The spa day…

I have a confession to make.

Recently, I pretended to be someone else.

I lied.

If I was Pinocchio, my nose would have been bigger than a Blue Whales penis.

(Fact: A Blue Whale’s penis can reach between 8 and 10 feet in length. Can you imagine having to control that in the sea?! Nightmare on a choppy day. Anyway, back to the story…)

I moonlighted as someone called Mandy and it was one of the most excruciatingly embarrassing moments of my life.

Let me explain.


A few months ago, my mum and her friends organised a girlie Spa day for my mum’s 60th Birthday. They’re such a lovely bunch of ladies, they met each other over 20 years ago at a local Aqua aerobics class. As well as exercising their bodies, they exercised their jaws, giggling and chatting their way through the classes, and became lifelong chums. How lovely is that?! Bonding over foam woggles and aquatic jumping jacks.

The spa day was taking place at a local hotel and the order of the day was a spa package where you rock up,  change into nothing but a swimming costume and robe for the day, use the spa facilities, have a treatment, a spot of lunch, some more spa usage and then off for some dinner on the way home. The perfect ‘girlie’ day.

Sadly, a couple of days before the spa day, one of my mum’s friends fell ill. Nothing life threatening I hasten to add, but she was in a bit of discomfort so sadly had to drop out.

Her name was Mandy.

Can you see where this is going yet?

***

My mum phones me to explain that Mandy is a bit under the weather and asks if I would like to go in her place (Mandy’s very kind suggestion) because it’s all been paid for already. Treatments have been booked, lunch has been ordered and it’s too late for a refund. I instantly say yes because it’s a lovely gesture and I wouldn’t want the spot to go to waste. Mum then says I will just have to pretend to be Mandy for the day in case they try to charge us for a change of person or anything.

Then, as I hang up, the panic sets in…

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“Panic?!” I hear you all ask. “What is there to panic about?! It’s a spa day!”

Well, I shall tell you all now, I am a worrier.

It’s in my genetics.

My beloved nan was a worrier, my dad is a worrier and sadly I too have inherited the worry gene. I can lie awake at night worrying about my children falling off a cliff when we live a good hour and a half away from any cliffs.

It dawned on me as I hung up that by pretending to be Mandy, I would have to lie, and as well as being a worrier, I am also a truly shit liar. I go red, I sweat and stumble over my words, you get the gist, so the thought of having to pretend to be someone else for a few hours whilst trying to relax on a spa day was giving me the fear.

I also HATE massages.

Literally hate them.

I know, I know, I’m not doing very well here am I. Shit liar, worrier, massage hater, potty mouth, gin swigger…what does my husband see in me??

I just feel so awkward – how terribly British of me.

I don’t get any pleasure (Oi! Stop sniggering at the back!) or relaxation from them and I am also really ticklish. I just can’t have strangers giving me a rub down (Tom Hardy and Kit Harrington, you’re excused in this instance) without wanting to either fall into a gigantic hole and not come out for a very long time because of embarrassment or laugh insanely and possibly get myself sectioned.

I held out hope upon hope that Mandy had plumped for a manicure (that I could handle) but my worst fears were realised when my mum confirms that lovely Mandy had indeed chosen to have a neck, shoulder and back massage.

Fuck. My. Life.

Someone get me a brown paper bag.

***

The spa day arrives and I have shaved my legs all the way to the top in anticipation of having to strut about in a swimsuit and bath robe all day. Another cause for embarrassment – nobody needs to see me in a swimsuit these days. My stomach and legs bulge out of the lycra swimsuit where they can like a sausage bursting free from it’s casing…

We arrive at the hotel and it’s all very zen and tranquil and the chap behind reception (who bizarrely looks like a local supermarket manager rather than a spa manager and clearly uses words like fuck and bastard in the pub with his mates) speaks in a soft, slow, gentle voice like we are idiotic children.

“Hello ladies,” he whispers, “how are we all this morning? Looking forward to a day of quiet and relaxation I hope…”

No chap, actually I’m not. I am about to lie to your face and tell you I am called Mandy when I am, in fact, called Gemma. I am also going to lie whilst confirming to you that I have chosen a massage as my treatment when I would actually rather choose to sit in an ice bath with nothing on than have a stranger give me a rub down.

“Oh yes!” we all exclaim, “we can’t wait!” – someone kill me now.

I glance nervously at my mum – she knows I am panicking about pretending to be Mandy – and she smiles back at me and says it will be fine and to stop worrying.

I do as I feared and confirm to the supermarket/spa manager man that I am in fact called Mandy and yes I have indeed chosen to neck, shoulder and back massage. I can feel my hands are a bit sweaty but I carry on and breathe a sigh of relief as he ‘checks me in’ and gives me a clipboard.

I sit down with the clipboard only to find I have to fill in a medical form. I then panic more.

Who do I put I am on the form?! I am lying here! What if I die in the middle of my massage and they say Mandy is dead when actually she isn’t and I am?! Oh what a tangled web we weave…

I told you I was a worrier.

