Berry Pomeroy Castle, English Heritage

We decided to squeeze just one more castle in on our way back home from Brixham Heritage Museum and our secret challenge. The boy chose Berry Pomeroy castle an English Heritage property, which is tucked away in a wooded valley a short drive from Brixham itself.

It certainly was tucked away and we enjoyed the narrow roads leading up to the well hidden ruin. The boy was very excited as this English Heritage property has the audio tapes that he has been enjoying. The castle is mostly ruined with just the main entrance still standing. It is a 15th century castle which was intended to rival other large houses like Longlete, and was one of the most impressive in Devon when it was inhabited. Now it is rumoured to be one of the most haunted castles in England!

As a family we have enjoyed the audio tapes as they certainly bring the property’s alive. This one is no exception, with spoken commentary and different character voices, taking you back in time with sounds of the house and also period music. You should note that there is not a children s version of the audio tape at this property and some parts are a little spooky even for a very brave 7-year-old and his mum!

We also found that some parts of the audio tour were a little difficult to follow, as it went from one end of the building to the other at one point, and this made the boy a little frustrated as you will see from his video review.

There are a few notable parts of the castle and house and for me the most impressive of these are the wall paintings dating back to the first family the Pomerys. It seems a shame that the house was never completed and abandoned in the 1700’s I certainly think that it would have been a pretty impressive building in its day. I think we all enjoyed this castle, and would recommend it as a lovely place to visit.

we give this English Heritage site a 4/5

We can also recommend the small friendly café. We stopped for lunch there before our long journey home and although from the outside it looked nothing more than a shed it was certainly anything but! with great homemade lunches and amazing looking cakes, and a great view of the house it was an ideal spot.

Castle

For prices and opening times have a look at the English Heritage site where you can also find other sites of interest like Dartmouth Castle

 

Disclaimer we have been asked by Netmums to visit English Heritage sites over the summer as well as access to the sites we have been compensated for our travel costs. The opinions remain ours and have not been altered

Review of Madame Tussauds, London

It has been a while since we visited one of the Merlin parks from our Merlin Challenge List. As we had an afternoon in London before our trip to Disneyland Paris we thought we would pop up the road and review Madame Tussauds.

The queues for this attraction on an August day were round the block and even as a premier pass holder we had a 15 minute wait to get in. As we thought, there were just as many people inside the building which is also big, but was very crowded. I can’t say that I enjoyed the bustle that much, and it was claustrophobic in parts. The boy however wasn’t at all bothered by the volume of people and was busy snapping away at all the models.

I have never been to any of the Madame Tussaud attractions so it was interesting to see the mixture of famous life-like models and the settings. Some of the waxwork were amazing even down to the eyes which looked so real. One of the waxwork was a real man, and it was fun watching him make people jump! We were a little disappointed that the One Direction waxwork wasn’t there, and I noticed it has now been brought back. The boy is a bit of a fan and he would have liked to have his photo taken with them!

The boy said he really enjoyed the visit, but I will confess I didn’t enjoy this at all, some of the exhibits are very clever and the history of Madam Tussaud was very interesting. Maybe this is one to visit at a different time of the year when it might be a bit quieter. There was plenty to look at, some that we all recognised and other famous faces that the boy had no clue who they were. I think our favourite part of Madame Tussaud’s was the 4D film at the end, this is a superhero film and was very loud and thrilling with some great effects.

 

Here are just some of the pictures the boy took. I think he took nearly 300 in total but due to the low light lots of them were blurred. There are some good ones in there and this is the perfect place to practice your photography skills!

As the museum was so busy and for the missing One Direction I am going to give Madame Tussauds 3/5

Brixham Museum, Kids in Museums award winner 2013

On the Bank holiday weekend we went on a secret mission for Kids in Museums. Our mission was to secretly judge Brixham Heritage Museum and find out what they were all about.
I had never heard of Kids in Museums until I came across them on twitter, so was pleased to see that they are trying to encourage families and especially kids to visit their local museums and get involved. Their aim is to involve people with a hands on attitude, none of this Don’t Touch stuff, while still having a wealth of information available.

