Tuesday, 19 August 2014

Summer Holiday Fun with Friends

Last week we headed down to the Midlands for a few days of family fun. More on the first two days later but Friday evening saw us heading over to stay with ClearlyBex and family. Our boys are great friends and I knew we'd have a lot of fun together. Saturday dawned and we headed out for the day to somewhere that we last visited when Bud was just four months old. Almost exactly four years later we headed back to Blists Hill Victorian Town in Ironbridge to explore.

Blists Hill is very close to where Bex and her family so a short drive saw us arriving there, parking and changing some money in the bank for the full Victorian experience. There was a Meccano exhibition in full swing (did you know that Meccano was a Victorian invention?) and the boys headed into there straight away. There were some fantastic creations there, with the children particularly taken by a ferris wheel that could be turned using a small handle. Both boys were given their very own small Meccano set to take home too, it was a really great way to introduce children to this classic construction toy.

Blists Hill Victorian Town Meccano Exhibition

From there we headed down the main street, Bud was looking for animals as always, and we popped into some of the shops to look around too. The boys enjoyed spending 1 1/2d on two ounces of sweets at the well stocked sweet shop and all of the children enjoyed meeting Casey the Shire Horse too. Everything at Blists Hill attempts to be authentic so you won't see much electronic equipment, there's not even much of a mobile phone signal to reduce the authenticity! 

Blists Hill Victorian Town Shire Horse

Lunch was bought from the Victorian fish and chip shop and eaten in the pub beer garden, this was really lovely and we all enjoyed sharing fish and chips from paper. The chip shop sells fish and chips or chips, an easy decision to make! The next place we explored was the Victorian fairground with a ride on the self-powered wooden swings for Bud and Lewis and a ride on the Carousel for me, Bex and the girls. 

Blists Hill Victorian Town Carousel and Boat Swings

The next attraction was something Ian and I have really fond memories of. We went on this when Bud was four months old and, despite it being pitch black in there for a time, and a few loud bangs, he fell asleep! He managed to stay awake for this ride though. There is an additional charge for the train ride which I do find irritating. An awful lot of the enjoyment of Blists Hill requires spending money and it isn't a cheap place to visit in the first place. I think charging the £2 each per adult, and £1 per children is unacceptable really. 

Last time we visited the Incline Railway Lift was being worked upon and we couldn't use it. This time we got a chance though and it was fun to take the lift up and down the steep hill. Bex showed us a walk we hadn't seen on our first visit which took us to a huge canal incline which has been unusued for over a century. It's still in exceptional condition though!

With treats from the bakery and exploring everything else we missed we headed off to Ironbrige town to have our photo taken on the Ironbridge again. It was fun to recreate the last time we were there and you can see how much Bud has grown!

Family Photo on the Ironbridge

The Ironbridge area is a World Heritage Site and contains ten museums in the area. If you live close enough to visit regularly then you can buy an annual family pass which allows you to visit each museum as often as you like. We will definitely be back in the future.

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We've been trying out some fab BN biscuits from McVitie's and took them along on a day out to try out. They are available in two flavours - chocolate and raspberry - and are a crunchy, chewy treat. 

McVitie's BN Biscuits

The big smiley face makes them a big hit with children and mine have enjoyed munching them very much. I think I will be buying them in future.

McVitie's have asked me to share my tips for Summer fun so here are my tips for enjoying a day out with friends.

1. Agree on a place to visit which everyone can enjoy - museums, theme parks and sites like Blists Hill are perfect for this as they will suit children at a range of ages.

2. Set a group budget - there's nothing worse than one family flashing the cash and your children complaining because money is a bit tighter. This was inescapable on our day out as Blists Hill doesn't have a cash machine so we had to pool resources!

3. Take lots of breaks - if you have younger children this is especially important as they can get tired easily, a few points to rest and relax will sustain them.

4. Take snacks - you might want to eat lunch out as we did but little ones need constant fuelling. The BN biscuits are perfect for this as they come in a cardboard sleeve which will help to protect them from being bashed in a bag or under the pushchair.

5. Manage expectations - the Blists Hill bank is perfect for this. The boys knew that they could spend the 'old pennies' they had and that would be it. This saves whiny children asking for more and helps little ones to learn about budgets too.

6. Plan your day - there are bound to be different things that different people in the group want to do. Make sure that if you do one thing for one child then, next time, another child gets to choose. Consider splitting into two groups and meeting up later if that would work better.

