boy jumping on trampolines at Better Extreme Waltham Forest

Review: Better Extreme Trampoline Park & Soft Play, Waltham Forest

“Mummy this is really, really, really, really cool!”

boy jumping on trampolines at Better Extreme Waltham Forest

It’s fair to say that the tramplolines at Better Extreme in Walthamstow got a big thumbs up from my 4 year old. He loved it so much he’s been asking to go back ever since and we’re planning to go again very soon. At first he was skeptical when I told him we’d be visiting a new play centre as he’s pretty attached to the ones we already go to, but the promise of lots of trampolines all linked together was enough to persuade him.

The Better Extreme facilities at the Waltham Forest Feel Good Centre have only been open since October 2016 which probably explains why I hadn’t heard of them until we were invited to visit and try out the trampolines and soft play. I have to say, I was really impressed when we arrived as the new centre is huge, very modern, clean and has excellent facilities (more on that later).

They run a Soft Play and Tots Tramp session for children under 5 years old every Monday and Wednesday at 10am – 1pm and this gives you access to a soft play area which is especially for under 5s and the trampolines. You receive a wristband and have access to the soft play and trampolines for 60 minutes. It’s worth noting that under 5s are not normally allowed on the trampolines at other times when it is being used by older children. We headed to the soft play area first, it is in its own room which makes it nice and secure as the little ones can’t run off. Bonus.

Under 5s Soft Play Centre Feel Better Centre Waltham Forest

There’s also some tables and chairs you can sit at and (hopefully) enjoy a coffee for five minutes while they burn off some energy (the cafe is just outside). There’s also a large toilet with baby changing facilities in the room too which is very handy.

boys in soft play Feel Better Centre Waltham Forest

There are three levels to explore and my 1 year old loved the ball pit and colour-changing lights on the ground floor while the 4 year old loved racing up to the top of the play structure. It’s not massive but it has plenty to amuse a 4 year old for an hour or two.

Boy in Under 5s Soft Play Centre Feel Better Centre Waltham Forest

We were there on a Wednesday around midday and although there were a few children in there when we first arrived, we soon had the place to ourselves. This makes a nice change from the noisy, busy soft play centres we usually go to.

boy looking at trampolines Boy at Better Extreme Waltham Forest

I had to drag my son away to get him to come and try out the trampolines which are in the Extreme Park bit of the centre. Before you enter you have to sign some forms and get your special trampolining socks which are £2 but you can keep them and use them again. We were told that we would have to watch a safety video before we were allowed to use the equipment but it was only afterwards that I realised we had never actually watched this, so I’m not sure at what point that was supposed to happen. Once inside, again it was very quiet with only a couple of other children which meant we had most of it to ourselves.  There are 23 floor trampolines and 11 wall ones which are all joined together and my son loved being able to bounce from one trampoline to the next. It was great fun and proved quite a workout for all of us.

Baby boy on trampoline at Better Extreme Waltham Forest

My one year old loved it as well and found the whole thing hilarious, giggling the entire time. Our time seemed up all too soon and my son would definitely have stayed on longer. Luckily, there’s a great little cafe in the centre just next to the trampolines so we stayed and had lunch as it certainly works up an appetite. Like most parents, I’m worried about the fact that my son would often rather be playing with some sort of screen (yes, already!! Urgh!) so I loved the fact that he was getting lots of exercise and enjoying himself at the same a time.

Better Extreme at Feel Better Centre Waltham Forest

The Better Extreme section of the centre also has some other amazing facilities which we had a quick look at although they weren’t open at the time. There’s an ‘Extreme’ 4 storey soft play section for children over 5 which looks great and I love the fact that it is entirely separate from the soft play for the little ones. As other mums will know, it’s really frustrating when older children crash around the areas meant for smaller children and knock into them. There’s also a Clip and Climb area with 11 different climbing structures which looks brilliant and I’ll be bringing my son along to give it a go when he’s a bit older (climbing starts from 5 years old). And there’s a Ninja Run, an extreme obstacle course with foam pits which looks fun and is for children over 8 years old.

