Ideas for family days out in August 2015

The school holidays are in full swing and there are loads of events to keep the children busy. Read on to find out things to do with your family in August 2015.

1. Bristol Balloon Fiesta, Bristol

We visited the Fiesta last year and loved it; you can read about our day out here. This year the Bristol Balloon Fiesta is held from 6-9 August and is the largest of its kind in Europe. Balloon ascents are weather dependent and you’ll need to be there either at 6am or 6pm to watch take-offs. There are plenty of other attractions, including a large fairground, if the weather doesn’t play ball.

2. Cowes Week Family Day, Isle of Wight

Much of the excitement of Cowes Week takes place on the water but Sunday 9 August is the designated family day. Youngsters can enjoy a cardboard boat race, taster sailing sessions and pirate show. There’s an Ed Sheeran tribute show for the adults later in the evening. Full details here.

3. Superworm Trail, Forestry Commission sites, nationwide

If your children are 3-8 years old head along to a Superworm activity trail at your nearest participating Forestry Commission site. The trail is free although you’ll need to pay a parking charge and there’s an optional Superworm activity pack for £3.50. Most trails are open until the end of October but check the Forestry Commission website for full details of locations and timings.

4. Blackpool Air Show, Lancashire

Blackpool Air Show takes place on 9-10 August. The seafront show is free and features displays from, amongst others, the typhoon, vulcan and chinooks. I’m sure the Red Arrows display on Sunday will be a highlight (see some photos from the display we saw in Oxfordshire here). The full line up, with timings, is available here.

5. World Pipe Band championships, Glasgow

Glasgow’s World Pipe Band championships takes place on 14-15 August. In addition to the piping from over 200 bands there’s a kids’ zone, Highland Games, Highland dancing and a Scottish food village. Advance family tickets cost £10 for the Friday, £31 for the Saturday.

6. Weymouth Carnival, Dorset

On 19 August Weymouth will host the usual carnival mix of procession, fairground rides, stalls and beach events, all topped off with evening fireworks. And just in case you haven’t managed to see them this year the Red Arrows will be zooming in at 3pm.

7. Beaumaris Medieval Festival, Gwynedd

The Medieval festival takes place at Beaumaris Castle over the Bank Holiday weekend, 29-31 August. The weekend features interactive family entertainment including jesters, knights and falconry.  A family ticket costs £15.75; further details here.

8. Spark Festival, Queen Elizabeth Olympic Park, London

Held on 30-31 August the free Spark Festival encompasses activities about the future and is led by UCL students. Kids can build a hovercraft, watch shaving foam expand in a vacuum and make mini rockets. Find out more details here.

9. Grasmere Sports & Show, Cumbria

We were in Grasmere a couple of years ago at the same time as this show but didn’t go. I only realised afterwards what we’d missed out on! Run in sprint and fell races, watch a ferret roadshow or take part in Cumberland and Westmorland wrestling. Book a family (2 adults, 3 children) ticket online for £22 otherwise it’s £10 for adults and £3 for children.

10. British Fireworks Championships, Plymouth, Devon

The Championships are held on 18-19 August and consist of 6 professional display companies competing to be the British Fireworks Champion. The displays start at 9.30pm so this is an event for older children. The Hoe is the main viewing area where you’ll also find a funfair and live music.

As always, if you have any further suggestions for days out in August please leave a comment.

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Red Arrows display, RAF Benson, Oxfordshire

The first day of the 2015 school summer holidays dawned grey, misty and damp; fortunately I had a plan to add some colour to our day.

Every year the Red Arrows perform at the RAF Benson Families’ day. Although the event is only open to airbase employees and families there are plenty of vantage points outside of the airfield to watch them.

Watching the Red Arrows, RAF Benson
Watching the Red Arrows, RAF Benson

Picnic bag in hand, we walked alongside the River Thames from Wallingford towards the air base. I’d planned to eat and watch the display from the riverbank but with the trees in full leaf it would have been hard to see the planes.

Red arrows, RAF Benson display
Red arrows, RAF Benson display

Instead we wandered away from the river and found ourselves an open field to sit in. The Red Arrows were due to arrive at 1pm but we’d eaten all our food well in advance of this. 1pm came and went and I was just about to tell the kids that the performance was probably cancelled when we heard the sound of approaching aircraft.

