The Gruffalo at The Lowry – Review

It’s hard to believe that the magic of the Grufflao has now been part of our lives almost twenty years (it was published in spring 1999 to be precise!).  I remember a friend buying me a copy as a gift when I first started teaching and it has been a staple in both my classroom and at home ever since.

I first saw The Gruffalo live on stage when Ben was just 6 months old, Dave had bought me the tickets for Christmas and I was so excited!  Some eight years later and it was now Amy’s turn to experience the Tall Stories musical adaptation of the much loved picture book.

The Gruffalo at The Lowry

Whilst I’m sure that Ben and Chloe would have thoroughly enjoyed the show too, Amy & I had tickets for a showing during school hours which meant it was a special #MummyandBo adventure which she was very much looking forward to.

The 55 minute performance (with no interval) is recommended for children age 3+ and sticks closely to the original story which, let’s face it, we could probably all just about recite by heart anyway!  I love the way the story is narrated on stage to ensure that the words from the story are interweaved into the performance.

Having seen the show before some years ago I thought I knew what to expect, and to a point I was right, however the show has seen some updates to the script and costumes etc which really kept it fresh despite being so very familiar.

The Gruffalo at The Lowry

The songs are exciting and lively, the characters comical and the acting spot on – Amy was enthralled throughout the performance and I was equally entertained.  So often I find myself enjoying theatre shows through the eyes of my children but this one I enjoyed for myself, watching Amy enjoy it was just an added bonus!

The Gruffalo makes for a great introduction to theatre – being both familiar and exciting and with just the right level of interaction to stop little ones from getting bored or fidgety.

This musical adaptation of this classic picture book is a sure fire hit – you should definitely go and see it.  The Gruffalo is showing at The Lowry until 07.01.18 and tickets are available here.

*We were invited to see The Gruffalo at The Lowry free of charge for the purpose of review however all thoughts and opinions remain our own* 

The Bear at Waterside – Review

 

The Bear runs at Waterside until the 6th of January and tickets are available now.  You can even pre-order a Slumber Pack for £2 containing a carton of milk & a cookie – this was a lovely bonus for the kids and I was quite envious of their little snack!

A Surprise Birthday Weekend in Venice

If you follow me on social media, you might have seen that we spent a long weekend in Venice at the start of this month.  I can’t tell you how hard it was to keep my mouth shut about our adventure as it had been planned for months but was a secret!  The last few weeks before our trip I found myself double checking everything I posted and constantly worrying that I was going to let the cat out of the bag!

Mum celebrated a special birthday this month and having decided she didn’t want to have a party, Dad went all out on planning a long weekend of surprises culminating in a bucket list trip on the Orient Express to Venice.  The biggest surprise of them all though was that when Mum and Dad got off the train in Venice – Dave, Nic and I were on the platform waiting for them!

You might have seen that we had fake celebrated Amy’s birthday a week early?  The main reason for this was that her birthday is actually the day after Mum’s so our little jaunt to Venice meant we would actually be away for most of her birthday.  Obviously under normal circumstances I would never choose to be away on my child’s birthday but as I said, it was a special birthday and I wasn’t in charge of the plans.  Celebrating Amy’s birthday early not only alleviated the #mumguilt but also meant that we were able to celebrate Mum’s birthday with her too.  (Mum knew that she would be away on her birthday and it would have been strange if we hadn’t made any other plans to celebrate with her and with Amy knowing full well that her birthday is the day after Mum’s she wouldn’t have understood why Granny hadn’t had her birthday yet?!)

So, back to Venice . . .

After a stupidly early start and a breakfast flight from Gatwick, we landed in Venice just before lunch time and took a “bus” over to the main part of the city.  It was the middle of the afternoon by the time we’d made it to our super central apartment, picked up a few groceries (basically wine, milk and cereal – priorities . . .) and got ourselves settled.

Mum & Dad weren’t due to arrive in Venice until early evening so Nic, Dave and I set out to explore – which basically meant we walked in the direction of the train station via some very pretty streets and some pizza!  As the time to meet Mum and Dad got closer, Nic and I started to get more nervous, what if we missed them when they got off the train? what if Mum wasn’t actually pleased to see us?  . . .

Luckily our fears were unfounded, we managed to stand in pretty much just the right place on the platform, Dad saw us as soon as he got off the train but Mum didn’t, so we were able to sneak right up on her – I had to say her name otherwise she’d have walked right on past.  Of course there was lots of laughter, hugs and tears as she got over the shock of us being there and some lovely smiles from other passengers who Dad had clearly filled in on the surprise during the trip!

The weekend was filled with wine, pizza, pasta shopping and a whole lot of fun.  I only took a handful of photos (by which I mean about 100 instead of 700) – which took some restraint I can tell you.  I’d have snapped away all weekend given half the chance.  Venice is such a beautiful city, and so different to anywhere else I’ve ever been.

We walked the equivalent of a marathon over the three days we were there and even paddled in St Mark’s Square . . .

 

We had expected the weekend to be really expensive but I don’t think any of us thought that the prices of food, drink or general shopping was bad at all, we rarely seemed to pay more than we would have expected to at home.  (Unless you wanted a gin & tonic and then the price was astronomical – for some reason it was classed as a “cocktail” and charged at around 10 – 15 euros . . . unsurprisingly I drank other things instead!)

Mum and Dad have been to Venice several times now and Mum would tell you it’s one of their favourite cities in the world.  I can totally see why.  So often when you’re visiting a big city it just feels the same as everywhere else – but with it’s narrow little streets, immense canal network and more bridges than I cared to count – Venice is in a league of it’s own.

11 things we love about The Christmas Adventure at Stockeld Park

I’m not sure how it has happened but it’s December next week . . . and we all know what that means!  I flipping love Christmas – but in December, so as soon as the 1st of the month hits I’m ready to go full throttle festive and for us this usually means a trip to Stockeld Park to see Father Christmas.  We’ve been visiting Father Christmas at Stockeld Park since Chloe was born and only missed one year since!  Amy was tiny and I couldn’t drive after my section so we went to Tatton Park instead – it was “fine” but we were keen to get back to the Christmas Adventure at Stockeld Park the following year!