Swimming pool at Feel Better Centre Waltham Forest

I was also lucky enough to have a look around the rest of the centre and there’s so much more going on including a huge gym, fitness studios, a running track and two swimming pools – one a 25 metre pool with dive boards and the second one was a small teaching pool perfect for babies and small children. The real surprise for me was the lovely spa – if you’ve been to one in a gym before they can often feel quite utilitarian but this one actually feels luxurious. Other family-friendly features include a buggy park which is very useful if you’re arriving by public transport, birthday party facilities and a creche for under 5s. You can use the creche for up to 2 hours and it’s included in some membership packages.

Boy jumping on trampolines at Better Extreme, Feel Good Centre Waltham Forest

Overall, I was super impressed with the Feel Good Centre Waltham Forest. I’m surprised more people don’t know about it as it was very quiet in the week. I understand it is busier at weekends and school holidays but if you have pre-schoolers it’s a great place to visit mid-week. The only issues I have are that some of the prices are quite high for a single session. While the Soft Play & Tots Tramp session is £4.65, normal soft play prices  are quite a bit more than others in the area and sessions are limited to 60 minutes which is less time than most as well. If you drive you have to pay for parking (remember to bring change) so that, combined with the entry cost if you’re bringing a few kids, can add up. Also, after visiting the centre and seeing all the great things on offer it seems like the website does not make it easy to see the variety of things you could do. So I’d recommend going down and asking to have a look around. But we’ll definitely be back, my son is desparate to go on the trampolines again and we all want to try out the pool. And I’m just waiting for an opportunity to visit that spa without the kids!

Soft Play & Tots Tramp: Ages 6 months – 5 years

Term Time: Monday & Wednesday 10am-1pm

Summer Holidays (24 July – 31 August) Every week day 10am – 11am

PRICE: £4.65. Trampoline socks £2 (obligatory)

Parking £1 an hour for non-members, members receive a discount and can buy permits.

For more information including prices visit the Better Extreme Website or Feel Good Centre Waltham Forest Website.

We were invited to attend the Better Extreme centre for free in exchange for a review. However, all views are my own and completely honest.

Tyranosauraus Rex and triceratops egg at Jurassic Kingdom Osterley Park

Review: Jurassic Kingdom dinosaur exhibition, Osterley Park

Tyranosauraus Rex and triceratops egg at Jurassic Kingdom Osterley Park

“Wow, that’s amazing!” A huge roaring Tyrannosaurus rex greeted us as we arrived at Jurassic Kingdom and the three year old was clearly impressed from the start. The Jurassic Kingdom dinosaur trail is an outdoor exhibition of animatronic and static dinosaurs. There are huge ones towering over you, baby ones hatching out of eggs and hungry-looking ones clawing and fighting each other all along a woodland trail.

Jurassic Kingdom is a touring touring exhibition and we visited it in the first few days at its launch location at the National Trust property of Osterley Park, West London. It will be there until 17th April before touring around the country (see tour locations and dates below).

Osterley House, location of Jurassic Kingdom dinosaur exhibition

They dinosaur models are fairly good; quite realistic and the ones that move usually also have an impressive roar. Our son was a bit frightened by some of the louder roars but he just asked to move away to look at them from a bit of a distance, and he can be a bit overly sensitive. Plenty of children younger then him seemed to be loving it and roaring loudly back! Most of the dinosaurs are roped off and you’re asked not to touch them but there are some smaller ones that you can climb on along the route or dinsaur eggs that you can pose inside for photos. The majority of them – mostly the larger dinosaurs – have signs with details of their names and some information about where they lived and what they ate etc. Personally I think it would have been good if all of them had labels, or at least names, as our son kept asking what they were all called and I’m a bit rubbish at remembering! We were impressed by the amount of dinosaurs he did recognise though and it never ceases to amaze me how little kids, including ours, can remember the really complicated dinosaur names that I can barely pronounce.

