Tuesday, 13 January 2015

Mountain Warehouse keeping kids warm outside this winter

We have had some really up and down weather so far this winter. We got our winter gear and then it went mild, but thankfully by the time the temperatures fell at Christmas we were ready for them.

When we received our Mountain Warehouse catalogue I think Charlotte said want, want, want to just about everything in it. Those very kind people sent us a really fluffy arctic softshell jacket, an owl hat that has made all her friends jealous and some winter walking boots. Every item got a big thumbs up from both of us.
fully kitted out
The hat has a nice fleecy lining, the cute owl ears and long tassels that all girls want at the moment. It said one size fits all, she is 6 nearly 7 and it is very stretchy so it would go up and down of this age.

The arctic softshell jacket is so soft and fluffy inside, really seems to keep her toasty warm. It's got a really lovely print, not too much pink but still girlie enough for her. I brought a size 7-8 and fits her well and should last next winter as well. There is inside and outside pockets (extra leaf and twig storage), the zip goes up really high so not cold around the neck and has a fluffy chin guard. The fluffy layer goes behind the zip so no cold air blowing through there. Not been out in any good rain with it but the odd light shower and it was no problem. The cold winds at the weekend, she said she was plenty warm enough.
very fluffy warm coat
We have put the kids chill winter waterproof boots to the full test (except no snow test). These are more winter walking boots than snow boots I would think. They have an isotherm layer so keep your feet toasty from 7 to -5c I think it was. They are seriously grippy with some great tread on the bottom, the velcro fittings are a godsend compared to having to tie laces on her old boots and they are great at fitting to her slim ankles. They come up quite high with plenty of support.  She is a 12half fitting and went for the 13 with walking socks and plenty comfortable and warm. No complaints from her. She has covered them in mud from day one and even with her slight turned in foot walk not worn or scuffed the fabric on the outside yet.
first muddy trip out

I wouldn't say they are fully waterproof due to getting rather wet whilst unsuccessfully building stone towers on the beach to avoid the waves (in 2c temperatures). They were slightly damp at the end inside but she never noticed. I'm sure if I waterproof sprayed them they will be back to normal and they had got damp before this with no problems.
stone towers on the beach

A lot of the clothes above are now available in the Mountain Warehouse Sale if you are wanting a few warmer layers for this winter, or thinking ahead and buying for next, they get a big thumbs up from us.
Thank you

Saturday, 10 January 2015

Ardington Planets, Ardington, Wantage, Oxfordshire

This is a lovely village walk that can be made as long or as short as you like that also involves a little bit of physics fun.

Approx time: 1 hour
Paths: grass, mud and open roads
Points of interest: planets, standing stones, stream, pond, sundial
Amenities: off road parking in the village and local pub and tea rooms
Grading: all terrain or pushchair on a dry summer day as one slope
Weather: all seasons

route map (please click for larger image)
We last did this walk on a wet spring day as part of arts week, we have now gone back on a cold wet winter day and enjoyed it just as much.
We often park across the road from the Loyd Lindsay rooms. From here we walk a bit further along High Street and turn left at the war memorial and seat.
memorial seat
Carry along Well Street with the church on your left hand site. This is a lovely village church where we have stopped and looked at some of the very unusual graves. At the last house on your right there is a field with a footpath running through. Take this route (There is a sign saying that the field will be closed on the 25 December) across the field and see if you can find some ducks to feed at the pond on the way. We only managed to feed some very well fed fish instead!

well fed fish pond
 As the field ends and joins another there is a turn to your right crossing a stream (it was shallow enough to paddle with our wellies on) which leads to a row of old barns and if you look into one of them an old mill wheel.

mill and stream
 Pass through the row of houses and at school road turn left, cross over and a but further up is Ardington Woods.
Just so we don't forget where we are
There is a circular walk around the woods, starting from the stone in the middle of the row of trees.

description of the millennium sundial and planetary model
 This stone will explain the standing stones (a sun dial) and also the solar system that you will find as you head up the hill.
sundial stone
 Children will love running from planet to planet and hiding behind the stones. Each plant has its name and also size along with a few other details. Behind one of the sundial stone's is also a chart to help you tell the time.
the sun with planets around
 Carry on to your right again another clearing the woods, carry on through, another right and right again and you will soon be back were the woods started.

sun setting over the Chilton's
 Take a left onto School Road and you will soon be back at the car. We often head beyond the car to the play park as an end of walk treat. There is a village shop and tea room along the way if you go during the week or on a Saturday.
 I would love to know the history of why this position was chosen for a sun dial and solar system, I am guessing its because of the local science parks but can not find any details.

