Visiting The Royal Yacht Britannia with kids, Edinburgh

The Royal Yacht Britannia* in Leith, Edinburgh is surprisingly easy to get to. It took us just over 2 hours by car from South East Northumberland. It was straight up the A1 and the turn off is before you hit the horrible Edinburgh ring roads. Parking is free for as long as you would like and plentiful in the Ocean Terminal shopping centre where the entrance to the Yacht is situated.

We arrived just before lunch and decided to dine at Bella italia which is just next to the Yacht's entrance. There are stunning views of the Yacht and port from the restaurant. Bella Italia is one of our favourite child-friendly restaurants. 3 courses from the children's menu is only £5.25 including drink and everything is of good quality. The children's fun pack is also original and always enjoyable.

After our lunch we headed to the entrance of The Royal Yacht Britannia which is situated on level 2 of the Ocean Teminal shopping centre. A family ticket costs £36.50 and children under 5 are free.

Before you board the Yacht you can walk around a small exhibition which features lots of great pictures and information about the Yacht. We didn't get to read much of this today though as our children were so keen to get on board!

We arrived at the boarding gate and were greeted by some very friendly staff who took the time to let us know how the tour works. Everybody is given an easy to operate audio guide and the idea is to follow the arrows around the yacht and look out for the highlighted numbers. When you see a number, you press it on your keypad and listen to a small description about where you are. I was delighted to see that there were special child-friendly audio guides too. My 7 year old absolutely loved his and soon led the way showing us all what to do. My 5 year old also enjoyed the commentary and was able to operate it herself. My 3 year old however did struggle so I helped him and ended up listening to the child guide rather than the grown ups version. I think this was more fun anyway so I didn't mind.

There are four levels on the Yacht to explore and there really is so much to explore. We were aboard for about 2 hours. I don't want to give you a detailed explanation of what to expect so instead will go through our highlights.

Dad loved the Officer's mess. You could stand behind the bar and pretend to pour pints while your crew sat at the bar and tried on sailor hats.

I loved the dining room. I was awestruck seeing the huge dining table set up for dinner. There were so many interesting facts on the (child's) audio guide about this room. For instance it told us that the room has a huge projector and doubles as a cinema and the family used to watch Disney films here. Some of the Queen's personal gifts are in this room too and it is really interesting to learn about and see some of the gifts she has been given over the years (including ceremonial pig killer!)

Heidi (5)
Heidi loved the upper deck where there were fantastic views out to sea. We learned that this deck was a favourite with children and the crew used to make dens here with inflatable life boats and sometimes they would make a sandpit and paddling pool for the children to enjoy.

Jack (3)
Weirdly, Jack loved the mechanics of the ship and enjoyed looking through the glass at the engines and sitting on the Admiral's chair at the top of the Yacht.

He also loved the sweet shop on board in the lower decks. The ladies who run this little stall are lovely and let you sample any fudge flavours you would like. They were absolutely delicious, I loved the raspberry fudge. We could not resist buying a selection to take home.

Harry (7)
Harry loves learning and really enjoyed using the audio guide to learn all about the yacht. When I asked him which part of the tour was his favourite, he replied that all of it was! 

The tour ends with a small sailing exhibition and then a visit to the gift shop which had lots of beautiful souvenirs for sale. There is also a tearoom on board the Yacht and it looked wonderful. We did not have time today but next time we visit I will make sure we have time for a hot drink and scone.

There are many features which make The Royal Yacht Britannia a great day out for all of the family:-
*free parking
*seperate children's audio guide which was engaging, informative and entertaining
*super friendly staff
*plenty of room for children to run about on deck plus lots of seats
*toilet facilities on almost every deck
*no silly rules - you can go at your own pace, in your own direction and re-visit your favourite parts whenever you like. I also love that you can take photographs everywhere and anywhere!
*very accessible - there is an external staircase and lift to all floors meanings here is no climbing ladders or squeezing past people on the stairs. There were lots of people using walking frames and they managed just fine.
*hands on learning - I liked the fact we could sit on bar stools, try on hats, ring bells and turn wheels. There were even a few games to play in some of the rooms.
*a sweet shop on board

Overall, I would highly recommend a day trip to The Royal Yacht Britannia. We all enjoyed our visit and there is something for all ages but our 7 year old definitely got the most from the visit. The adjoining Ocean Terminal Shopping Centre is also home to a cinema and softplay centre should you wish to extend your day.


