Longleat - the attractions

Our trip to Longleat Safari Park was simply amazing. We crammed so much in!

Now at £95 for a family of 4 (plus one free under 3), Longleat is certainly not the cheapest of attractions. It is still cheaper than most UK theme parks though, and I think it's a lot better value. Mainly due to the no queuing!

We arrived just before opening time at 10am as wanted to make the most of our day. We didn't have any real plan of action, apart from leaving the safari until the end. First of all we stumbled across the Jungle Kingdom which was full of many weird and wonderful small animals. The highlight for us was the meerkat walk through and my daughter squealed with delight as meerkats were running around her feet. I have never seen her so excited! The thing that impressed me most about Longleat was how close you can get to the animals and how interactive they were.

Next up was the monkey temple, and again the tiny marmosets were allowed to run free around you in the enclosure. We were able to get really close. The Lorikeets were also here and we were able to purchase a small tub of nectar for £1 to feed them. The kids loved this, at one point my son had 5 birds on him!

The first jungle express train left the station at 11am so we dashed to collect it. This is a lovely little steam train that takes you past the lake containing sealions and pelicans and you can also catch a glimpse of the gorilla's from the train if you are lucky (we were!) The train only took 15 minutes but my 2 year old especially enjoyed it.

From the train we decided to take the jungle cruise. There was only a 10minute wait for the next boat which is the longest we'd waited all day. We posed for the obligatory photos (which at £15 we did not buy!) and were entertained by the ducks and a turkey while we waited! The cruise was lovely. First it passes the hippo's and then takes you to Gorilla island to see the Gorilla's but the highlight for us was the sealions. You can purchase a cup of fish for £1 and feed the sealions from the side of the boat. They were so funny and entertaining and my children loved how they would jump and splash us. This was definitely a highlight for us. We had a guide for the cruise who provided us with fun and interesting facts and also encouraged questions from the children which was nice.

Next, my 6 year old dragged us to the bat cave. I was a bit scared of going in here but put on a brave face for my daughter who was also a bit worried! I did not need to worry though. Apart from the 2 bats that flew a bit too close to our faces as we walked in, the bat cave was actually fine and they were really interesting to watch hanging upside down from the ropes. They were bigger in real life than I expected! We had a giggle at the sign at the exit stating 'check yourself for bats'

We needed to calm down after the bat experience so decided to have lunch in the orangery restaurant. The setting was beautiful - think palm trees and floor to ceiling windows looking out onto manicured lawns. We certainly paid for he view though - £35 for 3Xkids sandwiches, Pom bears and juice. 2xadult sandwiches and hot drinks! Than works out at £7 a head! We did expect it to be expensive though and you can take a picnic if you like.

After lunch we found ourselves wandering the animal adventure zone - which is a bit like a petting farm with animals and guinea pigs you can stroke. There was also a wonderful butterfly house in this area which was home to thousands of beautiful butterflies. They also had the cocoons of various sizes on display. This place was amazing and a photographers dream. They also had some leaf cutting ants on display and you could use magnifying glasses to see the ants up close. You exit the butterfly house into the animal handling zone, where you can stroke more exotic animals such as iguanas.

We were now ready to attempt the maze! It is advertised as the biggest maze in the UK and I think I underestimated how hard it was going to be! The kids really enjoyed it and were in fits of giggles when we kept passing the same landmarks over and over again but I was getting frustrated at just going around in circles for what seemed like forever! Luckily, a kind man pointed us in the right direction and after about 30mins we found a quick exit. Phew!

We headed straight for the deer valley where you could buy deer food for £1 (you guessed it) and hand feed the deers. The deers that are kept at Longleat are actually extinct in the wild which is sad.

The kids were dying to try out the adventure castle and the sun was shining so we headed here for half an hour so they could let off steam. It is basically an adventure playground but on a huge scale. There was a lot to do from climbing rope walls, zooming on a zip wire to playing in the water zone. This area could be an attraction in itself! There is even a coffee kiosk and plenty of benches for mum and dad to enjoy a much needed break.

As we were heading towards our car ready for the safari, we had to do the obligatory gift shop visit! The kids had some spending money from their grandma and were itching to spend it. In the end we purchased a snake soft toy, a gorilla soft toy, a giraffe and tiger beany baby, 2 animal 'slap' bracelets, 3 pairs of binoculars, 2 fridge magnets, 2 animal noise makers, 3 postcards, a mood ring and a car sticker for £50 which wasn't bad.

There were quite a bit of the Longleat attractions we didn't explore - either because we didn't feel they were appropriate or we didn't have time. These included the simulator, hunters in the sky show, parrot show, Longleat house and the small fairground.

All in all though we had a fantastic 5 hours exploring this part of the adventure park. No queuing, a surprise around every corner and lots of interaction made it worth the ticket price for these attractions alone. Longleat was the best family attraction I have ever visited!


Afternoon tea.....with kids!

When you think of afternoon tea you think of dainty sandwiches, fine china and wearing your Sunday best. It certainly isn't something you would usually associate with a 6 year old boy and two boisterous toddlers. I attempted it though! And it was fab.

The venue of choice was the running fox bakery in Felton. It is a small but perfectly formed bakery in a picture perfect setting on the riverside. Because of the size (and Popularity) pre-booking is definitely recommended. Afternoon tea is served between 3pm-5pm.

