Fossil hunting and rock pooling in Lyme Regis 

In my Summer Bucket List 2017, I mentioned our planned holiday trip to Lyme Regis where we would spend lots of time relaxing, building sand castles and admiring the views on The Cobb beach.

Well we’re here and we’ve been having a fantastic time.  Our cottage – an old shipman’ cottage – is a 2 minutes stroll down to the East Cliff beach and a short walk into the main town and the bustling Cobb area.

Lyme Regis holiday review
The view by our gorgeous ancient mariner’s cottage

There’s so much to do here. Sunny days can be spent on the beach, taking in the breathless views towards the Golden Cap, finding shrimps and crabs in rock pools, fossil finding and strolling along the seafront with its many bars and cafes. For rainy days, there’s so much to do; in the town itself there’s the Town Mill museum with it’s working watermill, the Lyme Regis Museum and the Dinosaur Museum to name a few attractions. 

Lyme Regis holiday review
The beautiful East Cliffe Beach- great for fossilling and rock pooling

The beach areas are great for families.  The Cobb is where the main events and activities take place, with lifeguards stationed at the Sandy beach area, plenty of amenities and cafes, the obligatory English deckchair for hire and so on.  It feels safe for the kids, which is all the more relaxing for the parents. 

Lyme Regis holiday review
Lots of rock pools!

We’ve never been rock pooling or fossil-hunting before. I was a little dubious we would find anything at all. Not naturally outdoorsy-type people, it makes our brains hurt to think of what equipment we would even need for such activities. 
As it turns out, no equipment is needed whatsoever.  Although I believe you have more success with lines and bait for the crabs and shrimps, when the tide is out a simple bucket will catch many tiny shrimps. It’s easy to spot the crabs dipping in and out of the shady rocks.  It’s a fantastic children’s activity; a good hour or so at a time can be spent pottering around the rocks, in sunshine or drizzle (we did both!).
Lyme Regis holiday review
Success! A fossilised ammonite.
Over at East Cliff, you can see many tourists with hammers and chisels, busting away at the grey Jurassic rock in their fossil hunts.  The tools are sold in the local shops, but you can simply use another big stone to tap along the strata of the rocks, as we found to our success!  Ammonites are most commonly found – a type of marine mollusc.  However, head to one of the museums to see some unbelievable examples of fossils found and read the story of Mary Anning who made some of the most significant geological finds of our time.

Lyme Regis town museum review
Fossilised Ichthyosaur in the Lyme Regis Museum

 At the Town Mill Museum, our two girls learned from one of the best volunteer guides we’ve seen how the working watermill worked and even had a try at milling their own flour.  We really enjoyed our afternoon here, topped off with a beer at the Lyme Regis Brewery across the way. 

Lyme Regis town mill
Learning the daily grind!

It’s important for us as parents to chill out on holiday and I can report that it’s been relaxing so far mainly due to the children being occupied…and helped by the discovery of a handy flask in our cottage.  Perfect for beach-coffees!

Lyme Regis holiday review
Solitary coffee on East Cliff Beach- great for rock pools and fossils

We’re only a little way into our holiday so more beach days to go.  I haven’t even mentioned the restaurants we’ve visited (separate review of River Cottage to come!). Lyme Regis is famous for the 1981 film version of The French Lieutenant’s Woman, so this evening we’ll be visiting the aptly named  French Lieutenant’s Bistro

Later this week we’ll be following in my pal Hodge Podge Days‘ footsteps and moving across to sunny Devon for more fun and adventures! 

Elizabeth Gaskell’s House, Manchester (review)

Elizabeth Gaskell's House, ManchesterTicking off another item on the Summer Bucket List 2017, we visited Elizabeth Gaskell’s House in Manchester this weekend.

Another very conveniently sited family attraction, Elizabeth Gaskell‘s House in Manchester is the former home of Elizabeth and her family. I’m very familiar with her most famous novels, which include Mary Barton, Cranford, North and South, and Wives and Daughters.  In my (long-distant?) youth, I studied Victorian Literature as part of my degree and obsessed over Bronte, Eliot and Gaskell.

My eldest daughter, who will begin Year 2 in September, has recently been studying the Victorian at school, with a school trip to the nearby Dunham Massey House.  I thought this would be a good place for them to visit during the school summer holidays – educational and fun activities – what’s not to like?

Elizabeth Gaskell's House, Manchester
Victorian tea time for minis

We arrived to find a beautiful period home near Central Manchester at 84 Plymouth Grove.  It’s an impressive,  beautifully restored Grade II listed neoclassical villa with spectacular period rooms, villa garden and a lovely tea rooms.  It was the residence of William and Elizabeth Gaskell from 1850 until their deaths in 1884 and 1865 respectively, and one or more of their daughters continued to live there until 1913.