Do I go the whole hog and say I am Mandy, aged 60 who has the following medical conditions?

Do I say I am Mandy, aged 32 and is (as far as she knows) fit and healthy?

Do I come clean and say I am called Gemma?

I go for option 2. I am now called Mandy, but I am indeed 32 and I have no medical issues of note (other than an irrational fear of massages).

***

I hand the clipboard in to the supermarket manager (I’ll call him Geoff) and I feel like he is eyeing me suspiciously. Like he knows about my lie. Like he can smell my fear, sorry, Mandy’s fear. I swiftly trot to the ladies changing rooms safe in the knowledge Geoff cannot follow me in there and wrestle myself into my swimsuit and bathrobe.

We sit in a dark room with some wafting yoga-esque music playing, loungers, faux candles (health and safety first) magazines and dim lighting – why do they put magazines in a room that is about as dim as Donald Trump? – and wait to be called for our treatments. I feel sick as I wait for the lady to call me, I mean, Mandy.

My mum’s friend gets called for her treatment, then my mum and then me. The poor beautician has no idea about the lie I am living either, oh the lies!!!!!

“Mandy?” she says as she peers into the darkness. Only I am in the room so she deduces fairly swiftly that I must be her. If only she knew…

“Yes, that’s me!” I reply. Sweat gracing my palms.

I reluctantly shuffle out and follow her into the treatment room, my robe dragging on the floor making me look like a child dressed like a Jedi knight because it’s so big on me (why don’t they do hobbit sized robes in these places?! I even had to roll the sleeves up about 6 times!)

“Okay Mandy,” she says in a hushed voice, “if you can just remove your robe and pull your swimming costume down to just above your bottom then lie down on your front on the bed that would be lovely. I will wait outside and give you a few moments then knock when I am coming back in. That alright?”

“Yes, that’s fine” I reply, whilst inside wanting to shout, “you touch me in a minute woman, I’ll go all mother fucking Karate Kid on your ass!”

I do as she says and lie there feeling like an absolute twat. My face is pushed in the hole in the therapy bed causing my fat cheeks to give me a comedy chubby face and I feel like I suspected I would, nervous, worried and like a complete fraud.

Then comes the knock at the door.

“Hi Mandy! I’m back…” the poor beautician whispers. “I won’t talk anymore now, just relax and if you experience any pain or discomfort, just let me know”.

Bless her heart.

Mandy would be so ready for this, but not Gemma. Oh fuck, here we go…

The massage takes about 25 minutes. Thankfully, due to me being face down on a bed, the poor therapist couldn’t see me swearing under my breath, muttering that I’m not in fact called Mandy and that I do in fact feel rather a lot of discomfort in the form anxiety due to her touching me.

It’s the longest 25 minutes of my life. I lay there, living my lie. Knowing I am not who she thinks I am, like I have lied to someone I have met for a blind date.

Well, this is awkward. I feel like I should make small talk, discuss the weather, ask if she is a fan of Game of Thrones or if she gets hand ache from rubbing people for a whole day, but I relent. Mandy wouldn’t do that Gemma, and you are Mandy. Just lie there and let her get on with it.

As the massage ends, the therapist says to me, “So Mandy, we are all finished now. If you would like to get dressed I will wait outside and you can just come out when you’re ready, alright?”

Dear god, if she calls me Mandy once more I think I might crack.

“Thanks so much!” I reply chirpily with towel print all over my face and a pained expression from all the lies. I end the massage more tense than I did when I went in and can’t wait to get back into the dark room and pretend to be asleep so that if Geoff the supermarket manager comes in he won’t bother me.

***

“Did you enjoy that Mandy?” my mum asks. I throw her a glance and she giggles along with her friend. They think it’s bloody hilarious (it is really – unless you are the one moonlighting) and I thank god that the worst bit is over. Luckily Mandy had good taste in food and her lunch choices were spot on. All was not lost.

So, there we have it.

It’s safe to say I don’t do massages, I don’t really do spa days, I can’t lie very well, I worry and…I’m not called Mandy.

Oh, and if you’re reading this Geoff, sorry.


(PS: Thank you Mandy and the HFC’s for letting me go in your place. Despite sounding like an ungrateful bitch I did manage to have a giggle and my mum had a super birthday.xx)




Learning to Ride the Lightening – #SurfsUp2 Screening (with Sony Pics at Home)

We were lucky enough to be invited yesterday to Sony’s Head Office in London for a screening of Surf’s Up 2, which is released on DVD today (Monday 20th March 2017). The boys had been so excited about it for ages (not only seeing the film but getting to go into the big city for the day) and thankfully, they weren’t left disappointed! We had a wonderful day and the movie was brilliant.

Upon arriving at the venue, we were treated so some tea, coffee and cakes – this literally made the boys life. I think Zak was a little too excited however, because he came back to the sofa we were sat on with 2 chocolate chip muffins, 3 biscuits, 2 cookies and a pastry all for himself. Amazingly, he did eat them all, the little piglet!

