What’s on this Easter in West Essex: Easter Egg hunts and Easter Bunny spotting


With Easter being early this year, it seems to be racing towards us faster than ever, so here are some ideas for Easter activities for children in Epping, Wanstead, Chigwell and around Essex. There are lots of Easter egg hunts happening locally and quite a few kids activities require booking in advance so if you want to catch the Easter Bunny you might want to get booking.


The Duke pub in Wanstead continues to arrange some great kids and community events with their Kick  Little Duke’s Easter Egg Hunt on Good Friday.

Dates: 25 March 2016
Times: 10am- 12 MIDDAY
Tickets: £3 per child, booking via Eventbrite (link coming soon)
Address: The Duke pub, 79 Nightingale Ln, London E11 2EY
Further information: The Duke Wanstead Facebook page or call 020 8989 0014 or email events@thedukewanstead.com


There’ll be a chocolate reward at the end of this Easter quest where children will need to crack the clues with the help of characters from the past  – maybe a king, a butler, a Roman centurion or even a monk.

Dates: 25-28 March 2016
Times: 11am- 4pm
Tickets: Child (5-15 years) £9.60, Adults £16, Family £41.60, English Heritage Members free
Address: Audley End House and Garden, Off London Road, Saffron Walden, Essex, CB11 4JF
Further information: Audley End House and Garden website 0870 3331181


Billed as Essex’s longest Easter Egg Hunt there are eggs hidden along the length of the railway track from Ongar through to Coopersale, which is the length of 131,579 eggs placed end to end!

Children will be asked to find the eggs which have been hidden by Bertie around the Railway. They will have some clues to help them and any child who completes their egg sheet is entitled to a special Easter prize. Look out for the Easter Bunny who will be out and about the stations and this year will have his own special train! And there’ll be a special disco, the Bunny Hop.

Dates: 25 – 28 March
Times: Various
Tickets: Prices vary, see website for details
Address: Epping Ongar Railway, Ongar Station, Station Approach, Ongar, Essex CM5 9BN
Further information: Epping Ongar Railway website 01277 365200


As you hunt for Easter Eggs you can also take a look at the new spring arrivals that have arrived on the farm. You can meet cuddly sheep, giant rabbits, rare breed pigs, long-necked llamas and a loveable Meerkat family. Plus, take a trip on Tex the Tractor to the working dairy farm and let your little ones run wild in the indoor and outdoor play areas.

Dates: 25 – 28 March
Times: 10am – 5pm
Tickets: Normal farm entrance fees apply
Address: River Lee Country Park Farm, Stubbins Hall Lane, Waltham Abbey, EN9 2EF
Further information: River Lee Country Park website


Earn your Easter egg by following the trail, finding the clues and solving the woodland puzzle.

Dates: Easter Saturday 26 March
Times: 12 noon – 3pm
Tickets: Booking essential, £2 per child payable by cash on arrival
Address: Hainault Country Park, Romford Road, Chigwell, IG7 4QY
Further information: Woodland Trust website


There will be Easter fun for two days at the Craft centre with Easter Crafts, an Easter egg hunt, bouncy castles, pygmy hedgehogs, biscuit decorating, stalls and more.

Dates: 26-27 March
Times: 10am – 4pm
Tickets: Money raised is for the McDonald House Charity
Address: Blake House Craft Centre, Blake End, Braintree, CM77 6RA
Further information: Blake House Craft Centre website


There will be lots of Easter activities on offer  including egg decorating and Easter crafts. There will be egg rolling at 2pm and an Easter trail with clues through the woodland as well as a chance to meet the Easter Bunny.

Dates: 27 March Easter Sunday
Times: From 2pm
Tickets: No booking necessary, just turn up. Recommended donation £2 per child to help them as a charity to maintain Epping Forest
Address: Queen Elizabeth’s Hunting Lodge/The View, Rangers Road, Chingford E4 7QH
Further information: Queen Elizabeth Hunting Lodge website


The hall will be open for the afternoon until 5pm and children can join an Easter Egg hunt and meet the Easter bunny while enjoying the spring flowers in bloom in the gardens. Tea and coffee and homemade cakes will be available and the gift shop will be open until 4pm.

Dates: 27 March Easter Sunday
Times: 2pm-4pm
Tickets: £5 per person, Egg Hunt 50p per child taking part
Address:  Copped Hall, Crown Hill, Epping, CM16 5HS
Further information: Copped Hall Trust website


The Essex Wildlife Trust is running a duck hunt where children can search Chigwell Meadows for ducklings to win a prize. There will also be the chance to make Easter crafts to take home.

Dates:27 March Easter Sunday & 28 March Easter Monday
Times: 10AM- 1PM
Tickets: Drop in session, no need to book
Address: Chigwell Meadows, The Grange Farm Centre, Chigwell, Essex, IG7 6DP
Further information: Essex Wildlife Trust Website


This Modernist Grade II listed garden run by volunteers is only open on Sundays and on Easter Sunday there will be an Easter Egg trail for the whole family. There’ll be children’s activities and refreshments available in the Barn Tea Room.