Little Pluto

I'm joining in with Country Kids

Country Kids from Coombe Mill Family Farm Holidays Cornwall

Friday, 21 November 2014

Perfect hot chocolate thanks to Mountain Warehouse

The new Mountain Warehouse Autumn/Winter 2014 catalogue landed on my doorstep along with a surprise present of a thermos flask. Readitdaddy straight away had visions of using it for coffee but a little voice beat him to that with "oh I can use that for my hot chocolate". We often finish a walk with a piece of cake and hot chocolate to warm up.

Charlotte fell in love with trying out the very cool looking open closed click. Press the middle for open and the outer rig for closed. All very simple and even possible with gloves on, the lid serves as a little cup.
the click open and close system (© Mountain Warehouse)
I did a leak test at home before use over the sink. Didn't leak at all but one little trick. After pouring your drink, click close and then pour again and a drop more comes out.
a perfect hot chocolate
In use, we filled the flask at 10am for our walk, with milky hot chocolate. Not boiling but drinkable. Charlotte and I had a cup full each at 1pm and was perfect for me and a little warm for her so in 3 hours no temperature change. The flask was still half full. We had another cup each at 4pm and it was a pefect temperature for both of us. This flask will easily keep your drink hot for 6+ hours and we got 4 cup fulls of drink out (very small cups, more 2 standard cups in total). The double wall worked as you would expect as the outside was not hot.
This will be saving us quite a bit of money and our waistline as we won't be tempted by those cakes when we go to buy a hot chocolate!

There is a wide selection of children's clothing in the catalogue, anyone tempted by skiing this season there are children's clothing packages. Lots of snow boots too. Charlotte loved the look of their hats

Owl hat (© Mountain Warehouse)
 I know she is really envious of our adult softshell jackets and wants her own. We brought cheap adult ones not realising how much we would use it and now she wants one. I'm seriously envious of how fluffy this one looks. We are finding our soft shell jackets excellent as they have so many uses keep out wind and waterproof enough for showers. We also use ours as an extra layer under a really good rain coat.

Arctic printed kid softshell jacket (© Mountain Warehouse)
I know Charlotte likes that Mountain Warehouse isn't all pink for girls, she still loves to wear her purple summer shore trousers, no arguments when I ask her to pop them on with a pair of thermal leggings now its winter. They now have a lined pair for winter or you could opt for some waterproof trousers. They also have some great looking fleeces... to stop me rattling on go have a look yourself

The thermos flask was kindly sent to me by Mountain Warehouse. This has not influenced my views in any way.

Thursday, 20 November 2014

Wolvercote Lakes, Oxford, Oxfordshire

Wolvercote Lakes is a very small but beautiful area in a village on the edge of North Oxford a place to to sit and relax and to also explore wildlife. Pond dipping, bugs, birds and ducks.

Approx time: 30mins
Paths:  grass and mud
Points of interest: wildlife, lakes, trains
Amenities: on road parking opposite, buses from Oxford, 2 pubs close by
Grading: any buggy but the drop by the gate is tricky
Weather: all seasons (but liable to flood)

map of Wolvercote Lakes location (click for larger map)
We decided to walk the oxford canal starting in Jericho and ending in Wolvercote, a village to the north of Oxford. While in Wolvercote we fancied a nice restful sit down at the lakes before our return journey (the distance doesn't seem so long when you are driving into Oxford City center).

Map and history of the Wolvercote Lakes
 The lake area was smaller than we expected but quite lovely. There were a number of  new notice boards (the site had only opened a few months before this review), one with a map and history of the site, and others on the animals that live in the area. It is right beside Oxford railway line so it's not a circular walk.

