Going bonkers at Conkers

It’s the time of the year that I’m off work for two weeks to look after the children during thr school holidays. As hubby can’t get the same two weeks,  I decided our two weeks would be full of  day trips, bikes, scooters & picnics.

Our first trip was to Conkers , an outdoor adventure park in the National Forest near Ashby de la Zouche (that’s so much fun to say! ).

I packed a picnic,  put petrol in the car and we were off.

It was great!

Acres of space, fields,  woods & lakes for us to explore.

The children spotted a face painter,  daughter had a face paint flower ‘tattoo’ on her arm, and the boy decided to be Batman.

After this we discovered the Barefoot Walk. This was brilliant. Lots of different textures and materials for the children to explore. Each section reflected a different period of the history of the area. And of course – mud!

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Barefoot Walk

We also discovered the assault course, the train,  the amphitheatre,  the den making area, the adventure playground,  the sculpture trail (which included a tribute to Dunblane), and the log pit.

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The children loved all of it, and we walked over five miles!  The barefoot walk was the highlight, and we went back at the end of the day and they went round five or six times. Thank goodness for the foot bath & dryers!

There was so much we didn’t get to I’m sure we’ll be going back!

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Fitting in getting fit

Its been a little while since I posted an update on my journey to a healthy weight.

I’ve had a really good run recently, losing half a stone and been pretty active as well.

In the last few weeks I’ve tried zumba, yoga and circuits. My problem with classes is making time for them. My work hours can be a little erratic and I struggle to find a regular routine. Plus I’ve got no-one to go with – and although I have no issues going on my own, I think classes are much more fun when you’ve got someone to giggle with.

I also ran my first ever proper 5k last week. By proper, I mean at an event, with people & not in a gym on a treadmill. I was able to go with hubby to a Parkrun, as we had an extra pair of hands to help with the kids, while staying at parents in Liverpool. To find out more, read my hubby’s blog here. I had a wobble in the week leading up to it: “what if I come last?” “I don’t want to get the record for slowest ever 5k”

As ever, Twitter came to the rescue with encouragement and stopped my wobble!

It was a lovely sunny morning, and I was very nervous, not least as my fastest time in the gym is 52 minutes, and the slowest finisher the week before was 43 minutes. But I was there and no matter what I was determined to finish.

And I did.

In 37 minutes!

And I enjoyed it!

And I wasn’t last!

I was 186th out of 190.

Not bad for my first time. I’m not sure when I’ll get the chance to do it again as we need childcare plus it clashes with the kids’ swimming lessons, but if I get the chance I will.

The other thing I’ve rediscovered is cycling. Hubby bought me a bike for my birthday and I’ve gradually been regaining my confidence with riding it.

Today I went for my first proper bike ride along the canal and it was great. I felt 12 years old, and grinned the whole time. I cycled 9k in just under an hour. I’ve no idea if that’s bad or good but I don’t care – it was fun!

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Scooting round Sandwell Valley

It’s a bank holiday in May.

The weather is glorious.

We packed the scooters & the children into the car and headed off to Sandwell Valley Country Park

Sandwell Valley is a council run country park, with a working Victorian farm, acres of open space, an RSPB nature reserve and nature trails galore. There’s free parking, and the majority of the facilities are free (there are rope walks, golf, mini golf & mountain bike hire that you have to pay for – but even that’s reasonably priced).

We decided to go for a long walk around the valley giving the kids plenty of space to scoot to their hearts delight.

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I rather liked this sign post’

The boy was fascinated by the bridge that crosses the motorway:

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I always marvel at how close to ‘civilisation’ you can be whilst exploring a ‘wilderness’

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We then stumbled across some ruins. There was an information board, so we stopped to have a look.

Sandwell Priory was a Benedictine Monastery built in the 11th century and then closed by Cardinal Wosley during the Reformation. Tudor history right on my doorstep!

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History aside, we got on with the serious business of scooting

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Whoops! He wasn’t hurt though.

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Our route took us around the edge of Swan Pool, where we found one lone swan, plenty of mallards & lots of little piers to bird watch & fish from.

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Both mummy & daddy had a play on the scooters too!

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After our walk, we took the children to the Adventure Playground to blow off steam – they had a ball!

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We decided to move on at lunch time, and so glad we did. It had been busy when we arrived at 10.30, with one overflow car park open already. When we left, the queue of cars was enormous and the second overflow car park appeared full too.

With such good facilities I’m not surprised it was busy, but next time we go, we’ll probably get the metro and walk!