Dates: 27 March Easter Sunday
Times: 2pm – 6pm
Tickets: Adults £4, Concessions £3, Children (5-16) £1 and under 5s are free
Address: The Gibberd Garden, Marsh Lane, Harlow, Essex CM17 0NA
Further information: The Gibberd Garden website


There’s a huge range of entertainment on all day which includes Knights of the Damned Jousting Team, birds of prey flying displays, The Suffolk Punch Heavy Horse Display Team, The Goat Show including bottle feeding lambs & kids, Miniature Pony Display, Terrier Racing, children’s entertainment with Devilstick Peat, ferret racing plus arts, crafts & gift marquees.

Also on Monday at this event, they’ll be a Companion Dog Show – so bring along a canine friend and have a go. (And all proceeds from entries will go to Marie Curie Cancer Care).

Dates: 27 March Easter Sunday and 28 March Easter Monday
Times: 10am – 5pm
Tickets: no need to book in advance, £7.50, concessions £6, children age 5-16 £ 3,
Family Ticket: £,19 (2 adults and 2 children). Children under 5 are free. Free parking available.
Address: River Lee Country Park Farm, Fishers Green Car Park, Stubbins Hall Lane, Waltham Abbey, EN9 2EF
Further information: Oakleigh Fairs website 


As part of the Beatrix Potter 150th Celebrations, this Easter Foyles are hosting a Peter Rabbit Egg Hunt. Join Peter on his adventure to find the ten eggs hidden in-store. There will be activity sheets to colour-in and stickers to take home if you can spot all the missing eggs. Throughout the day there will also be an egg decorating workshop set up in the children’s section, which you can just turn up to.

Dates: 28 March Easter Monday
Times: There will two sessions 11am-12noon and 3-4pm.
Tickets: To register email events@foyles.co.uk with the  session you would like to attend.
Address: Olympic Park, Montfichet Rd, London E20 1EJ
Further information: Westfield Stratford website

How to pick a good childminder and what questions to ask when choosing one

When I first started looking into childcare options, most of my friend’s children were in nurseries and I hadn’t considered a childminder. However, when I went to visit the nurseries I couldn’t imagine my little baby in a busy hectic room with lots of other babies – it all felt too formal and institutional. Now, I’m aware this is probably due to my own hang ups about school and routine, but it just didn’t feel right and that’s when a friend suggested a childminder.

I’ve been lucky enough to find two wonderful childminders for my son (the first one became pregnant which is why we found our second one) and while their styles and home set ups are very different, I’ve been very happy with both which made returning to work so much easier.

Whatever your own reasons are for thinking about a childminder it can seem a daunting task? Where do you even start? A friend of mine recently asked me for some advice on how to pick a good childminder, and what to look for when choosing a childminder. So after I found myself writing a lengthy response I realised I had a lot to say on the subject and that it might be useful for other parents if I shared it.



Obviously a personal recommendation is best, so ask around other mums at playgroups or the school gates if you have older children. Even if one childminder is full, they can usually suggest other local childminders that they know. Or the online alternative is social media, most areas have a local mums group on Facebook – these are usually secret or closed groups but you can find them by searching on Facebook and requesting to join. Then just post asking local mums to recommend childminders or you often get childminders themselves using the groups. As I was moving to a new area and didn’t know anyone or even about the Facebook groups at that stage, I started looking online by using Childcare.co.uk. You have to pay a small fee to sign up but then you can search for local childcare providers (including nurseries and babysitters as well) and you can view childminder’s personal profiles and message them. I messaged a few with some of the questions below and once I had a shortlist arranged to meet them.

All childminders have to register with their local council, so the other thing you can do is contact your local council for a list of childminders registered in your area. You can search online using the You Gov website.

I’ve listed some questions below that you may want to consider when deciding whether a childminder is right for you and your needs. You’ll probably have more of your own and, although it seems like a long list, a good childminder should cover off most of these when you meet them. And while emails and a phone call will help you arrange your short list, a home visit is essential to check out their house. Most importantly is the ‘feeling’ you get when you meet the childminder – do you instinctively get on? Do you have a good feeling about them? Trust your instincts.



  • What qualifications do they have? Have they completed any extra courses e.g first aid?

All childminders need to be registered and need to have completed relevant courses as set out by the Early Years Foundation Stage

  • What are the childminder’s working hours? Will your child need to be there by a certain time in the morning before a school run?

This sounds obvious but there is a huge variation in the hours they work and so you’ll need to find one that fits in with what you will need, bearing your commute into account. Also, lots only work 3 or 4 days a week or term time only.

  • How many children do they look after and do they have any assistants and helpers? What checks or qualifications do the helpers have?

This will determine the type of childcare setting – is it a small one with a mum looking after a couple of children or more of a mini-nursery style atmosphere? There may be a wide range of age groups coming and going at different times of day.

  • Are there other people who will be in the house regularly, such as partners or teenage children? Have the relevant checks been run on any other adults regularly at the house?
  • Which schools or nurseries do they offer pick-ups and wrap-around care for?

Although this may seem a long way off when you are looking for your baby, you will be surprised how quickly this all comes round so it might be useful for the future.

  • How and why did they got into childminding? Will their own children be cared for alongside others?

This will give you a good sense of what they enjoy about the job, how committed they are and their general attitude and approach.


  • What facilities are available for the children to use in the house? Is there a separate playroom? How many rooms will the children have access to throughout the day? What is the access to the garden?
  • What type of activities do they do while they are at home e.g crafts, cooking etc?
  • What is the daily schedule like? Are there set activities on set days e.g on a Monday they always go to a music class, Tuesday is a playground etc?