There was also an area that I thought was just a sandpit – I steered our son past it quite quickly as I knew he’d want to take his socks and shoes off and I was reluctant as it was a cold day. However, I’ve since read online that it was actually supposed to be a T-Rex excavation pit but it really wasn’t very clear and they could have had some better signage. We probably would have had a go if we had realised.

Pterodactyl or pterosaurs dinosaurs at Jurassic Kingdom, Osterley Park

Along the trail there are woodlands and a den building area as well as some swings to play on, so lots of natural attractions to amuse the kids apart from the dinosaurs. The bluebells are also starting to make an appearance in the woodland and there’s even a nesting swan very close to the path that the children were all intrigued by.

There’s a small marquee labelled as an education area which has a few chairs in and shows a film about dinosaurs if you need a sit down and a rest on the way. There are also a few toilets dotted along the route.

Diplodocus dinosaur at Jurassic Kingdom, Osterley Park

At the way in and out of the trail, along with a virtual reality ride (an extra £5), a merchandise stall and toilets, there are some food vans. Although these were advertised as “mouth-watering street food vans” online it seemed to be fairly standard van food like chips, coffee and sweets so nothing that was very appealing and I was glad we had brought a picnic. Tickets are not cheap when there is a whole family visiting, so we weren’t alone in bringing our own lunch. And unlike some short-sighted attractions, there are no restrictions on bringing your own food which is great. There are a few logs and picnic tables dotted along the trail but it’s probably a good idea to bring a blanket as they were all busy – they could definitely do with a few more. Half way along the trail there were a few more vans selling drinks and churros and, as we love churros, we shelled out an extortionate £6 for a large portion which turned out to be cold and tastelesss so I’d definitely give those a miss. (I know, we’re mugs!)

Dinosaurs fighting, Jurassic Kingdom at Osterley Park

You are asked to specify an hourly entrance time when you purchase tickets and when we arrived at about 11am the trail was very busy. However, it never felt overly crowded and it seemed like there was a steady stream of people arriving throughout the day. Also, nobody seemed to be actively checking our time slot so I think this is more to help stagger visitors rather than something they are really strict about. The trail seemed to appeal to both girls and boys alike with kids of both sexes running around excitedly. (This made me happy as far too often dinosaurs seem to be marketed mostly at boys for some reason.)

Animatronic dinosaurs at Jurassic Kingdom Osterley Park

We spent about three hours doing the trail at a very leisurely pace and with a long stop for our picnic lunch. So you could obviously do it a lot quicker if you needed to or you can stay longer as there is no time limit once you are inside. You could also spend some time looking around Osterly House itself, there’s a National Trust cafe outside the trail if you want something other than the food from vans and the Cadbury Easter egg hunt is taking place in the gardens at the other side of the house. However, our Little One was pretty exhausted by the long walk and the excitement so he was happy to head home full of chat about his favourite dinosaurs.

I’d definitely recommend a visit for any little ones who like dinosaurs and, even for children with only a passing interest, it’s a great way to get the kids out and about in the fresh air enjoying the gardens and woodland.

Diplodocus at Jurassic Kingdom Osterley Park

Parking is provided in fields next to Osterley Park and it is worth noting that the walk to the entrance of Jurassic Kingdom at the side of the house is quite long for little ones and ours was not the only one complaining how far it was. However, it will be no problem for older kids and I just wish we had remembered to bring the buggy board. The whole trail is suitable for prams and is a flat, easy walk.

Jurassic Kingdom will be at Osterley Park until 17th April and then will be embarking on a UK tour.

OPENING TIMES

10am to 6pm (last entry at 5pm). Entry is by hourly time slots but once  inside you can stay as long you wish.

ADDRESS & GETTING THERE

Osterley Park, Jersey Road, Isleworth, Middlesex, TW7 4RB (sat nav TW7 4RD).

There is parking on site which is an extra £7 which I think is pretty steep on top of the cost of tickets – be warned it’s cash only! It took us about an hour and twenty minutes to drive from Woodford Green.