Hadrian's Wall - Chesters and Housesteads

We are English Heritage members (which I would highly recommend - find our more here). We pay an annual membership fee of about £80 for the 5 of us and can visit as many English Heritage sites and events as we would like throughout the year at no additional cost. We always try and incorperate an English Heritage day out into our holidays as it always works out as a very low cost day out. (See previous reviews of Belsay hall, Warkworth Castle, Lindisfarne priory and Dunstanborough castle) We usually learn something and always have lots of fun. This week, we decided to explore part of Hadrian's Wall.

We decided to explore Chester and Housesteads Roman Forts which are conveniently situated just 7 miles apart. We had never been to either of these places before so did not know what to expect.

We started with Chester's and were welcomed by very friendly staff in the small gift shop. Parking is £3 at this site but this is refunded on entry. On the day of our visit the Fort was holding a 'Stop the cavalry' event. We arrived just in time to watch the show. 

A Roman Soldier demonstrated different horseback techniques with various weapons including spears, swords and crossbows. It was great fun to watch and the crowd cheered as the soldier skillfully hit his targets. We learned a few facts about how soldiers on horseback would have assisted and help the army. It was great to watch and listen to.

After this our budding soldiers were invited to choose a horse of their own and race against each other. The kids loved taking part and the enthusiastic and friendly staff kept everybody's spirits up despite the miserable weather!

Then we explored the Roman Fort and bathhouse. Unusually, Chesters is on a mostly flat site so fairly accessible to all. You can walk around the fort from the outside or explore in the thick of it as we did. Our children seem to love nothing more than climbing!

We walked down to the bathhouse near the river and enjoyed reading the information signs and learning how Roman's would bathe. The views of the river from here are stunning.

After a quick toilet stop we had a look around the on-site museum. There are lots of original Roman pillars and columns to look at and it is nice to see some real Roman carving. There are also a few small artefacts and coins to look at as well.

We would definitely come back to Chesters as I think it would be a lovely spot for a picnic in the summer (there were lots of tables provided). It is worth noting there is no cafe/tea room so a picnic is probably best. You can buy tea/coffee and a few snacks from the gift shop though.

Back in the car we travelled the 7 miles along military road to Housesteads Roman Fort. Again you had to pay for parking but this was refunded on entry. Housesteads is operated by both National trust and English heritage so entry would be free if you are a member of either. Entry was again through a gift shop. 

There was no cafe as such but there was a selection of food for sale in the gift shop. Everybody chose something savoury and a treat plus a drink. Prices on the shelf did seem on the expensive side however the total bill for 5 of us was £21 which wasn't bad at all. There is an indoor seating area upstairs where you can eat your food or enjoy a hot drink. The food was locally sourced and delicious, especially the sausage rolls from Rothbury bakers. 

It is a good job we stopped for a re-fuel as there is quite a hike to the fort from the entrance and it is mostly uphill! Our 3 year old managed it without moaning though so it couldn't have been too bad. The views of the surrounding countryside were beautiful. You walk through an open field of sheep and lambs too which the kids will love.

Halfway there the rain really started to come down and I must admit I started to think about turning around. Hubby convinced me to keep going though and I'm pleased we did.

We arrived just in time for Roman Army School which was just fantastic. Our children were dressed in authentic Roman clothes and given their own swords and shields. Dads were encouraged to take part too.

We were then taken to the classroom and Maximus took on the task of training his new army.

It was great fun and the trainee soldiers learned how to march, use their shields together, charge, stand to attention and scare the enemy. There was lots of shouting and fierce looking faces. I don't know who enjoyed it more, the dad's or the children!

We all successfully graduated from Roman Army School. We had a quick look around the attached museum before practising our marching skills all the way back to the car. We would have loved to have looked around the fort but after being out in the cold and rain all day we were ready for home but will definitely return to visit in the summer.


Our guide to family glamping at The Bells of Hemscott, Northumberland

A few weeks ago we were invited to road test The Bells Of Hemscott in Northumberland. We had such a fantastic experience and would highly recommend it as a place to spend some quality family time together. 