What’s more, we were most impressed with the volunteers, stationed in every room and manning the tea rooms.  They seemed so dedicated and knowledgable – we could ask them anything!

With 2 hungry youngsters, we actually began our tour of the house in the tea room, situated in the old kitchens and adjacent to the servants quarters.  My two girls (aged 6 and 4) were really impressed that they could sit at their own tea-table and enjoy a piece of home-made cake.

Elizabeth Gaskell's House Manchester
A Victorian lady and her maid

However, they were even more impressed to try out the Victorian costumes in the servants quarters.  This is my best photo of the summer so far – my youngest as a Victorian lady, perchance about to nip out for her afternoon stroll around the gardens following her tea, with her lady’s maid (not sure how good a lady’s maid my 6-year-old would make, however!).

We didn’t actually make it upstairs for quite sometime due to costume-induced hilarity.  However we eventually ascended and made it, back at the impressive entrance to the house.  the girls each had a turn at ringing the doorbell – a traditional wired system whereby a lever at the front of the house is pushed to ring the internal bell.

The girls were each given a clipboard with a pictorial list of items that they needed to find around the house.  The house has been beautifully restored over the years, having lain dormant for some time until the University of Manchester procured it in 1969.  Most of the items there are of the period, with many original Gaskell items held here also (these are kept behind perspex – for example letters, pictures, other personal items).

Exploring the house and activities

We made or way through William Gaskell‘s study, the morning room, drawing-room and dining room.  There are activities for children in each of the rooms, for example the magnifying glass and range of letters, much-loved by my two girls who were fascinated by the tiny, cursive writing.

We saw copies of letters from Charles Dickens which I found interesting.  Mrs Gaskell wrote for a periodical for Charles Dickens and some of her stories later formed the basis of Cranford.

We also found out much more from the volunteers about the life and work of the Gaskell’s and the lives of their daughters and servants.

I was particularly drawn to the Gaskell quotes stationed around the house – so appropriate still to modern times!

We will certainly visit the Gaskell house again.  The house and it’s volunteers host a year-round programme of special events and the loved book shop sells a range of new and second-hand books.  I bought Sylvia’s Lovers as I’ve never read this novel of Mrs Gaskell’s. It will provide me with my holiday reading!

Disclaimer: We were invited to visit Elizabeth Gaskell’s House free of charge.  Admission is £5 per adults – children under 16 go free.  All opinions are our own.

Never a truer word spoken!


Manchester Museum (Review)

Kicking off the items in our Summer Bucket List 2017, we spent yesterday at Manchester Museum and had a really great day.

I think the first thing to note about Manchester Museum is that it’s so easy to travel to. To my shame, I’m no public transport person, but I was persuaded by thrifty husband that the bus was by far the easiest and quickest option.  I grudgingly admit it was a good idea. The number 41/43 bus was every 5 minutes, much cheaper than parking in town and it dropped us right outside the door.

Manchester Museum
I’d read that the museum has activities for the kids on every day during the summer, which encouraged me to add it to the bucket list for preferably a rainy day (and boy was yesterday rainy).

We began our Museum journey investigating rocks, minerals and fossils.  Fossils are topical for us currently as we’ll shortly be holidaying on the Jurassic Coast where there are fossils aplenty.  We’ve never fossil-hunted before so it was timely for the girls to learn about how they are formed and view a few great ones.

There were plenty of dinosaur skeletons and footprints to capture the imagination, including Stan the T Rex! We were invited to take a selfie with Stan and of course were only too happy to oblige.

My two girls will shortly turn 7 and 5.  The last time we visited the Museum they were still toddlers.  Their age makes all the difference; they were immediately thrilled with the exhibits on offer, dashing around, pointing at bones, crystals, fossils and meteorites.

Manchester Museum
There are many selfie opportunities at the Manchester Museum

Onto the nature discovery and living worlds sections where again the girls were chasing around learning about the different animals and our impact as humans on the world.  They were fascinated with the beetle collections in particular – forcing themselves to look at them and pulling yuck faces!

We spotted four Book Benches from the Read Manchester project for kids.  They’re currently completing the Summer Reading Challenge so I liked this addition to the Museum activities.
We spent some time in the Ancient Cultures section. My eldest has learnt a little about the ancient Egyptians at school recently and she was hugely fascinated with the “actual, real Mummies” we saw.  Manchester Museum has an important collection of ancient Egyptian artefacts.  This is my favourite of the collections as I do love watching documentaries about the Egyptians.