If you want to take public transport the nearest tube is Osterley on the Picadilly line and its only a 1 mile walk away. Isleworth train station is 1½ miles away. You can catch the H28 Hayes to Hounslow to Osterley, or the H91 Hounslow to Hammersmith to within 1 mile.

TICKET PRICES

London:

£13.50 adults online, £15 on the door

£11.50 Child online, £13 on the door (Under threes go free)

£46 Family Ticket, £52 on the door

Prices are cheaper for the rest of the tour at the other locations in the UK!

The Cadbury Easter Egg hunt costs an additional £3.

JURASSIC KINGDOM UK TOUR DATES

Birmingham 20th May – 4th June

Manchester 8th – 23rd July

Blackpool 5th – 13th August

Glasgow 26th August – 10th September

Newcastle 23rd September – 1st October

Leeds 14th – 29th October

MORE INFORMATION

Jurassic Kingdom website

Osterley Park website

Review: Bebs Bites Authentic Indian Cookery Lessons

“Amazing and loads better than a takeaway,” this was just one of the many gushing things my partner had to say about the leftovers I brought home from my Bebs Bites Indian Cookery lesson. And it’s high praise indeed from someone who loves Indian food and would eat takeaways most days of the week if he could. He was totally right though, the food we created in just a few hours with Ranjeet, who runs Bebs Bites Indian Cookery lessons from her home in Woodford, was totally delicious.

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Yellow Lentil Dahl, Keema Lamb, Raita and rice

I arrived at Ranjeet’s house on a Saturday evening late and harassed after facing a toddler bedtime battle, but luckily her house was an oasis of calm and I was shown to the conservatory at the back where two other pupils were waiting. They were a lovely, young couple, cooking novices who had travelled from Brixton for the class after reading such brilliant reviews on Trymykitchen.com.

Ranjeet immediately made us all feel at home, offering a glass of beer or wine to start with, and talking us through the spices we would be using throughout the evening. Even though I have cooked quite a lot with spices, Ranjeet was excellent at telling us about each one and demonstrating the differences when you roast and grind your own and she was brilliant at sharing tips and tricks about how to cook and prepare spices as we went along.

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Chilli Paneer

We began by making a starter of Chilli paneer which was surprisingly easy to make but absolutely gorgeous and which I will definitely be making again. We then moved on to one of my favourite dishes, a Yellow lentil dahl and while I have tried loads of versions of this around the world the combination of ingredients and spices made this one of the best. Then we set to work on our other main dish which was Keema lamb which could also be made with Quorn for the vegetarians. As with all the dishes, we were surprised by how little oil we used and as Ranjeet explained the lack of loads of ghee, oil and onions that you find in takeaway food means that her recipes are healthy as well as being delicious.

Amazingly, Ranjeet runs two Indian cooking courses a week as well as holding down a job and raising a family and although she has only be running lessons since September 2015 she comes across as a natural hostess and teacher. Not only does she offer adult cookery classes in the evenings, such as the one I went to, she also offers bespoke children’s cookery courses. Usually these are a minimum of 4 lessons run once a week for an hour for parents and kids to do together, and is often a popular activity for dads to do with their children. Children can learn to cook things liked baked bhajis, chapati, stuffed parathas – healthy Indian food that is not deep fried, with an emphasis on teaching children about real ingredients and proper food. I think this would be a great idea of children who love cooking and you can see some photos of happy kids having a go on the Bebs Bites Facebook page.

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Keema lamb

 

After our Keema main courses were cooked, we all sat down at the table together to try the dishes we’d made along with some rice and a simple raita that Ranjeet showed us how to make. We were all amazed that we’d managed to cook such yummy food in such a short space of time – although I do think the fresh spices we used made a massive difference. If I didn’t have cupboards full of spices at home I would have bought some of the freshly ground spice trays Ranjeet was selling and it has definitely motivated me to cook Indian food more regularly. The couple who were doing the course with me both said they found the lesson very simple and easy to follow, so I’d recommend it for people of all abilities. As a parting gift, we were even sent home with some Indian sweets that Ranjeet had made for us.