After some breakfast, we then went down to the rather suave screening room in the basement and settled down (in some VERY comfy seats) for the movie. Seeing the boys faces as the curtains pulled back to reveal the screen was just priceless, they thought it was the most wonderful thing ever.

They sat and watched the film without fidgeting (a miracle where Zak is concerned) and were completely engrossed for the duration.

Afterwards, we went to a lounge area to do some lunch, to do some surfing related crafts and the boys also got to have a go on a surfing simulator. They were pretty good at it – and I made sure I wore a dress so I didn’t need to embarrass myself on it! Haha!

In the movie, the characters learn to “Ride the Lightening”, which means surf during a lightening storm. Luke and Zak loved having a go at pretending they were doing the same and they have already asked if we can get some Surf Boards next time we go on holiday!


So, what’s the film about?

Cody Maverick, hungry for a new challenge, convinces an infamous big wave riding crew known as The
Hang 5, voiced by WWE Superstars John Cena®, Undertaker®, Triple H®, Paige™ and Mr. McMahon® to let him join them on their journey to a mysterious surf spot known as The Trenches, where legend has it, they’ll find the biggest waves in the world. Cody soon discovers that the life he left behind might be more heroic than what any death-defying wave has to offer.
Without giving the entire film away, I will just say that the film covered some important life lessons such as teamwork, not giving up, taking care of those you love and humility. Despite the film being voiced by WWE wrestlers, there is no violence in it and it’s actually a really uplifting film. Both my lads gave it 5 out of 5!
Zak’s favourite charater was Cody, the main penguin in the film. He is the character that goes on the biggest journey during the film and he’s probably the most relatable character for the kids. He’s learning, finding his way and has big dreams and ambitions.
Luke’s favourite character was JC, one of the Hang 5 and who was voiced by the wrestler, John Cena. He is humble, realistic, brave and experienced. Luke thought he looked super cool too!
If your kids like adventure films,  mixed with humour and cool characters, we would highly recommend Surf’s Up 2, Wavemania.
Surf’s up 2 is out on DVD today and the disc includes bonus features such as;
Bloopers!
“Behind the Mic: Hanging with the Dream Team”
“Chicken Joe’s Extreme Slaughter Island Tour”
“How to Draw Your Favorite Characters with Henry Yu”
“Inside the Music with Composer Toby Chu”
SURF’S UP 2: WAVEMANIA is rated PG has a run time of approximately 1 hour 21 minutes.
You can buy the DVD online, in stores across the UK and on Amazon at a cost of approximately £7.99

 Disclosure: We were invited to a screening of Surf’s Up 2 by Sony Pics at Home. All words, thoughts and opinions are my own.
Thank you to DnA PR and Sony Pics at Home for inviting us!



A Knutters Day Out: Wookey Hole (with #MamiaDaysOut)

“And above all, watch with glittering eyes the whole world around you because the greatest secrets are always hidden in the most unlikely places. Those who don’t believe in magic will never find it.”
―Roald Dahl

Dark Caves at Wookey Hole, Somerset

The end of Septmeber sees the culmination of a busy time for my family.

My brother, Mum, Dad and middle lad all have their birthdays within 3 weeks of each other and it’s often a bit of a crazy time of year! Fun, happy, memorable (the bank balance has taken a hit the size of Australia) and bonkers…

My Dad and my middle one have birthdays one day after the other so we used this as an opportunity to have a family day out at Wookey Hole, Somerset. We live in Surrey, so this was a bit of a drive for us, but we had planned it in advance (by that I mean I had looked on Google Maps at just how far it was, questioned my sanity, and then told everyone my grand plan whilst keeping my fingers crossed they wouldn’t think I had completely lost the plot…) Luckily, they all seemed up for it, none of us had been before, so we stocked the cars up with sweets, water, a picnic (including some ‘on the go’ snacks from Aldi’s Mamia Range for the toddler), clothes for all weathers, iPads and other brain-numbing electrical devices and set off in search of the Wookey’s hole…sorry, Wookey Hole. We weren’t looking for Chewbacca’s butt hole…


The drive down there really wasn’t too bad. It took just over 2 hours and the kids were amazingly well behaved in the car (thank you god of Apple!). They spent their time looking at interesting things during the journey which helped – Stonehenge, playing I-Spy, Pokémon Go and studying a squashed fly on the windscreen.

We had pre-booked our tickets online because you can save about £3/person by doing it this way. This might not sound like much but, when there is a large group of you, the savings made are enough to buy some Ice Creams at the end of the day…or Wine!

You can book tickets by visiting the Wookey Hole Website, here.

We arrived at about 10am, this is when it opens, and parked in the main car park which was easy to find and right near the ticket entrance. There are clean toilets and baby changing facilities in the car park which is fab when you’ve had a long journey and are all needing a Jimmy Riddle (cockney rhyming slang for piddle…you can thank my Nan for that one). The toilets are signed ‘Witches’ for the ladies and ‘Wizards’ for the Gents. The kids thought this was hilarious, as did I – Wizards, wands, boys, wands out…you get the gist 😉

We showed our online booking email to the ticket desk and they gave us our tickets. It was then a short, 5 minute stroll, from the ticket office to the cave entrance where you wait and queue for your tour.

