Thursday 25 April 2013

Basildon Park, Lower Basildon, Berkshire

The National Trust have a free open weekend most years I think. This year we took up the offer and went to Basildon Park. We have passed it so many times on our way to Beale Park (almost right across the road) that curiosity finally got the better of us to go take a peek over the wall.

What an excellent day it was, and how well timed with the gorgeous sunshine. We took a lovely stroll around the gardens, we sat and made daisy chains whilst looking across the valley with the river below.

We ducked in out of little mazes and willow hides watching people playing games in the grounds. Wandered round the rose garden and pretended to be statues. We then came across the 1950's laundry. What fun, looking at mangles, old irons, twin tubs and smelling carbolic soap, phew stinky.

Before going round the house we headed for the tea room. As is National Trust style (akin to WI standards I'm sure) the service and food were excellent with some wonderful cake.
We then stood on the grand balcony pretending to do royal waves to our minions (sorry fellow NT visitors) below and then ducked into a tour of the house.

Big apologies here, I didn't take any photos in the house as I completely forgot, more reason to go visit yourself!
Its not a guided tour, you are free to wonder between the rooms, there is a guide in each room who can explain things in detail and they were very friendly, open and knowledgeable.  They were happy to explain things to children and adults and give the children a little challenge to spot something or guess what an item was used for. There are also factual sheets in each room where were very well laid out, larger boxes if you have the time to read everything and smaller boxes with snippets and photos with quick detail explaining key points in the room.
Very little in the rooms are "of limits", you can touch things, play on the piano, with just the odd rope to guide your way. Lady Iliffe wanted it left as a family home and this is how it feels. Family photos on the side, old magazines scattered about. I think everyone's favourite room is the shell room. just WOW. Shells everywhere and even more in the tucked away drawers. Some are laid out for you to touch and listen to the sea in. Some set on a low table so the children can listen. The second excellent room was the 1950's kitchen, with a tray of old utensils that I remember playing with at grandparents houses. I think we had just sadly missed the drop scones being baked... a few crumbs were left.

18th century kitchen being restored

The house has been used in a few films us as Pride and Prejudice (2005) and The Wedding Video (2012), we pretended to swirl around the Garden Room like we were in a film surrounded by the most amazing Zuber wallpaper.
To keep children entertained when going round the house, there are changing eye-spy items around, when we went it was playing cards and vol au vents, and people playing bridge.
We then went back outside to enjoy the sunshine and have an ice cream. There are some lovely walks in the grounds to enjoy, but we were enjoying the sun shine a little too much to up and move for a walk. We will be back to do that soon.

After a visit to the gift shop we decided that we had such a great day we joined the National Trust. We really want to return again (marble run this summer sounds excellent fun), and also want to go off and visit a few other places. When considering the idea of joining for a year we then compared it to a trip to Legoland. One day at Legoland is around the same price as a years membership to the NT.

Wednesday 24 April 2013

A Family Weekend at Center Parcs

Oh how we love to go to Center Parcs. Between visits Charlotte is always asking to go again and seems to remember every detail about the trip. I'm not going to review Longleat again but just going to say what a great weekend we had.

It was my mums 70th Birthday (hope she doesn't mind me saying that), and as we are in Oxfordshire and my brother and his girlfriend are in Cornwall we were thinking of somewhere we could all meet for a weekend and find something for us all to do. We looked at quite a few cottages and holiday parks but eventually we thought it was nice to go somewhere where we don't have to drive for meals and day trips and something that suited every type of weather. Center Parcs, it was then.

Mum was a bit worried she might be the oldest person there, but that really wasn't the case. We did cheat and got the land train a few times to save going up and down the hill, and planned right it saved us some time (more time relaxing in the spa).
Most of the time was spent in the swimming pools, it was quite fun going down the rapids as grown-ups with my brother shrieking with laughter like we were 14 again. We had a family game of table tennis, which was highly amusing and we left Charlotte with her grandparents to make a bird box while we had a walk round the site.

For mums birthday, us girls went off to the spa while the boys (and Charlotte) were left to their own devices (they played crazy golf).

What a relaxing morning, 3 hours of lying around doing very little, dipping in and out of the different saunas and steam rooms and then finishing off with a massage that was over too quickly. Mum happened to mention to the staff it was her birthday and we were presented with champagne and chocolate. We didn't want to move from our seats watching the lovely view out of the relaxation room.

We had a mix of eating out and catering for ourselves, as its a holiday of course. Was amazing to watch the deer out of our living room window whilst having breakfast each morning. I've never seen deer so close at Center Parcs before.

We tried to drag the weekend out as long as possible with bowling and playing on the beach on our last day but eventually home time had to come. Now we are all taking about when we can go back.

Tuesday 23 April 2013

OxTrails big launch in May

If you live in Oxfordshire and not heard of OxTrails yet why not as it sounds like such a great idea.

