Our favourite place in the whole UK

Our favourite place in the entire UK has to be Moors Valley Country Park.  After discovering it around 15 years ago with my parents I now love taking my own family there.  It’s always top of our list for the summer holidays or if we are camping in the New Forest because it is quite simply such a beautiful place.  There is so much to see and do there for all ages its always a winner, plus its free!

Have a read of my full post all about it here: Moors Valley Country Park

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Jurassic skyline

Jurassic Skyline

Address: Festival Pier, Weymouth, DT4 8DX

Price Band: ££

Website: Jurassic Skyline

On the beautiful seafront at Weymouth you cannot fail to miss the huge tower on the pier known as the Jurassic Skyline.  This huge tower has a glass gondola around it which takes passengers 53m (174ft) up in the air and turns 360º not once but twice to allow amazing views over Weymouth and the jurassic coastline.  To put its height into perspective, the Tower Of London is just 90ft high, making the Jurassic Skyline tower almost twice as high!!

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We visited the Jurassic Skyline after our trip to Weymouth Sea Life Centre as our ticket included both attractions.  The ride is suitable for all ages and has one set price for all (under 3s go free) if you are purchasing a tower only ticket.  You need to allow approximately 30 minutes to queue and ride the tower.  It moves very slowly but can be a little scary for those afraid of heights – whatever you do DON’T LOOK DOWN!!!

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The views from the top are beautiful. As you go round there is an audio tour playing over the speakers giving you landmarks to look for.  Do take your camera as on a clear day you can see as far as 26 km (16 miles)!  Its a fab way to view the Weymouth seafront and over to Portland.

We took all 3 kids on with us and they loved it.  There was so much to spot and its such a unique experience, they really enjoyed it.  As it isn’t too long they don’t have time to get bored either.  The timing was just right.

I think if you are in Weymouth (especially if you visit the Sea Life centre and get a joint ticket) it is well worth a visit.  There weren’t any toilets there as far as I could see and there isn’t any need to eat there due to the short period of time you would spend there.  Along the seafront you will find plenty of restaurants and cafes though.  Pay and display parking is on the pier next to the tower.  It can get busy but there are always people coming and going so it doesn’t take long to get a space.  There isn’t space for pushchairs on the gondola but you can leave them at the bottom and pick it up as you leave.  As you exit the ride there is an opportunity to have your photo taken against a green screen and all sorts of backgrounds applied (such as looking like you are sat on top of the actual gondola!) which makes a nice souvenir.

Disclaimer: No-one from Jurassic Skyline or its parent companies was involved in this review. All photos, words and opinions are that of my own 🙂

Also In The Area:  Weymouth Sea Life Adventure Park

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Weymouth Sea Life Adventure Park

Address: Lodmoor Country Park, Preston Beach Road, Weymouth, DT4 7SX

Price Band: £££ (can use Tesco clubcard vouchers/Merlin pass)

Website: https://www2.visitsealife.com/weymouth/

In the Easter holidays we spent a few days down in Weymouth to celebrate my birthday and so of course we had to visit Weymouth’s top attraction, Weymouth Sea Life Adventure Park.  This place is home to thousands of sea creatures from turtles to jellyfish, penguins to crocodiles, it literally has everything you can imagine and more that you have never even heard of!

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The park is set out into different zones. These include shipwreck, penguins, ray lagoon, turtle sanctuary and ocean tunnel, to name a few.  Follow the pathway around the site to make sure you don’t miss anything as there is lots to see and it is well spread out throughout the grounds (although fairly compact so not too much walking).  The children all get a trail book each to complete on their way round and there are often activities to take part in as well.  The zones with aquariums in are undercover but the rest of it is outdoors so we found it is best to visit on a dry day to really make the most of it. There is a play park and splash pool as well as a sensory garden to enjoy if you need a break to let off steam.  There are lots of benches and picnic tables around as well.

The aquariums are all fantastic. They are built in a way that everyone can see and feel close to the sea creatures without intruding and the variety of things to see is incredible.  Having the zones set out so they have different species in each one keeps it interesting and not quite so overwhelming.  We particularly liked the sea horses and jellyfish.