7. Have fun!

This post is an entry for 42 Days of Summer Linky Challenge sponsored by McVitie’s BN. Learn more at http://bit.ly/1mRpMCL

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Monday, 18 August 2014

Win a Playskool Roctivity Piano

I think all of our thoughts are starting to turn towards the children returning to school and then... Christmas will be on the way before we know it! I'm hoping to have a few lovely giveaways for you over the next couple of months which should make that shopping list a bit lighter.

I've teamed up with Playskool to offer one of my readers the chance to win a lovely toddler toy. With over 20 fun sounds and tunes, the baby-friendly Playskool Rocktivity Piano allows little rock-stars to build a tune with every roll or tap of the keys! Kids can have fun with silly animal sounds or learn early skills and concepts with educational responses, all whilst movin’ and groovin’ to the music. The Rocktivity Piano and the full range of amazing Playskool products can now be found in-store and online at Argos (RRP: £39.99).


Playskool Roctivity Piano

Suitable for children aged 9 months plus this looks like a wonderful toy for young toddlers. It looks like a lot of fun. I think it's exactly the sort of toy my two would have loved when they were younger and it would make the perfect first, or second, Christmas gift.

For a chance to win this toy simply complete the Gleam widget below. The blog post comment is compulsory and will unlock a range of additional entry options. Please read the terms and conditions. 

Win a Playskool Roctivity Piano

Win competitions at ThePrizeFinder.com

Eurocamp in the Loire Valley - Le Château des Marais - First Impressions

Last month we had the amazing opportunity to visit a Eurocamp site in the Loire Valley - Le Château des Marais. We stayed for a week and had a wonderful family holiday, our first outside the UK. We've stayed in a few caravans and I was looking forward to seeing how the caravan and touring holiday was offered in France.

Eurocamp logo

Le Château des Marais is situated in the Loire Valley between Blois and Orleans Not far from the River Loire banks. It's a very rural location and so scenic, you drive through fields and fields of crops and vines, including some stunning fields of sunflowers.

Field of Sunflowers in the Loire Valley

Not for nothing is the Loire Valley known as the Garden of France. It's amazing to see the fields of wheat, sunflowers and leeks (that we could identify) being irrigated by complex sprinkler systems and worked by teams of agricultural workers. As it's situated deep in the heartland of France you aren't going to find a drive of less than 300km from any ferry port - the closest are Dieppe, Le Havre and Caen - we took the short hop from Dover to Calais (I don't like sailing so the best option for me) and faced a 450km drive on the French side. This took around six hours on the wonderful French toll roads, with a typical snarl up around Paris. I'd recommend, like us, an early ferry crossing then driving down to arrive in time for dinner.

Le Château des Marais Signpost

The site is tucked away just outside the small town of Mer and the village of Muides-sur-Loire. Both are well stocked with small shops, boulangeries and the like and the site also has it's own mini supermarket, takeaway restaurant and bar. If you want a supermarket you will have to drive to a larger town. We tended to go to Blois or Mont Près Chambord to stock up on our way back from days out. If you're arriving late on a Saturday make sure you get to a supermarket before noon on the Sunday (try the Carrefour in Blois), or use the site shop.

Le Château des Marais Eurocamp site

We arrived in heavy rain, which was a feature of our first few days. The site is heavily wooded, you'll be able to hear the bird song as soon as you arrive and my two were out of the car collecting pine cones as soon as the doors opened. The site has an electronic barrier with a passcode so you will need to report to Eurocamp on arrival. Your courier will then give you the code and escort you to your accommodation. The site has a real mixture of places to stay from safari tents and treehouses through different types of static caravan and permanently pitched tents to the camper vans and tourers.

Le Château des Marais Eurocamp site Treehouses

I liked that the accommodation was quite well mixed and you didn't feel like there was a huge block of any particular type. Our accommodation was a Classic Plus 3 Bedroom static caravan, but more of that tomorrow.  It is a compact site and nowhere is much more than a five minute wander away. We loved that our caravan was on a road that didn't lead anywhere. apart from on foot to the Kids Club activity field. This meant that the children could play outside on their scooters with only cars returning to the other caravans to worry about.

Le Château des Marais Eurocamp site Caravans

The site centre has everything you will need including bicycle hire, an information office, the open air swimming pool, spa, arcade, playground outdoor gym, bar, takeaway and restaurant. One of my posts later this week will talk in depth about all of these. This area is dominated by the lovely 'Château', I was told that the owners of the site still live there and that they are very strict about noise levels. Everything closes at 10pm, perfect for families but definitely not for people looking to party. There are lots more playgrounds dotted around the site too. Very family friendly.

