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.

ALL WEEK

MICHAEL ROSEN’S BEAR HUNT, CHOCOLATE CAKE AND BAD THINGS EXHIBITION, DISCOVER CENTRE STRATFORD

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

VARIOUS DRAWING & STORYTELLING EVENTS,  V&A MUSEUM OF CHILDHOOD BETHNAL GREEN

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 WALTHAM ABBEY

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

MONDAY 26 OCTOBER

FESTIVAL OF STORIES, VALENTINE’S MANSION & GARDENS ILFORD

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

TUESDAY 27 OCTOBER

PRESENTING BRAM STOKER’S DRACULA, VALENTINE’S MANSION &  GARDENS ILFORD

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

WEDNESDAY 28 OCTOBER

GHOULISH SPIDERS, PUMPKINS & GHOSTS, VALENTINE’S MANSION & GARDENS ILFORD

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

HALLOWEEN LANTERNS, VALENTINE’S MANSION & GARDENS ILFORD
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

FAMILY ASTRONAUT: COMETS & METEORS, EPPING FOREST FIELD CENTRE

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

THURSDAY 29 OCTOBER

PUMPKIN CARVING, THE VIEW EPPING FOREST 

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

FOREST FAMILIES: FREAKY FOREST, EPPING FOREST FIELD CENTRE

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.

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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.

What’s on this weekend: Mother’s Day special

With Mother’s Day coming up on Sunday, I’ve reminded the boyfriend a number of times that he has to make the day special until the Little One is old enough to make me tea and burnt toast in bed. I’ve dropped lots of hints, well ok demands is probably more accurate. There must be breakfast in bed, flowers and a card. It’s only my second Mother’s Day as a mum but I think it’s important to set the ground rules early! And I want to get out-and-about with the Little One and I definitely do not want to cook. Not too much to ask really.

As the boyfriend has been lacking inspiration, I’ve been suggesting things we can do and I thought it might be useful to share some of the local places we’ve been considering. Hopefully, by next year he can just surprise me! So if you haven’t quite decided how you’ll spend the day together or if you want some inspiration to share with your other half, here are a few ideas for kid-friendly places visit.

WALK IN EPPING FOREST & LUNCH AT BUTLER’S RETREAT

boy walking in Epping Forest

If your don’t want to be tied down to a lunch booking or if you’ve left it too late, one of my favourite ways to spend any Sunday is a walk in Epping Forest followed by lunch at the lush Butler’s Retreat café. And as we don’t do it often enough, this looks like it could be a front-runner for us this weekend. Run by the same people behind The Larder in Wanstead, the food at the Butler’s Retreat is great and it’s very child-friendly with lots of space to run around outside. Perfect if, like me, you have a toddler who is against sitting still for 5 minutes. Hopefully, by next year he’ll be at an age where he can sit nicely at the table without a meltdown and we can go somewhere a bit fancy. But until then, open spaces and outdoor tables mean we don’t have to worry about noise or making too much mess.

Address: 12 Rangers Road, Chingford, E4 7QH

More info: Butler’s Retreat website

GUIDED TOUR OF COPPED HALL

Flowers in Copped Hall garden

Run by a charitable trust, this Georgian mansion is currently being restored and they open the doors to the public once a month. It’s set in grassy parkland and so at their open day and tour this Sunday you’ll also get a chance to see the gardens. There’s a shop that sells produce from the walled garden and refreshments available on site. You don’t need to book and the tour lasts between 2 – 3 hours. Kids under 14 are free and it is £8 for everyone else.

When: Sunday 14th March 2015, The gates only open between 10-11am on Crown Hill.

Address: Stables Courtyard, Copped Hall, Crown Hill, Epping, Essex CM16 5HS

More info: Copped Hall website

EASTER BARNS AT NORPAR BARNS

Easter barn at Norpar Barns Essex

I’m a big fan of Norpar Barns. It’s a lovely drive out into the Essex countryside and the barns are down a peaceful country lane. A visit to their Christmas barn is already a family tradition. Last year, I went along to the Easter barn and it really does get you in the mood for spring. There’s also a small tearoom where you can have tea and cake. It depends on the age of your children and how well behaved they are if you want to bring them. Babies and older children will be fine. For the moment, while the Little One is a mischievous toddler who wants to grab everything I think we’ll wait a bit longer before bringing him back. However, it would be the perfect place to take your own mother if you want a few hours away from the kids!

Address: Navestock Hall, Navestock, Romford, RM4 1HA

More info: Norpar Barns website 

FLAMINGO FAIR FOR MOTHER’S DAY

Based in Wanstead library, this local fair is holding a Mother’s day special this Sunday 14th March 2015. It’s child friendly and there’ll be stalls from local artists and craftspeople as well as jewellery, vintage furniture and haberdashery. Open 11am – 4pm and it is open to all ages

Address: Churchill Room, Wanstead Library, Spratt Hall Road, LONDON, E11 2RQ

More info: Flamingo Fair Wanstead

MUMS EAT FREE AT HARVESTER WOODFORD GREEN

I haven’t actually eaten here before but I noticed that The Castle Harvester restaurant in Woodford Green is offering a free main meal to all mums who eat with them after 6pm. There’s no voucher needed and you can read more about the offer on their website. The website claims they are kid-friendly so I’d be interested to hear from anyone who has tried it out.