Not all childminders will be this structured but ask them to share a typical week and at least you will get a sense of whether they favour routine or more of a freestyle approach. Then you can work out what suits you and your child best. Some may even be willing to take your child to a particular class if you ask and are willing to pay the extra cost.

  • What is their policy on playing outdoors? How often do they take the children out?
  • Do they have pets?
  • Can they share an example food menu? Do they have a set menu? Is it shared in advance with parents? What snacks are served during the day?

If you have particular food preferences for your child, such as no juice before they are 2 years or whatever, most should be happy to accommodate this so it’s worth checking.

  • Where do the children sleep? Do they have set nap times? How flexible are they if a child is having trouble sleeping?

This was important to me as my son was a bad sleeper and I just knew he wouldn’t nap on a mat in a room full of other children in a nursery, so having a small, quiet room with a cot was a key consideration, as well as flexibility if he didn’t always stick to the set times.

  • What is their television policy? At what age are children allowed to watch it and for how long?

Some parents have strong views on this so it’s worth checking and making sure they will respect your wishes.

  • How do they ensure that the children are following the Early Years Foundation Stage (EFYS) milestones and how do they track learning and development? Can you see an example book/record for a current child?

Like a nursery, childminders should be tracking your child’s activities and milestones. Most have either a folder or book for each child which records what the child has been doing and notes the EFYS milestones they have reached. This will often be in the form of a book that is sent home daily with your child and is a lovely way to see what they have been up to. Some childminders will also send regular photos to parents.

  • How do they manage behaviour and enforce discipline? Do they use time out, a corner etc?

While this may not seem immediately relevant if you have a baby, you’ll need to know about it sooner than you think. It is good to get a sense of the childminder’s approach and attitude to check it matches with your own.

boy jumping near Epping Forest


  • Can they share references from other parents?

Most childminders will be more than happy to pass on the contact details of parents of current or past children they have looked after. Mine both actively encouraged me to contact them and ask questions. If they seem reluctant or unable to provide this, I would be extremely cautious.

  • When was the last Ofsted inspection and can they share the latest report?


  • How much do they charge? Is it per day or hour? What does this include e.g nappies, formula, snacks, food? If something isn’t included, will you be expected to provide them?
  • Is there a late pick up charge? How much is this?

Occasionally there may be times when you get stuck at work, in a traffic jam or your train lets you down and some childminders charge late fees that are comparable to nurseries. These can be anywhere between £10-15 each time so if you think you are likely to be late often, see if you can build this into your contract. My childminder technically finishes at 6pm but as I normally can’t get there until just after we arranged that my contract would be 6.15pm just in case.

  • If your child is sick or on a planned holiday – is there any reduction in rates?

Not all will offer this but some do so worth asking.

  • What happens if the childminder is sick? Is there alternative childcare provision available?

My first childminder had a network of childminders she could call on if she was ill and my current one has enough assistants on hand. But some may not have any provision and then if you have to make your own arrangements, do you still have to pay? There may be a reduced rate or some may still expect full pay (only fair when you think that sick pay is the norm for other jobs but worth seeing if there is a limit on the number if days).

  • How much holiday a year will the childminder take? Is this fully paid or at a reduced rate?

Again this depends on their set up, my first childminder told me in advance when she was going to be away and we didn’t have to pay. But the deal with my current childminder is much more typical – she takes 4 weeks throughout the year, tells everyone the dates at the beginning of the year and she is paid during that time. 

  • Do I need to pay a retainer or deposit to secure the place for my child? How much is this going to be?

Some may ask for a retainer to keep the place open until you need it or a deposit. We didn’t have to do stuff like that with our first childminder as it was more informal but with our current one it was all very official and we have paid her one month’s deposit that we get back once our son finishes there.

  • How much notice period do I need to give if I want to alter or cancel our agreement?
  • Does the childminder accept Childcare vouchers from employers?


Once you have decided to work together, there are just a few more things to do:

  • Make sure you sign a contract and read the detail carefully to make sure you are happy and it reflects the hours/costs you have discussed.
  • Discuss the settling in period and how this will work – most usually offer a few free sessions both with and without you there to get them used to the childminder. These start off with a few hours and then increase gradually and maybe incorporate a meal or naptime.

And whether you opt for a childminder or nursery, take a deep breath and try not to panic. It’s all going to be alright and you will both get used to the new arrangement in time – it is more likely to be harder for you than your baby!

And while I know most parents needlessly spend time feeling guilty, try not to. I’m convinced my son eats better, does more interesting and varied activities, knows more nursery rhymes, has better social skills and is generally a more secure little boy because of all the great experiences and time he has spent with his wonderful childminders.

Good luck in your search and feel free to share any other questions and points that you think are helpful to others in the comments section below.



What’s on in half term in West Essex: 13 – 21 February 2016

If you’re busy planning what to do with the kids this half term in West Essex, here’s some inspiration for activities in Stratford, Chigwell, South Woodford and the local area as well as some day trips into London.


A session promising an adventurous time outdoors learning bushcraft skills, such as how to track animals while camouflaging yourself, cooking on a campfire and building a den.