The walk up to the caves is really pretty and gives you a glorious view of the gorge in which the caves are set.


In brief, Wookey Hole Caves are a series of limestone caverns and caves in the village of Wookey Hole on the southern edge of the Mendip Hills  near Wells in Somerset, UK. The River Axe flows through the caves and you get to see it at various points on your tour. Wookey Hole is a Site of Special Scientific Interest (SSSI) for both biological and geological reasons. The temperature in the caves is a constant 13’c all year round so it feels cool in there in the summer and warmer in there in the cold of winter. Regardless of when you visit, it is advisable to take a jacket with you.

The caves have been used by humans for around 45,000 years, which is demonstrated by the discovery of tools from the Palaeolithic period, along with fossilised animal remains. A corn-grinding mill operated on the waters of the River Axe as early as the Domesday survey of 1086. The waters of the river are used in a handmade paper mill, which now houses the main part of the alternative attractions there such as a soft play, an exhibition on the history of Wookey Hole caves, a circus and a Victorian Penny Arcade. The paper mill is the oldest in existence in Britain and it began operations circa 1610. You can still see how the paper was made after the cave tour by going into the old Paper Mill itself which is included in your ticket price, and you can also buy some handmade Wookey Hole paper in the gift shop at the end.

The low, constant temperature of the caves means that they can be used for maturing Cheddar Cheese, the famous Wookey Hole Cheddar…oh, and wine! Basically, I would be quite happy living in these caves. A good temperature all year round, fresh water, peace and quiet, glorious cheese and wine. When do I move in?

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The caves are also the site of where the first cave dives in Britain happened. Since the 1930s, divers have explored the extensive network of chambers developing breathing apparatus and novel techniques in the process. The full extent of the cave system is still unknown with approximately 4,000 metres (13,000 ft), including 25 chambers, having been explored. Part of the cave system opened as a show cave in 1927 following exploratory work by Herbert Balch. As a tourist attraction it has been owned by Madame Tussauds and, most recently, the circus owner Gerry Cottle. The cave is shrouded in legend due to the Witch of Wookey Hole – a roughly human shaped stalagmite which you see in the first cave (along with another that looks like her pet dog near it) – legend says a witch was turned to stone by a monk from Glastonbury and she remains trapped in the caves until this day. Who can blame her? She knows where the good cheese and wine are at… 😉


The tours run every half an hour, so 10am, 10:30am, 11am etc. I am unsure of when the last tour is but details can be found on their website.

We arrived about 10 minutes before the second tour was due to start so waited for that one. It really wasn’t very busy and there were lots of little ones there whose parents were also braving the caves with a toddler. We were all in it together at least!

A young lady came along selling glow sticks for the kids to use in the caves so we bought them one each in the vain hope that if they found the caves too dark and scary, their little glowing stick might cheer them up…clutching at straws maybe but I thought it was £2 (each) well spent to be honest.

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The friendly tour guide arrived promptly and led us into the caves after a small health and safety talk. It’s best not to think about caves and tunnels collapsing too much as you enter the caves, you’d probably turn around and run the other way if you imagined how many tonnes of rock were above your head.

A model witch greets you as you enter the caves and then it’s down some steps into the dark of the caves.

The caves are not suitable for pushchairs, wheelchairs, those who aren’t sure footed (no gin before you go in) and a backpack baby carrier is also pretty useless because you have to crouch under some very low overhangs at points. Ben, our toddler, is 2.5 and he managed fine holding our hands.

Also, wear good shoes because it does get VERY slippery in there. No stilettos or flip flops…


 The caves are beautiful. They’re other worldly, mysterious and awe inspiring.

Yes, they’re lit up with coloured lights which some people don’t like because they think it’s tacky, but because the caves are used for events and weddings, they need these lights to create an ambiance. I quite liked it if truth be told and the kids thought the coloured lights were, quote, “epic”.

The tour lasts roughly 40 minutes and takes you in about 5 caves. There is so much information to take in and interesting things to that you could easily stay in there longer. Truth be told, the tour did feel a little rushed and we could have done with a little longer to linger and look in each cave before moving on, but with lots of people waiting for the next tour, it’s understandable as to why you can’t stay in there too long. see and it’s truly amazing to think Stone age man lived in these very caves you’re walking in, you’re literally following in their footsteps. It really captivated the adults and the kids and my eldest declared Wookey Hole better than Legoland. High praise indeed!

The toddler was amazingly fine in the caves. He stayed with his best buddy, Grandad, for most of it and loved putting on a hard hat like Bob the Builder so we could go in the newest cave to open. It’s only been open for a year (at the time of writing – September 2016) and so you have to wear a hard hat at the moment in case any rock falls happen (keep calm Gemma, keep calm. It’s only a few hundred thousand tonnes of limestone above you, no need to panic…)

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After the main feature of the caves is finished, you exit out into the bottom of the gorge and can walk around the beautiful grounds. The river flows with crystal clear waters, there is a Yew Tree which is thought to be over 1000 years old and there are some enormous dinosaur models to discover…oh, and a giant King Kong. Obviously. The toddler thought it was great and was shouting ‘Dinosaur!’ as much as George Pig would be on a day out at the Natural History Museum.