Address: 393 – 395 High Road, Woodford Green, Essex, IG8 OXG

More info: The Castle Woodford Green website

What’s on this weekend: 10th – 12th October

Let’s hope this rain doesn’t hang around until the weekend. I’ve just ordered waterproof trousers for The Little One (as he’s still bum shuffling and refusing to walk) but at this rate we’ll be needing them too.

Well rain or shine, there’s lots on locally especially as its the last few days of the Woodford Festival which I’m keen to support as I think it would be lovely to have even more community events like this in the area. The programme includes music, an arts trail and walks plus a children’s author was doing a reading at The Village Bookshop on Wednesday. It would be great if there were more things for kids but maybe that is something to get involved with in the future. Perhaps I could convince some other mums to set up a children’s fringe festival. Now there’s a thought. (Note to self: stop having good ideas that will involve yet more time I do not currently have.)

toy fire engine on wooden floor

Photo via hellosputnik http://bit.ly/1pWnaBT

Anyway, back to this weekend, my top pick is the Woodford Green fire station open day this Saturday which is being billed as a Community Safety Day for families together with the Metropolitan Police, St Johns Ambulance, Guide Dogs for The Blind and Cadets. As The Little One has turned into a stereotypical boy shouting with glee at every bus, lorry and aeroplane, I’m pretty sure a giant firetruck like the one in Fireman Sam might blow his little mind. Combine that with some dogs and rumours of a helicopter and we could be hitting the toddler jackpot.

When: Saturday 11th October 11am-5pm

Where: Woodford Fire Station, 2 Snakes Lane, IG8 0EX

Before that I’ll be heading over to Wanstead for the NCT Nearly New Sale. You’ll find second hand toys, books, clothes and sleeping bags amongst other things and the quality is usually pretty high while pricers are low – double win. But don’t even think about bringing your little ones along. This is an elbows-out, stay-focused kind of affair. Seasoned NCT shoppers will know that the best bargains go early and NCT members can get in 15 minutes before anyone else by presenting their membership card. It starts at 11am so I recommend getting there as early as you can, queue up and get stuck in. If you’re running late, forget it. The excitement is usually all over in an hour.

When: Saturday 11th October 11am, 10.45 NCT members (last entry 12.15)

Where: Christ Church Hall, Wanstead Place, E11 2SW

Admission: £1

More information: Redbridge NCT Website

And last but not least is the Copped Hall Apple Day. I have to confess that I haven’t actually been to Copped Hall or even heard of it before this week. It looks really interesting; its a Georgian mansion that was saved by local campaign groups and is currently being restored. National Apple Day is all about celebrating our unique British food heritage by highlighting local varieties and orchards, so Copped Hall will be displaying and selling their apples. And just for the adults, I’ve heard rumours of cider… now we’re talking! They are promising entertainment and food as well as access to the gardens and mansion.

When: Sunday 12th October 11am -4pm

Where: Copped Hall, Crown Hill, Epping, CM16 5HS

Admission: £7

More information: Copped Hall Website

If you do visit any of these over the weekend, feel free to let me know your thoughts and views. And if you have events coming up for families that you’d like me to consider for future features, just get in touch via the comments or tweet me @WestEssexMums.

Welcome to West Essex Mums

How the hell did I end up living in a grown up house in the suburbs spending more time watching In The Night Garden than having a social life? Somehow this happened and my previous life, drinking my way around London trying to fit in all the new bars, restaurants, and films is no more.

So I’m getting used to my new life in Woodford with The Little Guy in tow, and to be honest I’m loving it. Having a little person has been even better than I imagined and as he heads towards being one and a half he gets funnier and more amazing each day. But where do you take a one year old? Which cafes aren’t going to kick us out when he insists on feeding himself aka drops stinky tuna sandwich all over the floor? Is soft play a special kind of hell or a handy haven on a rainy day?

The Little One playing with record coasters

I’ve found it quite hard to find out about where to go and what to do with kids in the local area. Not knowing that many other mums means I don’t have the inside knowledge. And as lots of other new mums seem to be moving to the area, I thought it might be useful for others too if I shared what I learn as I investigate the local area seeking out kid-friendly ways to spend our time. So I’m going to give you my honest opinion about local things to do and places to go, reviewing them and writing about them on this blog to help other mums. I’ll be looking at classes and clubs, family friendly activities and kids days out in the local areas: Woodford Green, South Woodford, Wanstead, Snaresbrook, Loughton and Epping. And armed with an Oyster card we’ll also cover London and will take the trusty, rust-bucket we call a car to the M25 seeking out countryside and outdoorsy things in Essex, Surrey Kent and beyond.

The reason I’ve called this West Essex Mums is that this isn’t just about our little family, I want this to be a genuinely useful resource for all local mums, dads and families so please feel free to get in touch with recommendations, questions, suggestions of places or things that you want to know more about and I’ll investigate for you.

Come and say hi on Twitter @WestEssexMums.