You are advised to bring Tuppaware containers to your class so you can take home any leftovers and my partner has already been asking when I’m going to cook the recipes again. But I’ve got a better idea, I’m already planning on sending my partner along for his own lesson so he can learn how to cook these dishes himself.

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For more information about Bebs Bites Indian Cookery lessons visit the Bebs Bites website or Bebs Bites Facebook page. Ranjeet also offers kids parties, catering for functions and classes for corporate events and cookery lessons start at a vary reasonable £38.

Disclaimer: I attended the cookery lesson free of charge in exchange for a review, but as always, the words and opinions in this review are completely honest and my own.

Child friendly cafés: Butler’s Retreat, Chingford Plain Epping Forest

Remember the days when you could spend a few hours in a coffee shop reading the weekend papers over eggs and coffee? Well those pre-children days are a distant dream, now it’s all about child-friendly cafes that will take one, or god forbid two buggies and if you’re really lucky, not only welcome families but are actually enjoyable places for the little people too. These are surprisingly hard to find.

Butlers Retreat cafe Chingford Plain Epping Forest

One café that we return to time and time again is the child-friendly Butler’s Retreat café on Chingford Plain. The location is definitely the main draw on the edge of Epping Forest but the great coffee and yummy food keeps us coming back. We usually park by the lake at Connaught Water and walk up the hill or in the car park opposite Butler’s Retreat and even a small bit of walking in the forest gives me the perfect excuse to justify lots of cake.

THE FOOD
Butler’s Retreat is run independently by the same people who own The Larder in Wanstead (another very child-friendly café with a small kids play area) and another café in Bethnal Green. Like its other outlets, it focuses on organic and ethically produced produce where possible with things like fish pies, sandwiches, soups and breakfasts. As you’d expect from a place serving lots of homemade and organic food, it isn’t cheap but the cakes are divine (a recent passion fruit tart was amazing and my son loves the blueberry muffins stuffed with plenty of fruit). We like to go for brunch at the weekend and breakfast is served until 11.30am and I’d recommend the lovely smoky beans.

The children’s menu is small but a welcome departure from the ubiquitous chicken nuggets and chips. For breakfast, there is porridge with honey and fruit or a small fry up. Lunch is salmon and smoked haddock pie, lamb kebab with chickpea salad with humous and minted yoghurt, handmade sausages with peas and wedges or orecchitte pesto pasta and prices range from £2.90 – £6.50. There’s also a toddler section with cheese on toast (£2.90) or a mini fish pie with greens (£3.40). And they have a selection of child-friendly snacks and drinks, such as Bear fruit snacks and Pom Bear crisps.

boy on tree stumps Butlers Retreat Chingford Plain Epping Forest

CHILD-FRIENDLY FACILITIES
Obviously the forest is the real draw here and most of the seats are outside either at the front or benches around the back looking out over Chingford Plain. Personally, with kids I prefer the back as it is away from the road and most importantly they can play nearby while you sit and chat. While there is no traditional play equipment there are two mini hills with wooden steps and wooden logs for toddlers to run up and down on. Admittedly this doesn’t sound like much but it keeps my son amused for ages and he usually has to be dragged away. There are often older children playing nearby with balls, Frisbees or kites in windy weather.

boy on tree stumps Butlers Retreat Chingford Plain Epping Forest

For rainy or colder days there are seats inside and an area upstairs that I believe is available for private hire for christenings, parties etc.

There are a number of high chairs available both inside and out and a changing table in the female bathroom upstairs. If you’re outside there is loads of room for multiple buggies so it is a good place to congregate with other families to eat before or after a walk in Epping forest.