If you’re interested the below picture is the route we took around the valley.

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The rest of our bank holiday will consist of chilling, housework, sunshine & more scooting.

Hope you enjoy yours!

Climb Every Mountain!

It was just before my birthday in May that I was speaking to my mother on a Monday night as usual when she made an unexpected offer – a combined birthday present for me and hubby of a weekend away, whilst they look after the children. An offer that was very quickly accepted and so the search started.
Hubby usually works until 5.30 on Fridays in Birmingham City Centre so part of the problem in choosing the destination was going to be how we got the kids to Liverpool and get to our destination without losing half the weekend to travel. Various ideas bounced around from the Lake District to short hop flights to either Dublin or Amsterdam. Finally, we decided on North Wales and found a great deal at the Legacy Royal Victoria Hotel in Llanberis (Bed, Breakfast and Evening meal included with a free bottle of wine on your first night). From the time we made that decision, we had one eye on whether we should attempt climbing Snowdon. A quick visit to Go Outdoors in Wolverhampton, where walking boots were purchased (at a discount since we were unexpectedly able to use father-in-law’s membership card even though he was the other end of the country and knew nothing about it!) and we were set up for the challenge and only the weather would stop us.
A quick reorganisation of hubby’s shifts at work later and we were ready to go. The Friday started with the kids grabbing their backpacks for the train trip to Liverpool, where we were met by Grandma.

Backpacks on!

And we’re off…
Backpacks on!

Despite the amount of planning that goes into these things, I still managed to leave too early to catch my trains to North Wales and ended up with an hour to kill in Chester. What a shame – such lovely shops, I didn’t know what to do with myself!
Hubby escaped work on time (which is a miracle in itself) and set off in the car to meet me. Unfortunately, it was also the weekend of the V Festival in Staffordshire, so routes were quickly replanned. It still took a while for him to reach me, which gave me the opportunity to have a quick look around Betws-y-Coed.

Betws-Y-Coed Train Station

By the time he arrived, however, the heavens had opened. This only added to the beauty of the area and as we approached Llanberis, we were both amazed by the way the water was pouring down the side of the mountains (and there’s a convenient parking place on the road which enabled us to stop and take photos!)

I was very tempted to call this blog post “‘Twas a Dark & Stormy Night..” but couldn’t quite face the cliché!

For the size of the hotel, it’s surprising to realise that it was built as a hotel as it gives the impression of being a stately home that has been converted (which isn’t a criticism). I checked in and booked in for our evening meal whilst hubby parked the car. The room wasn’t large, but it was more than sufficient for what we needed with an en-suite shower room. The free bottle of wine was also waiting for us; however we decided to chill out before heading towards the dining room (via the bar).
The smaller dining room gave the impression of providing a great view, although due to the weather conditions we were only treated to some amazing skies as night fell. The menu was also well thought out. One menu for customers on the inclusive deal, but another menu as well. We could have used up to the value of our inclusive meal against the other menu, but we found the variety of the inclusive menu so good, we stuck to that. Over dinner, we decided that as long as the weather was no worse than we had encountered on the way in, the ascent would be on.
Morning arrived to the realisation that we’d both slightly overdone it on the alcohol the previous evening. Even so, we decided that the weather was good enough to give it a go and after a hearty cooked breakfast, we set off, pausing immediately outside the front door of the hotel to put our waterproofs on as it started to rain.
One of the beauties of the hotel is that it’s almost at the bottom of the Llanberis trail. Knowing that it was about 4.5 miles to the summit, hubby turned on the Runkeeper app on his iPhone to track our time and distance and we set off.

The start of the ascent is a tarmac road, but it’s still quite steep. Hubby started to stride off (as usual) and stupidly, I tried to keep up. By the time the road petered out, I needed a rest and fortunately, there were some picnic tables outside a café I could use and as hubby checked his phone, we realised we hadn’t yet done half a mile!

What do you mean we have’t done a mile yet?

After a couple of minutes, we set off again. It felt like the gradient wasn’t as severe (either that or we were just walking slower!) It’s fair to say we made steady progress even though we were taking regular rest/photo breaks). The Llanberis trail broadly follows the route of the Snowdon Mountain Railway and as we approached two miles, we reached the point where the railway goes over the top of the trail.

Snowdon Mountain Railway crossing the Llanberis Path

Soon we were at halfway; however this is where the gradient started to steepen. In places it was like we were walking down a stream as water poured down the mountainside before diverting off the path onto a more direct route down.