Time: 1pm -3pm
Age: unspecified but I’m guessing this is for older children, call to confirm
Tickets & booking info: £6 booking essential, call 020 8500 3094
Address: Grange Farm Lane (off High Rd), Chigwell IG7 6DP
Further information: Chigwell Meadows website 


Have you Seen Elephant book cover by David Barrow

A story time session with a difference as it involves a game of hide and seek with an elephant! Author and illustrator, David Barrow will also be reading from his comic illustrated children’s book, Have You Seen Elephant?

Time: 11am-12
Age: 5-7 years
Tickets & booking info: Email events@foyles.co.uk
Address: Foyles, Lower Ground Floor, Westfield Stratford
Further information: Westfield Stratford website



Vintage play doh tin
Everyone loves Play-doh, it’s cheap, versatile and most of us remember playing with it when we were young too. It’s hard to believe it was launched 60 years ago. The Museum of Childhood is marking the occasion with a series of half term activities. Artist-illustrator Amy Brown will lead animation workshops from Monday to Wednesday and Imagined World workshops Thursday to Friday. There will also be daily Story Modeling workshops with artist Helen Rousseau who will work with classic children’s picture books as inspiration for modeling fun. There will also be daily drop-in sessions as well throughout the week

The Museum of Childhood is easy to get to, just take the Central Line to Bethnal Green tube. If you have younger children or babies, be aware that there is no lift at the station although kindly strangers will usually help you get a buggy up the stairs.

Time: Various between 10am-5.30pm, check the website for details
Age: All ages but workshops vary: Animation and Imagined World workshops suitable for 5-12 year olds, Story Modeling Workshop 4-8 year olds.
Tickets & booking info: Entrance to the museum and some daily drop in activities are free, workshops cost £5 per child with a parent/carer. Booking in advance recommended either on the Museum of Childhood website or call 020 8983 5200
Address: V&A Museum of Childhood, Cambridge Heath Road
, E2 9PA
Further information: Museum of Childhood website 


Michael Rosen Going on a Bear Hunt exhibition Discover Centre Stratford
There’s a packed diary of events on at the Children’s Story Centre Discover over the half term week. As well as a week of activities focused around drawing, the Michael Rosen exhibition Bear Hunt, Chocolate Cake & Bad Things is still on and is worth a visit. There will be poems from Michael Rosen, a drawing trail, craft events, a wall of heroes that kids can add to with their own superhero and a toddler storytelling event.

Authors and illustrators such as Rob Biddulph and Jane Foster will be bringing their books to live with interactive workshops throughout the week.

Time: The centre is open from 10am- 5pm Tuesdays to Friday and 11am – 5pm at the weekends. Note it is closed on Mondays. Times of activities and workshops vary, check the website for more details.
Age: Activities vary so check the suitability of each event
Tickets & booking info: 020 8536 5555, bookings@discover.org.uk
Address: Discover Children’s Story Centre, 383-387 High Street, Stratford E15 4QZ
Further information: Discover Children’s Story Centre website 


Imagine children's festival at the Southbank Centre illustration

The focus of this year’s festival is celebrating 100 years since Roald Dahl’s birth and there will be daily performances including music, theatre and literature with workshops and free activities.
There’s a huge selection of events, so have a look at the Imagine website, with Matilda the Musical, an exhibition about Roald Dahl’s Wondercrump World and a performance of The Minpins with a live orchestra.
There are also Story Slam events, the opportunity to meet famous children’s authors and illustrators, poetry, movement, messy play and face painting sessions.

Time: Every day from 10.30am to 4pm
Age: All ages, up to 12 years old, there is a special programme of events for Under-5s 
Tickets & booking info: ticket prices vary depending on the event so check the Imagine website for details, but there are also a number of free events
Address: Southbank Centre,
Further information: Imagine website 


Marvellous Magic, Valentine’s Mansion & Garden
Be prepared to be amazed by Mrs Back to Front and her marvellous magic tricks. Tickets include both the magic show and a workshop to learn magical secrets that will amaze your friends.

Time: 11.30am-12.30pm and 1pm-2pm
Age: 5 years+
Tickets & booking info: £10 per child (1 adult per child) Pre-booking essential on 020 8708 8100
Address: Valentine’s Mansion & Gardens, Emerson Road, Ilford, Essex, IG1 4XA
Further information: Valentine’s Mansion website 


February Forest Fun, The View, High Beach Visitor Centre, The Temple and the Forest around Chingford
From Tuesday until Thursday 18 February there will be a range of activities at various Epping Forest sites such as laser tag deep in the Forest and special activities taking place in the View, including traditional skipping, storytelling and Tudor toddler time. There will also be drop-in arts and crafts at High Beach Visitor Centre and The Temple.
Time: 10am – 3pm
Age: various, depending on activity
Tickets & booking info: No booking required

Further information: Call 020 7332 1911 or visit The View events website

Classical Mosaic Workshop, Valentine’s Mansion
A workshop devoted to creating your own mosaic in the style of Classical Roman and Greek mosaics from around the ancient world. Please bring a packed lunch.