Siblings at The Christmas Adventure at Stockeld Park

Before the school day became an issue for us we used to go on a Friday afternoon right at the start of December meaning that it was a little quieter (and also meant it was still counted as off-peak so slightly cheaper too!).  Now that we have Ben and Chloe in full time school we are more restricted so tend to pick the first weekend in December – of course this counts as “peak” and as such is more expensive but I still think it’s a great value day out.  Going at the start of December makes it a really lovely way to kick off the festive period and also means we’ve got time to sort out any surprise requests when they see Father Christmas!!

10 things we love about the Christmas Adventure at Stockeld Park

1. There’s so much to do that you don’t have to pay for (and a range of options for those that you do!)

This is a really important factor as it would be easy to spend an absolute fortune on visiting the Christmas Adventure at Stockeld Park – Once you’ve paid for your tickets for Santa’s Grotto, things like ice skating or the Enchanted Forest are an additional cost (although you can buy Adventure Day passes which cover all the Adventure Zones at a discount).  Over the years we’ve tried out different combinations of activities and tickets but it’s perfectly possible to spend several hours at Stockeld Park without spending much over the cost of your Grotto ticket price (£11 per child) – in fact I think that’s probably what we will aim to do this year.

There’s two play areas which are free to use – one indoor (which I must admit we’ve tended to avoid, preferring to stay outside if we can) and one outdoor play.  One of my favourite things about the outdoor play area (also known as Farmer Foster’s Barnyard) is the well thought out artificial grass in places meaning it’s possible to enjoy a spot of hill rolling even on a cold, damp day – trust me, my children have tried this.

Playing in Farmer Foster's Barnyard at Stockeld Park

Free outdoor play area at Stockeld Park

artificial grass hill at Stockeld Park

2. Allotted times to see Father Christmas to minimise queuing

Anyone who has tried to queue for any length of time with a small child will know how much of a big deal this is! We have been to the Christmas Adventure at Stockeld Park before when a less effective queuing system was in place and we stood outside in the cold for SO long – it really took the shine off the experience.  Last year they had it absolutely spot on, you were given a number on arrival (reminiscent of going to the butcher’s counter in the supermarket) and you basically just had to keep an eye on the signs around the park letting you know which number was next, once your number was displayed you could head down to the grotto for your turn.  Any queuing after this happens indoors where it’s warm and it all becomes part of the magic so you don’t mind half as much!

Father Christmas - Christmas Adventure at Stockeld Park

3. Incredible hot chocolate

Of course if you’re visiting the Christmas Adventure at Stockeld Park, you have to expect that it’s going to get pretty cold.  It doesn’t matter how well wrapped up you are, at some point the need for a hot chocolate is going to hit you and the guys at Stockeld Park have got you covered.  As well as The Woodland Cafe which is indoors (and I must admit we’ve never found a seat in) there’s also the Lake View Cafe which is essentially a large marquee and Hansel’s Cabin in the main forecourt.  I know in the past there’s been quite a big queue at Hansel’s Cabin but it was well worth it for the delicious hot chocolate!

Hot chocolate at Stockeld Park

Hot chocolate at Stockeld Park, Christmas adventure

4. The gorgeous gift shop 

Now I do love a good gift shop and Stockeld Park doesn’t disappoint – at this time of year the gift shop is packed to the rafters with gorgeous Christmas decorations and toys – I’m sure it get’s bigger every year.  (It’s also worth mentioning that it’s perfectly possible to avoid going into – there’s nothing worse than an attraction whcih exits through the gift shop when you’ve got three small children with you!)

5. A real ice skating rink

I do think there’s something gloriously festive about ice skating so it seems like the perfect activity to have at Stockeld Park during the winter months.  Skate hire is included in the ticket price and the penguin skate aids are free to use on a first come, first serve basis.  Ice skating at Christmas with the Butlers has become something of a tradition for us now (and one which we’re really looking forward to again this year).  We haven’t braved taking all three children on our own as when we had the chance to at Stockeld Park last year, Dave had a broken elbow and getting on the ice with the kids on my own really wasn’t going to happen!

real ice skating rink - Christmas Adventure at Stockeld Park

6. The Enchanted Forest

The Enchanted Forest has been a key part of our visits to Stockeld Park at Christmas over the years – we try to time it for late afternoon so it’s starting to get dark as we go into the forest, by the time we come out the other end it’s properly dark and you can really feel the full effect of all the magical twinkly lights.  The downside of going into the forest at this time is that you can’t take full advantage of the additional play areas which have been added in recent years.  (I keep promising the kids we’ll go back for the Summer Adventure again but have yet to manage it!)  I love that there is a clearly defined route around the forest and the kids really enjoy finding the things they remember from previous trips (like the trolls under the bride) or new things that have been added.

illuminated enchanted forest Christmas Adventure at Stockeld Park

7. A range of play areas to suit different ages 

As I’ve already mentioned – there’s an indoor play area in the Woodland Cafe and a Farmer Foster’s Barnyard which are free to use and are situated centrally.  As you walk through the Enchanted Forest you will come across four large adventure playgrounds which are spread out along the route.  What I love about these is that there’s something to suit each of my children – Ben loves all the ropes and climbing of the Spider’s Lair whereas Amy prefers Woodsand’s Cove.  The only downside is trying to get them to move onto the next space – I usually manage it with an as yet unfulfilled promise of returning when the weather is warmer!

play area at Stockeld Park

8. Plenty of free parking 

Something which really annoys me is turning up to a large attraction where I’m already going to spend quite a bit of money, and then being expected to pay for parking too.  Thankfully that’s not the case at Stockeld Park – the parking is free and plentiful (albeit on grass so maybe don’t take your fancy sports car!)