I hope that this has introduced Le Château des Marais. I'll be posting every day this week with more information about the site, our accommodation, facilities for children and the local area, including some of the places we loved visiting. Please check back to read more.

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To view Eurocamp's wide range of sites across Europe check out their website www.eurocamp.co.uk/ 
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We visited Le Château des Marais as the guests of Eurocamp. Our accommodation and return ferry crossing were supplied for us. All other costs incurred were met by ourselves.

To see my other Eurocamp posts please click on the badge below.

Le Château des Marais, Eurocamp, Summer 2014

Saturday, 16 August 2014

SpongeBob Squarepants Mega Bloks

Recently we received a few products from the brand new SpongeBob SquarePants Mega Bloks range. Bud is really starting to enjoy construction toys and I know how great they are for improving fine motor skills and hand eye coordination. He's also developed a recent liking for SpongeBob SquarePants so this delivery couldn't come at a better time.

Spongebob Squarepants Mega Bloks

The first item we opened was the blind bag. These are a great pocket money toy, retailing at just £1:99 and each bag is a surprise. With characters from across the series - SpongeBob himself, Patrick, Squidward and others - it's great fun to try to collect each one. This is a bag from Series 1 of the collection and I assume that there will be future series to collect too.

Spongebob Squarepants Mega Bloks Series 1 Blind Bag

Our blind bag contained SpongeBob complete with apple and Bud was able to put this together with only a little help. They stand on their own block which makes it easy to display them and use them in other Mega Bloks sets.

The next set was Bud's favourite - the SpongeBob Racer. This arrived in a cardboard tube containing 74 pieces, including another SpongeBob figure. This time SpongeBob is ready to race and wearing his bright red cap and sunglasses. 

SpongeBob Squarepants Mega Bloks SpongeBob Racer

The pieces arrive in two bags, with the SpongeBob figure in his own bag. Bud wanted to build this set himself and, for the most part he did. I helped him to identify which pieces he needed and helped him with some of the trickier bits. I really enjoy watching him build with the blocks and he was really delighted by the end result. He put SpongeBob himself together in a couple of minutes and then moved on to the racer.

SpongeBob Squarepants Mega Bloks SpongeBob Racer

The bags in this kit aren't numbered and you need to open all of the bags from the start as you will use pieces from each straight away. I think the build took Bud and I around forty minutes and it's a great little project for little hands who are learning to follow instructions and build in this way. The only truly tricky part was the silver pipes on the back of the car and it took us a little while for them all to sit correctly. These sets retail at £9:99 which I think is reasonable value for money for a character branded set with this many pieces. It's certainly comparable to other ranges we have bought and I have seen.

SpongeBob Squarepants Mega Bloks SpongeBob Racer

There is also a Patrick Racer in this range, which Mummy of Two reviewed. You can see what Little Mr A thought of Patrick's Car here. Another really great thing about this set is that you can use the tube to store SpongeBob and his Racer when it is built. No torn, thrown away cardboard boxes here.

SpongeBob SquarePants Mega Bloks Racer

The final set we looked at was the biggest. The Invisible Boatmobile Rescue features SpongeBob, Patrick and a Plankton, with two vehicles and three landscape items. Patrick is Bud's favourite character so he was really pleased to see, and build the two characters in this set. In total there are 337 pieces included so you know from the start that this is a good sized build.

SpongeBob SquarePants Mega Bloks Invisible Boatmobile Rescue

The pieces arrive across ten bags. Six are numbered (although we didn't have a number 5) and then there are four smaller bags including the characters - SpongeBob, Patrick and Plankton, and an attachment for the Invisible Boatmobile. 


As with the previous set you will need to open all six of the main bags from the start.We have some fantastic plastic trays which are brilliant for this sort of thing so I opened one bag into each section. This made it much easier to find every piece needed.

SpongeBob SquarePants Mega Bloks Invisible Boatmobile Rescue Opened BagsSpongeBob SquarePants Mega Bloks Invisible Boatmobile Rescue Opened Bags

You'll see from this photo that there are a lot of 'clear' bricks. They are used to build the Invisible Boatmobile, to give it the illusion of being see through. This makes the build quite complex and Bud started off helping me then lost interest. He is only four though, so slightly younger than the recommended age of 5+. He asked me to build it instead and I got stuck in and completed the whole set in just under an hour. The clearly illustrated instruction book takes you through every step and the boatmobile is very cleverly put together, making use of hinged pieces and more unusual shapes well. I loved how the headlights and side fins attached.