The Vivarium is a good place for the kids to do a bit of poisonous frog and snake spotting and breaks up the usual exhibits nicely.  I had to remind them it isn’t a zoo – research takes place here and we saw a number of researchers in action.

Giant spider crab manchester museum
We had lunch in the lovely Muse cafe and then spent an inordinate length of time looking at the Giant Spider Crab (above).  Hideous looking thing.  The girls thought it was the best thing they’d ever seen.  Yuck.

We ended the day in the Discovery Centre being Story Explorers.  The girls did junk modelling and wrote their own stories about what they had made.  The centre also contained a huge reading tent and it was nice to end with reading stories.

We enjoyed the day and will definitely return.  My nearly-7 year old now wants to be a palaeontologist

Summer bucket list 2017

A summer bucket list – what a great idea! The summer holidays are fast approaching, with my two girls, aged 6 and 4 both finishing school this Friday.  It can be difficult to find entertainment for the kids during the school holiday period.  Organisation is absolutely crucial!  Preparing a bucket list is a great way to get focused, so heads up to HodgePodgeDays who gave me this idea via her own Summer Bucket List post.

I’ll certainly be stealing some ideas from the Hodge, particularly as we’ll be holidaying in the same area at one point in the holidays – North Devon.  We’ll also be travelling to Lyme Regis and plan to do much more with our 6 week break from school.

There’s so much to around Greater Manchester, where we’re based.  I admit that I can become panicked by the range of activities on offer; can we fit it all in??  Well here goes with the list:

  • Fruit picking at a local farm.  I’m aiming for Kenyon Hall Farm in Cheshire.  I hear they still have some fruit left such as Tayberries and Blackcurrants.  We missed the strawberry season, but we did have a few in our own garden.
  • Explore Secret Stories at local National Trust site Tatton Park.  We’re lucky to have some absolutely fantastic National Trust properties around Greater Manchester.  We try to get to most of them each school holiday as they involve a great mix of learning and fun outdoor activities.
  • Visit another National Trust property, Lyme Park in Disley.  My girls love it here. On a sunny day they can potter around the stream adjacent to the main visitor centre.  We can spot if the tadpoles we saw back in May have sprouted into frogs! We’ll take a picnic and I can just lie down (a recurring theme regarding myself this summer holiday).
  • Another National Trust one – Quarry Bank Mill.  We haven’t been here for a while and there’s usually some fantastic activities inside the Mill and outdoor fun in the gorgeous gardens.
  • Spend lots of time relaxing, building sand castles and admiring the views on The Cobb, a beautiful beach in Lyme Regis on the Jurassic Coast, where we’ll be spending some time this summer.
  • Go fossil hunting on The Cobb and surrounding beaches of Lyme Regis.  We’ve never done this; I’ve never done this, even as a child.  I find myself wondering about this curiosity – how many fossils can there possibly be?  Do they run out? Become extinct?? I’m told there are fossils a-plenty and i can only imagine my girls’ reactions on finding their first hoard.
  • Visit Westward Ho! Beach in North Devon, another planned holiday spot.  Stolen from The Hodge’s bucket list, this is another beautiful spot.
  • Go crabbing.  Again an activity that we have never done before.  I’m a little alarmed by this and may in fact pass the whole activity over to my husband, being quite frightened of the pincers and such.
  • Visit the Elizabeth Gaskell House in Manchester.  Manchester has a great many Museums and we’ve been to most of them.  I was an English Literature student and enjoyed Cranford and North and South.  The House has a range of children’s Victorian-themed educational activities, so we’re definitely visiting this summer!
  • Again on the museum theme and one for a rainy day, we intend to visit the Manchester Museum.  If we can visit prior to our Lyme Regis, the Jurassic sections should prepare our girls for the fossiling ahead!
  • Visit Chester Zoo. A friend and I are planning this.  We’ve been quite a few times, but there’s always something new to see.  I love the giraffes, my friend loves the primates and my girls love the lions!
  • Eat lots of nice food.  I’m sure we’ll find many excellent eating establishments in Lyme Regis and Devon.  There are plenty of great ones in Manchester, too and it’s not always easy to find the time to try them with the children.  One we’ll definitely be trying is Vapiano in The Corn Exchange in Manchester.  We have kindly been invited for a meal and I hear they have a great kids menu.

That’s quite a list for 6 weeks and I’m hoping for good weather for quite a few of these.  Check back and see how we’re getting on.