9. Friendly, helpful staff

Clearly at an attraction like this, the staff can really make or break the experience and it’s safe to say that in our experience, the staff at Stockeld Park really do make it.  Everyone is super friendly and helpful and keen to add to the magic of your day out.

Elves working at Christmas Adventure at Stockeld Park

10. Gorgeous gifts

One of the things I love most about vistiting Father Christmas at Stockeld Park is the gifts – there’s no rubbish plastic tat here.  Every child gets the same gift – and every year it is a different cuddly toy.  We now have a collection of them – a reindeer, a penguin, husky dog and a seal I think from memory and each year they get packed away with the Christmas decorations.  It has become part of our Christmas traditions, to keep these cuddly toys just for the festive season.  The kids love getting them out at the start of December and adding a new one to their team!

presents from Father Christmas at Stockeld Park

Cuddly toys from Father Christmas at Stockeld Park

11. The REAL Father Christmas 

And finally, the most important point of all.  The Father Christmas at Stockeld Park is the REAL one!  We all know he has lots of helpers who work in the various grottos around the country making sure that everyone gets a chance to ask for whatever present they would like but the one at Stockeld Park?  It’s really him.  I just know it.

The Snowman, Opera House Manchester – Review

As a child of the eighties, The Snowman is a long-established part of my childhood Christmases, sitting down to watch the film adaptation of the Raymond Briggs book in front of a roaring coal fire with a mince pie . . .

What I hadn’t realised until very recently is that the live show first appeared on stage over twenty years ago – there was me thinking this was a new thing!  The Snowman is currently running Opera House Manchester, providing a glorious starting point to our festive season.

The Snowman

Although Ben, Chloe and Amy have most definitely seen The Snowman on tv and have ‘read’ the book, I don’t think they’re all that familiar with the story so at first they were a little unsure as to what to expect from the show.  Just like the book and the film, there’s no words – the story is told entirely through music and dance – which is utterly beautiful but certainly a new experience for the likes of Amy who has only just turned 4 this week!  At first I think she was a little confused by the fact that nobody was talking but she soon settled into it and was completely absorbed by the magic happening on stage in front of her.

The set and costumes were very clever, and as is usually the case Ben was keen to figure out what might be going on backstage as we moved from scene to scene – he finds stage trickery absolutely fascinating but it’s a little frustrating at times when he’s trying to explain things to the girls instead of just letting the magic wash over them! I adored the way the scenery referenced the book and film so closely whilst adding it’s own twist.

The Snowman on stage

For me the highlights of the show included the opening scenes which, from memory, mirrored the opening scenes of the film very closely – I felt like move for move I was watching the Christmas film of my childhood come to life on stage in front of me.  And then the iconic flying scene with Walking in the Air sung by Aled Jones (as featured on the album One Voice at Christmas) and some skillful use of wires gave me goosebumps from the start.

The stage show stays true to the original book and film adaptation whilst adding in elements such as bad guy, Jack Frost to give the show it’s own identity.  We loved the “battle” between The Snowman and Jack Frost to win the Ice Princess (who wowed my girls by “dancing on her toes like a proper ballerina“) and Scotty Snowman raised a lot of laughs from the grown ups with the way he chose to deal with Jack Frost!

The Snowman live on stage

The magic of The Snowman runs through the show from start to finish – the music, the costumes, the beautiful dancing and even a smattering of fake snow at the very end.  I was almost reduced to tears when it had finished – my children were as enchanted as I was.  It’s worth considering that with a running time of 1hr and 45 minutes (including an interval) this is a long time to sit and watch a show with no talking or interaction – and as such I don’t think I would take anyone younger than Amy.  She was definitely pretty fidgety in the run up to the interval and spent the second half sat on my knee whispering to me about what was going on.  She’s a pretty sparky little girl and had a good grasp of the story being played out in front of her but I know the lady sat behind me said her son, who is almost 5, wouldn’t have been able to sit and watch it.  Although it’s a children’s book – I do think the show itself is quite grown up in a lot of ways.  Chloe and 6 and Ben at 8 were perfect for it.

The Snowman runs at Opera House Manchester until Sunday 12th November before moving on to Glasgow, Milton Keynes and Brighton.  Tickets are available here.

You can also see what Sarah from Extraordinary Chaos and Jenny from The Brick Castle thought of the show.

*We attended The Snowman at Opera House Manchester free of charge for the purposes of review however all thoughts and opinions remain our own.  This post contains affiliate links.*

Disney on Ice presents Passport to Adventure at Manchester Arena

On Wednesday evening I picked everyone up early from childcare, the big two got quickly changed in the car and we hopped a tram into town, eating butties on the way!  There’s nothing like the excitement of a cheeky after school adventure!  Of course they didn’t know where they were going – they never do.

We got off the tram at Manchester Victoria ready to climb the stairs to Manchester Arena only to be met with notices stating that backpacks were not to be allowed in the venue.  Of course it makes perfect sense, I understand why they’ve instigated that ruling.  Unfortunately I just didn’t know anything about it beforehand.  It wasn’t like there was even really anything in my backpack – just a camera and a few snacks – I tend to carry it out of habit, especially if I’m out with the three of them on my own.  I like to keep my hands free!

So I’m left standing there on my own, with three kids having to make the decision between chucking my bag away or taking them home again and missing out on the show . . . at this point I was extremely glad that they still didn’t know what we were actually going to see.  It took me a minute or two to get my head straight and to come up with a plan – having three little ones rabbiting on at you isn’t conducive to thinking properly!  I decided I would try and get a smaller bag to decant my things into and dump my rucksack.  I’d had it a couple of years and it was on it’s way out – I’d been looking for a replacement for a little while.  I decided that the value of my old bag versus the value of the tickets and experience meant the bag would have to go.  A quick trip to the M&S Simply Food in the train station for a carrier bag to decant my bag into and we were all set.

