes this city so great. It has so many different sides to its personality, something for everyone.
 
We have visited Seven Stories many times and always had a super time. It really is an interactive children’s museum of books. The building is actually seven storeys high and is set in Newcastle’s Ouseburn Valley. This is just out from town but easily reached by the yellow Quaylink bus (Q2) from The Haymarket in town.
 
Seven Stories has regular exhibitions. At the moment it is Julia Donaldson and Jacqueline Wilson. You can meet a full size Gruffalo,  climb into Cave Baby’s cave and perform on a stage in costumes of Julia’s most popular characters.  A few years ago there was an exhibition on Judith Kerr who wrote’The Tiger who came to Tea’. My girls still remember the full size Tiger and sitting in the exact kitchen from the book which had been recreated in the exhibition, even down to the pattern on the plates and cups which was exactly right! Creating memories like this is priceless!
 
There are arts and craft sessions for children every weekend, creative writing workshops for the over 11’s and even events for adults! The cafe is great for a coffee or lunch and you can watch out over the water of the River Ouse.
 
The bookshop here is fantastic. I love children’s book so much and luckily both my girls love books too. For me personally this is so important. My eldest daughter is severely dyslexic and my younger daughter will most likely follow in her older sister’s footsteps. They both have a passion for books and stories and if my eldest is asked what she would like to be when she grows up what she she will answer ‘an author’. I am so proud of their positive attitude towards books and reading, it is something I have tried so hard to encourage. I still read to both of them every night. This enables them to enjoy stories and books which would otherwise be hard work for them.
 
This bookshop is heaven for them, they would buy piles of books if they could! On occasions I have come back to Seven Stories on my own just to enjoy the bookshop, to browse at my leisure rather than follow very excited children round the shelves! (you can just come to the bookshop without paying admission to the exhibitions)
 
If you love books and your children do too or if you want to encourage a love of books then this is a super place to visit and I would really recommend that you find time to come. The best places to visit are often hidden away as is ‘Seven Stories’. Find your your way down to the Ouseburn Valley and you will pleased you came to ‘Seven Stories’.
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50 Things to do before you are 11 and 3/4 at The National Trust

We decided to make the most of The National Trust‘s free weekend yesterday. Even though the weather was a bit hit and miss we packed our wellies and rain coats and headed up to Beningbrough Hall near to York. We were lucky to miss the heavy rain showers and were able to experience everything that the NT had to entertain us.

My girls loved the adventure playground which was where we headed first but there was so much more on offer for them to have a go at.

They learnt how to climb a tree in probably the best tree I have ever seen for learning such a thing. It is a tangle of branches quite low off the ground that spread really wide. Even I didn’t feel too nervous watching them attempt to go from branch to branch. Their very green hands at the end was the only evidence of their new-found skill!

Den building was made easier for them with precut branches and with a bit of advice and guidance children were building many dens in the woodland, under the instruction of their dads who were obvious experts in this field!

National Trust have launched a summer activity called  ” 50 things to do before you’re 11 and 3/4“. It is a list of simple pleasures for your children to do whilst spending time outdoors. My girls were keen to start ticking off some of the things on the list so tree climbing and den building were our first two tasks achieved. They like the look of making a mud pie and taking a canoe down a river so we will plan these into our summer.  I too am looking forward to trying a few things I never got round to before  I reached 11 and 3/4!

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I’d like to go to the seaside

I’d like to go to the seaside

One of this week’s news stories reported that spending time at the seaside had a more positive effect on people than the countryside or urban park. The reasons are unclear but most of us look forward to spending time on the coast. Perhaps it’s the unending views out to sea, the vast expanse of the coastline or maybe the reality that we as people are so small when contrasted with nature and the power of the sea.

At Easter we were in Filey on the coast in North Yorkshire. We are so lucky that my in laws live on the beach front. My girls are in their element here. Quite simply- they love it!

When I think about what I want from time spent with my children, quite often I want them to experience a place or occasion as I did when I was a child. I

know it seems like we look back at our own childhood’s through rose coloured spectacles but things did seem more simp

le then and I think that is what I want my girls to experience- simple pleasures.

I meet many people as part of my job and when I mention Filey to them most people have fond memories of this seaside town, whether it be childhood holidays or more recent trips. Filey seems to be the perfect English seaside town with something to suit everyone.