There is a 4D cinema there, which you have to be aged 3 and over to go in. It’s dark and loud and the seats move/shoot air out so if you have kids that are of a nervous disposition, I’d give it a miss but we went in with our 8 and 7 year olds (Nanny and Grandad hunted for more Dino’s with the toddler whilst we were in there) and they loved it. There was a bit of an odd moment where something poked you from under your chair which caused me and my husband to burst out laughing like naughty children. My son said there might be a ‘Slow Poke’ from Pokemon Go under our seats…which didn’t do anything to stop our hysteria! Pahahahaha!!!!


We then headed into the old Paper Mill for a look about.

There is an exhibit on how paper was made, another on the diving equipment over the years which has been used to explore the caves (one of the old divers loved his bottle of Aldi Mamia Apple and Blackcurrant Juice incidentally) a soft play, a mirror maze, a circus, a Victorian Penny arcade and a shop. There is certainly plenty to do in there!

We didn’t watch a circus show but we spent an hour in the old Victorian Penny Arcade and the kids were totally amazed by using the old coins and machines.

Our favourite parts of the arcade were Victorian Table football, a psychic future reader (think the movie Big…), a sweetie grab machine and a puppet that looked possessed who tells you something interesting about what might happen to you called Charles…


 After buying some Wookey Hole cheddar, a couple of souvenir cups and a wind up torch for the toddler (yep, that’s what he chose out of the whole shop!) in the gift shop, we made our way out of Wookey Hole and went back to the car park to get our picnic.

There is a Mini Pirate Golf course there but this costs extra and we didn’t play because our tummies were rumbling too much!

We sat on some picnic tables near the Wookey Hole hotel which is there (we didn’t go in but it does look like a lovely place to stay for a night or two if you were driving a long way to visit. They also have some wooden lodges you can rent which looked fab) and tucked into our picnic. The kids had decorated Grandad a birthday cake which I took with us and we all sang happy birthday and stuffed our faces with it. Ben tucked into some of his Aldi Mamia snacks (he especially enjoyed the Rice cakes and fruit pouches) and then we went and hunted for conkers to burn off some of that cake. During our conker hunt, we found an ENORMOUS one, bigger than any I have ever seen before, and it filled my eldest son’s hand. Inside were 2 very big conkers which have now been added to our collection of 200 or so which are currently sat in our fruit bowl because apparently the smell of a conker scares spiders away and my eldest HATES spiders…life with kids eh?!


I think it’s safe to say my dad and Zak had a lovely day – I hope it’s one they treasure forever. I certainly will.

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Thank you to Aldi (and Britmums) for the items from  Aldi’s Mamia Range which we used for our day out. Our toddler scoffed the lot so it’s a thumbs up from him and, because it’s all organic and really reasonably priced, it’s a thumbs up from Mummy too!

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We would thoroughly recommend Wookey Hole as a day out for families, you really could spend the whole day, and maybe even a weekend, here. Educational and a traditional (slightly eccentric) British day out. Perfect.

We drove home via Cheddar Gorge just to have a look but we didn’t stop because we needed to get home. This is somewhere I would certainly like to go back to because from what we saw of it, it was STUNNING. Our little island we call home really is quite a special place you know…


 Disclosure: This post is an enrty for #BritMums #MamiaDaysOut Linky Challenge, sponsored by Aldi Mamia. I was sent a hamper of Aldi Mamia products in return for this review.



Dinosaur Week: Day 4 – Knutty Explorers: A Day out to the Natural History Museum

“Never stop learning, because life never stops teaching”.

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Day 4 of my Dinosaur week, in association with Stickerscape and Kali Stileman, see’s me tell you a bit about our day out to the Natural History Museum in London.

A wonderfully educational, fun, interactive and FREE place to visit with all the family.


I love the Natural History Museum.

The kids and my husband love it there too, so it is pretty much one of the perfect days out for us as a family.

I could spend all day just looking at the architecture of the place, let alone the exhibits. The mind boggles at how they built such a majestic building so many years ago. Cathedral like, imposing, majestic. Every corner you turn there is another ornate carving, another curiosity to catch the eye. I wonder as I touch one of the terracotta carvings, how many other people before me have studied it, have noticed it’s quiet beauty, hidden away?

The Natural History Museum has Dinosaurs galore, fabulous exhibits about how our planet came to be as well as how it works, creatures past and present that grace our land, seas and skies, and so much more. There really is something new to learn around every corner, even for mummy and daddy!


