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.
cheers
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

Tuesday, 12 August 2014

Exploring Stackpole & local area, Pembrokeshire, Wales

I'm not sure how we decided on a holiday in Wales, or how we even ended up in Pembrokeshire. I wanted a cottage that fitted a certain date, not too long a drive from home, quite rural so as to get some peace with plenty of walks and nature so as to be out every day. Readitdaddy keeps saying lets go to Wales so I gave in to him (a rare occurrence!)

Barafundle Bay
We turned up at the cottage with little knowledge of the area and what to do every day, I hadn't done much research on the area which is unlike me. We needn't have worried. Stackpole has plenty of walks, from where we were staying we could walk for miles in each direction and see changing scenery. We were only a mile from 2 glorious beaches. Some of the paths had disabled access and were buggy friendly. We really did walk for miles every day.

So how to fill your time in the Pembroke/Tenby area.

Bosherton Lilly Ponds
 Exploring Stackpole with a child can be done over a few days with beach stops. The Bosherton lilly ponds walk was wonderful with a stop at Broadhaven South beach to have a picnic. It was beautifully peaceful walking round the pond, the water lillys were just coming into flower and some wonderful views from the top of the hill looking across. Broadhaven South had a lovely sandy beach, sand dunes above and clear water. We stopped for ice cream ate the tea room in Bosherton which is very popular.
http://www.nationaltrust.org.uk/stackpole/things-to-see-and-do/article-1356404655196/

Barafundle on a wet day
 We walked part of the coastal path between broadhaven and Stackpole Quay stopping at Barafundle for another play on the beach, voted one of the top 50 beaches in the world. The beach was stunning with lovely sand and clear water and is only accessible on foot. It was this wildlife walk but missing out step 7 round the lilly pond http://www.nationaltrust.org.uk/article-1356404481362/  We did a lot of this walk in the rain but thankfully it stopped when we were on the beach. We really did see all sorts of wildlife along the way.

Broadhaven South
 A rainy day was saved for a trip to Pembroke Castle. It means your views from the great towers won't be so stunning (oil refinery in one direction but the rest are great). But there are a number of indoor things explaining the history of the site with replica models, how the castle would have been used, the occupants of the castle over the years, the battle during the civil war and it being the birthplace of Henry VII. It is a huge castle, it's obvious were it has been expanded over time with the crumbling remains of some areas. Charlotte loves history and enjoyed exploring this site and has since taken a book out of the library about medieval castles. We went a little dizzy going up an down towers of varying height (some were high) with tiny little steps. We looked down into the dungeon, reading the sad history of John being kept down there. A good few hours well spent. There is a mill pond walk running behind the shopping area, which is highly recommended in guide books, but sadly the weather got worse so we missed this out.

Pembroke Castle on a very wet day
 We tried to visit Manorbier castle, but was closed for a wedding that day. They do say check online before visiting, but very little network coverage in Stackpoke for us to check. We did visit the beach which was a lot of fun for rock pooling. We found a great sea anemone but no crabs that day.

Manorbier Castle
 We visited Tenby for a day on the beach. We had a walk around the town, which is like stepping back in time to an old seaside resort with lots of little cafes and fish and chip shops. We took a walk to the lifeboat house and passed the old lifeboat house on the way, which I recognised from Grand Designs. We took a look at the boat rides, there was quite a few on offer, but decided just to enjoy the beach. Its a lovely big expanse of golden sand when the tide is out and not many stones to catch feet on. Its very popular beach, and you can hire kyacks and jet skis on the beach. I wanted a kyack but nobody would join me, maybe another time.

fun on the beach at Tenby
 On a windy and damp day we went along to look at Dobby's grave (Harry Potter) on Freshwater West. Its very breezy and popular with surfers, but the day we were there was just the odd paddle boarder. It was another excellent beach again for rock pooling and this time we did find a small crab, and broke Grandads net! From Freshwater West we carried onto Angle on the recommendation of a good place to eat. At the beach car park is the recently opened Wave Crest. Contemporary surroundings and wonderful food and cakes with lovely service. We were going to go for a walk along the coastal path at Angle but the weather took a turn for the worst.