Time: 10am-2.30pm
Age: 8 years+
Tickets & booking info: £30 per person. Pre-booking essential on 020 8708 8100
Address: Valentine’s Mansion & Gardens, Emerson Road, Ilford, Essex, IG1 4XA
Further information: Valentine’s Mansion website 


Exotic Animal Encounters, Valentine’s Mansion
Meet Vincent the Siberian Fox, Squirt the Skunk and their lovable friends at this fantastic event. You will learn all about the animals, have the chance to pet them all and make a mask of your favourite species to take home with you.

Time: 11.30am-1pm and 12.30pm-2pm
Age: 3 years+
Tickets & booking info: £10 per child (1 adult per child). Pre-booking essential on 020 8708 8100
Address: Valentine’s Mansion & Gardens, Emerson Road, Ilford, Essex, IG1 4XA
Further information: Valentine’s Mansion website 



This looks like a lovely show of Snow Child by Emma Reeves, and if you haven’t been before the Redbridge Drama Centre is a great resource for local children’s theatre. It’s a magical story of a couple who want a child so desperately they build one out of snow which comes to life as a wild child bringing joy to the villagers and talking to the animals.

There will also be Snow Child activity workshops on Thursday 18 and Friday 19 February

Time: Performances at 1.30pm & 5pm, workshops 10am- 1pm
Age: The show is suitable for 3-7 years, the workshops are aimed at children 4-8 years old.
Tickets & booking info: £7 each for adults and children, to book tickets for the performances visit the Redbride Drama Centre website. Workshops are £20 and to book tickets for the workshops  call 020 8708 8803 or email Emily.Thorpe@redbridge.gov.uk or Sally.Polden@redbridge.gov.uk. There’s a special offer with joint workshop and Snow Child Show tickets – £25.
Address: Redbridge Drama Centre, Churchfields, South Woodford E18 2RB
Further information: Redbridge Drama Centre website


The Duke pub in Wanstead was refurbished last year and has fast developed a reputation as a community pub, putting on events to bring people together including a big street festival and regular events such as comedy and music as well as film screenings for children. This half term they will be running an arts and crafts event for kids with lots of messy activities such as mask decorating, lantern making and leaf rubbing. And obviously there’s the bonus for parents that it’s in a pub with easy access to food and, more importantly, wine!

Time: 12 – 3pm
Age: All ages welcome
Tickets & booking info: £3 and you can book in advance on the Eventbrite website
Address: The Duke, 79 Nightingale Lane, Wanstead, London E11 2EY
Further information:The Duke Facebook page



Rave a roo childrens disco illustration

For those of us who used to go our clubbing before children came along, the growing number of kids raves is very welcome. We’ve previously been to the excellent Big Fish Little Fish rave parties for children and would thoroughly recommend them. If you grew up with dance music the idea of having to endure One Direction in a room full of kids isn’t exactly appealing, so the idea behind these sorts of events is to have music that parents and also children appreciate along with a mini festival vibe.

Rave-A-Roo is billing itself as “a new clubbing mash-up of festival fun for all the family” and their inaugural London event is launching on Friday during half term at the iconic Ministry of Sound club. There’ll be top DJs, a Big Fish Little Fish takeover, confetti, live performances, a UV tattoo station and a glow chill out room with an area for babies. For the adults there’ll be a bar as well as a cafe and the convenience of a buggy park. They are already looking to announce more dates around the country soon.

Time: Sessions are 1pm -3pm and 4pm – 6pm.
Age: Suitable for all ages
Tickets & booking info: £7.50 (earlybird), £10.00 (advanced) and £12.50 (on the door). Babes in arms go free. Book online on the Rave-A-Roo website.
Address: Ministry of Sound, 103 Gaunt St, Elephant and Castle, 
Further information: Rave-A-Roo website

Mini Moments: Holiday Smiles

Boy on beach in Oman

It’s been very quiet here on the blog for a while. Juggling Christmas preparations and a hectic job in December meant that blogging has taken a back seat and I make no apologies for that. Sometimes living life has to take priority over trying to reflect it online.

We were lucky enough to go away over Christmas to visit my parents in Oman in the Middle East and we had an amazing time. They’ll soon be retiring after living there for 18 years so it was bittersweet saying goodbye to such a wonderful and fascinating country. Luckily the Little Guy enjoyed himself, was totally spoilt by his grandparents and managed to get over his initial reluctance to go swimming and was happily splashing around in the big pool with armbands by the end.

Now I think I might finally be on top of the post-holiday washing and unpacking, so I’m just about ready to focus on 2016. Probably with every other blogger in the land, my resolutions for the year involve trying to post more and finally writing up all the ideas I’ve been meaning to publish since last year.

Hopefully that means lots of useful posts for other mums coming soon.

Christmas train Special Christmas train at Audley End Miniature Railway. Picture: David Johnson

Santa’s coming to town: Santa’s grotto and stop off points in West Essex and nearby for Christmas 2015


Yay! It’s November which means I can officially start talking about Christmas. I love the festive season but my partner finds my over-excitement a bit much so I’m banned from breaking out the Christmas songs until now. As the little one is two this year, I’m hoping he’ll really get into the whole Santa thing. He certainly understands what presents are now. So I’ve rounded up some places where you can take your kids along to meet Father Christmas, special Santa grottos in Essex and nearby as well as family-friendly places with plenty of festive atmosphere for the children and grown ups.

Santa at North Weald station for Santa specials train rides Epping and Ongar railway

Some things like the Santa train in Epping get booked up early so it is worth getting tickets as early as you can. Other events have yet to publish their full details and I will be adding to this post soon as I get more information, so keep checking back.



