Our trip to Vallum farm

There has been a lot of buzz around vallum farm in the last few months - renowned North East chef David Kennedy has just opened a restaurant there and the tea room has recently been awarded the accolade of best breakfast in the North East. Needless to say I was dying to go. Today was the fourth day of a particularly cold February half term and I decided a run out in the country would do us all some good.

The tea room and ice cream parlour are housed in the same building - with one end being particularly family friendly with a small play kitchen for the children to play with. The menu is seasonal and local and all homemade. We loved the look of the ice-cream sundaes on offer but it was just too cold! Instead we opted for 3 homemade chocolate milkshake's and 1 piece of chocolate fudge cake to share (Total cost £8.15). Although service was a little bit slow, it was a busy time of day and everybody was very friendly. The food and drinks were delicious and worth the wait!

After our treats, we ventured into the outdoor play area. As it was so cold we were the only ones there! My children enjoyed the play frame, slide, see-saw and swings and it was nice to see a football net and a few football's knocking about. There was loads of space to run around and picnic tables near the play area. I imagine it would be a lovely place to spend an afternoon in the summer.

Vallum farm has more to offer than an ice- cream parlour, tea room, David Kennedy restaurant and play area. There are a few small independent businesses in other units within the farm including the Bywell Smokery which provides produce for the restaurant and tea room. There is a nice collection of local food, drinks and crafts on sale in a small shop. The artisan bread looked particularly tempting! There are also walks around the farm via a small nature reserve and pond for which a map is provided.

Next time you are looking for a a place to take your children for some much needed fresh air, I would definitely recommend Vallum farm as a place to spend a few hours. Can't wait to return when the weather's a little warmer!

Open everyday 10am-4:30pm


Blue reef aquarium - why we won't be going back!

My children love animals. A trip to the pet shop to see the fish and small pets is a weekly occurrence! Blue reef aquarium in Tynemouth is on our doorstep and we usually visit once a year, usually in the winter. This year, I really thought my 2 year old would LOVE it, as he screams when we have to leave the fish at the pet shop.

We had 2 kids go free vouchers in the primary times magazine from school and as Jack was under 3 he got in for free. It still cost us £18 entry plus £2 parking though, which in my eyes is still too expensive.

I was disappointed with our visit this time as it only took us about 45 minutes to get around the whole centre. There were no extra activities on for half term, no staff on hand giving talks/feeding animals/leading rockpool handling sessions and there have been no new attractions built in the past few years so it all just felt a bit old.

The aquarium has tropical fish, flat fish and crabs that you can look at. There are also 2 otters but every time we've been they've been asleep in their dens and not visible. Outside there is a seal pool which is perhaps the highlight of the visit - you can watch the seals under water as well as from above . Randomly there are a few chickens next to the seals with a very small outdoor play area for the children.

Back indoors there are some very cute marmosets and an iguana which are always very active and funny to watch and to finish the trip you walk through a glass tunnel with fish and small sharks swimming around you.

All of this takes less than an hour and for a discounted £20 just isn't good value for money for me - not when we could go somewhere like whitehouse farm for the whole day for the same price.

Your ticket for the aquarium is valid all day, so perhaps it would be better value if you spent the day in Tynemouth and popped in and out during specific animal talks/feeding times. Today however, there were only 4 such talks which compared to the sealife centre in Scarborough is poor value (they seem to always have something going on)

Unfortunately, I don't think we will go back to the aquarium and my children will have to make do with watching the (free) fish at the pet shop for now.


Tanfield railway - Britain's oldest railway

We wanted somewhere a bit different to take my mum for her 50th birthday in August 2012 and a trip on Tanfield railway and a picnic seemed to fit the bill perfectly.

Trains run on various days throughout the year (check website for timetable) and your hop-on-hop-off ticket is valid throughout the whole day and you can take as many journeys as you like.

We arrived in time or the first train of the morning (11:07) and bought our tickets from the charming ticket office. I loved the old posters on display and the vintage luggage sets with an old teddy bear on top added to the atmosphere.

Everybody waited on the platform in anticipation of our train arriving - we actually heard it's whistle and the unmistakable sound of the wheel's on the track approaching before we saw it and when it arrived it seemed like we had stepped back in time! We were actually going to travel on a real steam train powered by coal!

The kids loved travelling in our carriage, listening to the noises, waving out the window and when the went outside getting covered in soot! We were allowed to get out and stand next to the track to watch the train turn around.