We think Brixham Heritage Museum had this in bucket loads, from the minute that we walked in and our warm welcome, the fun kids quizzes and also the digging for dinosaur bones. We had a great morning in the museum, and the boy liked it so much that we went round twice. We were thrilled when we found out that after two years of nominations, that Brixham had been chosen as a joint winner of the Telegraph Family Friendly Museum Award, along with London’s Horniman Museum. I was surprised when I was asked to do and interview with the Telegraph but as it was on the phone it wasn’t too scary and you can see my quote in this Sundays Telegraph, along with the full article and award winners.

Brixham is a local history museum, and was in a small building which used to be the police station, but this didn’t limit the appeal and was well worth the trip. There was plenty to keep a lively seven-year old amused and lots fol little ones to get involved with too. From colouring and sticking to quizzes, dressing up, railways, toys and even a sand play area. You certainly wouldn’t think from the outside that they were able to squeeze all this into such a small building.

With no need for parents to worry about kids touching things as all the bits you can’t touch are behind windows!  There was lots to see and plenty to learn about the surrounding area. This has certainly encouraged us to find out more about our local area and the museums we have. If you feel inspired to get involved then please visit the Kids in Museums website where you will find lots of information on over 140 nominated museums as well as the shortlisted 6. If you have an amazing local museum why not nominate them for next years award, and get involved.

 

Disclaimer: We were pleased to be asked to secretly judge the Brixham Heritage museum and were helped with some travel expenses, but this in no way changed how we judged or voted for the museum.

Go Ape Tilgate Park Crawley

When we were approached to visit and review Go Apes new treetops course at Tilgate Park Crawley I don’t know who was more excited me or the boy?
I know as the time drew near I was a bit nervous as to whether I would end up letting the boy down by not being able to go up the trees with him. I needn’t have worried as it was AMAZING! (In the words of a 7-year-old)

go ape tilgate park

Go Ape Tilgate Park, Crawley was very easy to find and get parked and we arrived in plenty of time for our booking slot of 11:45 they do tell you to arrive 15 minutes early. We were taking part in the Junior tree tops adventure, there is a larger course for adults and children over 10 and 1.40cm tall. The first thing you are asked to do is read some basic safety instructions and sign a disclaimer all fairly standard. We were then given wrist bands and sent off for our harness and safety briefing. You don’t have to walk far from the cabin, but we did have to wait as other families were finishing their adventure. Don’t worry though as you get a full hour from the time you finish the safety instructions, and this is plenty of time to get round more than once. We were both fitted with a harness, and I would advise you have comfy clothing, and possibly long sleeves as it was a little chilly out of the sun.

ready to go ape

We were taught how to clip our Koala safety clips to the main wire of the course and in no time at all we were away. It took a few goes to work out how to get the safety clip over the track, but soon the boy was way ahead. First you climb on the left to a circuit that took us about 10 minutes to complete, with lots of bridges and ropes and a tricky v shaped net. I think I found sections more difficult as the safety line was above my head and it kept catching my ear! I would advise tying hair back well!
Then at the end of 5 or 6 bridges I wasn’t counting you come to a zip line. Not something I can say I fancied but its the only way down. I wouldn’t say I had a soft landing but I’m sure it was amusing for those other families watching.

treetop junior tilgate park

Back round at the start you are asked to do the same course again but this time no holding onto the green side ropes, easier said than done. Again another perfect zip wire for the boy, and an amusing landing from me! Now you are sent up on the right side of the course, this is defiantly more tricky, it has no green handrails, and has some tricky rope parts. It is finished off with yes you guessed it another zip line! This time I managed to land ok, but was told by the boy it wasn’t great. Oh well, thank goodness that’s all over but no! We were still in time for another go. We worked out an average of 10 minutes for the short course and 20 minutes for the harder one, so you can fit in 2 of each. This works well as although it feels like it was really busy when you are up in the trees the kids are really spread out.

tilgate park

We were very lucky that the man who had booked us in was on the gate when we arrived back to ground level and let us have a 3rd go as he knew we were reviewing, but at this point I think most sane parents would have had enough. I did however manage on my 5th Zip line experience to perform a perfect running landing, for which I am very proud! On arrival back on the ground everyone is given a certificate even me, and a badge which is kind of cool.