As I mentioned, there is a car park on the opposite side of the road to the café and an overflow is opened in the field next to it during busy periods.

boy on wooden steps Butlers Retreat Chingford Plain Epping Forest

The café is next to the Queen Elizabeth Hunting Lodge that was built by Henry VIII in the 16th century and is slice of local history worth a visit. Next door to that is The View visitor centre which has maps and staff on hand to give you information about the forest and local walks. There is also an interactive nature exhibition which little people will love. There are lots of buttons to press, natural soundscapes and stuffed animals that reside in the Forest and there’s even a little shop that has information about local events in the area. If your child is older it’s definitely worth picking up the guide leaflets as there are conservation days and craft events to encourage children to get closer to nature.

Opening times: Until 30th September open everyday from 9am – 6pm and kitchen closes at 4pm.
Breakfast is served daily until 11.30am and then lunch is from midday (so watch out for that half an hour gap!).
Note: The Lodge and the view will be closed on Mondays from 5 October 2015

More information: Butler’s Retreat website
Queen Elizabeth’s Hunting Lodge website
The View Visitor Centre website

Have you visited Butler’s Retreat? I’d love to know what you think so please add your comment below or tweet me @WestEssexMums.

I’ll be reviewing more child-friendly cafes and restaurants in the area soon, so let me know if you’d like to suggest one of your favourites.

Beach East at Queen Elizabeth Olympic Park, Stratford near Westfield shopping centre

Review: Beach East at Olympic Park, Stratford

I was really excited to hear that the UK’s largest urban beach was opening just down the road in Stratford, so this week we headed down to Beach East at the Queen Elizabeth Olympic Park to check it out.

Beach East at Queen Elizabeth Olympic Park, Stratford near Westfield shopping centre

Luckily, the weather was warm and sunny on the morning we visited as this definitely helps with the beach vibe! I parked in Westfield shopping centre but you could also park at the Aquatic Centre or get the tube or bus to Stratford. We arrived just after it opened at about 10am and though it was fairly quiet when we arrived, it quickly filled up and by the time we left the place was getting pretty rammed. Obviously, with schools just breaking up this is to be expected but this was a weekday, so afternoons and weekends are going to be super busy.

boy on Beach East at Queen Elizabeth Olympic Park, Stratford near Westfield shopping centre

The ‘beach’ is basically a little complex near the aquatic centre with fun fair rides, food stalls, picnic areas and a large sandy area complete with paddling pool. You do have to walk past a lot of rides to get to the beach area so the pestering starts straight away. However, if you can drag your kids past that the sand was lovely and clean and we brought along a bucket and spade which is always good for simple but effective entertainment of toddlers.

boy playing in sand at Beach East at Queen Elizabeth Olympic Park, Stratford near Westfield shopping centre

While there are some food outlets as I’ve mentioned, they are selling stuff like hotdogs, chips and other fast food so if you’re trying to be a bit healthier or just want to save money you are allowed to bring in your own food and drink (although no glass bottles etc). Personally my little one is so fussy at the moment that I resent paying out for food he’ll barely eat so we packed a little picnic to eat on the beach. A few mouthfuls got eaten before he wanted to run around and play in the sand again. But if you can get them to sit still for long enough a rug is a good idea. There are a few deck chairs but these did all get commandeered by  10 am and they are not very comfortable for little ones. Be warned though – that fine sand gets into everything – gritty sandwiches ahoy! We had packed the swimming stuff for our little ones but they didn’t seem that interested and frankly, I was pretty glad because it was getting very busy with older kids as time went on. But if your kids are a bit older, I’m sure they’ll be desperate to have a splash about and a paddle in the water.

boy near food stalls Beach East at Queen Elizabeth Olympic Park, Stratford near Westfield shopping centre

As soon as we arrived, my little one had spotted a ride with little cars so he spent most of the morning talking about the green car and attempting to run off to have a go. Most of the rides suitable for younger children seem to cost £2 but others go up to £4 and you need to buy tokens at the kiosk first. Despite initially enjoying sitting in the car, when the ride started it did go round the corner quite fast and my little one got a bit scared and started to cry. It was all a bit heartbreaking as I couldn’t get him out of the car until the ride stopped but my friend’s son of the same age was fine so, as ever, who knows how your toddler will react! However, I did notice the lady running it let some younger children on and quite a few of them seemed to be crying! So I’d suggest watching some kids go round on the rides first to get a sense of it and what age group they are and if you think your child would enjoy it (of course this is no guarantee with the unpredictable little monkeys!). There are lots of other rides for older children, such as mini roller coasters and swing seats that all look great fun – although I can imagine it could quickly get expensive.