SpongeBob SquarePants Invisible Boatmobile Rescue

Plankton's truck has an arm which can be used to launch missiles at the net on the back of the Boatmobile. This was a much simpler build then the Boatmobile and Bud helped a little with this one. Both vehicles are really well thought out and designed. They are solid too so suitable to be played with as a playset, not just put up on a shelf. This is exactly right, this playset absolutely lends itself to imaginative play with SpongeBob and Patrick coming under attack from the Plankton and moving their net to catch the missiles. It's a really pleasing set once built. Both Bud and I really enjoyed it.

SpongeBob SquarePants Invisible Boatmobile Rescue

The Invisible Boatmobile Rescue set retails at £19:99 which is very good value for money. There are a lot of pieces and, at the end you have toys rather than models. We've already had played with them lots and they are showing no sign of being put down yet. 

This was our first experience of the smaller Mega Bloks for older chidren, we have tonnes of the toddler blocks, but, based on our impression of the SpongeBob SquarePants blocks I don't think it will be our last.

The SpongeBob SquarePants Mega Bloks range is available from Mega Bloks and all usual stockists.

Disclosure: We received the Mega Bloks for review purposes.All opinions are honest.

Friday, 15 August 2014

5 Ways to Celebrate the Sea in Newquay

I love Newquay, it was one of our favourite holiday destinations as a family when I was small and it's somewhere I can't wait to take Bud and LM in the future.One of the things I always loved most was staying really close to the beautiful beaches and the sea, there are few places as good for a beach holiday in the UK.

One thing Newquay definitely isn't short of is places to stay with somewhere for every tastes, including a vast range of hotels (have a look at Hotel Direct for ideas). I've been mentally compiling a wish list of places we would like to stay!

My research has lead me to a huge list of events in the Newquay calendar. These take place all year round and so many of them celebrate the town's coastal position and heritage. I thought I'd share a few of my favourites with you.

1. Newquay Lifeboat Day - the RNLI are a charity that I hold close to my heart. Not for any other reason than I have complete admiration for the mainly volunteer men and women who put their own safety at risk to rescue those in trouble at sea. Whenever I pass a lifeboat station I always drop into look around and leave a few pennies as a donation. Newquay Lifeboat Day takes place on Sunday 24th August 2014 and sees the local crews and lifeguards have the opportunity to show what they can do. With a wide range of activiities taking place across Newquay's beaches there is something for everyone in the family and it's a great way to get out and support a fantastic cause.

Newquay RNLI Lifeguard

2. Night Surf at Fistral Beach - This took place back in July of this year and saw international surfers hit Fistral Beach for an awesome two day competition under floodlights in the only event of this kind in Europe! The chance to pack a blanket and some drinks and hit the beach to watch the sun go down, as well as some amazing surfing should not be missed. Definitely one to check out next year, if only for the fireworks display at the closing party.

3. Weird and Wonderful Happenings at Blue Reef Aquarium - Blue Reef Aquarium is one of Newquay's top visitor attractions and, with the school holidays in full swing, they have their own activities planned. The aquariums has decided to celebrate their 'Weird and Wonderful' inhabitants. With a Weird and Wonderful trail, rockpool experiences, special weekend events and various other activities ongoing until September 3rd your children will fascinated! (Admission charges apply).

4. Newquay's Famous Fish Festival - this one may not be for everyone but I love eating fish and Newquay has some of the best in the country. The Fish Festival takes place between the 12th and 14th September 2014 and mixes chef recipe demonstrations with fun family activities in Newquay Harbour. There is a huge range of fish available to sample, and an entertainment marquee well stocked with Atlantic Brewery ales it sounds like the perfect way to while away a weekend.

Newquay Fish Festival

5. New Year's Eve Fireworks at Newquay Harbour - Newquay is a beautiful place to visit all year round so, if sun, sea and surf isn't your cup of tea, why not consider a winter break? Imagine wrapping up warm for a bracing walk down the beach (or surf for the more hardy) and then back to your hotel or a local pub to warm up in front of a roasting fire, with a glass of mulled cider or two to keep the winter chill away. If you're planning to be in Newquay for New Year, there is no better place to celebrate midnight than down at the Harbour for their wonderful fireworks display.

Have you visited Newquay for an event? Which was your favourite?

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