No backpacks allowed in Manchester Arena

By the time we’d got over this debacle and made our way round to the box office, we’d basically missed the VIP Meet & Greet so we didn’t get to see Mickey or any of the other characters this time.  I don’t think the kids were all that bothered though, they were just glad to be there and to see “The Gingers“.

We soon realised when the show started that the Passport to Adventure show is extremely similar to the Disney on Ice Silver Anniversary Celebration we had seen in Liverpool some 18 months ago.  It featured the same characters in the same order – and whilst still impressive, probably lacked the wow factor for us as we were left feeling that we’d seen it all before.

We're going on an adventure at Disney on Ice, Manchester Arena

That said, Ben and I both took great pleasure in watching the show through Amy’s eyes instead.  Although Ben and Chloe have been to two Disney on Ice shows previously, this was Amy’s first time.  I’d always felt she was too young to really appreciate it before, and too young to cope with such a late night.  She absolutely loved it – she was mesmerised by all the different characters from some of her favourite films (Frozen and The Little Mermaid are especially well watched in our house – though Chloe would have you believe she’s now too grown up for Frozen!)

Very excited to see Olaf

Highlights for us included the wonderful national costumes during It’s A Small World, the impressive use of flight for Peter Pan & Tinkerbell, and the enormous inflatable Ursula who held a commanding presence on the ice!  Of course the cherry on the cake was the Frozen performance at the end – Amy was beyond excited when Anna skated into view but almost burst when Olaf bumbled onto the ice!!  The clever use of special effects to make it “snow” added magic to the performance.

Enormous inflatable Ursula at Disney on Ice

Anna & Olaf at Disney on Ice, Manchester Arena

Snow effects during Frozen at Disney on Ice

Disney On Ice presents Passport to Adventure runs until Sunday 15th October in Manchester and TICKETS ARE STILL AVAILABLE. Prices start around £31 per person including the booking fee and Venue Restoration Levy.

After Manchester, Disney On Ice presents Passport to Adventure will visit:

Arena Birmingham 18-29 October
SSE Arena, Belfast 3-5 November
Citywest Hotel, Dublin 10-12 November
FlyDSA Arena, formerly Sheffield Arena 15-19 November
The O2, London 20-30 December

Looking forward to the new year, tickets are now available for Disney on Ice Worlds of Enchantment hitting Liverpool Echo Arena on 11th April 2018.

Check out what The Brick Castle and Red Rose Mummy thought of Disney on Ice presents Passport to Adventure too!

*We attended Disney on Ice at Manchester Arena free of charge for the purpose of review, all thoughts and opinions remain our own*

Thorpe Park Fright Nights 2017 – Review

Because a) I live too far away and b) I’m a massive scardy cat, I wasn’t able to attend the press launch of the 2017 Thorpe Park Fright Nights last night but I knew a girl who would!  So, let me introduce you to my good friend and guest reviewer Cesca:

Hi, I’m Cesca.  I am pretty lucky, I live in a bit of a “theme park Bermuda Triangle”, and am pretty much equi-distant to Thorpe Park, Chessington and Legoland.  So, when Colette asked if I would like to attend Thorpe Park’s Fright Night I jumped at the chance!

On reflection this was a little fool hardy, I’m still not sleeping properly at night after being scared by ET: The Extra Terrestrial when I was five. But, duty called, so I took myself over to the park on an autumnal Thursday night to experience what was on offer.

Fright Night 2017 includes seven horror filled activities, plus the usual rides.  On the launch night the 5 Fright Night mazes were open, and the park’s six biggest rides (Stealth, Swarm, Colossus, Saw : The Ride, Nemesis Inferno and Derren Brown’s Ghost Train) were running.

All throughout the park they’ve made a real effort with the Fright Night theming, it’s eerily dark, there are a few zombies on the loose and lots of scary noises and music are played which gets the old anxiety levels up!  We did Stealth first, which for those who’ve never been is a bit like Alton Towers’ Rita, but on steroids.  Daniela, my sister, is petrified of it for some reason so we were getting it done first.  Even then I had to shout at her when she tried to bottle it and get off in the loading bay!!

Thorpe Park Stealth - Fright Night

We then went on Swarm, which is another big coaster and really exhilarating in the dark! This looked amazing, with the car looping around a post apocalyptic wasteland themed area with menacing red lights on it.

At that point we happened to stumble across one of the mazes, Sanctum, which was themed around The Walking Dead series.  There are some rules common across all mazes: they are designed to SCARE you!  They are aimed at 13+ so aren’t suitable for young children.  They use sounds, smoke, lights and smells for an immersive experience and they use live actors.  The live actors WILL TOUCH you (and scare the living daylights out of you!!) but they will never hurt you.  Well it’s fair to say I screamed the whole way round, (the man with his intestines out was disgusting) but we managed to escape the Zombies successfully.

Thorpe Park Fright Nights 2017 - The Walking Dead

We then went on Derren Brown’s Ghost Train, which is a virtual reality Ghost Train (I’m not allowed to spoil the secret by saying any more than that); suffice to say it’s like no other Ghost Train you’ve been on before!!  I then forced my sister, who was still being a big jessie, onto Saw: The Ride, which is based on the Saw film franchise.  Think chainsaws, and lots of Billy the Puppets with a huge rollercoaster and you’re on the right lines. Well, it was so scary – it was pitch black and you couldn’t see what was coming!

Thorpe Park Fright Nights 2017 - Saw

Next was the Saw: Alive maze which was BRILLIANT!  You were taken through various torture rooms based on the film and there were dead bodies, and really bad smells, and body bags and body parts… and people trying to capture you to be the next victim.  It was a lot gorier than the other maze (but still good fun!)

We then headed over to The Big Top, a circus themed maze with lots of scary clowns.  My sister and I both liked that they were all so different – this one had really bass heavy dance music playing and really good lighting effects.  The strobes totally played with my vision I got so disorientated.  And there a clown that took a shining to me and followed me round the whole maze.  Joy.