 Getting there…

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We are lucky in the respect that we live a 10 minute walk from our local train station. We walked to our local station with the kids, who were super excited to be going on a train (and me truth be told, I am still very much a tourist when it comes to London which can drive my London savvy husband a bit bonkers when I want to stop and take a photo every few hundred yards). We went to the ticket booth rather than using one of the machines and my husband asked for the cheapest way for us to get to Travelcards for the day because we would need to use the underground. It’s always good to test the ticket office and see what they can do/what deals they have on, you might just get it a bit cheaper! She told us it was best to get 2 adult travel cards and then 2 child return tickets from where we live to Waterloo, because children travel free under the age of 11 on the underground.

Once at London Waterloo, we then had to get the underground from there to South Kensington which is the closest station to the museum (the Science Museum is also just next door and the Victoria and Albert museum is also around there too so you really can have a full day out just in that small patch of London).

The journey was fine (it was a Sunday morning to be fair) and we got a seat on the train and the underground just fine – not like a weekday morning commute thankfully!

Once we emerged from the underground station, we could then see the museum sprawling out in front of us in all it’s glory.

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 Entry…

We queued for about 15 minutes at the front of the museum in order to get in, this was at about 10:30 am. Sadly, due to the world we now live in and possible terror threats, all bags have to be checked before you enter the museum so make sure you have your bag open and ready as you get close to the entrance which does delay your entry somewhat but, needs must. Just be prepared for a bit of a queue and take some drink and snacks from home to have whilst you wait.

 Entry to the Museum is free, but we did buy a special kids activity book for them to do on the way round for £5 because the proceeds go to help keep the museum free and to also pay the people that work there. The activity book was really informative, had a map in the back which the boys used to plan our route around the museum and it had lots of questions to answer to get their brain boxes working (and mine to be fair!). There are various donation boxes about the place for you to pop a few pounds in if you wish.

The whole place is wheelchair and pushchair friendly so if you have little ones, lifts are available but at busy periods, you will have to queue.

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 What did we do there?

First up, no prizes for guessing, was the Dinosaur exhibit.

We came to the museum last year but it has changed since then and the overhead walkway they used to have is no longer open. I’m not sure why that is, but we couldn’t go up there.

The first thing the exhibit takes you to now is the robotic T-Rex. This has also changed slightly from previous visits in that it didn’t seem quite as dark and noisy as it was. That said, there were still some petrified children clinging for dear life to their parents legs in there so it’s possibly a good thing that they’ve toned it down from that respect. The boys love this part of the museum and watched it for a good 5 minutes before moving on and making space for someone else to stand and watch.

You can see robotic exhibits, fossils, evidence of a real life Dinosaur hunt by studying fossilised dinosaur footprints as well as much more. You could spend a good couple of hours in this one section but, because it’s the main feature of the place, it will be busy. We had to wait for a while in order to see/read some of the exhibits but the boys were thankfully feeling patient and dutifully waited their turn. There is a lot to see and take in whilst you’re waiting and we did some of our activity book then too.


After the excitement of the dinosaurs, we went to look at the Earth Zone.

To get to the earth zone, you can go on an escalator which literally takes you through the centre of the earth. This was one of the highlights along with the dinosaurs for the boys.

Once up there you can learn all about the power of the earth, how it was formed, the rocks, elements and minerals that we can find on our planet and many other mind boggling things. This is one of my favourite bits of the museum. I find it all fascinating and the boys loved pushing the buttons on different exhibits whilst learning a bit about the place we call home.


 As the museum was now getting quite busy, it was just after midday, we decided not to go in the animals section but instead we went up to see the original cabinets on the top floor which are home to an enormous rock collection. It may sound a bit boring but this is one of my favourite parts of the museum. It’s normally quite quiet up there for starters and I love rocks. There, I said it. I have a massive collection of the things in a huge vase at home which I’ve collected from various holidays. The sheer range of different rocks we can find on our planet is astounding and you’ll be able to see many percious stones up there, as well as more ‘normal’ common ones. There is also an enormous meteorite up there which is magical to see and touch. To think this lump of iron flew from outer space, onto our planet is completely brilliant. It makes you stop and think for sure…


 We didn’t eat or drink at the museum but there are many places to choose from if you wish to do so.

Instead, we chose to finish our visit to that end of London with a walk through Hyde Park, out onto Oxford Street and then onto Soho/Covent Garden for a look around. We also looked for some of the BFG Dream Jars (these are on until 31st August 2016) but only managed to find one…

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We stopped off at Byron Burger (16-18 Beak St, London W1F 9RD) for some lunch with the kids and we would thoroughly recommend it. Great food, activity sheets for the kids, milkshakes as big as your head and  hard shakes for the grown ups if you fancy one! We can give the Honeycomb/Chocolate hard shake with Rum a thumbs up!


 We loved our day out in London.

Tired feet, aching legs and a head full of new memories as a souvenir.

Perfect.


 Until 10th October 2016, you can get 20% off all Kali Stileman Wall stickers at Stickerscape by using the code DINOKALI.

They have a wonderful range of wall stickers suitable for girls, boys and for around the home so do give them a visit online!


Disclosure: I was sent a set of Dinosaur wall stickers to review by Stickerscape. All views, thoughts, opinions, photos and words are my own.



