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. 

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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! 

Moving on 

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The last day of Reception.
Yesterday marked the end of an era right here.  The last day of Reception for my 5 year old (6 in October!) which was also the last day of the Early Years Foundation Stage (EYFS) in educational terms.

It was also the last Thursday my youngest (age 3…nearly 4!) and I would spend just the two of us, as by September she’ll be starting preschool.  It seems only a minute ago that I was blogging about back to school last September!

So a lot of endings…but a lot of new beginnings.  The start of the summer holiday period with lots of activities lined up, including trips to SealifeLegolandRoald Dahl at Tatton Park and a holiday to Windermere.   It feels different, this summer.  The girls are a little older again – “stop growing!” I say, and yet it’s easier in many ways and new activities seem to become appropriate.  This can mean anything from trampolining to sticking a big drawing pad in the garden on a sunny day and letting them draw/write about their summer!

My 3 year old starts preschool in September
Also new on the horizon: starting Year 1 and the National Curriculum, which I believe is a big step up from the early years.  Luckily our 5 year old has had a morning of settling in which she enjoyed – “you have to finish your writing before you can play, you know!” I was reliably informed!

3 year old similarly had her ‘settle in’ for preschool and didn’t look back.  She wants to go right now! In that, there’s a bit of a theme occurring…I have moments of sadness that I’ll get less time with them now that they’re both at school, but they are just happy and keen to move forward and get on with it.  And that’s just how I should be, too (despite turning 40 recently…more on that soon! Could time slow down please?).  

To trot out an old and now slightly annoying (and usually corporate) phrase, “there’s nothing as constant as change.” Sometimes, it takes a while to get used to, to settle into it (and then change happens again).  I started this year by blogging about being more mindful.  I think I’m doing ok!  The moments of sadness about my little ones moving on have been fleeting, as I know there’s such excitement and rich experience ahead. 

Happy summer holidays! 

Summer hols part 3: Knowsley Safari

Last weekend we were invited to Knowsley Safari to try out the UK’s longest Safari drive and get close to over 30 species of animals and birds.

We’ve been meaning to try out Knowsley with our girls (aged nearly 5 and nearly 3) for a long while now so I was pleased we finally made the journey.  It’s not far from us (in sunny Manchester) and took 40 minutes to drive there via the M57. 

The Safari drive first opened in 1971, and covers 550-acres with more than 700 animals including zebra, lions, tigers and baboons.  Alongside the safari drive, there’s a large Walkaround Area with many other animals, rides and trails (more later).

We were forewarned about the ‘interactive experience’, with lions possibly blocking your path during the drive and cheeky baboons doing allsorts to your car! So we chose to park up and take the ‘baboon bus’ around the safari (however, you can also take the baboon-friendly car route).

Lions at Knowsley safari

As soon as we set off on our bus, there was immediately plenty to see.  Our guide was great, keeping a good watch for any animals she could see and explaining fully the different kinds of antelope and deer.  My girls were thrilled to be so close to them.  At one point not soon after we set off, a baby Pere David’s Deer skipped and jumped across our path which they were enchanted to see.

We passed camels, Nilgai and Bongos, amongst many other animals.  We passed the section where Iberian Wolves were apparently lurking, but alas they were hiding from us that day.

By far the best bit of the Safari Drive is the lions.  As you can see from the photos above and below, we were lucky enough that day to get a really close view.  It was really amazing.  They were having a good old kip and a huddle together and at one point a lioness climbed a tree right in front of us.   Like a typical moggy, she got halfway, decided she couldn’t be bothered, got down again and then walked off with her head held high like nothing had ever happened.

Lions at Knowsley safari

We passed many more animals until eventually we reached the area everyone talks about: the baboons.  And yes- I can confirm that I saw baboons sitting on several cars, one even nonchalantly waving to us as we drove past.  One grabbed the ropes on the back of our bus and started climbing.   The guide explained to us that during the last World Cup, the Park amasses quite a lot of England flags that the baboons had pulled off cars and loved to play with.