As soon as you open the door to the running fox, you start to feel hungry. You are greeted with a counter full of freshly baked goods like you have never seen before! There are Cakes, pies and breads galore for you to feast your eyes on before you are seated.

The staff are super friendly and immediately provided us with a highchair, menus and removed the glasses that were on our table our of the reach of little hands. We were the only people with children there but never felt uncomfortable and all the other customers didn't seem to mind. The running fox does have a children's menu available and also provides treats such as child friendly hot chocolates and homemade milkshake's (my children loved the latter)

The afternoon tea menu is fantastic value. You can pick any sandwich (we chose smoked salmon, ham and pease pudding and cheddar cheese with smoked ham), any slice of quiche (we chose bacon and Brie), any slice of homemade pie (we chose steak and ale and steak and Stilton), any scone ( we chose cherry and almond scones filled with jam and cream) and any cake from the cake counter ( we chose chocolate fudge cake, a chocolate brownie and Bakewell tart). You are also provided with unlimited tea and coffee which they top up regularly. The price of afternoon tea is a mere £10 per head which is just fantastic! The portion's are huge and everything is homemade and delicious. We paid for 3 afternoon tea's between the 5 of us and still had leftovers to bring home for which the staff kindly provide you with cake boxes.

When we could eat no more, it was time to feed stretch our legs and we promised the children they could feed the ducks. The staff in the bakery provide you with free bread to do this which is such a lovely touch. The ducks certainly seemed to enjoy the artisan bread as much as we had!

3 x afternoon teas, 2 x chocolate milkshake's, leftovers boxed to take home, unlimited tea and coffee and free bread to feed the ducks came to less than £30 which is not only the cheapest meal we have ever enjoyed as a family of 5 but definitely the best value and tastiest!


A visit to Bamburgh castle

I have never visited Bamburgh castle. I have always wanted to though and after reading rave reviews I added it to my list of places to go this Easter.

On the day of the visit we took our own 3 children plus my 2 nieces. It is quite a long but picturesque drive (on the way we passed Warkworth castle which looks lovely on is on my list of places to visit in the summer) and I like how you can spot the castle from quite afar and admire it's view on your drive.

We followed the signs for parking which is priced at £2 all day. The parking attendant was very friendly and cheerful, telling the children in the car stories of a dragon he had seen in the morning. We paid our entrance fee (£24 for a family of 5 plus under 4's free) and started to explore.

Immediately, the children loved it! Despite the freezing temperatures, they were walking along the castle walls, peeping through battlements to see the sea and climbing on canon's. The freezing temperature's were too much for me though and I quickly found the entrance to the state rooms which were sheltered and a lot warmer than outside!

Inside Bamburgh castle is set out exactly how you imagine the inside of a castle would look like. We all enjoyed looking at the servant's rooms and learning about what life was like, viewing the impressive armoury and the grandeur of the king's hall and using mirrors to look at the impressive ceilings. There are staff in most rooms who are happy to point out items of interest and you are encouraged to take photographs which was very refreshing! Everybody was very welcoming to our 5 children as well which was very nice. The highlight of our castle tour for everybody definitely had to be the dungeons, which had been mocked up to show real people trapped inside. Our children loved it.

Back outside we sat on a huge king's throne and tried out the stocks before visiting the Armstrong and Aviation museum which is housed in the West side of the castle and included with your ticket. My 2 year old particularly enjoyed this part as with most 2 year olds, he loves aeroplanes and there were a few models in the museum.

Back outside again, we admired the view from the windmill out to holy island on one side and the farne islands on the other. The views from the castle are just spectacular and have to be seen to be believed.

Before leaving, we paid the gift shop a visit and the children bought a plastic sword and cover which at £2.50 was not a bad price. They enjoyed re-enacting battles with each other and drawing their swords to hunt for dragon's within the castle grounds so they were really worth the money.

It is a shame the day we visited it was bitter cold. On a mild day, I imagine you could spend all day here exploring the grounds, taking a stroll on the beach and having a bite to eat in the tearoom within the castle. Despite the weather though, I'm still really pleased we paid Bamburgh castle a visit.


Easter egg hunt at Seaton Deleval hall

We are NT members and our local venue - Seaton Deleval hall, has been closed this year for refurbishment. It re-opened this weekend and today played host to an Easter egg hunt challenge (sponsored by cadburys). The sky was blue and it wasn't snowing (hooray!) so we thought we'd give it a go.

On entry, we were told to register at the cadburys marquee and for £1 per child were given a map and a list of numbers from 1-18. The challenge was to find 18 eggs around the estate which would each have a letter written on them. You write down all the letter's on your sheet and then re-arrange them into an Easter phrase. Easy peasy!

Our group ranged from age 2-82 and we all thoroughly enjoyed it. The children enjoyed running through the maze, woods and gardens hunting for clues, my grandad enjoyed looking at the architecture, my stepdad re-lived some childhood memories and me and my mum enjoyed a stroll and a chat in nice surroundings. All in all the trail took about an hour and when we were finished we handed our completed entry back into the cadburys tent and much to our delight we were all handed a chocolate Easter egg as a prize.

There was much more going on at Seaton Deleval hall today, including pony rides, haystack climbing and traditional games. However I didn't want my grandad out in the cold for too long and after an hour of walking he seemed to be ready to come home for a cuppa!

We vowed to return soon though for a picnic, walk and to let the kids play in the adventure park.

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