Water cascading

A little after three miles, the path flattened slightly as it passed under the railway again and all of a sudden, I was reminded that I was on the side of a mountain because the path was right on the side of a precipice. Neither myself nor hubby were prepared to go anywhere near the edge, although we both remarked that we were glad the weather wasn’t great and the cloud cover was low. Although it would have been fabulous to climb in the dry being able to see all around, but it was certainly helpful not to be able to see how steep the drop was!

The gradient from here to the summit was quite steep and hubby was getting a little frustrated at the amount of times I needed to stop, and whilst I knew he was right to point out it was harder to keep restarting after a stop, I also knew if I was going to get to the top, I was going to have to do it my way. I knew I just needed to put one foot in front of the other, and keep breathing – although as Hubby said I couldn’t seem to do both at the same time! Fortunately, I wasn’t the only one taking regular breaks and one of the walkers coming back down reassured us that it was only going to be another ten minutes before the gradient shallowed again.

It’s a bit steep!

As the amount of people around us increased, we knew we were almost there and finally we made it. I couldn’t face queuing up to make it to the absolute summit, knowing what I’d just accomplished was enough for me. Even so, hubby insisted on going and for a brief moment was the tallest thing on land in England and Wales.

Hubby at the peak!

Bedraggled, tired but amazingly happy.
WE DID IT!

Navigation Point at the summit

The screen shot from Runkeeper showing how far we’d travelled etc

For a pretty miserable day at the summit, the visitor centre was rammed but we managed to fight our way through to the gift shop where we bought ourselves a couple of certificates to commemorate our ascent.

Hubby’s Certificate

My certificate

The Snowdon Mountain Railway website states there is no guarantee they will be able to accommodate downward travel and therefore if you walk up, you should expect to have to walk back down again. Hubby had reminded me of this regularly whilst we were going up, however I was optimistic and given the gradient of the way up, I really didn’t want to have to go back down if I could help it. A really unhelpful guy at the top told us where we could enquire, but warned us that it could be a two hour wait if we got on at all! The other surprise was a group of pensioners who got off the train, realised the visitor centre was packed and just got back on the train to go back on again, which seemed pretty pointless to hubby and me.
We managed to get tickets down the mountainside on the train and squeezed into the guards van at the back of the train as this was the only space left.

Hubby was interested in the radio messages being broadcast on the walkie talkies in order to convey the 11 trains (7 steam, 4 diesel) up and down the mountain on the single track railway. (Our train was called “Yeti” or ‘Mobile 10’).
As we came down the mountain, it became clear that the weather had improved significantly and we could also see the Llanberis waterfall, which could only be heard from the path. The guard was kind enough to tell us how we get to see it at ground level. All too soon, we arrived back at Llanberis station where it was bright and quite warm.

Llanberis Station

Even so, I was quite cold so I treated myself to a pink hoodie. Hubby’s main objection to it was the colour on the grounds that he wasn’t going to be able to nick it!

PINK!

After some lunch in the station café, we went back to the hotel to freshen up grinning at each other like Cheshire Cats. For anyone familiar with “The West Wing”, we randomly kept saying “Who Da Man” and “It’s done and we did it” to each other. (See here – if you’re confused!)

Our first stop was to the waterfall. The official signposts were to take you to see it from above; however the guard’s directions led us to see it from below. The power of the water rushing off the nearby mountains was immense.

Absolutely stunning!

We then had a general wander around Llanberis. For a small place, there’s a lot attractions, but we were content to just wander around slowly before returning to the hotel again for a well earned beer.

Our hotel

Exploring Llanberis

One of the two lakes at Llanberis with Snowdon in the background

We sat down for our evening meal again in the small dining room, which really did provide a great view. After a tiring day, we retired to bed, having consumed slightly less alcohol than the night before.

Sunset from the hotel garden

Our hotel at night

Sunday began as a pleasant morning, so we deciced to find the ruined castle in the hotel grounds. The castle was called Dolbardarn, and dates from the 13th century.

Dolbardarn Castle

After another hearty breakfast we checked out of the hotel, the plan had been to slowly meander round the coast of North Wales and meet up with the Grandparents and the children around the Colwyn Bay area. After driving to Caernarfon, hubby decided to head to Anglesey… for the sole reason of going to Llanfairpwllgwyngyllgogerychwyrndrobwllllantysiliogogogoch.