Great Western Railway Boundary marker
The site was owned by the Kirk family and was at one time home to a number of traction engines. There was once a house on stilts on site which when the area flooded could only by accessed by punt. But sadly all this has now gone but what has been passed onto the Oxford Preservation Trust to manage is to be cherished.

Commemorative seat to the Viv Kirk
There is a bird hide which is well used with those noting their sightings on the board. There are a few platforms to stand on against the waters edge.

bird hide
It's is a great family walk for 5mins fresh air or 30mins if you are allowed to sit and watch the heron, birds, ducks and I bet some great bugs to find. The gate in isn't the easiest to manage with quite a drop down but most of the site is buggy friendly aside from the odd footpath.

platforms over the lake
It looks like the volunteers who work on this site really must love and care for it and the villagers too, as we saw quite a number having a late afternoon stroll.

What will you spot?
There is on street parking right opposite, another car park beyond 2 pubs also (there is also The Trout PH not far along the road (across a narrow bridge) which often appears in Inspector Morse and many guidebooks as it nestles beside the Thames. The opposite side of the road to the lake is port meadow. Originally a Bronze Age burial ground but now a haven for wildlife and ponies graze all year round. You can explore the common, the Thames to the west side or burgess field to the east. You could make a circular walk of it as we did from Jericho or the city center where the canal starts and return via the Thames or port meadow, our route was about 4 miles long starting at Walton Street in Jericho.

Monday, 20 October 2014

Finding our Bumble - Bee Conservation

At school Charlotte had to do a bee study this summer as part of "The Big Bumblebee Discovery" and came home with a booklet she had to complete.
We had to carry out a few studies in different locations noting the weather, temperature and which bees we found. We had a picture guide of bees and they were quite specific over which bees they wanted us to study. The names of which I have sadly forgotten.

We get a few bees in our backgarden so went to check out which plants they visited and which bees we get. They love our lavender, sweet pea and chive flowers. We spent quite a bit of time watching them move from one flower to another and seeing how they move. Though we spotted about 6 bees in our 10 minutes only 1 of these was on our study sheet. Obviously we needed a better garden.

That weekend we visited Waddesdon Manor, and wondering through the rose garden spotted hundreds of bees on the lavender. We had forgotten our bee booklet but armed with cameras took as many pictures of bees as we could, this wasn't easy as bees are very camera shy. At home we then worked out which bees we saw and how many of each.

Charlotte was very pleased with her study, watching different bees, how they move about the garden and what their favorite plants were in the garden. The booklet was returned to school and in return she came home with a pencil and sticker for completing in the national study.

After reading "The boy who lost his bumble" and thinking back to our bee study we wondered how we could help bees in our garden. In the spring we will look round our local garden centre for bee friendly plants, most garden centres now mark up the best bee friendly plants.

Bee Hotel
 Whilst walking round our local garden centre at the weekend we spotted a small bee hotel or we could make one ourselves as I found on the Natural History Museum website.

The Bumblebee Conservation Trust also have some kids pages with a simple guide on spotting different types of bumble bees and some simple plants to plant in the garden.

Also make sure you visit ReadItDaddy to find out how great a book "The Boy Who Lost His Bumble" by Trudi Esberger (Child's Play) is and how it's inspired us to look at what plants we can add to our garden next spring.

Wednesday, 27 August 2014

Aqua Sana, Woburn Center Parcs, Bedfordshire

So sometimes mums and dads need a little break from the walking and children and to relax. What better way to relieve tired muscles than a visit to a spa.