And what did we think?
I can honestly say it was like nothing I have ever done before. I know it was the junior course, but I felt safe at all times and despite the height and one slip, I am still buzzing now! I would so love to do the adult course and think I might have to treat the boy to another go possibly at one of the other sites. I liked the site, but having been to look round the full size one I would say the Junior one is noisy as it is next to the playground and the road. It might have been nice to be tucked away a bit more in the forest, but I guess this is more convenient.

The boy?

His video explains what he thought.

He loved it too, and was still talking about it at bedtime. He was tinged with a small amount of disappointment that he wasn’t old enough or tall enough to do the adult one, but this is something to look forward too.

Thank you to Go Ape for allowing us to come and have our very own treetop adventure, our entrance was given to us but the opinions remain ours and are unaltered.

A day out at Tilgate Park Crawley

Today I had the boy all to myself, as the school holidays are always a bit of a juggling game! So I was thrilled to be asked to go and visit the new Go Ape at Tilgate park Crawley. But what was an even greater surprise was the rest of Tilgate park.
I had packed a picnic, and planned to have an explore after our tree climbing adventure, in the end we stayed for 6 hours! You can read more about our Go Ape adventure separately, but I would recommend a day out at Tilgate just as much as climbing the trees.

The park was very well signposted, and surprisingly easy to find with a 7-year-old navigating from a map. The car park on site is £3 you pay on entering so no extra fuss having tickets and that is for the whole day, so no rushing back to the car. We found a lovely shady spot to park and although the park seemed busy there were plenty of spaces. The toilets were large and pretty clean for public ones, and had lots of baby changing facilities. There is a restaurant on site called Smith and Western, we have one in Chichester and it does great American style burgers.

This park seemed huge, and as we explored it seemed bigger. There is a lake area lots of open grassland for games and picnic’s. There was a lovely play area close to the Junior Go Ape course for the smaller ones. There is forest with mountain bike trails, and pretty walled gardens. The gardens were beautiful and had a maze, café and even a small zoo. (its £2 adult £1 child) We didn’t go in the zoo area but were told they have lots of petting animals and even mere cats! The boy had great fun in the maze, and I was timing him to see how long it took him to find the middle without cheating. He didn’t want an ice-cream so we explored the other side of the garden where there is a lovely picnic spot with benches. We had a great game of capture the flag, with some fab places to hide.

Then it was time to go, as I didn’t want to meet the rush hour traffic. This park is fantastic and if it was on my doorstep I would be very excited as the boy would love to ride all the dirt trails in the forest. I think it will be a mission now to find something similar a bit closer to home, and if not we will bring Daddy back for a look.

Sky Side at Birmingham Airport

Last week we were invited to join a group of bloggers for our first ever blogging event at Birmingham airport. The brief was to have a look at their new sky side project to keep kids occupied while you wait to fly off on your holidays!

We started the day early as we don’t live that close to the airport but in no time at all we had arrived, it was very easy to find and we had plenty of time to park and meet up with Justine, Francesca and Michelle who were going to show us around.
The first thing we had to do is to check in, and we had to bring our passports so it was just like we were going on holiday. The boy was very excited, even though he knew we weren’t going to actually fly anywhere! We were given security passes, and our all important Sky Pass, and set of on our first mission.
Each child who checks in with their family on a Thompson or Monarch flight from Birmingham will automatically be given a sky pass. But don’t worry because if you are flying with another airline, you just need to keep your eyes peeled for one of the Sky Zone crew. There will be several members of the team handing out sky passes as you go through the departures area of the airport so knowone misses out!


Each pass has lots of fun missions to cater for all ages, and our group had children aged from babies right up to nearly 8. The first thing you need to do is work out your cadet name, and don’t worry they also give each child a pencil. You then have to start to look for hidded letters to form a word to help you find the skyzone. The next step is to go through security and the boy wasn’t allowed to take photos here, once through security you continue to find letters to make up your secret word.
When you arrive in the departure lounge you have all the usual duty free as well as well known high street shops. the boy was getting good at finding the mini zooms and collecting stamps along the way, there are some very sneaky ones!
We then all got together to meet Zoom, who is the character who the whole project is based around, the little kids loved having pictures with him. They also gave him high fives. The boy being a bit cooler than all that wasn’t so keep but still joined in. Zoom then took us to what we think is the best part of the airport the Sky Zone.