Thorpe Park Fright Nights - The Big Top

Our final ride of the night was Nemesis Inferno, which is similar to the original Nemesis – fast, thrilling and disorientating.  We finished the night with a maze, Platform 15, which was based on a train and abandoned village and used the old railway tracks of the Canada Creek railway (going back to the 80’s there!).  This one was more spooky than scary, other than the bit at the end which was terrifying!  Again, totally different to the other ones we tried.  At that point we left, checking over our shoulders approximately every 30 seconds on the way back to the car to make sure we didn’t have a stowaway in tow!

Both Daniela and I thoroughly enjoyed Fright Night. If you don’t like being scared or feeling afraid of what might be ahead it’s probably not for you, but we think they’ve got the balance of fear, excitement and laughter just right.  The attention to detail and the quality of the actors & acting is first rate.  The length of the attractions is just right, too – at the point when it’s getting a bit too much you realise you’ve reached the end.

Thorpe Park Fright Nights 2017

Top tips for Fright Night 2017:

Stay in the middle: you go round the attractions in groups. If you are a little nervous, stay in the middle of the pack. Those at the front come across the surprises first, and those on the back usually end up with things tailing them, or being separated from the main group (as happened to us).

Mix it up: whilst all the mazes are different, there are some similarities and you could become desensitised if you went on all 5 in a row (“oh look, another severed head, yawn”) which would be a shame.  We found that interspersing rides with mazes avoided this.

Plan your trip: this is stating obvious, but Fright Nights are very popular.  Book your tickets in advance, don’t just turn up on the off chance (like we did in 2008 to find out it was full at 10am – we’d all taken a day’s leave too – I was not popular that day), and expect long queues (they are expecting 3+ hours for the mazes on the busiest nights).  Think about the things you really don’t want to miss and aim for those as it’s unlikely you’ll get round it all.

Sleep with the light on when you get home: well it can’t hurt, right? Better safe than sorry…

Our thanks to Colette, We’re Going on an Adventure and Thorpe Park for a great night!

This year’s Fright Nights run from tonight (29.09) through to Halloween – don’t forget to book in advance! 

20 things we did at Just So Festival 2017

Kids in a trailer at Just So Festival

It might be a few weeks since Just So Festival but it’s still a hot topic of conversation in our house – in fact just this lunch time Amy was complaining to me that I hadn’t let her do the “Barefoot Walk” and asking if we can go back again next year?

With that in mind I thought I’d share 20 things we did do at Just So Festival this year!

Just So Festival weekend wristbands 2017

1. Pitched the tent in a thunderstorm 

This wasn’t actually quite as bad as it sounds – we’d kept a close eye on the weather forecast and knew the storms were due on Friday afternoon so were keen to get on site and pitched as soon as we could.  By the time Dave got home from a hospital appointment and we had re-packed the car for what felt like the millionth time I think we arrived on site around lunchtime.  Everything was really well organised in terms of people directing us to the car park and it was just a case of finding a spot and getting the tent up.  We decided to set up camp as close to the car park as we could on the basis that it would be easier to cart stuff too and from the car.  Of course some people prioritised proximity to the festival itself, the toilets etc.  Everyone is looking for something a bit different from their spot! It’s worth noting that the site fills up quickly so if you’re wanting to camp with friends you need to try and arrange to arrive at the same time or take plenty of stuff to mark out your territory so to speak.  As it was, the threatening rumbles of thunder quickly gave way to a heavy rain shower but we had struck lucky and got the tent itself up before the heavens opened!

Just So Festival 2017 - #squadgoals

2. Drank rhubarb gin in the sunshine 

Although the forecast for the weekend wasn’t exactly glorious, we were treated to some lovely pockets of sunshine – and during those moments we stripped off our waterproofs, topped up the suncream and drank rhubarb gin in the sunshine (well Dave & I did anyway!).  The rest of the time we kept our waterproofs and wellies on and made the best of it.  Of course we’d have all loved a weekend of blue skies and sunshine, but as the saying goes “There’s no such thing as bad weather, just bad clothing” and we weren’t going to let a bit of rain spoil our fun!

Rhubarb gin at Just So Festival

3. Contemplated dressing up 

Now, if you know me well, you’ll know that dressing up ain’t my bag.  So much so I’ve actually been known to decline party invitations purely on the basis that I don’t like dressing up.  I don’t even really know what it is about it but I’ve always hated it.  I’m not the most creative of people (well obviously I am but in a different way – Photos, videos, writing? Yes!  Creating fancy dress costumes? No chance) but there’s something about Just So Festival that just makes you want to get involved.  For those of you who are unfamiliar with the festival, there are six tribes to choose from and festival attendees are encouraged to dress up and show their support for their tribe – cue entire families dressed in tweed suits and fox tails or full on glitter face paint and sequins.  It really adds something special to the atmosphere of the weekend and next year we’re going to get involved!

4. Earned golden pebbles for the Tribal Tournament 

Despite having not dressed up, we still earned some pebbles for the Tribal Tournament – Ben got one when he was chatting to a couple of attendants at the fire and Dave earned one for dragging the trailer up a muddy hill!  They decided to give their pebbles to the Bee Tribe.  (The Bee Tribe was new for 2017 and a really lovely nod to the events in Manchester earlier in the year.)

Tribal Tournament at Just So Festival - joining Team Bee!

5. Made a lantern and joined the parade

As recommended by Kat Molesworth in her video of Just So Festival Camping & Planning Tips we got on with making our lantern first thing on Saturday morning – she explains in her vlog that the sooner you can do this the better before materials and tools become scarce.  Now I must admit that about half way through our lantern making I think we all regretted ever having started.  Ben and Dave did a great job with creating the structure but trying to cover it in thin sheets of tissue paper and glue, with the wind blowing and the ever-present threat of rain was probably more stressful than any of us would have liked.  We were all pretty glad when the job was done and we could hand our lantern over to dry.  We collected our lantern again on Saturday evening to join the parade.  Because we were quite late joining the parade we were right at the back of the line – meaning a very stop start walk through the festival site.  It was a lovely sight to see so many beautiful lanterns on parade but we decided to swerve the grand finale and fireworks in favour of getting three tired children into bed.