Whilst at Longleat Center Parcs I managed to persuade Phil to visit the Aqua Sana spa for 3 hours. At the end of the 3 hours he admitted that it was actually ok and he would go again. Roll on a few weeks and we found ourselves at the recently opened Woburn Center Parcs Aqua Sana spa for a day, on his suggestion.
Aqua Sana entrance. Cafe and outdoor terrace on 1st floor, 6 spa suites on 2nd & 3rd floor
You don't have to be staying at Center Parcs to visit the spa, it was very easy to book packages online, and on arrival at 9am it appeared a popular thing to do. Very friendly staff on hand to greet you, handing out locker wrist bands and towels. The changing rooms are really large, good size lockers (some with a hanger), a number of hair dryers at vanity tables, numerous showers with complementary shampoo, conditioner, shower gel and swim costume spinners with wet bags. There is one private change room. Once changed and though the other side you head up the stairs were staff greet you and direct you to the cafe where you book a lunch slot and complementary breakfast of pastry or fruit salad and a drink is brought to you.  On entry to the spa you are given the times of any treatments you have booked (more can be booked in advance or on arrival depending on availability) and a run down of the spa areas with a tour if you wish.

Herbal Sauna (c) Center Parcs
I had read it can take three hours to go once round the spa, this is quite true. It took us over two hours to visit each room, some so hot (or cold) you don't stay long and others so perfect you stay longer.
Set over 2 floors with 25 experience rooms and divided into 6 zones with an outdoor infinity pool and zen garden you don't realise on first glance how big it is. There are a few wall maps around to help you get your bearings when needed. Each area has a sauna and steam room, along with spa showers. Other times you will find a mix of rain walks and relaxation rooms. There are some rooms especially designed for Center Parcs, such as the volcano room, which is very hot and if you get the right angle lie back and watch volcanos explode on tvs. There was some different uses of tvs in rooms, like the sensory experience sauna where you go through the four seasons projected on the ceiling with smell and touch. There were herbal and flower rooms, along with mineral and salt rooms. We entered a mineral steam bath looking ominously up at the showers wondering if they come on... to eventually laugh when we got drenched (in the nicest possible way). As well as relaxation rooms in the zones there was outside and inside loungers, double round beds to snuggle under a blanket on, and water beds that people fell asleep on. There were a few water points dotted around but sometimes we found the water hadn't been refilled or it was out of cups, the same applied to the single point for cool face cloths (which though placed in ice weren't moist).

Aqua Sana outdoor pool at night (c) Center Parcs
 The infinity pool was very nice, will be more secluded when the tress in-front grow taller with time as jealous onlookers walked by. The jets appear to come on quite randomly, the jacuzzi bed could have been larger at busy times, and some of the water jets were a little harsh. Leaving only the brave to go near. The pool was a lot nicer than the one at Longleat with space to sit, lounge, watch and chat (even in the rain, yes it did rain).

Lunch was a choice of salads, pasta dishes and paninis, enjoyed with juice, hot drink or even with a glass of Prosecco. The "sweet treats" looked very nice so we popped back in the afternoon for coffee and a cake. Service again was excellent and the food tasted as delicious as it looked.

After lunch we went along for our treatment, we both had a Elemis Revive and Refresh Booster Facial. I've been to a few spas and had treatments at Aqua Sana before so knew what to expect. Phil on the other hand was a spa newbie. We were greeted promptly by therapists and made very welcome. We both found the therapist explained what she was about to do and what she was using. Phil did get a bit of a shock with a quick foot massage to start with which was very unexpected, and being a foot hater didn't enjoy this. I on the other hand had no foot massage. We came out feeling relaxed and Phil had to say it wasn't quite as bad as he expected and his skin was a lot better for it.
Infinity pool
After another once round our favorite rooms in the spa sadly our day had to come to an end. We were welcome to use other facilities at Woburn for the day so we had a walk around Woburn and enjoyed a lovely meal at Cafe Rogue before home.
As well as a various choice of spa days on offer you can also book luxury spa breaks and we wished we had booked this for the night, it felt like our day had ended too quickly and the rooms look amazing on the website. It would be an excellent choice for that special occasion.

We went on a Saturday during the summer holidays. So quite probably a popular day but at no point did it feel too busy. I read maximum capacity is 200 people, which sounds a lot and we think there could have been close to that by the afternoon (there was an obvious difference in numbers in the morning to afternoon) but spread over the different "zones", cafe and treatment rooms we never felt we couldn't get into a room or we couldn't find a lounger to lie-on.
One minus of the day was as the spa is spread over 2 floors we did feel we went up and down a bit to lockers to grab a book or kindle and for getting a dry towel or robe. We kept on sneaking to the other side of the changing room for a dry towel and robe, they do get very wet and heavy.