boy in toy car at Beach East at Queen Elizabeth Olympic Park, Stratford near Westfield shopping centre

Apart from the unsuccessful ride, we had a lovely morning there and when the sun was shining it definitely felt like we were on a beach and it had a distinctly holiday vibe. As it is open until 10pm and has bars, we decided it would be an interesting place to go on a date night for something different on a  warm summers evening. Not that we actually ever go out on date nights, but if you are the kind of parents that can get your shit together to do that I’m sure it would be fun!

Beach East is open until 31st August 2015. It’s open from 10am – 10pm and entry is free. You can bring your own food and drink and pushchairs but no dogs.

Beach East website

Address: Stratford Waterfront, Queen Elizabeth Olympic Park, next to Westfield E15 2DU

Have you been to Beach East? I’d love to know what you thought of it, just add your comment below.

Review: Gruffalo Trail, Thorndon Country Park Brentwood

“A mouse took a stroll through the deep dark wood.

A fox saw the mouse and the mouse looked good.”

If, like me, you’ve read these opening lines more times than you’d like to remember, then you probably have a little one that loves The Gruffalo book by Julia Donaldson and Axel Scheffler. A friend recently told me that they have Gruffalo trails in woodlands around the country so I was really excited to find that we have one about half an hour away in Brentwood. It’s just a quick journey down the M25 (junction 28) and after a few turnings you’ll see the signs for Thorndon Country Park and some lovely woodland. Head for the north car park and park up opposite the Countryside Centre (you’ll need some change for the pay and display car park).

children in woods, Gruffalo Trail Brentwood

A few weeks ago, we went with a friend whose son is the same age as my Little One (2 years old) and their dog (they are allowed if kept on the lead) and I have to say we all had a lovely time. I’d been playing The Gruffalo CD in the car to get into the mood so thankfully the journey was short and I was spared endless repeats!!

Little boy with map Gruffalo Trail Brentwoo

When you arrive, you can collect your Gruffalo Trail map for 50p from the shop in the Countryside centre – although you may want to blindfold the kids/leave them outside with another adult as the shop is full of Gruffalo merchandise!

Map of the Gruffalo Trail Thornndon Country Park, Brentwood

Armed with the map, we head off into the woods for our self-guided walk and loved every minute. It helped that it was a gorgeous sunny day and both boys love The Gruffalo book so they had a great time discovering the familiar animals in the woodland. They were especially excited when they found the first one on the list, the mouse.

Mouse on the Gruffalo Trail, Brentwood

Admittedly it took us a little while to work out how to read the map, although I’m sure that’s our fault more than the map design. Soon we’d found the fox in a log and were on our way to hunt out the owl hiding up in the trees.

Fox on the Gruffalo Trail Brentwood

My little one loved the freedom of running around the woodland and it took a bit of persuading to get him to abandon running up and down the wooden bridge to find the next lots of animals.

 

snake on the Gruffalo Trail Brentwood

The snake was a big hit as there were logs that the boys could climb and from then on it was a short hunt through the trees to find the Gruffalo. When we first thought we’d discovered it, we were thinking how small it was until we realised we were being total muppets and what we had found was the Gruffalo’s child and not the actual Gruffalo! Doubtless, if the kids had been older they would have put us right immediately.

Anyway, the Gruffalo himself was a big hit with his terrible claws, black tongue, purple spikes and terrible tusks. We all had our photos taken with the Gruffalo and then had to try and convince the little ones to leave him so we could go and have our lunch.

Gruffalo on the Gruffalo Trail Brentwood

We brought a picnic with us and there’s a lovely enclosed picnic area that the little ones can run around in. However, there’s also a café on site too that we’ll check out next time.