Lantern making at Just So Festival

Lantern Parade at Just So Festival

6. Ate enormous ears of corn

You haven’t been to Just So Festival if you don’t find yourself eating an enormous hot, buttery ear of sweetcorn at some point over the weekend!  In all seriousness though, you won’t starve at Just So – there’s so many options from pizza to pasta to a full on vegan feast and it’s all really reasonably priced.  Don’t get me wrong, if you eat three meals a day on site – you’re going to have spent a lot of money by the end of the weekend, but we decided to do breakfast & lunch at the tent then our evening meal from one of the vendors when we would be ready for something nice and hot to fill our tummies.

Eating enormous ears of sweetcorn at Just So Festival

7. Enjoyed all sorts of theatre experiences

Live theatre is at the heart of Just So Festival and there’s so much to see.  Over the course of the weekend I think we saw five or six different performances, and some of them more than once.  That’s the joy of Just So Festival – you just rock up, sit down and watch.  It’s worth bearing in mind that the Woodland theatre can get very busy so this year we decided to pick out what we most wanted to see and try to catch it on the Friday when there were fewer people around.  This worked really well for us, though the show was quite delayed so we were sat for ages waiting for it to start.  The rest of the time we tended to stumble across things as we were exploring.

Just So Festival theatre

8. Marvelled at the crazy man who could put his trousers on whilst jumping on the trampoline 

Yes, I know that sound completely random but it really does just sum up Just So Festival for me – you really never know what you’re going to see or experience next.

9. Caught up with friends 

One of the things I love most about Just So Festival is that it is kept deliberately small and intimate – this means that the festival always feels quite calm and safe for families and you’re almost guaranteed to bump into the people you know – we had quite a lot of friends attending the festival this year and whilst we never really planned times to meet up we always seemed to find each other at some point!

10. Gave the kids some freedom

As I’ve just mentioned, the festival feels small and safe – everyone is there for the same reason and as such we felt quite confident being able to give Ben and Chloe a little freedom.  By no means does this mean we just gave them the run of the festival – but we felt comfortable allowing them to go to the toilet and come back to us, or move forward within an audience at a performance or the campfire without us having to stay by their side.  As long as they could see us, we were happy.

11. Danced the Maypole

The Maypole on the Village Green caught Amy’s eye almost immediately.  We managed to watch the very end of a session on Friday afternoon and promised Amy we’d find a time for her to join in over the course of the weekend.  Due to some poor planning on our part we kept missing it or arriving after all the ribbons had been handed out so on Sunday, Amy & I settled ourselves down near the Maypole a good 40 minutes before the session was due to start.  It was worth it to see her face when she had her ribbon and could dance around the Maypole with Ben.

12. Spent our evenings by the campfire 

Sitting amongst the twinkly lights of the Spellbound Forest around the campfire of an evening, listening to storyteller Ian Douglas or singing campfire songs was a real highlight for us – and many others.  The campfire was often very busy and at times it was difficult to hear Ian or his colleagues – I would love to see them mic’d up to allow the people on the edges of the audience to get full enjoyment from the performance and not just the front rows.

Ian Douglas at Just So Festival

13. Took our first festival showers 

In a previous lifetime (you know, the one before I had kids) festival showers were not something I bothered with – a wet wipe wash was fine.  Who wanted to be queuing for a shower when there was dancing and drinking to be done . . .
I was genuinely impressed with the showers at Just So Festival – yes there were queues (though the earlier your kids woke you, the less time you had to queue) but they were hot, powerful enough to get a decent wash and pretty clean.  (That said, I would still recommend taking your flip flips to avoid the muddy floor!)  It’s also worth mentioning that the toilets at Just So Festival are also far cleaner than any other festival experience I’ve had, perhaps in part due to the clientelle not having copious amounts of cider coursing through their veins . . .

14. Played “Actual Reality Games” 

Who needs a screen when you can put on a Pac Man head and chase your ghostly big brother around a maze, or hit your kids over the head in a real life version of Whack-A-Mole!  The Actual Reality games were full on real life versions of your favourite arcade games – great for the kids to get involved in and do something physical and hilarious for the adults to watch!

Actual Reality Games at Just So Festival - Whack-A-Mole

15. Wore metallic tattoos on our faces

I’d fully intended to get n the festival spirit with some glitter for our faces but then realised that it would be a complete nightmare to wash off and would end up all over the tent so we used some metallic tattoos that we’d reviewed a while ago – they worked perfectly.

Festival style at Just So 2017

16. Made the most of having a trailer with us 

Our trailer was a last minute purchase after much debate as to whether we actually needed one or not.  Whilst it was a massive pain in the backside to fit in the car, it was worth it’s weight in gold to be able to move the camping gear to our pitch, carry bags and coats onto the festival site, give the kids somewhere to sit down or even let Amy ride in it when she got tired.  I wholeheartedly recommend investing.

Kids in a trailer at Just So Festival

17. Regretted not taking ear plugs

Bedtime on a campsite is always a bit noisy and as such as tend to let the kids go to bed at about 9.30pm – making sure they’re properly tired and it’s dark really does help them drop off if it’s a bit noisy outside the tent.  However I think the family who camped next to us had forgotten their tent was pitched almost on top of ours and that it didn’t have brick walls.  They completely lacked any sort of self-awareness or ability to whisper – definitely a lesson in taking ear plugs next time round!

18. Enjoyed live music at the Footlights Stage 

Having listened to the Just So Festival taster CD in the car on the way there, we had all identified acts we wanted to see over the course of the weekend.  As it turned out I think we missed most of them but we did manage to see a young lady called Laura Oakes and Amy told her she was “the best singer in the whole world“.   Live music has always been a big part of Dave & I’s life so being able to introduce the kids to live acts at Just So Festival is a real highlight for us.