We thoroughly enjoyed our day, and really hope to go back. Our favorites being the foot baths, lava volcano room (how long can you stay in for), snow and ice room and mineral room.

Tuesday, 19 August 2014

Rosemary Cottage, Stackpole, Wales

We were having a two location holiday this summer, mid-week in Center Parcs and a week in wales, for this reason I wanted a nice secluded cottage in Wales for the contrast of busy and quiet.
I struggled to find exactly what I wanted at the right price but then I looked at the National Trust Holiday Cottage website. Most were way out of our budget (as I expected) but then one came up saying basic accommodation and was a price I would pay. I was really unsure about what basic would mean, but I tried to stay open minded no matter what horror stories my dad tried to come up with.

Rosemary Cottage (open right door)
 There is a row of 3 cottages, all for private rental at Stackpole, Pembrokeshire. Beside which is also the manor house which again is a private rental (all through the National Trust Cottage website). The rest of the site is Stackpole Outdoor Learning Centre. It opened about 30 years ago offering residential visits for school children (I remember going to the Gower coast many years ago and loving it), but also takes college/university group trips and offers residential training courses. Whilst we were there we had a few small adult groups staying, one school group and a national trust group on a residential. None of this caused us any problem, most of the time they weren't even on site.

location of  cottages on Stackpole Estate (click for larger image)
 What we loved most was the fact that 8 arch bridge was less than 5 mins away from our accommodation, so we could sit and gaze over the lakes. Just to sit and watch in the peace was wonderful, seeing the fish below, the herons, swans, birds and pond skaters. I'm told there are otters... but despite our best efforts we never saw them.
Carry on across the bridge for a mile and we were at Stackpole Quay. A mile to the West and you have grassy bridge, Broadhaven beach and then beyond to the lilly ponds at Bosherton.

Rosemary Cottage (left)
 Looking through the accommodation comment book one person said said they didn't have to drive off site all week, we could see why as you could just walk the whole area. There are beaches for the children only a short walk, Barafundle is one of the top 50 in the world, cafes and pubs along with the coastal path. Need any ideas of where to go, best cafes etc, just pop into reception and all the staff are so helpful. You may also be able to join in any events they have running during your stay. In our week Charlotte easily completed 13 of her 50 things challenge, and could have done a lot more.

view from living room window to shared garden and fields beyond
The cottage sleeps 6 in 3 bedrooms. Upstairs is a double room with an additional single bed in, the other side of the stairs is a twin room. Downstairs is a large bathroom (very large shower no bath), living area with kitchenette and a 3rd bedroom off the living area with a single bed and a travel cot. Off the 3rd bedroom is the back door to a shared garden. All bedrooms had ample storage for clothes and suitcases. The kitchen was really well stocked with equipment, but limited space for dry goods. Large fridge/freezer, cooker, microwave etc. Exactly 6 of plates, cups, glasses etc.

master bedroom (single bed to left of photo)
 We were surprised to find a new tv with a dvd player, this was useful for the odd rainy afternoon. The bathroom was really large (the door ways were too and this is because it used to be disabled accommodation), with an excellent shower, plenty of hot water and an electric towel rail that I dried the odd bit of clothing on.

twin bedrom
The only thing I hadn't brought with me was a hair dryer... and they didn't have one. I can manage without one but it did stump me for a moment. The only minus we could find about the cottage was the double mattress. The single beds were hard but ok to sleep on but our double had seen better days. But despite this I slept well due to all that fresh air!!! Sorry I forgot to take photos of downstairs rooms but it looked exactly like the ones on the National Trust website.

dinner outside in the shared garden
We loved our week in the cottage and hope to go back to the area at some point. I would really recommend looking at the basic national trust cottages. The lady on reception said in high summer their cottages are cheaper than a week in local static caravan sites. Personal choice but I know what I would opt for.

Please see my recent post of what there is to see and do near Stackpole