The ray lagoon is fantastic.  They are such graceful creatures and fascinating to watch.  There were some we had never seen before and their aquarium was beautiful.  As with all the zones there are lots of information boards around telling you about the different creatures in each habitat.  The one pictured below is called a Cownose Ray!

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Of course no sea life centre is complete without an ocean tunnel.  The famous walk-through experience where you are in a glass tunnel with sea creatures swimming over your head.  The one at Weymouth is fab and has so much to see, although Cody wasn’t so sure and found it very scary having huge sharks swimming overhead!

After lots of time spent looking at the various aquariums we decided to head outside into the sunshine for a while and try out some of the rides in the Adventure Island zone.  These included a tug boat, seal ride, bouncer and the crocodile creek (mini log flume).  Rides were all included in the admission fee so the kids could ride as many times as they like.  The crocodile creek log flume was particularly good as it goes through a tunnel where real caiman crocodiles are in a glass enclosure for you to see.  Very cool!

Our final stop was to see the seals.  You can view them from above water level or below water level.  They come so close to the glass as they swim past, it was very exciting!  At certain times during the day you can see the seals being fed and listen to their keeper tell you all about them.  This happens in lots of other areas of the park too with various other species so its worth checking those out.

All in all we had a fab time at the Sea Life Park and you can easily spend an entire day there, especially if the weather is fine.  On the downside it is quite expensive for a family to visit as everyone aged 3 years and over pays the same price.  If you can plan your trip in advance it is best to book online to get a discounted rate or better still use your tesco clubcard vouchers to get in free (like we did!).  If you are Merlin pass members you can also get in free.  They have crazy golf on site at an additional charge if you want to have a round.  If you travel by car it is a pay and display car park which again isn’t cheap so make sure you factor that into your budget.  Your ticket does include a ride on the Jurassic Coastline tower further down the beach which we really enjoyed.  I will do a separate review on that one but it is well worth it if you have the time to go.

On the plus side you can take your own picnic with you and there are plenty of picnic tables around or there is a large cafe alongside the gift shop if you want to purchase food.  The Sea Life Park is next to a country park so you could visit that as well while you are there if you want to.  The park is fully wheelchair and buggy friendly so you can easily access all areas and it is suitable for all ages (children aged 0-2 years get in free).  There are changing facilities in the disabled toilets too and buggy park areas around the park.  Don’t forget when your children have completed their trail cards take them to the gift shop on your way out to get your free pop badge!

Disclaimer:  Weymouth Sea Life Park and Merlin have had no involvement in this review and all photos, words and opinions are that of my own 🙂

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Hawk Conservancy Trust

Address: Weyhill, Andover, Hampshire, SP11 8DY

Price Band: £££

Website: http://www.hawk-conservancy.org/

In October half term we were lucky enough to have a trip to the Hawk Conservancy Trust in Andover.  One of my fondest memories of my childhood was visiting this place with my grandparents and little sister when I was about 9 years old and so I was really looking forward to taking my own children there to see how it had changed.

The HCT is home to over 150 birds of prey and includes a hospital building which treats up to 200 birds of prey per year, so it is a very busy place.  They conduct lots of research, breeding programs and conservation work both in the UK and abroad so its a hugely important place and the passion of each and every member of staff we met is infectious.

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On arrival at the visitor centre we were given our wrist bands, information booklet (with map) and kids trail passports.  We were directed by the receptionist round to the vulture enclosure where the keeper talk and vulture feeding was about to begin.  Now I’m not going to lie – I’m not the biggest fan of vultures.  Lets face it – who is???!  I have to admit though that by the time we had listened to the keeper’s talk I had grown a lot fonder of them.  The guy clearly loved his birds and knew not only about the species and various breeds but the birds as individuals as well.  He introduced us to them all by name and told us about their personalities and their backgrounds and also how endangered they are in the wild.  It was really fascinating and his enthusiasm and knowledge captured everyone.  Big thumbs up to him (If you ever read this – I apologise that I didn’t get your name!).