Laura Oakes at Just So Festival 2017

19. Packed up early 

Although Dave had the Monday off work, the forecast was for heavy rain right through Sunday night and into Monday morning so we decided to spend some time packing up on Sunday morning whilst everything was dry.   We didn’t see the point in staying the extra night to then have to pack up a wet tent and get stuck queuing to get out of a muddy car park.  As it was, the weather wasn’t too bad on the Monday morning but I’m glad that we did it that way round.  We were able to enjoy our day at the festival but head home warm and dry that night with a full day ahead of us to get the washing done etc etc.

20. Cried when it was over 

Dave and I sobbed our hearts out. . .  Ok.  We didn’t.  By the Sunday night we were tired and ready to go home – we wanted to sit somewhere comfy and know that our bed wasn’t going to deflate part way through the night requiring mouth to mouth resuscitation at 3am.  Amy however, was gutted that it was over and even more so when she realised it was a whole year till we could go back!

Even as I’ve finished writing this I can think of more things we did – and plenty that we missed too.  Just So Festival – you did it again.  See you next year for more magical memory making!  (If you’d like to join us at Just So Festival next year, Early Bird tickets are available now!)

*We attended Just So Festival free of charge for the purposes of review however all thoughts and opinions remain our own. 

To see what some other bloggers thought of the festival check out the posts below:

Tin Box Traveller

The Brick Castle

Hodge Podge Days

North East Family Fun

20 things to do at Just So Festival

Camping with Millets #homefromhome

Earlier this month, we packed up the car with a whole world of camping gear for the second weekend in a row and made our way to The Peak District.  Somewhere which, whilst not too far from home, we hadn’t visited before.  We had been invited by Millets to spend the weekend at Gradbach Scout Camp with a group of other bloggers, most of whom we hadn’t met before.  As fairly novice campers we were interested to see what the weekend held and I won’t deny there was some fairly obsessive checking of the weather forecast in the run up to the event.  (We had pitched the tent in the rain just a week prior to the #homefromhome event and I’m sure you can imagine it wasn’t an experience I was keen to repeat in a hurry!)

MIllets #homefromhome bunting

As it turned out we were able to pitch our tent without interference from the weather (well aside from the wind catching hold of our new extension as we tried to fit it for the first time and basically turning it into an enormous parachute . . . ) and with minimal arguing too!  Having pitched the tent a few times now, we’re starting to find ourselves a bit of a routine – we know who needs to do what and when, which makes life a lot easier.  Ben, at 8 years old, is more than capable of helping us to get the tent up and is actually super helpful when it comes to sorting out the poles and pegging out the guy ropes!

Pitching our EUROHIKE Bowfell 600 Tent from Millets

A navy stripe IKEA doormat outside our EUROHIKE Bowfell 600 Tent

Until our Wild Living experience in the Lakes earlier this year I was fairly convinced that camping wasn’t for me – that I just couldn’t be bothered with all the equipment and the mud and not sleeping properly.  Turns out I was wrong and that actually, as a family, we are loving camping.  Don’t get me wrong – I’m still the kinda girl that loves a posh hotel or a villa with a swimming pool, but there’s something really satisfying about setting up camp for a few days and living the simple life.

On our first night with the Millets team we were all asked to share what we loved about camping.  For me, its about enforced relaxation.  Switching off from real life with no TV or laptop and perhaps even no mobile phone depending on the data connection at the campsite – as someone who works for themselves and basically makes a living from the internet, it can be hard to take a real break from my work but so far I’m finding that a couple of days camping can be a great way to implement a mini-digital detox.  Of course there’s jobs to be done such as washing up, or keeping the tent in order – but we’ve found that this becomes much more of a team effort.  Making your bed and doing the washing up when you live in a tent is 100% more exciting than doing it at home.

EUROHIKE Bowfell 600 Tent with extension / oorch

Ben’s response to the same question though has really stayed with me: “The thing I love most about camping is the freedom“.  Freedom isn’t something children have so much of these days is it?  When we are camping the rules are different, things are more relaxed and we concentrate on different things.  On each of our camping trips this year, Ben has been allowed just that bit more freedom to explore, to go off with his friends and not necessarily be in our line of sight at all times.  I won’t deny this has been a stretch for me at points, he’s my baby and I need to know he’s safe, but . . . he needs room to grow and to make mistakes for himself.  I can’t keep him wrapped up in cotton wool.  I did draw the line at letting him play in the river again once he’d reached his last clean, dry pair of socks and trousers though . . .

Playing in the river with Mountain Rescue dog, Bob

Over the course of the weekend the team at Millets worked really hard to make us all feel welcome on the #homefromhome camp and had planned some great experiences to keep us all busy.

On Sunday morning we had a visit from the local Mountain Rescue Team – which if I’m honest completely blew my mind and is something I intend to write about separately.  During the course of the visit we were introduced to Bob the rescue dog and his owner Mick, who showed us just how amazing Bob is by playing a game of hide and seek with the kids.  There was also a demonstration of some of the equipment that the Mountain Rescue teams use – the girls found it thoroughly entertaining to be wrapped up in a stretcher and carried across the field.

Mick & Bob from the Oldham Mountain Rescue Team

Mountain Rescue stretcher

Carrying a patient on a Mountain Rescue stretcher

Testing out Mountain Rescue equipment

After lunch it was time to explore the local surroundings and the group set off on a “short” hike.  With Chloe’s injured leg being in a brace and her still needing to use crutches we stayed at the tent to do some reading and colouring in.  Dave took Ben and Amy off with the rest of the group.  By all accounts it was a fairly long and challenging walk for Amy but everyone told me that she coped really well with it.  Ben thoroughly enjoyed the excursion with his new mates!