Santa special Christmas train Epping and ongar railway

All aboard for a fabulous festive day out. We took the Santa special train last year and had a fabulous day. On arrival, there is mulled wine and mince pies for the adults and juice and snacks for the children. Then the classic steam train will arrive at the station where you can board for the short journey through the countryside to Ongar. There are children’s entertainers on board and Santa and his elves come round to deliver gifts to all the children. The train stops for a short while at Ongar where a brass band plays carols and you can stretch your legs before boarding the train back to North Weald.
There is limited parking at North Weald so it’s advisable to get one of the special vintage route master busses from Epping or Ongar. All in all it feels very festive and if your little one loves trains they will have a brilliant time.

Dates & times: Santa specials will run on the 5, 6, 12, 13, 19, 22, 20, 23 and 24 December. Departures from North Weald are at 09:45*, 11:25, 13:05, 14:45** & 16:25** (*excluding 5 & 6 December, **excluding 24 December).
Price: Adults £16, children £13 respectively but some busier days will costs slightly more for adults. You can also book out entire train compartments for large groups.
Address: Trains depart from North Weald station, CM16 6BT
More details: Epping and Ongar Railway website

reindeer at chigwell nursery for christmas
This is where we get our real Christmas tree to I love the fact that the whole nursery feels Christmassy and is full of decorations. To be honest, this is not the place to go for a big flashy grotto but a great way to fit in a visit to Santa while picking up your tree and decorations. There’ll also be local carol singers from 2:30pm on Saturday 5th December.

Dates & times: Saturdays: 28th November; 5th, 12th & 19th December: 9:30-12:00 & 2:00-4:30. Sundays: 29th November; 6th & 13th December: 9:30-2:00
Price: Free. A voluntary collection box will be present, with all donations going to local community group Youth Plus.
Address: Chigwell Nursery, High Road, Chigwell, Essex, IG7 5BL
More information: Chigwell Nursery Website or call 020 8500 2690


We love the soft play centre at Ashlyn’s farm shop as it’s a great place for the little ones to run off steam and is clean, safe and friendly and it has a brilliant farm and outdoor playground. For Christmas, they are offering tractor rides to visit Santa and his deer in his grotto. There’ll also be festive treats like mulled wine and mince pies available to buy.

Dates & times: Farm opening hours during December, call to confirm.
Price: £12.50 per child which includes 2 accompanying adults. Booking advised, call 01992 523 118 to book.
Address: Ashlyns Farm Shop, Epping Road, Epping, Essex, CM16 6RZ
More information: Ashlyn’s Farm shop website

Sometimes an all-singing, all-dancing Santa experience is what you’re after and the grotto at Westfield Stratford delivers. We had a lovely time there last year and it starts with an interactive film featuring the children and the highlight for my son was a huge moving train set. This year Shrek and Donkey will be helping Santa out with a 4D cinematic sleigh ride which will transport you through the skies to Santa’s workshop in the North Pole. Each child will have the chance to speak with Santa and receive a gift and photo packages will be available to purchase after your visit. Last year we got a really sweet little snow globe with a photo inside of our son with Santa. And it’s worth noting that there is a buggy park near the grotto.

Dates & times: 16th November – 24th December 2015
Price:  Peak single: £10, peak family (4 people): £35, off-peak single: £8, off-peak family (4 people): £28. Peak and off-peak sessions are displayed on the date & time selection page of the booking site.
Address: Adventure to Santa’s grotto is located outside at Chestnut Plaza beside Cafe Football and Omega. Westfield Stratford, Montfichet Road, Olympic Park East London E20 1EJ
More details: Westfield Stratford Santa’s Grotto website

Christmas train Special Christmas train at Audley End Miniature Railway. Picture: David Johnson

It’s a bit further away in Saffron Waldon but the Audley End Miniature Railway transforms its usual enchanted fairy and elf walk into a Christmas special. Families take the Santa Express train into the woods to visit Father Christmas and his elves at his woodland Grotto. Each child receives a present and there’s letter writing in the craft tent for older children and a bouncy castle which is an extra £1.50 weather permitting. For adults there’s some complimentary festive roasted chestnuts, mulled wine and tea or coffee.

Dates & times: Open on the 28th & 29th Nov, 5th & 6th, 12th & 13th, 16th – 24th December. Trains run 11.00am – 4.40pm.
Price: £8.00 per person on the 28th & 29th November, £10.00 per person on the 5th, 6th, 12th, 13th, 16th – 24th December, Under 2s are free. It is advisable to book tickets in advance but tickets are also available on the day.
Address: Audley End Miniature Railway, Audley End Road, Saffron Walden, Essex, CB11 4JB
More details: Audley End Miniature Railway website


Santa will be stopping off in his cosy, twinkly grotto at Redbridge Central Library during December. His merry elves will be on hand to keep you amused and spread some Christmas cheer.