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Our next stop was the World Of Birds Of Prey flying display in the Savannah arena.  Here we got to met a number of beautiful birds and again the enthusiasm of the staff was fantastic.  They really do love what they do and you can see so much passion in them.  Their knowledge of the birds was second to none and we loved seeing so much variety in the display.

After the display had finished we had a wander round the grounds and did the kid’s trail passports.  There are stamps around the grounds to find and golden eggs hidden in the trees with pictures of an animal and a number on them to match up in your passport.  Hand them in to reception on your way out and the kids got a lollipop each!

The grounds themselves are lovely to explore, especially at this time of year with the beautiful colours of the autumn leaves.  The bird’s enclosures are well kept and spacious with information boards in front of each one about the breed and the individual living there.  As well as birds there are also 2 donkeys and some ferrets in residence.  The donkeys were very cute and loved having a fuss.

Later in the afternoon we made our way to Reg’s Wildflower Meadow at the top of the grounds for the Valley of The Eagles flying demonstration.  Now at this point I have a confession to make. I missed most of the show. Yep, pretty much the whole thing. Why you ask?  Well lets just say its great fun when your 3 year old decides to play the ‘I need a wee’, ‘Actually no i dont’ game.  And so I spent most of the time back at the visitor centre in the toilets.  From what I did get to see though and from what Danny and the girl’s told me it was fantastic.  They have up to 14 birds out flying at one time which is a really incredible experience. The wingspan on some of them is absolutely huge!  There are certainly a few occasions when ducking is essential!

At this point we had been at the Hawk Conservancy Trust for around 4 hours and I’m afraid to say that was our limit with a very grumpy 3 year old in tow so we headed home.  For the rest of the afternoon’s entertainment there was an opportunity for adults to handle and fly a hawk, ferret racing, woodland owls flying demonstration and wild heron and raptor feeding so you can easily spend the entire day there and I hope we will return at some point to do the bits we missed.

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On the whole we had a fantastic day out at the Hawk Conservancy Trust and I would highly recommend it, especially for families with children over 5.  Younger ones do enjoy it but we found it was hard for a 3 year old to sit through the flying displays without wanting to get up and run around (which I wouldn’t recommend with vultures, etc flying around!). You can easily spend the entire day there and the displays are all completely different and in different arenas so it doesn’t feel at all repetitive if you watch them all.  Price wise it isn’t the cheapest family day out, however, remember a large chunk of your admission is going towards important conservation work and the upkeep of these beautiful birds so its a well worthy cause.  There are plenty of picnic areas in the grounds if you want to take your own lunch or there is a lovely restaurant onsite.  The shop is full of beautiful wildlife themed gifts and you also have the opportunity to adopt one of the bird residents if you wish.  There are toilets and baby changing facilities in the restaurant and just outside the visitor centre and the whole site is buggy/wheelchair friendly with reserved wheelchair spaces at the front of each of the display arenas as well.

Disclaimer: The Hawk Conservancy Trust have had no involvement in this review and all photos, words and opinions are that of my own 🙂

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Nature Discovery Centre

Address: Muddy Lane, Lower Way, Thatcham, Berkshire, RG19 3FU

Price band: FREE! (Donations welcome)

Website: http://www.bbowt.org.uk/nature-discovery-centre

The Nature Discovery Centre at Thatcham (near Newbury) is an absolute gem of a place.  Since discovering this place nearly 2 years ago we have been back to visit many times and always seen something different.  My kids absolutely love it!  And best of all – its free!!!

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So what is it?  Well essentially it is a nature reserve for wildlife with a variety of habitats including the lake, reedbeds and woodlands.  It has lots of different walks of various distances including our favourite one around the large lake and one which takes you to a bird hide.  Most of them we have found are buggy friendly.

The onsite visitor centre has a shop with various souvenirs, cafe and helpful information including maps of the walks.  It also has learning areas upstairs and downstairs where children can find out more about the wildlife living in the area.  The upstairs part can be accessed by stairs or a lift.  The toilets and hand washing facilities entrance are on the outside of the building.