Dave, Ben and Amy on their hike in the Peak District

The Millets #homefromhome bloggers

On Sunday tea time the guys from Coleman came down to camp and challenged us to make ourselves either a chilli or a spag bol for tea.  Now you all know I’m a fairly rubbish cook at the best of times so I was more than happy to pass the mantel for this one to Ben and Dave who knocked up a pretty delicious chilli!  Dave did say he didn’t think he’d be bothered to make a chilli whilst camping (preferring to make it at home and take it frozen) but it certainly opened our eyes up to campfire meals beyond burgers and sausages.  The real challenge came when each family was given the ingredients to make themselves a fruit crumble – we were given cherries, which were a right old pain in the backside to de-stone but Dave did a sterling job and I was pretty impressed with the results of our efforts.  Although I don’t think the kids were massive fans of the cherry crumble, I was more than happy to have it warm my tummy!

Making crumble with Coleman

The promised rain finally fell on Sunday evening, forcing us into an early night rather than the campfire and marshmallows we had hoped for but if I’m honest I was quite happy to be warm and dry tucked up in our tent together.  We were all shattered and it did us no harm to have a calmer evening and get the kids to bed before 9.30pm (which seems to be standard “setting off to bed” time for us when camping!)

The rain fell hard and fast through the night and thankfully by morning the sky appeared to have wrung itself dry.  We were able to take the tent down all but dry and, aside from the very muddy ground under foot we managed to get ourselves packed up without too much hassle.

After saying our goodbyes to the Millets team and the other bloggers, we packed up our car and bundled three muddy, tired but happy children into the back before placing bets on who would fall asleep first.  Another successful weekend’s camping in the bag and heads full of plans for more trips next year . . . perhaps even France!

Thanks to Millets for giving us the kick we needed to get going (along with a fantastic tent!) and for having us at the first #homefromhome event!  We had a really fabulous weekend!

If you want to see what the other bloggers thought about our weekend away you can read their posts here:

Parentshaped – The Weekend Time Stood Still

The Helpful Hiker – Our #homefromhome weekend with Millets

My Gorgeous Boys – Camping with Millets in the Peak District

You can also watch what we got up to here:

 

Photo credits – Thanks for Millets & Penny for letting me use your images!

Camping with Millets in the Peak District - Eurohike Bowfell 600, 6 man tent with extension

In the Night Garden Live – A Guest Review

It’s safe to say that my three are past the point of being all that bothered about In the Night Garden, in fact it was never really a programme that caught on in our house at all despite being avid CBeebies fans.  However, we all know that the familiar plinky plonky music of In the Night Garden signifies bedtime for many a toddler and my friend’s son is no different.  When I was offered the chance to review In the Night Garden Live at the Trafford Centre this summer, rather than pass it up I asked my friend to go in my place and review the show for you. 

Here’s what they thought: 

In the Night Garden Live

It was early on Saturday morning when Large Fry woke up and what echoed down the monitor was ‘me see Makka Pakka now?‘  We’d only told him a couple of days ago but he was very excited to be seeing the real Makka Pakka & Upsy Daisy.  So we set off on our journey to Manchester to meet up with his cousin & Auntie to see the In The Night Garden Live show.

As soon as we arrived he spotted the posters and shouted at the top of his voice the names of the different characters.  He was super excited and when we met up with his cousin they ran together hand in hand to the entrance.  He also asked lots of questions about the arena & if it would burst if he bit it!

In the Night Garden Live - Showdome

We were greeted by some enthusiastic members of staff who engaged with Large Fry & contained his excitement whilst in the foyer & in the short, well organised queue.

Once inside the inflatable arena, before the show starts, they have a Pinky Ponk projected onto the wall which rotates around the room.  From the minute the two children saw this they were pointing at it shouting LOUDLY ‘it’s the Pinky Ponk!’ ‘Where the Pinky Ponk go?‘ Their eyes never left the ceiling as they were racing each other to spot where it would come from next.  Tracking it across the arena & looking at the stage kept them occupied for a while but just before the show started we were beginning to get a little overexcited to say the least!

There are two In the Night Garden Live shows to choose from this summer – each lasts just under an hour.  All the characters feature in both stories and they are completely unrelated tales so I would suggest it’s more a case of picking a convenient time than particularly needing to choose which show you see.  As it was, we saw the Ninky Nonk show, this is a show in which you see Iggle Piggle having an adventure with Upsy Daisy and losing his blanket.

In the Night Garden Live - Iggle Piggle in his boat

In The Night Garden Live combines a clever mix of puppetry and full costumes.  The puppeteers are all dressed in green so as to camouflage with the background and they also move around the stage props and scenery.  Every time a new character came on Large Fry would shout ‘me hug [insert random ITNG characters name]‘. This was a huge surprise & I dare say if we had opted for the character meet and greet after he would have gone shy and refused to look at the characters when up close anyway.  This is something you can book up when buying your tickets.

I have never seen Large Fry so animated & focused on anything like this EVER!  He was up on his feet dancing and singing along to the familiar songs.

ITNG Live - audience

ITNG Live is a 45 minute show, perfect for the children it is aimed at, Large Fry at 2 1/2 got a little restless towards the end but I think he was almost overstimulated by it all & too excited.  Even at 6 months his brother Small Fry is transfixed by Iggle Piggle and the whole of the ITNG crew on the tv but I wouldn’t run to a ticket for him for a year or two at least.

I would definitely recommend the show to anyone who has an enthusiastic ITNG fan or two in the family – I don’t think there was a child under the dome on Saturday who wasn’t excited, dancing or having a whale of a time.  It was magical to watch the looks on their faces & their awe and wonderment throughout.

In the Night Garden Live is running through till the end of August at the Trafford Centre and tickets are still available.  At £14.50 for a standard ticket (with adults & children paying the same price), this could be an expensive hour of entertainment but if you’ve got a real In the Night Garden fan in your household the look on their face might well be worth the spend! 

*We were invited to see In the Night Garden Live free of charge for the purposes of review – all thoughts and opinions remain our own*