At lunchtime We disembarked at Causey Arch which is a wonderful tranquil spot. We walked along the bridge, admiring the views from below then found a lovely grassy spot in the woods to enjoy our picnic. The weather was beautiful and there was nobody else around - just us! The kids ran wild and really enjoyed the freedom. We then moved back to the platform and lit some candles on a cake and Sang happy birthday to my mum as the train arrived.

The journey back to the station was very different to the nice and slow outbound trip. The train really picked up the pace and we stood right next to the engine and listened whilst the driver educated us on how the train worked. He was very friendly and answered all of the kids' questions.

Back at the station there is a small cafe and souvenir shop. We enjoyed a nice cup of coffee served in the garden which was served in a tanfield railway mug - nice touch I thought. We then ended our day with a stroll around the other engine's in the shed's near the car park before heading home.

A trip on Tanfield railway is the perfect way to make a picnic special and really makes for a relaxing day. Day tickets are £9 per adult and £5 per child with under 5's travelling for free.

Kids travel for £1 this Bank Holiday Weekend (26-28 May 2018). Steam train rides are available from 10:30 am. See here for more information. 


Family meal at Fujiyama Newcastle - January 2013

We are always looking for family friendly restaurants that actually serve decent food! I am not a fan of eating processed microwaved food and paying through the nose for it just because the place has a play area!

Anyway, we took the kids to Fujiyama a few years ago and they loved it so we decided to revisit as a New Year Treat.

Fujiyama is a Teppan-Yaki Japanese restaurant - everybody is seated around a hot plate and your personal chef prepares and cooks your food in front of you. The lunch menu is a bargain at £8 per head when you compare it to the evening menu and although there is no children's menu- we only paid for 4 people and our chef divided the food up between the 5 of us.

Highlights of the experience the children love - using chopsticks, wearing an apron, trying to catch an egg in their hat, watching the chef juggle eggs and condiments and seeing the table set on fire in front of their eyes.

The menu is simple and delicious - salad, miso soup, prawns, salmon, teriyaki chicken, fried rice and stir fried vegetable followed by ice cream. That's a lot of food for £8! Our kids eat it all as well and enjoy seeing it cooked in front of them.

Next time you're looking for a place for a family meal out, definitely give Fujiyama a go.



Blyth beach huts - June 2012

We wanted to get the family together to celebrate the Queen's Jubilee. I wanted somewhere outdoors that had lots to do, good facilities and shelter if needed. Hiring a beach hut seemed to fit the bill!

At £16 per day they are a bargain. They come equipped with 2 deck chairs, an electric socket and a kettle. You have your own decking which is sheltered from the sea breeze and they look onto some grass which is perfect for a picnic.

There is plenty to do in the immediate vicinity - you are steps away from the beach and a lovely walk along the prom which is perfect for he kids to ride their bike/scooter, there are 2 parks next to the huts suitable for all ages and a very clean and free toilet and shower block with a supply of drinking water for your kettle.

Food wise - there is the renowned coastline fish n chip shop, an ice cream parlour and coffee shop and a traditional ice cream can right next to the huts.

There is plenty of space for the kids to run around and we were able to sit on our chairs and relax whilst they played freely in our line of sight. Our family joined us throughout the day - with instructions to bring their own deck chair, picnic and rug and 15 of us fit comfortably in and around our hut.

I'm hoping to book a beach hut again this summer, if you'd like to do the same, you just need to call Blyth Sports Centre on
tel: (01670) 542222


Wallington hall - June 2012

We visited Wallington hall in Northumberland for the first time this weekend. We primarily visited as they had a special event on in which the premises were invaded by Roman's.

Our first part of the day was taken up with Roman activities - we bought the kids some Roman helmets so they could get into the swing of things then wandered around a Roman camp admiring traditional crafts, we met a real life Roman soldier and tried on his helmet and shield and were amazed at the skills of both the soldiers and their horses in a mock battle display in which we enjoyed cheering for our favourite soldier. This part of the day was really enjoyable for young and old and we really felt as though we were transported back in time. Hopefully the kids learned one or two things as well.

For the second part of the day we explored the rest of Wallington hall and have got to say, we were really impressed with the grounds and could easily spend an afternoon here again. We had drinks on the lawn in the courtyard whilst watching an impromptu game of cricket. Here there was a farm shop, plant sale, ice cream cart and cafe (although the queue was long so probably better taking a small picnic).