The ducks, geese, swans, etc are all very used to visitors here and tend to be friendly, although do keep an eye on your sandwiches!  There are lots of different breeds to try and spot as you walk around.

As well as all the wildlife and lovely walks there are two fab adventure playgrounds.  One is aimed at younger children and the other aimed at older children.  Both have lots of benches for adults to sit and watch and there are also plenty of picnic benches around to have lunch if you want to take your own.  The larger adventure playground is one of my kid’s absolute favourites.  It is set out like an obstacle course where two people can race each other along and then up the final structure to the slide.  We have taken children aged 0-12 here and every one of them loved it.

We have been lucky enough to arrive on some days to find there are special events going on.  These have included mini beast handling, arts and crafts, and even a traveling show!  Its well worth checking on the website to see whats on when planning your visit.

The Nature Discovery Centre is well worth a visit for children (and adults) of any age and better still, parking and admission is free.  There are posts in the car park where you can put a donation if you wish and I would strongly encourage you to do so to help keep this wonderful place going.  I am sure you will love it there as much as we do!

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Snakes & Ladders

Address: Audlett Drive, Abingdon, OX14 3NJ

Price Band: ££

Website: http://www.snakes-and-ladders.co.uk/abingdon/playcentre-prices/

As a kid I think it was always the ultimate treat to go to a soft play centre.  They are the ultimate place for running riot without a care in the world.  And the greatest place for grown ups to chill out and unwind!

Snakes & Ladders is a massive soft play centre in Abingdon, Oxfordshire with a large dedicated under 5’s area and outdoor adventure assault course as well as the huge main play frame.  There is a large car park which is free of charge and makes access to the site really easy.

Cody and I headed to Snakes & Ladders for the morning on a weekday during term time with my sister-in-law and 10 month old niece.  Admission prices are average compared to other soft play centres.  They have peak and off-peak prices.  Peak refers to weekends and school holidays, off-peak week days during term time.  You do have to pay for adults as well which is quite common at these places.  Childrens prices depend on their age – check the website for current pricing.   If you are likely to visit more than once it is well worth joining up to their loyalty scheme.  On your 6th visit the child gets in free.

We headed first to the under 5s area and played in the giant soft play area and ball pit.  There are two dolphin shaped swings for tiny tots which are very popular plus a wow toys  area, diggers/trucks area, building blocks area, home corner with role play kitchen plus several adventure play frames all suitable for tots to climb around and explore.  The slides down into the ball pits were a particular favourite on our visit and the mini trampolines.

On Tuesdays (when we went) there is a musical mayhem session for tots to join in with in the under 5’s area which is included in your admission fee. It involves singing nursery rhymes and dancing along to music which was very much enjoyed by everyone who took part. There is a craft session held on Thursdays which is also included in your admission fee so well worth popping along for that.

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We soon moved on to the larger play frame which is aimed at children over 5 years and is huge!  We spent ages climbing, crawling, going over, going under, through tunnels and down slides. The large wavy slide was Cody’s personal favourite.  Up to 3 people can slide down it at a time alongside each other so its great fun for races!  There is also a ball games arena to be found deep at the back of the play frame and a ghosty ghoulies area which is darker than the rest of the play frame and decorated a bit like a haunted house.  All of the equipment was in good order and clean and felt completely safe.

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Aside from the play frames there is also an outdoor wooden adventure course and battery operated quad bikes (extra charge applies).  It was a bit chilly on the day of our visit so we opted to stay indoors on the play frames.

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With all that running around it isn’t long before the kids need a drink and something to eat.  We used a voucher from the Snakes & Ladders Facebook page to claim a free jug of squash (check their Facebook page or website when you visit as they have regular offers for freebies or discounts).  There is a large variety of drinks, snacks and cold or cooked lunches available from the cafe.  One thing we did find a little disappointing was the lack of healthy options available.  The snacks available consisted of crisps, chocolate bars or cakes and the only healthy option on the main menu was a jacket potato or salad.   I do think they could do with a few more healthy options and for fruit to be available as well.  Prices were fairly average in comparison to other similar places, if a little high on some things.  Having said that, you cannot take any food of your own so if you do intend to eat there do plan it into your budget.  There is a microwave available for heating up baby food if you need to.