Baboons at Knowsley safari

The guide was also very knowledgeable about conservation and world wildlife issues.  We were shocked to learn, on passing the White Rhinos, that they are expected to be extinct in 5 years due to poaching for their horns.  I find that so sad- they’re a magnificent animal and soon we’ll only be able to see them in zoos or protected safari areas.

We enjoyed the safari drive, which took around an hour on the baboon bus.  In  your own car, you can take as long as you like but of course any damage is at your own risk! We did think about taking the car around one more time, but then realised we had lots more to see and do in the Walkaround Area.

Giraffes at Knowsley safari

As you can see above, the Walkaround Area has a great Giraffe viewing platform.  They came so close you could almost touch them. Giraffes are one of my most favourite animals – such big eyes and they just seem so gentle and caring towards one another.

Similarly, there is also an elephant viewing platform.  They didn’t come so close when we were visiting, but we did see them frolicking around in the vast fields beyond.

Sea lions at Knowsley Safari

We also went inside the Bat Forest.  Now I think my nearly-5 year old could easily spend all day in a bat house.  It’s dark, spooky and flying bats whoosh by you when you least expect it.  It’s not everyone’s cup of tea but we enjoyed being in there! 

The photo above shows a Sea Lion doing a neat little manoeuvre.  We viewed a spectacular Sea Lion show (they occur throughout the day at regular intervals).  I’ve never seen Sea Lions perform- you can see they were really well looked after and enjoy what they do. And how good are they at balancing balls on their noses?? The keepers explained this was due to clever use of whiskers, but it was mesmerising!!

There’s lots to do and see at Knowsley-  I don’t think we quite managed it all.  There are quite a few children’s rides and our girls had a turn on some of these. There’s also birds of prey with talks throughout the day, high ropes adventure (we saw this- husband wanted a turn but alas it started raining), train ride, meerkat enclosure and a bug house which was closed for redevelopment when we visited. 

Knowsley has just launched its ‘Wild Trail’ attraction, too, in addition to its Equatorial Trail, where families can visit the new European Moose and explore the woodland environment while learning all about the indigenous species. 

We had a really exciting and full day.  I’m definitely aiming to go back and try out the wild trails.  Plus I can’t wait to drive round the Safari again! It’s a great summer activity. 

Disclosure:  We were invited free of charge to review Knowsley Safari.  All opinions are my own.  Prices are: Adults (16 and over) £16.50, Children (3-15 years) £12.50,OAPs (60 years and over) £12.50, Children under 3 FREE. A family ticket (2 adults and 2 children) is£55.00. Parking is free. For more information visit Knowsley Safari.

Summer hols part 2: Delamere Forest

delamere forestLast weekend (when there was still a spot of sunshine around) we went to Delamere Forest in Cheshire for the day.

Delamere is one of our favourite spots and an absolute adventure for children (and adults!).  It’s Cheshire’s largest area of woodland (2,400 acres) and the opportunities for pretend play for my 4 1/2 and 2 1/2 year old are fab, whether it’s spider-hunting or pretending one of the many makeshift dens is the Princess Castle du jour.

The Forest is near Frodsham, not far from the M56.  We usually park up and choose one of the many trails to follow (there are also lots of biking trails if you’re cyclists) and just set off and enjoy the surroundings.  If you’re a keen walker or hiker, you can also follow one of the harder trails as they range from easy to, erm ultra hard? (not for us, just yet!).
delmere forest The Forest is a haven for wildlife, including different butterflies, the greater spotted woodpecker, siskin and southern hawker dragonfly (my 4 1/2 year old thinks she spotted one of these…she was quicker than me!).  But mine love simply pulling up a stone and seeing the many woodlice and worms underneath!

There’s a great visitor centre with a cafe (including obligatory ice cream) and even a BBQ on many weekends.  Our trail this weekend took led us here after just over 1k which was just right for 2 1/2 year old’s little walking legs (no prams here!).  After refueling, we gently made our way back.