Imagine the scene where you wake up one morning, the sun is shining (I know this is England but its improving) and you think what can we do today. You don't want that same walk to the same pub you want something local but different. You go consult google and come up with x pages telling you what to do that day and feel like hiding under the duvet again. Then you click on your OxTrails app. Great there is a lovely walk 20mins drive away (or even bus or bike ride) you've not done before, there is a museum there and looks like a couple of tea rooms and local shops. We could make an afternoon of it or maybe a day.

Days Lock from Wittenham Clumps
Aside from the sun shine all the above is now possible thanks to OxTrails. The app is launching in May but you can already go check out their google map, pintrest, twitter or website for fab ideas that are on your doorstep.
Feeding sheep at Farmer Gows
You can even check out a theme for a real adventure, there is something to suit everyone with OxFood, OxLiterature, OxFilm, OxHistory and OxOutdoors.

My mother-in-law loves quaint little tea shops so she will of course love to check out OxFood. Those lovely little delli's that you have heard of but never quite found or unique shops like Added Ingredients in Abingdon. How about a nice pub lunch, maybe by the river.

Hubby loves his books so will be checking out OxLiterature for famous Oxfordshire author places like playing pooh sticks at Days Lock or Wind in the Willows at the River and Rowing Museum. Or bury yourself in some of the fantastic independent bookshops we have in the county.

Brother-in-law loves films and tv so I'm sure he will be going to check out OxFilm to follow in the footsteps of the famous Harry Potter or Chitty Chitty Bang Bang at Ibstone. We all know of Morse, Lewis and Downton Abbey, now you can go follow in their footsteps.

Mum loves a bit of history and Oxfordshire is awash with historical places like Blenheim Palace, Wallingford Castle and Wayland Smithy and the White Horse. Along with museums such as Vale and Downland at Wantage or the wonderful Pendon Museum.

As a family we love a good walk so OxOutdoors is our favourite, we are often visiting Harcourt Arboretum and Wittenham Clumps. We've also been to Farmer Gows and a number of the BBOWT reserves. But up next is Jarn Mound or maybe a cruise or punt on the Thames.

Its amazing how many places I didn't realise were right on our doorstep.

Go take a look at the website sign up to the twitter feed for the theme that interests you the most (or all of them), go check them out on pinterest or youtube take a look at the google map and look out for the going ons near you in May for the launch.

Monday 22 April 2013

River and Rowing Museum, Henley-on-Thames

We really love going round child friendly museums, and museums are getting so much better at involving the children in different ways now. For a while we had been a bit unsure about visiting the River and Rowing museum though, under the mistaken belief that it was all about rowing and "that" boat race and that Charlotte would be really bored. How wrong we were.

The building on approach is wonderful. Wooden clad almost boathouse like with big glass windows that look out onto the river. Even the car park is interesting with lock gates, boats and a lock keepers shed, also life size models of  Sir Matthew Pinsent and Sir Steve Redgrave.

Once we were inside Charlotte rushed towards the Wind in the Willows gallery at lightning speed. She loved watching the story evolve in each of the scenes as they are brought to life. She loved going into Mr Toads caravan and we had to read that bit of the book before bedtime. She enjoyed it so much we then had to go round a second time (and a third before we left).

We then headed up the stairs to the larger galleries.

The rowing gallery was really interesting with various boats hung from the ceiling, a rowing machine to try out. Trying to row in time on one display was quite amusing. Seeing the size of some of the oars and also what they are made out of was good.

The next gallery we headed for was the history of Henley. Charlotte's favourite bit was obviously dressing up as if she was to attend the Royal Henley Regatta. But she loved to open up the drawers and look at local finds like the iron age coins.

The river gallery was our favourite, we knew about swan upping as Abingdon is the last stop on the river so liked reading about that. Its also about each stop along the Thames  how the river used to be used, various lock gates. The 'About water' display was really popular showing how much water you use flushing the toilet, having a shower or bath and using the dishwasher and how we get water to our house by connecting pipes.

The end of the gallery over looks Ratty's wildlife garden which Charlotte loved to look down on and then the activities at this end of the gallery were all about the wildlife that live on the river. Charlotte really enjoyed matching different things.

There are changing exhibitions on the ground floor and the current one until July 2013 is about paralympic rowing. This was fascinating, not just seeing kit from London 2012 but also what food, drink and utensils ocean rowers would take with them.

We had a lovely lunch in the cafe and then a short walk up to the weir and lock before leaving.

Unlike most museums this one is independent so there is an admission fee, but that will give you a years  entry (parking is free if you show your ticket on exit). But the museum is well worth the cost as there is a lot to see and do for children (and adults) of all ages. Its also a really popular museum and there are lots of what's on things going on so we are sure to return for some of them. We really regret not having visited sooner.