Dates & times: Saturdays 5, 12 & 19 December 11am – 4pm. Tuesdays 8 & 15 and Thursdays 10 & 17 December 11am – 1pm. Monday 21 – Thursday 24 11am – 3pm.
Price: £3.50 per child with a gift included, book in advance at the library or online at The Little Box Office
Address: Redbridge Central Library, Clements Road, Ilford, IG1 1EA
More details: Redbridge Central Library website


Although the details on their website are currently minimal, one of the people who works in the View told me that this is a lovely magical weekend. Santa’s Grotto is inside the Queen Elizabeth Hunting lodge which gets decorated and there is festive music to get everyone in the mood. Booking is essential and as it is only on for a few days it’s likely to get booked up quickly.

Dates & times: Saturday 12 & Sunday 13 December from 10am – 3pm
Price: **UPDATE: TICKETS ARE NOW ALL SOLD OUT** Booking is required and costs £12.95 per child which includes a gift. You can buy tickets in person at The View or by telephone on 020 7332 1911
Address: The View, 6 Ranger’s Rd, London E4 7QH
More details: Epping Forest events website

If you know of another stop off on Santa’s busy schedule that you’d like me to include just comment below or tweet me @westessexmums.

What’s on in West Essex this October half term: Monday 26th – Friday 30th October 2015

It’s finally starting to feel like Autumn and the October half term will be here before you know it. So here’s some inspiration for child-friendly activities and things to do around West Essex and London.



Michael Rosen Going on a Bear Hunt exhibition Discover Centre Stratford

Opening on Friday 16th October, this interactive family exhibition at the Discover Children’s Story Centre in Stratford is suitable for children for both to 11 years old. I’m sure we’re one of millions of parents across the country who end up reading We’re Going on a Bear Hunt on repeat so this is bound to be a popular exhibition. There’s even a Bear Hunt trail for younger children to swishy swashy and stumble trip through. It’s not only the work of he much-loved children’s author Michael Rosen that features in the exhibition but even things that provided inspiration for his writing such as his grandparents sitting room and his classroom. You can also step inside a humungous chocolate cake and explore the Bad Things in the Dread Shed. There’s also a chance for older children to create their own poems and find out some fun facts about Michael Rosen as they go around the exhibition.

Price: £5 per adult or child, £18 family of 4, free for under 2s
Opening Times: During half term and weekends you’ll need to book one of the following slots: 10.20 (half term only), 11.20am, 12.20, 1.20, 2.20, 3.15 and 4.15pm. Then during term time you can drop in on weekdays between 3-5pm and there is no need to pre-book.
Address: Discover Children’s Story Centre, 383-387 High Street, Stratford, London E15 4QZ
Further information: Discover Centre website


Daily drawing drop in sessions which take children on an adventure around the museum and are suitable for all ages. Illustrator Salvatore Rubbion, author of A Walk in London will be running the Explore and Draw sessions on Monday and Wednesday. Using drawing and collage children will help to create a long fold-out picture exploring the special things about the capital. Illustrator Heidi Deedman will be helping children create their own Toy Stories, a book and story inspired by the real toys from the Museum’s collection on Tuesday, Thursday and Friday.
The Enchanted Forest Toy Theatre Workshop will be a chance to create your own story in a quintessential magical setting with illustrator Frances Barry who will help you draw trees, characters and creatures.

Price: Most are free but the Explore and Draw, Toy Stories, Enchanted Forest Toy Theatre workshop all cost £5 (with parent or carer) and you can sign up on the day. These three activities are most suitable for ages 5 – 12 years.
Opening Times: Activities 11am – 4pm, museum is open daily from 10.00am to 5.45pm (last admission 5.30pm)
Address: V&A Museum of Childhood, Cambridge Heath Road, London E2 9PA
Further information: V&A Museum of Childhood website


Spooky Secret Island, Royal Gunpowder Mills

Professor Nitrate’s evil twin Dr Gore will be hosting science shows and cooking up some diabolical experiments, much to the amazement of all those present in his crazy Mad-Lab.

An array of frightfully fantastic activities will be available for all ages. Try hat and mask making to transform yourself into a witch, monster or other spooky character for the day. Be prepared to get messy with some ooey-gooey monster slime making, freaky monster skin, and make gruesome discoveries in the feely boxes.

Price: Adults £8.77, children £6.97
Opening Times: 10am – 5pm (last entry 3 pm)
Address: Royal Gunpowder Mills, Beaulieu Drive, Waltham Abbey, Essex, EN9 1JY
Further information: Royal Gunpowder Mills website



This special half term event for children 3 years and upwards features local authors hosting talks and workshops on storywriting, illustrations and craft activities.

Michael Rosenberg, author of Chilly Goes to Australia, will be carrying out hour long readings and workshops at 11.30, 12.45 and 2.00. And Julia Habgood, who wrote and illustrated Esmeralda and the Prancing Parasols, will be sharing her wealth of knowledge on drawing and illustrating in her 45 minute workshops, followed by 15 minute readings from her debut published childrens book, also at 11.30, 12.45 and 2.00.

Price: Free entry and no need to book
Opening Times: 11am-3pm
Address: Valentine’s Mansion and Gardens, Emerson Road, Ilford, Essex, IG1 4XA
Further information: Valentine’s Mansion and Gardens website



Spooky storytelling Dracula may well be getting the audience involved and they recommend coming dressed in your scariest Halloween outfit for a spine chilling visit to Valentines. Suitable for all ages.