The beach is a vast expanse of sand that runs for miles in either direction. It has been awarded

the EU Blue Flag for cleanliness. In summer there is a section of beach on which dogs are not allowed ensuring that you can happily dig and play on the super clean sand.
Apart from playing in the sand there is so much to entertain your family. There are traditional donkey rides, mini golf and miniature carousel, swing boats and bouncy castle. A free paddling pool for children to play in out of the sand is just above the beach. Along the seafront promenade brassy shells have been randomly placed onto the pavement which creates a good spotting game. There are a few cafes and ice cream sellers on the beach for refreshments to suit for hot or cold days. In winter my girls find it hard to resist the smell of freshly made donuts and in summer we always have to have our daily ice cream!

One of our favourite ways to spend some time on a wet day is putting 2p coins in the games at Filey’s amusement arcade on the cobble landing. Children of all ages seem to be attracted to playing these machines, me included. Perhaps it’s the sound of falling coins that inspires you to keep putting more 2p coins in or watching the coins balancing precariously on the edge about to fall believing that your next 2p will topple the pile into your hands!

A walk along Filey Briggs when the tide is out is great for going rock pooling. As with any coastal walk its really important to look a the tide timetable before you head off. If you are lucky it’s possible to spot seals in the sea just off the rocks. The beach and Brigg are both great places to go fossil hunting. Over the years we have gathered quite a good collection of small fossils we have found on the beach.

Filey town has quite a few small shops selling

all sorts from beach buckets and spades, an old fashioned chocolate shop called Sterchis, an art shop with great pictures (see my photo) and a few cafes. Our favourite cafe is Bramwells, it has a lovely selection of homemade cakes and is a great place for a cup of coffee if the weather is not great.

Overall Filey has everything you would want from a British seaside town in perfect proportion. It is unspoilt from major tourism and retains its charm as a popular family seaside destination. It reminds me of seasides how they used to be. If you are planning a trip to the Yorkshire coast then make Filey top of your list to visit. You won’t regret it!

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Great gardens for children

Magical footsteps

Can you remember when you were a child how magical and entertaining a garden could be? I’m sure if you went back to visit the garden you’re thinking of then it would have shrunk in size since you were last there thirty odd years ago!

I remember a garden of a school friend who lived round the corner from me. My memories of it are as a vast garden with so many parts to it – lawns, overgrown areas, paths through the plants that grew so tall above our heads, places we could hide (and think we couldn’t be found!) but best of all it had a stream with stepping stones! To me this was and probably still is the pinnacle of any garden in which you would want an adventure.

I truly believe that children sometimes just want to be children! No computers, games consoles or television. Just to play. To transport themselves into whatever world takes their fancy – fairy lands, jungles, treehouses, dens or even as my girls have done this holiday they turned the garden into their office! Hours can be spent in their imaginary worlds all based in a garden.

I have been thinking about the places where my girls have had their best ‘garden games’ and I have come up with my list. Obviously there are an infinite number of places but these are my favourites!

1. Roundhay Park, Leeds.

In the Canal Gardens there some stepping stones over water right around the back of the ‘canal’. There is a summer house type shelter and a perfect tree to pretend you are riding a horse!

In the main park the three bandstands can provide cover for an imaginary game on a wet day or a walk up to the old folly.

2. York Gate Gardens, Adel, Leeds

This one acre garden looked after by Perennial, The Gardeners’ Royal Benevolent Society is truly magical. It has streams, numerous paths some half hidden in the dell, pergolas and benches dotted around. Each year they put on a lovely Easter egg hunt for the children which is just perfect as it feels unspoilt by the commercialism that you can find at such events.

3. RHS Garden Harlow Carr

I have lost track of the number of afternoons we have spent here just letting the children indulge themselves in imagination games (whilst we indulge in a take away coffee from ‘Betty’s Tearooms‘ which we can take into the gardens with us!)

4. Newby Hall and Gardens, near Ripon, North Yorkshire

There is so much to do at Newby Hall ranging from the huge adventure playground areas, my lifelong favourite miniature railway, water fountains to play in, a great picnic area to the fabulous gardens. There is a really magical part of the gardens where numerous paths crisscross and there are ponds and water features. As a child I truly believed that this was where fairies lived!

When you’re stuck for ideas of where to go remember that your children will be perfectly entertained exploring and playing in a garden.