8 Free or Thrifty things to do in Surrey…

The summer holidays can be a slog for us parents sometimes.

If your other half has to work for most of it *waves one hand in the air whilst holding a G&T in the other* or if you just don’t have the disposable income to go on a summer break, finding things to keep the kids amused for 6 weeks, for as little money as possible, can often be tough.

With this in mind, I thought I would share with you all my, ‘8 free or thrifty things to do in Surrey’ to give you some ideas and help keep you sane!

So, here goes…


1. A Day out at Stoke Park Paddling Pool

A firm favourite with kids and parents alike is Stoke Park Paddling Pool in Guildford.

It is a large, free, paddling pool with a children’s park, crazy golf (£4.50 Adults and under 16’s £3), skate park, a boating pond (for model boats) and a large amount of green space to run about/picnic on. There are toilet facilities there and parking is available nearby for a small fee. If you take a picnic, a ball game and your swimming things, you’ll be certain to have a full day out and come home with happy (and hopefully worn out) children!

Photos by Guildford Dragon News

 Postcode: GU1 1ER

Good for: Sunny Days

Cost: Allow up to £10 for parking (and maybe a few extra pounds for an ice cream if you fancy it!)


2. Abinger Hammer Village Green

Village green and River Tillingbourne, Abinger Hammer

A bit of a random one at first sight perhaps, but when I explain you’ll see why it makes for such a super day out.

Abinger Hammer is a small village in the Surrey Hills. Quaint, full of character and a picture postcard English Village.

The village green is home to a large green space, a children’s park (which was actually closed when we visited in August 2016 for repairs) and a river which cuts across the village green boundary.

The perk of this place is that the river, in Summer with little rain, is shallow and gentle enough to paddle in. The river bed is very rocky so I would recommend wearing crocs, or some other type of water appropriate shoes, but it is perfect to cool down in on a warm day.

If you take your fishing nets, some buckets and a magnifying glass, you can do some fishing or ‘pond dipping’ to see what you can catch!

The village post office, opposite the green, sells drinks and snack as well as fishing nets and buckets should you require them. There is also a dainty, traditional tea room connected to it should you require the essential sustenance of tea and cake!

Parking can be tricky, but I parked at the local village hall 2 minutes up the road as it wasn’t in use at the time and my vehicle seemed to be ok in there. There is also a car park for the local cricket club on the green which is available to park in.

A completely free, best of british, day out, in the most picturesque of settings, should you take a picnic with you.

What more could you ask for?

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Postcode: RH5 6QX

Good for: Sunny or Rainy Days! Just make sure you wear waterproofs and wellington boots if it is raining!

Cost: Free! (Unless you buy nets and cakes of course!)


3. Box Hill Natural Play Trail

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Box Hill is now world famous thanks to the London 2012 Olympic Road race route travelling up it, so inevitably you shall encounter some lycra clad posteriors during your vist! It has become quite the cycling Mecca.  Box Hill is situated in the Surrey Hills and, once at the top, it has some of the most stunning views in the county, across the countryside, out towards Dorking.

There are a number of walking trails (maps/routes are available on the National Trust Website) but I would say that Box Hill Natural Play Trail is a super day out with the kids. They can burn off some of that energy whilst enjoying and exploring the woodland!

Myself and my family have done the Stepping Stones walk, which is beautiful but, with its 275 steps down, bear in mind, what goes down must come back up…it wasn’t a walk for the faint hearted, nor is it pushchair/wheelchair friendly so do bear this in mind! You can read about our walk around this route here.

It is also a super place for sledging should we manage to get a deluge of snow this winter…

At the top of the hill, there is a pay and display car park (free to National trust Members), a visitors centre, cafe, shop, toilet facilities and picnic benches.

It’s the perfect base for a day out exploring.

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 Postcode: KT20 7LB

Good for: Sunny or Rainy days! Just wear appropriate clothing and good walking shoes regardless of the time of year!

Price: Approx. £8 parking (and spending money for cake and ice cream should you wish).


 4. Priory Park, Reigate

We have been to Priory Park in Reigate a couple of times before and it is really brilliant.

There is a huge playground, with a splash zone in the summer (not a paddling pool but a safe, non slip area where water jets and spouts allow the children to play with water), a skate park, fountained gardens, lake, an enormous amount of green space, a very modern cafe/information centre and superbly clean toilet facilities.

There is a Geocaching route around the park if you’re into that (there are 7 to find) and there are also various events held there all year round. For example the summer this year (2016) they have an inflatable fun park there for the whole summer and at christmas, there will be an outdoor Ice Rink there.

There is a large car park next to it and again, if you take a picnic, all you will need to pay for is parking to have a full day out.

It can get busy. especially at weekends, but get there early enough and you could have it to yourself for a while!

It is also the perfect place for hill rolling in summer, or sledging in winter, with its fabulous sloping hills around the edge.

Definitely a place to check out.