Rock pooling at Freshwater West
 Colby Woodland Gardens was our last stop of the week. A national trust place almost hidden away. It was really beautiful and excellent for kids to explore and do lots of their 50 things (we ticked 13 off on holiday, could have been a lot more). The staff were really chatty and friendly. There is a walled garden with amazing gazebo, wildflower meadows, streams to paddle in and stepping stone across, or attempt to dam the stream like us. Walks in the woods and even one down to the beach. We cheated and drove down to the beach after. Colby is perfect for a picnic with the family and a nice relaxing day.
stepping stones across the stream at Colby
Our last day was a short walk along to Barafundle and a stop in the highly recommended Stackpole Quay cafe for lunch. Excellent lunch and cake again. Just as it started to rain we came home. Left with the car saying 19c and arrived home to 29c, we wanted to turn right back round!

Stackpole
We had a lovely week, and would love to go back to this area. We really enjoyed the mix of walks and trips to the beach. There is plenty to do in the area for those who are really love the outdoor adventure activities and those who just love to sit on the beach. As with Wales there was the odd wet day but mostly lovely warm days and the weather didn't stop us doing anything.

Friday, 25 July 2014

Summer Outdoor Gear from Mountain Warehouse

With our holiday to Wales we knew we were going to need an odd mix of clothes. Packing shorts, along with fleeces seemed so wrong. But it all got worn.
To add to our outdoor items Mountain Warehouse kindly sent us a few things to try out.

Outdoor Trousers

I went for the trek women's trousers in navy and Charlotte the shore girls trousers in purple. Sold as quick drying and lightweight these were perfect and performed really well, worn almost every day.
They were wonderful on cooler and warmer days, they got covered in sand, mud, a lot of rain and some sea water. When wet they weren't heavy like jeans and dried as you walked when it brighten up.
Our cottage had no washing or drying facilities. So when I really had to wash them in the basin they drip dried hung in the shower over night ready to wear the next day.
Looking good in our trousers

Women's trousers in detail:
These were true to size, the word elasticated waistband usually sends me running but it was done in a flattering way and made the fit and stretch better. The "short" trousers were 29" not the usual UK 28" so I often turned the ends up. Two zip pockets for a mobile or change, the cargo pocket was even big enough for my compact binoculars and a few other pockets for beach finds.
Just a little wet and sandy in this shot

Kids trousers in detail:
Charlotte loved the colour of her purple trousers, something different than the standard navy and beige with a puddle loving 6 year old doesn't work. The BIG bonus of these was the adjustable waist band when you have a skinny minnie. We went for age 5-6 and they are perfect. She still has them on the short leg option (love this too) so will fit for some time more. A couple of pockets for her to store her collection of finds and she was happy. She never complained once so they must be good.
turned up ankles

 

Bermunda Aqua Shoes

We were all lucky enough to get a pair of these and they came in useful for all sorts of things.
Aqua Shoes

Sadly nobody would go kayaking in the sea with me but on the beach and rock pooling they were great. Stopped all those ouches when walking down to the sea, or the fear of landing on something sharp when jumping waves. After a day on the beach and all de-sanded if the shoes were dry you could walk back to the car with sand free feet (always remember as a child having the sand scrubbed off my feet in the car park).
no sandy feet here

 When rock pooling they offered grip and protection. They drained quite easily and didn't have too much weight or resistance when trying to walk in the sea. They would dry in a few hours in the sunshine.
rock pooling and jumping waves

As an idea on size - I sized up with Charlotte and hers were ok, never fell off but a little loose, Phil's were perfect fit 9 in everything he wears. I'm a 3-4, went for the 4 and should have got the 3.

0.5L Metallic Water Bottle with Spout

Like most people we go through so many bottles as they all seem to leak, but so far the contents of our bags have stayed dry with this one.
keeping hydrated

I thought the karabiner looked great, but it wouldn't hold the bottle if the spout was on, only if using the stopper. Real shame that. As it was a bottle for us to share the spout was more practical. The cap kept the spout clean, but sadly you still need to pull the spout with your hand, so transferring germs. Being metal it could get a little warm in the sun. We filled with chilled water and usually stayed cool enough to drink if kept out of the sun. Has stood up to a few bumps and scrapes fine so far.

Australian Wide Brim Hat

Phil was so looking forward to this as is always in need of hats.
sunglasses not included

But he has a big head and the one size fits all didn't work in this case. I have a small head and it fits me just about right, so may have to take ownership of it as naughty me I don't own a hat. He liked everything about the hat, the style he wanted, the UV protection, the khaki colour. If this was available in other sizes it would be perfect.


These items were kindly sent to me by Mountain Warehouse in return for this review. This has not influenced by views in any way.