Llanfair…………………………………Gogogoch

As we started to make our way around North Wales, the weather took a turn for the worse and so plans were quickly changed.
We met up with the Grandparents and children in Chester – which was fabulous, but a story for another day.
After climbing Snowdon – we’re both filled with an amazing sense of achievement. I certainly have in my head that if I can do that, I can do anything I put my mind to.
We both are still grinning every time we think of it – so on that note: CHEERS!

1085 Lager – named after the height of Snowdon (in metres)

London Calling!

In the euphoria following the majesty, wonder and sheer genius of the London 2012 Olympic Opening Ceremony, my other half began wondering. This is always dangerous – last year our plan to have a cheap and cheerful UK holiday by the sea became a trip to Disneyland Paris!

I was summoned to the PC.

“What do you think of this?”

The screen showed train times and ticket prices for our family of four to do a day trip to London – just for the fun of it.

My response…..

“Book it!”

So this Saturday, August 4th 2012, we found ourselves woken up at 5.30am by the 4-year-old boy asking if it was time to go, there was a six on his clock and he was “very ‘Cited!”

We got him to settle down, until at 6am, the alarm went off, playing the BBC Olympic theme music First Steps by Elbow. (If you haven’t heard it, click here to view on YouTube )

By 7.15, we’d had breakfast and were on our way to catch the train from The Hawthorns in West Bromwich to London Marylebone.

On the journey, we caught a fantastic view of the Birmingham Bullring as we went through Birmingham Moor St Station:

Birmingham Moor St Station

I spent the train ride giggling at my husband – he began naming all the train stations, whether the train stopped or not – so I was teasing him about being a trainspotter, when he checked into foursquare to be awarded the ‘Trainspotter Badge’.

My four year old then announced that when in London he’d like to visit the London Eyeball.

While we were on the train, the heavens opened, and the children were a bit disappointed about the rainfall, but were soon distracted by the age-old game of racing raindrops down the window!

We arrived in London at about 9.45am, and changed onto the tube for the first part of our adventure – to Stratford to see the Olympic Park. We didn’t have event tickets, we were just excited to see it and take a few pictures.

This part of the trip was slightly delayed, after the boy announced he was ‘desperate’ for the toilet – so we had brief yet frantic scurry around Oxford CIrcus looking for a loo!

We found a coffee shop, and sorted him out, and also a couple of lattes for the adults!

We were delighted to see this part of London was decorated for the Olympics with the streets bedecked with the flags from all around the world – it looked amazing.

We arrived at Stratford around the same time as people arriving for the events. It was busy, yet organised, and the atmosphere was wonderful – relaxed, happy and enjoyable.

The Games Makers were fabulous as well. There were some with loud hailers giving information, but shouting out greetings to visitors from other countries like Lithuania and we definitely heard a ‘Viva Espagna!’. Other Games Makers were directing the flow of pedestrians with big purple foam hands – offering the kids high fives all along the route. When we explained we didn’t have tickets, just wanted to take a couple of pictures, they were really helpful and accommodating too. We managed to get pictures of the Orbit, Aquatic Centre and a glimpse of the main stadium.

Olympic Park, StratfordOlympic Park, StratfordFull of Olympic fever and excitement, we jumped on the DLR to Royal Victoria. We’d decided to have a ride on the Emirates AirLine Cable Car across the Thames to the Greenwich/O2 Arena (it will always be the Millenium Dome to me!). This was my daughter’s favourite bit of the day (at least it is today – it changes with the weather!). I loved it too. The views are brilliant and it’s a really pleasant way to travel.

Greenwich PeninsulaGreenwich Peninsula
Greenwich PeninsulaGreenwich Peninsula

We had lunch at one of the restaurants at the Greenwich/O2 Arena, and afterwards went outside to take some more pictures. There were loads of policeman around – obviously on duty, but relaxed and enjoying the atmosphere – we cheekily asked if one of them could take a family picture for us – and he did a cracking job!

Greenwich PeninsulaGreenwich Peninsula

We then wandered back to the DLR via Canary Wharf, and got our first look at the Shard – wow it’s beautiful! And Boris’ Bikes! Daughter was fascinated by the idea of these – “Anyone can use them? Wow! that’s a brilliant idea!”

Canary WharfCanary Wharf

We then caught the DLR to Tower Gateway. We managed to get a seat right at the front and ‘drove’ the DLR train. and the kids began to get really interested at this point, as this was London as they’ve seen it on TV. Starting with the Gerkhin (or the Rocket as the boy says, or the Penguin as the daughter says – and I see what they mean!).