Price: £5 per child (maximum 1 adult per child), Pre-booking essential on 020 8708 8100
Opening Times: 2pm – 2.40pm
Address: Valentine’s Mansion and Gardens, Emerson Road, Ilford, Essex, IG1 4XA
Further information: Valentine’s Mansion and Gardens website



There’s a chance to get creative and make your own pom-pom spiders, pumpkins and ghosts to decorate your home with this Halloween. Suitable for children 4 years and over.

Price: £5 per child, pre-booking essential on 020 8708 8100
Opening Times: 10am-11am
Address: Valentine’s Mansion and Gardens, Emerson Road, Ilford, Essex, IG1 4XA
Further information: Valentine’s Mansion and Gardens website

Have fun transforming old jars into amazing Halloween decorations, guaranteed to create a spooky atmosphere at home! Suitable for ages 4 years and older.

Price: £5 per child, pre-booking essential on 020 8708 8100
Opening Times: 2pm-3pm
Address: Valentine’s Mansion and Gardens, Emerson Road, Ilford, Essex, IG1 4XA
Further information: Valentine’s Mansion and Gardens website


An illustrated presentation on Comets and Meteors: their relationship and how to observe them. Audience participation with practical activities and time for questions. Given clear skies, there will be the chance to observe some notable objects with a 15cm Newtonian reflecting telescope. Take appropriate clothing and footwear in case the ground is muddy. Suitable for children aged 8 and over (must be accompanied by an adult).

Price: £6 per person, booking required.  Email enquiries.ef@field-studies-council.org or ring 020 8502 8500.
Opening Times: 6pm – 8pm
Address: Epping Forest Field Centre, Paul’s Nursery Road, High Beach, Loughton, IG10 4AF
Further information: Field Studies Council website



Join us at The View for an afternoon of pumpkin carving. From jack-o-lanterns to spooky faces, learn how to create a design that will impress any trick or treaters – with prizes for best-carved designs!

Price: £5 for a pumpkin and tealight, and a free hot or cold drink. £3.95 if you bring your own pumpkin. £1 for non-carvers. Booking required (2 hour time slots) call 020 7332 1911.
Opening Times: 10am – 3pm
Address: The View, 6 Ranger’s Road, Epping Forest E4 7QH
Further information: For more information and to book, please contact The View on 020 7332 1911. The View website


Join in with creepy crafts, monstrous makes and a spooky scavenger hunt in the forest. While siblings of all ages are welcome, the activities are aimed at children aged 5-11. Wear appropriate clothing and footwear in case the ground is muddy.

Price: Children £4, adults £2, booking required.  Email enquiries.ef@field-studies-council.org or ring 020 8502 8500
Opening Times: 10am-noon
Address: Epping Forest Field Centre, Paul’s Nursery Road, High Beach
Further information: Field Studies Council website

If you know of any other events that you think local mums should know about just leave a comment below or tweet me @WestEssexMums.

Bach to Baby classical music concerts for babies and toddlers launch in West Essex

Like many toddlers, my Little One loves music and I’m always trying to find baby and child-friendly gigs and concerts. While searching online, I came across Bach to Baby which hosts classical concerts across London, Kent, Surrey and the Thames Valley. Last year, we attended one in Victoria Park in Hackney and thankfully noisy toddlers, nappies and breastfeeding babies were all welcomed without even a raised eyebrow. While two lovely ladies played the piano and sang animal-related songs our children toddled around the church pews and munched rice cakes while other mums sat around looking pretty relieved that their gurgling babies were accepted rather than frowned upon.

Bach to Baby classical music concert Loughton

Bach to Baby’s first concert in Loughton

So I was thrilled to hear that a local series of Bach to Baby classical concerts have now been set up near us in Wanstead and West Essex. Buckhurst Hill-based musician Annabelle Lawson will be leading concerts in Loughton, Epping and Chelmsford following a very successful, sold-out concert in Loughton earlier in the year. Annabelle has an impressive musical background and aside from performing on BBC radio, Wigmore Hall and at the Southbank Centre she teaches piano at Forest School, Snaresbrook and the Royal Academy of Music. She is keen to pass on the wonder of music to children, she says “Music plays a huge role in cognition, positive social interaction and in building memory and physical co-ordination. Perhaps even more importantly, it also provides a lifelong source of joy and creativity. I am hugely excited to be bringing Bach to Baby to West Essex and to be able to communicate to people, from newborns up, the thrill of live performance – on their doorsteps!

The launch concert already happened this week in Epping but I’m sure more dates will be coming soon and the next two concerts coming up will be in Loughton and Chelmsford.

Friday 16 October, 10.30am
Christ Church Chelmsford URC, 164 New London Road, CM2 0AW
Programme: I Got Rhythm
Featuring Annabelle Lawson, piano

Friday 23 October, 10.30am
Loughton Methodist Church, 260 High Road, Loughton, IG10 1RB
Programme: TBC
Featuring Andrew Keeping, guitar

West Essex concerts will run from 10.30am to 11.30am at all locations with an half hour pre-concert ‘coffee mingle’. Tickets cost £10 if you book in advance online or £12 cash at the door and children are free.

For more information visit the Bach to Baby West Essex website.

If you attend one of the concerts, please let me know what you think by adding a comment or tweeting me @WestEssexMums and feel free to share news of any other upcoming local gigs and musical concerts for babies and children.

You can also read my review of the OAE Tots classical concert at the Southbank here.