There are lockers for you to store your valuables if you wish which I thought was very handy if you have little people that need adult supervision on the frame.  There is loads of seating, including some nice comfy sofas.  The toilets and baby changing area (in the ladies loo) were all kept clean and tidy.

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One thing i really like about Snakes & Ladders is the fact that there isn’t a time limit so you can literally stay all day and make the most of your money.  I would recommend doing this as it can work out quite costly if you have several children going in the holidays so might as well get you moneys worth!  As for the age range it is suitable for crawling babies up to around 12 years.  Definitely a great place to add to the list for wet weather days and believe me the kids will go home exhausted – I know I was!!

Disclaimer: Snakes & Ladders have had no involvement in this review and all photos, words and opinions are that of my own 🙂

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Farmer Gows

Address: Fernham Road, Longcot, Faringdon, SN7 7PR

Price Band: ££

Website: http://www.farmergows.co.uk/

Farmer Gows is a working farm near Faringdon, Oxfordshire which specialises in ‘hands on’ animal feeding and handling experiences. They are open daily from 10am til 5pm except over the Xmas period.  The farm rears livestock and some of their produce can be bought in the on site shop, including meat, freshly laid eggs and firewood.  The shop also has loads of farm themed gifts and toys which make a lovely souvenir of your trip.  Cody and I visited Farmer Gows on a week day during term time as part of a local childrens group bus trip.

The daily program of farmer led activities at the farm includes chick handling, lamb and goat kid bottle feeding, pig and sheep feeding, egg collecting, as well as various play areas to explore and a tractor trailer ride around the farm.

The main barn is where the animal handling and feeding takes place.  The feeding is organised using colour co-ordinated bottles for each lamb/goat kid.  When the animals are let loose it can be quite chaotic but it is very enjoyable and the children love getting to bottle feed the gorgeous little lambs. After the babies have had their turn the adult sheep, goats and pigs get their turn. They are hand fed solid feed.  Throughout the feeding times the staff explain everything very well although you do have to listen carefully if its busy as the barn can get quite noisy.

After feeding the animals we were able to go to the chicken pens and collect the eggs freshly laid that morning.  I think its really important children understand where their food comes from (not just the supermarket shelf) and Cody really enjoyed choosing his own egg from the laying box.

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The other outdoor areas at Farmer Gows include a giant hay bale barn with hidden tunnels which the kids absolutely love.  Next to it is the pedal tractor yard which is every tractor fan’s dream play area.  One thing i will advise – wear wellies and old clothes.  Even on the driest day your kids will get dirty here whether you like it or not. After all, it is  a farm!  They do have a shelf full of spare wellies to borrow but if you have your own then do wear them.

Next to the play areas are hand washing facilities and toilets. There are loads of picnic benches both outside and under cover in the main barn to sit and eat your lunch.  You can take your own picnic or there is a tea room with a small menu of refreshments.  The food our friends ordered took a while to arrive as it’s all made fresh to order but it was worth the wait.

In the afternoon we enjoyed a ride on the tractor trailer around the farm.  This took us up to the top field where the pigs are kept and the children were able to get off and feed them.  WARNING: it is VERY muddy up there!  Did i mention wearing wellies?!  The tractor ride lasts approximately 30 minutes in total but does cost extra on top of your entry fee.

There are often special events at Farmer Gows and they generally hold a treasure hunt on the hay bales every day.  Check the website for up to date details of whats on.

If you have a child who loves farm animals, tractors, etc then this is definitely the place for them.  Personally i would say it is ideal for children aged 2-10 years.  Make sure you go prepared with suitable clothing and footwear to make the most of your day. Enjoy!

Disclaimer: Farmer Gows have had no involvement in this review.  All photos, words and opinions are that of my own 🙂

Also In The Area: The Funky Teapot

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