Then after my eldest consulted our map we decided to head for the adventure playground. We found it tucked in the woods and I've got to say it's one of the best playgrounds we've been to, there were swings, slides, tyres, climbing frames and stepping stones galore all made out of natural products which blended nicely into their woodland setting. There were also a couple of dens made entirely of twigs and branches which delighted my children when they realised how good they would be for their favourite game of hide and seek.
I had to tear my children away from the play area with the promise of animals! We again consulted our map and located a pig sty which housed half a dozen friendly pigs. We stopped for a few minutes to say hello before deciding to have a little walk through the woods down to the boathouse by the lake. This was a nice gentle walk in which we spotted lots of wildlife along the way. The walk had so many wonderful views of the countryside and I definitely want to return to see more of it.

After our walk, we thought we may as well have a quick look around the house as entry was included in our entrance fee. We had to leave our buggy at he entrance and carry our 1 year old around the whole house. I've got to say I wasn't too impressed with the house, in particular a few of the guides were un-welcoming towards our children. Harry and Heidi however seemed to enjoy it and especially enjoyed trying to find 10 miniature Roman's around the house (which we achieved). They also enjoyed exploring the secret hideaway in the children's bedroom in which adults weren't allowed.
Overall, I will definitely visit Wallington again but next time I'll be better equipped and take a picnic, ball games and we'll go for a longer walk. It was an excellent way to spend an Afternoon in the country.


Gibside, May 2012

Today we ventured to Gibside in County Durham. We were greeted by a VERY welcoming host who told us that Gibside was extremely family friendly and all about exploring the great outdoors with different activities on every week. She carefully explained pushchair friendly routes around the grounds and gave Harry his own adventure booklet.

We started our day in Strawberry Castle play area which is one of the best parks I think I've been to. The kids loved playing 'King and Queens' in the wooden castle, horses and stocks and Jack spent ages crawling through various tunnels. There were treehouses, zip wires, swings, balance beams, climbing frames and rope frames galore! We could have actually spent all day here. The countryside views were lovely and there were plenty of picnic tables/space for blankets.

After an hour in the park, we walked back to the chapel to find a spot for our picnic. The picnic field was lined with trees and there were plenty of shady spots free for us to set up camp. Our timing was perfect as just as we were finishing our picnic the North Tyneside Steel Band started playing in front of the chapel and the whole atmosphere of the field turned almost festival-like. Children were up dancing, bubbles were being blown, feet were tapping and ice creams were in high demand from the nearby stall. There was a lovely mix of people enjoying the sunshine and music - elderly couples with their flasks of coffee seated in their deckchairs, young families who joined forces to start a game of cricket, groups of teenagers topping up their tans and friends who enjoyed having a little dance and clap along to the music. We had such a lovely time and it was a relaxing way to spend an afternoon.

As we left Gibside we browsed the plants for sale and had a quick peek at the potting shed which turns into a family friendly beer-garden every Friday night in the summer. We shall probably be back to try here on 22nd June when they're hosting a midsummer hog roast night with live music, real ales and firepits in the beer garden.


Trip to Craster - May 2012

Craster is a small fishing village in Northumberland famous for it's smoked kippers! It is out mission to explore Northumberland this year and with blue skies above us, we decided to pay a visit.

We arrived just after noon with 5 very hungry bellies! There were 3 main choices for lunch:- The jolly fisherman which looked like a friendly country pub with lovely fresh seafood platters and crab sandwiches on the menu, A little cafe serving homemade scones, tray bakes and cakes or the restaurant situated within the famous smokehouse.

We opted to dine in the smokehouse as it's not everyday you get the opportunity and we were not disappointed. The service was friendly and we were lucky to get a window seat overlooking the bay. Steve and the kids opted for traditional fish an chips (catch of the day was haddock) while I couldn't resist the smoked salmon, apple and walnut salad (salmon was smoked in house). All of our food was delicious and plentiful.
When we'd finished our meal we decided to have a look around the smokehouse shop. We were greeted by a friendly fishmonger and a large selection of lovely looking seafood. We bought some kippers (for tomorrow's breakfast) and some thickly sliced bacon that had been smoked in house.

There is a 1.6 mile coastal walk to Dunstanborough castle from Craster, which unfortunately we weren't brave enough to attempt with 3 kids but we had a lovely walk about half way to the castle. We were delighted to meet some sheep and little lambs wandering freely along the route and enjoyed stopping every now and then to watch the waves and admired the views of the castle.

Before heading home we stopped at an ice-cream van for some ice creams which we ate on the benches overlooking the harbour whilst watching the fishermen at work and then Harry and Steve had a quick explore of the many rocks and pools.
Craster only took about 45 minutes to get to from our house and we will definitely be back in a few years when the kids are old enough to attempt the full walk to Dunstanborough if not before!

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