There’s still so much we haven’t discovered about Delamere – lots of children’s holiday activities, a Gruffalo Trail (we’ve previously completed this – it was fun!), Go Ape! (scary climbing stuff!), Active Forest Taster days and horse riding activities.  It’s a gem for the north west – I really recommend trying it out (weather permitting!) as part of getting your children active this summer.

Summer holidays begin here…a trip to Dunham Massey

I can’t believe my eldest has finished her preschool year and will start Reception class in September.  Everyone says it…but it has gone so fast! I think it’s only really just sinking in as we begin…the Expression and Confession Summer Holiday Adventures 2015!

I want to make summer holidays as special as I can for my girls, with lots of activities both outdoor and in and some robust recording mechanisms so they’ve got something to look back on in future years.

I’ve bought a simple scrap book with plain paper pages so my eldest (who’s progressed so much in writing and drawing) can draw pictures of what we’ve been doing from week to week, seeing her and her little sister’s summer story developing from week to week.  I’m also adding photographs which I’m determined to diligently print each week (thank goodness for the IOS Freeprints app!).

Last Friday my nearly 5 year old finished preschool at lunchtime, so right away we began our fun stuff, with lunch out at the Home Community Cafe in Didsbury, followed by an afternoon of baking delicious goods (er…no diets here this summer!) and playing in the local park.

dunham massey
My youngest and I at Dunham Massey

This weekend, we took a picnic to Dunham Massey park in Cheshire and spent the afternoon with some good friends.  Dunham Massey is one of my favourite National Trust attractions.  Whether you have children or not, there’s a great deal to do and see in a fantastic environment that seems to enhance your wellbeing as soon as you step out of the car!  The new visitors centre (recently renovated) is great, with a lovely gift shop, restaurant, ice cream parlour and garden shop.

If you do have kids, you can take bikes, scooters or outdoor toys and just let them run wild amidst the huge deer park and check out the resident wildlife.  There’s also a great wooden play area with picnic tables just near to the entrance – my two girls spent hours here with their friends this weekend.

The beautiful flower gardens are also huge and so well cared for.  My two love running around in the gardens and naming the many different plants and blooms.

I’ve yet to brave taking a nearly 5 and nearly  3 year old into the house, but it’s on the agenda for the summer.  Currently, it’s the First World War Stamford Military Hospital, demonstrating what life was like for patients and members of the Grey family who lived on the estate and helped care for them.  I think the girls would enjoy it – we’ve recently been to the Imperial War Museum together and it amazed me how much they engaged with the stories and artifacts.   It’s a great way to involve them in culture and social history, but also to awaken their imaginations.

We’ve recently renewed our National Trust membership so there’ll be more local attractions on the agenda this summer: Lyme ParkTatton Park and Quarry Bank Mill to name a few.  We also have zoos, the Lake District and animal farms lined up so we’ll be busy! Plus, of course, baked goods are always a winner for a rainy afternoon…

rasberry cheesecake jammy buns
Baking wares…rasberry cheesecake and jammy buns

 

 

A family holiday in Anglesey, Wales

This week, we’ve been holidaying in Anglesey, and we’ve had such a great time as a family that I wanted to do a full review of our time there.

We stayed in a cottage just outside Beaumaris.  Gyfynys Cottage was just perfect. Really spacious, clean and comfortable, with the added fun of being attached to a working farm.  My two girls loved this – horses, sheep, cows, two friendly dogs and even a personal visit from Blackjack the old farm cat!

cottage

At the beginning of the week, I wrote about our early exploits in Anglesey, including our trips into Beaumaris – a beautiful coastal town on the Menai Straits, Anglesey Sea Zoo, several real ale pubs such as the Liverpool Arms and Caernarfon Castle.

We had already done a lot at this stage, but there was so much more to do!

The great thing we discovered about Anglesey is that there is lots on, whatever the weather (as an aside – Anglesey seems to have its own special climate? It can go from tipping with rain to bright, hot sunshine in the space of a couple of hours!).

On one rainy morning, we took ourselves off to Pili Palas or the ‘Butterfly Palace’.