We’ll definitely go back again as it’s a brilliant way to let the little ones have a run around in the woods with some activities along the way. And when they are older it would be great to bring along some crayons and paper and get them to draw the animals as they go round the trail. Or maybe use it as inspiration for some Gruffalo-themed crafting once back home.

Have you been to a Gruffalo Trail near you? What did you think? I’d love to hear about your local trail, feel free to comment below or tweet me @WestEssexMums.

Address: Thorndon North, The Avenue, Brentwood CM13 3RZ

Thorndon Country Park website 

The Gruffalo Website

 

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Review: OAE TOTS classical music concert for kids at the Southbank

Our Little One loves music. He loves watching people play any sort of instrument and I’ve been on the look out for gigs and concerts for children for ages. There are surprisingly few around that are suitable for toddlers, even in London, and while I found a few classical music concerts I have yet to find a regular live music gig with rock or jazz music.

The OAE TOTS (Orchestra of the Age of Enlightenment) concerts at the Southbank only happen about every 6 months in London so I’ve been waiting since before Christmas to visit this one. And that’s probably no bad thing, as the Little One is only just about able to concentrate for long enough. As my parents were staying with us for the weekend, I dragged everyone out of the house at 8.30am on a Sunday morning (the boyfriend was not impressed!) to get to the London Southbank Centre in time for the 10am concert (they also do a second sitting at 11.30am). Luckily, Waterloo tube station handily has a lift which makes it easy for the buggy. The whole thing was really well organised with a colouring in table and stickers to keep kids amused before the concert started. And there was a large buggy park area for all the pushchairs. The Purcell Rooms where the concert is held is quite small which meant that it felt exciting to be part of an audience without being overwhelming for the kids. I’d booked some of the last few tickets which meant we had tickets right at the back but there was still a very good view of the stage.

boy watching OAE TOTS concert at Purcell Rooms London

One of the OAE musicians was effectively the MC; introducing the music and getting the children involved – shouting hello, getting them to sing along and encouraging them to learn about the instruments. She was brilliant at getting everyone involved and made it fun for both the children and adults. There was a water theme and she helped to explain sounds that appeared in the music and linked certain sections to animals which all the kids enjoyed. As well as some classical pieces there was some family favourites too for the kids to join in with such as Row Row Row the Boat. All the music was kept short and just the right length to engage the children.

Boy watching OAE TOTS concert

Our son LOVED the whole thing; he was the first one to shout ‘hooray’ after every piece of music ended and was enthusiastically clapping along. I was worried about him being able to sit still for the duration – it lasts about an hour – but as we were at the back he enjoyed dancing on the back steps as well as climbing up and down a few. The great thing is all the other parents there are in the same boat; some have babies, others have toddlers and older kids but people really don’t mind if your child makes a noise, or wanders around and I found the whole thing really enjoyable rather than having to worry about his behaviour or how other people would react.

The other lovely thing was that after the concert all the musicians left the stage to set up in the foyer and played as we all filed out of the Purcell Rooms. It was great for the kids to see the musical instruments being played up close and they all seemed to really enjoy this aspect of it. It was just a great example of the small touches the OAE have provided to  ensure the concert is genuinely child-friendly.

OAE musicians in foyer at Southbank Centre

Even the boyfriend, who went under duress, loved seeing our son so excited and couldn’t believe we’d have to wait until October until the next one. We’re definitely going to go again and I’d thoroughly recommend it.

OAE TOTS concerts are advertised as suitable for children aged 2 – 5 years old and our son is 22 months and there were people there with babies and younger children.

The next concert at the London Southbank Centre is in October but the date is still TBC – I’ve signed up to the Southbank and OAE family mailing lists so that they’ll let me know.

Meanwhile, the OAE do other children’s music concerts around the UK and you can find out more information on the OAE website.

If you’ve been to the OAE TOTS concerts or discovered any other good live music events for children please let me know in the comments section or tweet me @WestEssexMums on Twitter.

 

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