This is a one of a kind (in the UK) area where the kids can run around and let of steam while you wait for your flight. There were a couple of coffee shops within easy reach so great for grown ups. The area had 2 large inflatable igloos with fun computer games. One was coloured lights on the floor that played music and the other was cool and you could kick autumn leaves or chase fish and even play football. There was a quite area to watch cartoons, as well as to very cool computer tables. This is the place the boy headed for and stopped for most of the time we were there! At first he was disappointed as the games seemed to easy for his age. But with the sky crew on hand to show us how it worked we soon found puzzles and maths which he loved. You could choose how easy or hard you wanted each game, and could even move screens so that lots of kids could play on each table so no squabbling! There were also questions and interesting facts all around the area, Daddy M enjoyed trying to beat the buzzer, and everyone seemed very impressed.


All too soon it was time to go and have a spot of lunch with the sky crew, but I can honestly say as a parent I was very impressed. We have used the Virgin V lounge at Gatwick (which you have to pay for) and this was much more fun. The airport was lovely and clean easy to get through and find where you needed to go. Security were thorough, and we had great views of the plains for those that just like to see what is going on!. So if you plan to fly from Birmingham with your family I would recommend you check out Sky Zone.

And what did the boy think?

Next time we go on holiday, can we fly from Birmingham airport because I would like to go back and play the maths game!

Have a look at the video as Sam and Mark explain all about it!

We were asked to visit Sky zone and given our travel expenses, but the opinions remain ours and have not been changed or altered.

Haven Blue Dolphin Scarborough

For the half term weekend we decided to have a little trip to Yorkshire. It would be nice to get away from all the building work and the ever depressing scaffolding.
So we set off at 5am for what was going to be a long drive. We stopped off for some breakfast half way and arrived at our camp the Blue Dolphin just after lunch.
We had chosen this site to tick off two more parks on our Merlin Challenge. So a visit to Scarborough Sealife and also York Dungeons was planned. We also managed to squeeze in a lovely walk around the town of Foley.

I was very impressed with the site, it had all the usual complex. With a swimming pool, entertainment, and restaurant as well as a couple of fast food outlets.
The Blue Dolphin is a Haven site and I have to say was pretty large, but it didn’t feel crowded despite the evening entertainment getting pretty busy. Our caravan was amazing, and is the best I have ever stayed in. It was new and modern with everything we needed, with central heating and a fab hot shower, and a balcony overlooking the site. Caravans have come along way since I first holiday in one 20+ years ago.
The evening entertainment was great, and the boy loved dancing and joining in. The boys favourite thing was getting the tickets from the arcade machines. He came away very happy with his eight packet of sweets! (goodness knows how much they cost)

For a short break I would certainly recommend this park, it was clean, and in such a beautiful part of the world with amazing beaches and beautiful walks.

Steve Backshall Deadly 60 Diaries.

The next of our Orion star books is Steve Backshals Deadly 60 Diaries

Our copy is a hardback book with facts based on the BBC TV series and costs £12.99, paperback £7.99
It’s great to see a book where they have thought about the font, this is a lovely clear font in a large size that should be easy for children to read on their own. The boy has enjoyed picking out his favourite countries and animals and reading about them. This is not the sort of book that you need to read from cover to cover which is great for reluctant readers to dip in and out. I loved the amazing pictures, a great mixture from behind the scenes as well as those of the deadly animals. The boy has bookmarked the Komodo Dragon as one of his favourites, taking the book into school for all his friends to look at.

I asked him what he thought of the book and he said

It’s a great book if you like Deadly 60, it has pages from each of the programmes. Some of them I had seen on TV and some I hadn’t. My friends liked looking at this book, but only the ones who watch it on TV because the others might be a bit scared!

I think this book is great for all Deadly 60 and wildlife fans, and would make a lovely gift and will defiantly have a place in our top 60!

we give this book 5/5

Have a look at our first Orion Star book review Deadly Brain Teasers
Thanks to The Orion Stars e-Blogger newsletter we were sent a selection of books to review, the opinions remain ours!