 

Postcode: RH2 7RL

Good for: Fair weather/Sunny Days

Price: Approx. £8 parking (plus money for ice creams and drinks should you wish to indulge)


5. Virginia Water Lake
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Situated on the edge of Surrey, Virginia Water lake makes up part of Windsor Great Park.

It’s the perfect base for a day out exploring, wildlife spotting and, if you’re keen, cycling or scooting with the kids.

At 4.5 miles, the circular route around the lake, on it’s well made, smooth tarmac paths, makes for the perfect cycle loop with kids in tow. It’s not flat, but it isn’t so challenging that it’s unmanageable.

There is a visitors centre, cafe and toilets there (all of which are modern and clean) and there are various ice cream/coffee vans dotted around the lake too.

There aren’t any playgrounds here but there are lots of different things to explore. There is a waterfall. some old Roman Ruins, the lake itself, a polo area, various interesting nooks and crannies off the beaten track to discover and a 100ft Totem Pole!

It’s a wonderful place to go and we have managed to while away quite a few days exploring this place. There is no paddling or fishing allowed there but you can do some bird spotting and if you’re lucky, you may see a Heron or two!

The lake and it’s viewing points/vistas are just glorious and it is even more beautiful, in my opinion, in late Autumn/Winter when the fog and mist hovers just above the water. It’s magical (so magical in fact, it was used to film some of Harry Potter!)

Get outside and explore this beautiful part of Surrey!

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Postcode: GU25 4QF

Good for: Days out, whatever the weather.

Price: Parking, no more than £10 (plus ice cream and coffee spending money!)


 6. Horsell Common

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My 8 year old boys favourite place for a jaunt after becoming obsessed with H.G.Wells’ book, War of the Worlds.

Visit the sandpits where the martians landed in the famous book, play on a rope swing, hunt for Bronze Age Barrows and climb some trees!

This large expanse of common is protected and looked after by the Horsell Common Preservation Society. It’s a beautiful place, with multiple free car parks dotted around it, for you to be able to park up and enjoy a stroll. If you park at the new Heather Farm and Wetlands Centre, there are toilet facilities and a cafe there (which also serves wine, winner!).

It has many walks to offer and I love the way the landscape changes from dense woodland to open heath-land. It’s a fantastic place for bug and fungi hunting, though please do not pick and eat any of the fungi you see growing just in case it is poisonous! It’s always best to just look at these things and appreciate them…

It really is a nice place to walk and if you walk from the Wetlands Centre, you can also do some plane spotting at Fairoaks Airport which is nearby. The kids always love to watch the planes take off and come back into land

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Postcode: GU21 4XY

Good for: Days out, whatever the weather.

Price: Free (unless you buy copious amounts of delicious cake at the Wetlands Centre!)


 7. Alice Holt Forest

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I love this place. Huge expanses of woodland and forest sprawl out before you, ready to be explored.

Follow the signs to go on a set walk, they have a children’s route with wooden structures to explore on the way round which makes a treasure hunt type adventure out of the walk, or just follow your nose and see where you end up!

There are always activities on for the kids at Alice Holt (they recently had a Gruffalo Trail and then a Stick Man one), there are spots for den building and there is also a wonderful play ground, as well as plenty of open space to charge about on and get rid of some energy.

Should you wish to, there is a ‘Go Ape’ here too but you will need to book this in advance and, of course, this costs extra.

A super place to take the bikes as well.

There are facilities here consisting of a coffee shop. toilets, visitors centre, cafe and bike hire.

 

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Postcode: GU10 4LS

Good for: Days out, whatever the weather.

Price: No more than £1o parking


 8. Leith Hill and Leith Hill Tower

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Again, back in the Surrey Hills, but it is so beautiful there it’s hard not to love it.

Leith Hill, the second highest point in South-east England, is my favourite place to go with the family. The views are second to none, on a clear day you can see the city of London sprawling out in front of you and it’s a view I think you’d never get bored of seeing.

There is a tower, built in 1765, there which you can go in and climb to the top (WARNING: not for those who aren’t able bodied, scared of heights or claustrophobic!) and the view from up there is simply breathtaking. There is a small fee to go up the tower to help maintain it.

The area has a fascintating history which you can read more about here. Charles Darwin is known to have conducted some of his studies in and around here as his friends owned the nearby Leith Hill Place and he used to go and stay there quite often. Also of note, the composer Vaughn-Williams lived here until 1944 and then gave it to the National Trust so everyone could enjoy it. I am glad he did. It’s truly stunning…

Take a picnic, go for a walk, sit and admire the view, get lost in the woods, take in a sunset, visit in the depths of winter. Whenever you visit, you won’t be disappointed.

There are various car parks available nearby.

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Postcode: RH5 6LU

Good for: Escaping it all whatever the weather.

Price: Parking, free along the roadside or no more than £3.50 in the car park. National Trust members park for free. Leith Hill Tower is £2 for Adults and £1 for children.


 Do you have a favourite free or thrifty place to visit in Surrey?

If so, do get in touch with me on knuttalls@gmail.com and I will include it in my next ideas post!


 Happy Exploring Knutters!

Gems.x

You Baby Me Mummy