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I’d like to go to Manchester

It’s Sunday night and I am sitting with my iPad looking for inspiration for somewhere to go with my girls tomorrow. We are very lucky that most schools go back tomorrow but we are just starting our second week of holiday! We will use this opportunity to go somewhere where we can make the most of the quiet day without crowds and queues.

Last year I discovered the City of Manchester. Before this I would only cross the Pennines to use Manchester Airport or go shopping at the Trafford Centre. I am unable to find a good reason why we never came across but I am finding there are so many great things to do in this big city that now I keep wanting to return.

Listed below are a few of the places in Manchester that I want to visit and do, obviously I can’t fit them all in tomorrow but we will make a start!

Museum of Science and Industry:
An interactive museum for all ages. Science experiments, history, air and space, 4D cinemas, planetarium and much more. All for free.

BBC and CBBC tours at Media City, Salford Quays:
Tours of the new BBC studios where Match of the Day, Dragons Den, BBC Breakfast, Radio 5 Live and more.
Tours of CBBC offer children age 6 and over the opportunity to see where their favourite programmes are made- Blue Peter, Newsround to name a few. They also get the chance to see what it’s like to be a presenter! My girls would love this and so would I!

Imperial War Museum North:
Again a major museum that’s free to visit. Very family friendly with events for children and families.

Treasure Trails:
After downloading the free app from their website you can follow a tour round Manchester solving clues to switch Manchester’s rain making machine off! Anything to encourage our children to walk with a distraction to the actual walking sounds perfect!

There’s so much to do in Manchester that I admit I am a teensy bit jealous of all the lucky people who live in Manchester who have all the fun on their doorstep! I have only mentioned a few things that have caught my eye but if anyone has any suggestions for a great day in Manchester I’d love to hear them so I can add them into my mixing pot of things to do when I next visit.

K x

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Pompocali – a little piece of Rome close to home!

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Pompocali – a little piece of Rome close to home!

As it’s the weekend you may have been mulling over somewhere interesting and new to take yourselves. I want to share with you somewhere that although a long way from Rome, Italy that I mentioned in my last post it does have a link.

I have lived in Leeds for the majority my life and until recently had never heard of the Roman earthworks called Pompocali near to the village of Bardsey, 8 miles from Leeds. I have driven past on the A58 to Wetherby too many times to remember but never had any idea this Roman site was there. I love the ‘Romans’ as a period of history so I had to visit this as soon as I could.

We picked a lovely sunny March day and set off from the lay by on the A58 into Hetchell Woods. The path is on a disused railway line and follows a stream through the woods. It was so peaceful that we could just hear birds and the trickling, gurgling water of the stream. We walked along the edge of freshly ploughed fields, past Hetchell Crag where rock climbers were practising with ropes and a few children were tackling the easier ascents of the rocks. Previous visitors have made a few rope swings in the trees and one especially fun swing from a tree at a ford across the stream where there were also stepping stones. The stream was perfect paddling depth and the children loved dangling over the stream on the rope swing.

A short distance up the hill we found Pompocali. Described as Roman earthworks it is a series of hills set in a horse shoe shape. No one is sure what these hills actually were- possibly a Roman fort or a quarry? My children were so excited when they saw the remains of what had probably been an evening camp fire and said ” Look you can see the Romans have been here, they had a fire!”

On a warm day this would be a great place for a picnic as my girls loved running up and down the hills and we could keep an eye on them from the top of one of the hills.

The way back to Bardsey was past old ruined mill buildings and along fields of broccoli and hedgerows. Back in Bardsey we stopped at ‘The Bingley Arms’ which is officially Britain’s oldest pub (dating back over 1000yrs) for a late Sunday lunch. The building is full of character and the food was excellent. The staff were very welcoming and friendly and the children were well catered for with smaller portions of the Sunday lunch.

We enjoyed our day out discovering a part of Leeds we never knew existed. I would really recommend a visit as a family weekend walk as it was a varied walk with the unusual addition of the Roman earthworks.

Fits my criteria of ‘I’d like to go there (again)!

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Perugia, Italy – Olive groves, chocolate and history

Perugia, Italy – Olive groves, chocolate and history

Every October in Perugia, Umbria there is a festival to make any chocolate lover’s mouth water – the Eurochocolate Festival. This is Italy’s biggest chocolate festival which takes place in the piazzas and streets of Perugia. Perugia is perched on the top of a hill and has a history dating back to Etruscan times.