Our Merlin Park Challenge List

We set ourselves as a family a challenge at the beginning of the year to try and visit all of the UK Merlin parks. This came about with a lovely competition from Sterimar Baby and tots 100 to win a family Merlin Pass.
This is not something that we would have purchased for ourselves, but as this year we had decided that we couldn’t afford a big holiday we decided that this would make a great alternative. So on Sunday 27th January we activated our passes and started our challenge.
Now 8 parks into the 31 in the UK I have started to loose track of where we have been so thought it was a good idea to compile a list, not just for easy reference for me. But also a good review reference for you if you plan to visit any of these parks.

Merlin parks listed in order as per the website!
with links to our reviews!

Scotland
The Edinburgh Dungeon
SEA LIFE Loch Lomond
Scottish Seal Sanctuary Oban

North East
9 SEA LIFE Scarborough
10 The York Dungeon

North West
19 Blackpool Tower Dungeon
18 Blackpool Tower Ballroom
20 Blackpool Tower Circus
21 Blackpool Tower Eye
Blackpool Tower Jungle Jim’s
4 LEGOLAND® Discovery Centre
16 Madame Tussauds Blackpool
22 SEA LIFE Manchester
17 SEA LIFE Blackpool

The Midlands & East Anglia
3 Alton Tower Resort
5 SEA LIFE Birmingham
SEA LIFE Great Yarmouth
SEA LIFE Hunstanton
2 Warwick Castle

South East
8 Chessington World of Adventures Resort
13 EDF Energy London Eye
15 The London Dungeon
11 LEGOLAND® Windsor Resort
12 Madame Tussauds London
14 SEA LIFE London Aquarium
1 SEA LIFE Brighton
THORPE PARK

South West
6 Weymouth SEA LIFE Adventure Park
Cornish Seal Sanctuary Gweek
7Weymouth SEA LIFE Tower

Ireland
SEA LIFE Bray

this challenge is certainly taking more planning that I first thought, but we have all enjoyed going to places that we haven’t visited for a while or places we have never been too. I hope that you will join us on our journey…

Lego Chima challenge at Chessington

We were lucky enough to join Lego and Chima challenge teams at the launch on Monday at Chessington. The boy had entered a Lego drawing competition with the club magazine and was lucky to be chosen as one of only 15 winners.

We set off early with a friend to keep the boy company, and with no traffic on the road arrived in super quick time! We were greeted with our press pack, and the VIP lanyard made the boy very happy as he enjoyed the feeling of being a VIP. He kept saying he had never been important before!
Afterwards we were treated to a lovely brunch, with animal themed biscuits, swamp juice and lots of pancakes and donuts. There were some new Lego Chima sets to look at and test, some fun interactive displays, colouring and puzzle sheets. We had our fill of food and settled down to watch the Chima film, which the boys loved. I can see the appeal for boys as it is full of action, fast speedors, and animals. I’m not so sure about the appeal for girls, although there are female characters.

We enjoyed the tomb blaster ride, and then went to try the new Zufari ride. I won’t spoil it for you as it is a great introduction to a ride. You are loaded onto a jeep, travel on into the park to see the animals. unfortunately it was a little chilly, so most of the animals apart from two brave zebra were sheltering inside to keep warm. I can see on a warmer day this will be a great and unique ride for the uk and defiantly worth the queue.

We popped back to the tent to catch up with the Chima team, and it was great that they recognised us (read my Manchester post for our first Chima experience) they christened the boy krispy creme boy!
The challenges have changed but they are just as much fun and the two boys really enjoyed themselves. So much so we went back later in the day for another go. The boys both had their scores added to the leader board and goodie bags with stickers, tattoos, mask and a magazine. This time the prize is a chance to go back to Chessington in the October half term and have a speedor challenge with the other winners. The overall winner will be given a hotel stay and passes to the park, a great prize!

We went back into the park for a few more rides (it was such a shame the runaway train was closed) before stopping back at the hotel for a bite to eat. We think the new ride is a great addition to the park and I can see will be very busy in the summer.

Lego Chima will also be a hit as both boys spent the journey home planning which setsto buy, and how they would save up for them. They loved the animal connections and had some great conversations on the way home!