Pili Palas has a great collection of butterflies in their natural habitat. Nearly-three-year-old loved finding them in their hiding places beneath huge tropical leaves and flowering plantlife. It also has a selection of reptiles, birds, meerkats, bugs and a children’s farmyard. There’s also a huge children’s outside play area (we didn’t use this due to the weather, but it looked really entertaining).

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One sunnier day, we took a drive along the coastline to go beach hunting! There’s no shortage of beaches on Anglesey and we stopped at Benllech beach for a while.

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Benllech is a gorgeous sandy beach and nearly-three-year-old enjoyed building different sand-based models (castles just aren’t enough, you know – think ballerinas and guinea pig food?!), generally digging around and letting the waves almost splash her feet before running away hyserically at cheating the encroaching water. Eleven-month-old spent her time grasping the sand in her fingers and looking at it in astonishment.

On a bright Thursday morning, we drove to the Welsh Mountain Zoo nearly Colwyn Bay. What a find! This is a gorgeous zoo set amongst gorgeous mountain views. The animals range from Sumatran Tigers and Snow Leopards to Tamarins, Penguins and nearly-three-year-old’s favourite – Flamingos!

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As we were staying near to Beaumaris and had already visited the town a couple of times, we also visited Beaumaris Castle. We had already visited Caernarfon Castle, but this was our favourite. According to nearly-three-year-old, there were more ‘hidey-holes’. Personally, I thought that the light in and around the castle made it all look so vibrant and alive.

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Following our castle discoveries, we decided to have lunch in the Pier House Cafe and Bistro which overlooks the Menai Straits at Beaumaris. This was definitely the best Welsh Rarebit I’ve ever had.

On our final day, we decided to stop off at Colwyn Bay on our way back to Manchester. This had a long promenade by the sea and we wandered down to a small sandy beach (cue more digging and wave-avoidance).

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We ended up having lunch at The Toad Pub which overlooked the promenade. This turned out to be our best meal of the holiday and apparently the best Steak Pie ever (and Mr EC would not say this lightly, believe me, fussy bugger!).

I recommend Anglesey for a family holiday. I was pleasantly surprised by the range of activities on offer for us and I would definitely return.

paul and girls

This post is an entry for the Visit Wales #Wales4Kids Family Holiday Challenge. Wales is the perfect place for a fun-filled family break.” Make sure you visit @visitwales on twitter and Visit Wales on Facebook.

Anglesey holiday magic

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The Expression and Confession family are in Anglesey this week.

I wasn’t sure what to expect from Anglesey. We were looking for a UK-based cottage retreat and initially thought of Devon or Cornwall. Either of these would have been great, but the downside is the loooooong travelling time from Manchester.

A few friends had been to Anglesey, and Mr EC managed to find a great cottage online. So we went for it.

We’re staying just outside Beaumaris and I have to say it’s been fab – an we’ve only been here for two days!

So far, we’ve:

  • Been into Beaumaris itself, a beautiful coastal town on the Menai Straits with colourful, painted seafront houses, cobbled streets, gorgeous cafes and pubs and a pier. We had fun by the pier, which also has a small seafront area where nearly-three-year-old watches for fish and foraged amongst the pebbles. A seafront fish and chip shop is calling us in the coming days.
  • Taken a trip to Anglesey Sea Zoo. The children totally loved this. Eleven-month-old spent her time pointing in amazement at the fish and sharks and various critters. Nearly-three-year-old just bounced around in excitement the whole time.
  • Sampled the wares of several real ale pubs, such as the Liverpool Arms, all very family friendly and serving great home cooked food.
  • Wandered around Caernarfon Castle . Nearly-three-year-old found that this was a ‘hidey-hole’ bonanza! It’s huge and amazing the think of the history this place has been through.
  • Our cottage is on a farm, so we’ve also been able to take our girls to see the horses, sheep, cows and two dogs – plus we’ve been befriended by an ancient farm cat.

    The weather has been changeable, but the beauty of this place is that there’s so much to do in all weathers.

    We’ve got lots more planned, so look out for a further update at the end of the week!