The streets are lined with stalls and stalls of all sorts of chocolate. Big brands such as Milka and Lindt have big marketing stands. Milka even have a ferris wheel on the edge of the hill top which gives far reaching views across Umbria. They even give you a free pair of Milka binoculars to enjoy the views! Many independent chocolate makers have stalls from which you can buy and taste all sorts of chocolate products. My girls’ favourites were the extremely thick Italian hot chocolate in which your spoon can almost stand up straight in and the chocolate crepes.
The town itself is easy to navigate and it is a manageable size to walk around even with children. Being on a hilltop to get to the old town can mean walking up some steep hills but a fun way of getting to the top is to use the funicular monorail system.

Perugia was not a town I knew a lot about and I don’t think many English people visit. This is what made it feel special and as if we were discovering it a new. The weather was warm and sunny during the day and a little chilly a night.

We spent a week staying in a little farm cottage up in the hills amongst the olive groves. My youngest daughter’s main disappointment was that the swimming pool had been emptied of water! This was made up for by the goats that lived on the land. The goats received a lot of attention that week from a wannabee goat herder! The local shop was no bigger than a bus stop and sold its own roast pork from a whole pig in the shop. My Italian was very basic but armed with my phrase book the shop keeper and I had an in depth discussion on the origin of the pig and how tasty it was!

We visited the Chocolate Festival quite a few times in the week but there were so many other things to do as well.

We hired bikes and cycled on a cycle route on the edge of Lago Trasimeno (Italy’s largest non alpine lake). The paths took us through reed filled marshes and woodland on the shores of the lake. The views of the surrounding mountains were beautiful and reflected in the water’s surface like a giant mirror.

We took the train to my favourite city in the world- Rome for a day’s sight seeing filled with the history of the Colosseum and the Forum. The children (and ourselves) were so inspired by the scale of the Roman ruins. My girls still talk about Rome months on! The trains in Italy are a very easy way to travel. They are punctual, clean and good value. The other cities which we could have easily reached on the train were Florence and Sienna. We will do these cities on future visits as we didn’t want to do too much city sight seeing.

Another fantastic day out was our trip to Gubbio. Another beautiful town with a Roman amphitheatre in mountain scenery. There is a cable car which is basically an open cage with a gate that you stand in to get up the mountain. It was easy to get on with children as the lift operator asks you to stand on a red spot on the floor to wait for your cage and the you jump in and he lifts the children in. I’ve never seen another lift like it in any ski resort. Once in the cage it felt as safe as any other mountain lift we’ve been on. At the top we went for a walk to get higher and had our picnic in a ruined fort at the top of the hill with 360 degree panoramic views!

In Perugia another chocolate themed trip is to the Perugina chocolate factory. They do offer English tours but we tagged on to an Italian one. The children loved seeing how a big factory worked as we walked around it in an elevated tunnel above the factory floor. We also saw the world’s biggest chocolate.

The beauty of our holiday was the opportunity to explore a part of Italy that was unknown to us. We had days where we were busy out and about and times when we could just relax enjoying one of quite a few delicious gelatos or lattes. Doing very little was perfect, the absence of television was not even commented on by our children! It was delightful to just see them outside on their own just taking in the mountain scenery with awe and wonder.

Italy for us was so varied and such a different holiday that I would go back again at the drop of a hat. I just need to get to the gym to work off last year’s chocolate intake before we start all over again!

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I’d like to go there!

I’d like to go there!

What makes me happy? Transports me away to sunnier, warmer or even snowier places? The answer is holidays. Holidays conceived and planned by me going to places that the masses of holiday makers don’t know or think about.

The destination could be close to home or far away but what makes it exciting to me is that I’ve found it without travel agents or big companies. Yes it takes me time searching through the Internet but the satisfaction of finding a rustic French bed and breakfast as a stopover to the Alps or an Italian escape in Umbria is the start of a perfect holiday.

My aim is to plan a time to captivate my family’s imagination, to allow time to discover new experiences and places together and to rest and relax.

I share my finds with friends, colleagues and anyone that’s interested who wants to gain different ideas to create a memorable and individual holiday. I am known as the one to ask when you need some inspiration to plan your next getaway with friends saying ‘Ask Karen she’ll know of something interesting!’

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