Why glamping?
Glamping or 'glamourous camping' is for people who like spending time in the great outdoors but would like a few home comforts too. We love camping and have experienced it in every shape and form, we even survived a storm in a muddy field with a 3 month old baby once. 'Glamping' however is definitely my preferred way to camp. The Bells of Hemscott offer furnished pre-pitched luxury bell tents. I love not having to worry about carrying everything we need and knowing that our tent is already pitched saves a lot of time, stress and arguments. Trying to pitch a family sized tent with 3 children running around your feet and then unpacking for everybody whilst trying to keep the mud out of the tent is no easy task! At The Bells of Hemscott you don't need to worry about any of that as they have done all the hard work for you.

Bell tents are gorgeous. They are sturdy and very spacious (you can stand up in one). They are also extremely weather proof meaning you can camp in all types of weather.

The Bells of Hemscott are furnished to a very high standard and are lovely and cosy inside. Expect luxury bedding, tealight chandelier's and beautiful bunting  decorating the space.

You do have to remember however that you are camping. There is no electricity here and you will have to build a fire to cook/heat water. There is a composting loo (which my children seemed to be obsessed with using!!) and Eco-showers.

This is also a working farm and a herd of cows live in the adjoining field (don't worry there is a fence separating you). This is all part of the fun though and I personally think having electricity here would take away part of the camping charm.

What is there to do?
The Bells of Hemscott are located on a working farm opposite the gorgeous Druridge Bay beach. It is about a 10 minute walk from the field to the beach. The beach here is pretty quiet and unspoilt and perfect to explore.

You can head up the road for a mile to Cresswell where there is another beautiful beach and the famous Cresswell Ices ice cream shop where you can buy ice creams, sweets and treats. These beaches are also some of the best places in the UK to go star gazing at night and take in a 'dark sky' experience.

Half a mile up the road in the opposite direction to Cresswell takes you to a lovely little farm shop and tea room where you can buy local meat, local delicacies and baked goods (the scones are lovely).

There are a few pubs within 3 miles with The Widdrington Inn and The Woodhorn grange being the closest. (the woodhorn grange has an indoor and outdoor play area). 

Warkworth Castle, Amble harbour (fab fish n chips) and Experience Woodhorn (lovely free museum featuring the area's mining heritage) are all a short drive away as is The Druridge Bay Country Park with it's visitor centre, wildlife, walks, park and watersports.

The best thing about camping here though is that you feel like you are in the middle of nowhere and actually have time to spend with your family. We loved collecting fire wood together and then watching dad build a fire. We enjoyed cooking sausages together and eating them al-fresco on the picnic tables and we loved making our own hot chocolate together over the campfire (all equipment and instructions are provided so don't worry if you aren't sure how to cook on a camp fire or with an outdoor stove).

There are various crates around the site and our children invented their own games using the crates as boats. Camping really gives children time to let their imagination go wild.

The camping field is huge but fully enclosed so your children can run and explore under your watchful eye.

I also like that the Bells of Hemscott are on a farm and we could say hello to the animals whenever we wanted to.

Remember to pack:-

They have thought of everything at The Bells of Hemscott. Your beds will be made up on arrival with beautiful bedding, there are crates containing all you will need for your stay from pots and pans to cups and saucers. Even Eco-washing up liquid and drying racks are provided! When camping with children though, there are a few home comforts I would pack. We took a few board games and a pack of cards to play in the tent. This is essential if the weather turns bad. The tents are very cosy inside and floor cushions are provided. Even in summer it will get very cold at night. I would recommend taking a hot water bottle each and layers for sleeping (onesie's over PJ's are great). 

We also packed marshmallows and bamboo skewers to toast on the campfire. They are inexpensive and take up no room but really add to the magic of camping. I would also recommend you pack wellies whatever the weather as in the UK heavy rain can strike at any time! Plus a pair of slippers to wear inside of the tent as outdoor footwear is not allowed inside your tent but the floor can be a little bumpy if you are only wearing socks. 

The tents are a 10 minute walk from the farm but Alison will kindly transport all of your luggage in her trailer for you. If you think you will be visiting the beach leave your buckets, spades and nets in the car and pick them up en-route to the beach. You might want to pack a beach towel too.

The Bells of Hemscott are already pretty perfect but there are lots of plans bubbling away for the future including on-site pizza ovens, outdoor catering and a nature trail around the farm. Alison and her family are really passionate about their bell's and will go out of their way to make sure you have a fabulous time. We can't wait to visit again soon.

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