DLR to Tower GatewayThe Gerkhin (DLR to Tower Gateway)

We walked around the outside of the Tower of London – and straightaway, Daughter asked “Can we go in?”.
She was really disappointed when we said we didn’t have time today – but then I promised her we could write a London wish list of everything we want to do next time we come – and she bounced around saying “we’re coming back!”

Tower of London

We walked across Tower Bridge – the kids loved this – Son calling it ‘London Bridge’ and singing ‘London Bridge is falling down, my fat lady’.

After a brief shower, where we got our rain coats on just as it stopped, we hopped back on a tube to Waterloo. The kids were asking to see Big Ben and the London Eye Ball.

When we walked round the corner and saw Big Ben, Son bounced on his dad’s shoulders screaming ‘Big Ben! Big Ben!!!!’

As we’d not been able to get Olympic tickets, we decided to treat the kids to a ride on the London Eye Ball – it’s not cheap, but it was worth every penny. Daughter loved the interactive screen – she could see a landmark, then the screen gave her facts about what she could see, and she delighted in running backwards and forwards sharing them with me. Son adored the screens to – watch a movie about how the wheel had been made and erected.

We then walked across the Golden Jubilee Bridge down Northumberland Avenue (The Trainspotter would like to point out that this street is £160 on the Monopoly Board!) to Trafalgar Square.

From here, we’d planned to walk up the Mall to Buckingham Palace, but they were getting set up for the Marathon finish line, so we could only get so far, so we walked back to Trafalgar Square to have a break and have a snack and a drink.

Trafalgar SquareTrafalgar Square

After that we made our way back to London Marylebone. We had our tea and purchased a notebook. We caught the train, and sat making our wish list for the next trip – she added her own note to the bottom of the list!

We had an amazing trip and arrived home happy and tired at 8.45pm – in time to see all the Gold Medals at the Olympic Stadium.
And just to illustrate what a packed and incredible day we had – here’s our day in number!

Infographic

Crafting on the Edge at Kinver

Today’s adventure was a jaunt out to Kinver Edge, maintained by the National Trust .

We discovered a hillside covered in woodland and red sandstone. Kinver is famous for the Rock Houses that are there, which were lived in up until the 1950s, plus there are lots of caves and woodland walks to explore.

What attracted us today were the craft sessions being run – for £2 a child.

The boy was instantly captivated by the caves the crafts were being run in, and was only interested in building his own cave. Luckily the volunteers had everything from glitter to paper plates, twigs and leaves and a vast array of scrap paper and material.

With a paper plate, greenery and some sparkly bits, he crafted this ‘cave’ compete with a treasure bag hidden beneath the ‘camouflage’. Then he was off into the caves again!

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The girl was much more focused, and straight away headed for the rabbits and sparkles! She quietly chatted away with one of the helpers, and gradually produced a pretty woodland/countryside picture – my favourite bit is the bird.

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And then she was off into the caves as well!

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We were planning to then investigate the Rock Houses and the rest of the woodland, but behaviour, attention span and the weather began to deteriorate so we called it a morning.

The children definitely enjoyed themselves and I’m disappointed we didn’t get to explore further – but it’s only 30 minutes away, so it’s another adventure saved for another day!

Hurtling Round Hartlebury

I’m on mummy duty for a couple of weeks, and I was mooching around Twitter looking for some ideas about a day out, and came across a link to Hartlebury Museum in Worcestershire for kids go free – thanks as always Sally! (click here for Raring2Go! or click here for Sally’s Twitter feed )

It’s a lovely place. With the Raring2Go! Voucher, and my boy being under 5, I only had to pay for me – £5.00, plus a £1 each for the children to do the craft activities.

There is tons going on, this week it’s all about the Romans, so we made Roman ‘clay face pots’

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We also had a good mooch around the museum, looking for ‘A-Z’ treasure hunts, and along the way we discovered some fantastic items:

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The children also had the chance to have a go at some archery (£2 for 4 arrows) and they adored this, so we had to do it twice!

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Especially as they both got bullseyes!!

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We got the chance to learn how to write in Roman Cursive script as well:

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And dress up a Roman Soldier:

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We had a lovely picnic, it stated dry enough for us to eat in the picnic area, plus I got to put the children in the stocks!

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We then had a little wander around the ‘Old Moat Coppice’ which is a small nature trail and picnic area – very pretty and a great place for hide and seek!

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We’ve had a great day – and the children want to go back next week for the ‘Greek’ crafts!