Red arrows, RAF Benson display
Red arrows, RAF Benson display – look carefully, the top plane is upside down!

The Red Arrows circled around us and flew in low towards the airfield. We had positioned ourselves well. Perhaps too well given that they proceeded to display right above our heads! My son kept his hands over his ears whenever they were near us and I admit to being slightly fearful watching the planes loop overhead.

Red arrows, RAF Benson display
Red arrows, RAF Benson display

Of course there was no need to worry. The pilots expertly flew upside down, round in loops and terrifyingly low. We’d watch the manoeuvres and then wait for the deafening sound that followed them. Sometimes they’d disappear for a few seconds before we noticed them coming in towards us again.

Red arrows, RAF Benson display
Red arrows, RAF Benson display

The planes crisscrossed the sky with their red, white and blue vapour trails. Everyone on the ground stood enthralled, cameras aloft, dogs barking. The aircraft disappeared from view once again and after another minute or so we realised they weren’t coming back. The display was over.

Red arrows, RAF Benson display
Red arrows, RAF Benson display

The Red Arrows certainly brightened up our day and were a great antidote to the summer weather. I highly recommend checking out the link below to see if they’ll be performing near you.

More info:

  • The RAF Red Arrows perform displays almost every weekend during the summer months. Find details of display events on the RAF Red Arrows website.

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Packing my Suitcase

Under the Westgate car park, Oxford

If Leicester can find Richard III under a car park I wonder what Oxford will find under the old Westgate car park? A couple of days ago we went to find out.

Oxford’s Westgate car park was demolished at the start of 2015. Few  will miss the demise of this 1970s monstrosity. It may have been convenient for the city centre but paying a small fortune to park in a damp and decaying building and walk its urine soaked stairwells will not be missed. I vaguely recall running up and down its moving walkway when I was a kid but this has been out of operation for at least 30 years.

So good riddance to Westgate, hello to a sparkling (hopefully) new car park and John Lewis store. But in the meantime the archaeologists from Oxford Archaeology have been let loose to discover what lies underneath this part of the city.

Westgate dig, Oxford
Westgate dig, Oxford

Previous excavations were carried out back in the 1960s before the Westgate car park was built. These found medieval street surfaces, parts of the city wall and the entire church and fragments of cloisters from Greyfriars Abbey. It’s hard to believe the Westgate car park was ever deemed a suitable replacement.

The present day dig has been split into 8 different areas with each area focussing on a separate investigation. We visited area 3 which was temporarily opened to the public as part of the nationwide Festival for Archaeology. The dig in area 3 is to examine an area around the Trill Mill Stream.

Ten thousand years ago the area would have been a floodplain for the River Thames. Water flowed down from higher ground into the Thames via a series of channels and streams. One of these was the Trill Mill stream and the excavation has uncovered various culverts, medieval river channels and sluice gates. Given Oxford’s recent flooding history it’s sobering to remember the city has always experienced such events.

Westgate dig, Oxford
Westgate dig, Oxford

We walked with one of the archaeologists around the site. They’d helpfully labelled notable parts of the trenches and provided us with an information sheet so that we could identify the various parts.

Oxen found on Westgate dig, Oxford
Oxen found on Westgate dig, Oxford

The most exciting find for us was the skeletal remains of an ox embedded next to one of the river channels. When you think about how Oxford got its name (Ford of the Oxen) it’s tempting to imagine the city being named after this very animal. Almost as interesting as royal bones!

Other finds were laid out in trays across the tables. They included clay pipes, fragments of pottery, leather shoes, coloured glass and assorted bits of bone.

Westgate dig finds, Oxford
Westgate dig finds, Oxford

We were also able to see core samples which showed the different layers beneath our feet. By investigating the presence of microscopic algae and snail shells the archaeologists could determine whether, for example, the stream was flowing fast or silted up.

Core samples, Westgate dig, Oxford
Core samples, Westgate dig, Oxford

Almost impressive as seeing the archaeological findings was hearing from one of the Laing O’ Rourke contractors as to how the new buildings were taking shape. The huge hole in the ground in the photo below will become an underground car park and we were standing where John Lewis was to be built. The kids were interested in the high crane in which the operator sits for 6 hours per day. When I asked how he went to toilet I was told ‘you don’t want to know'; this of course meant the kids came up with some (not very) suitable solutions.

Building the new Westgate car park
Building the new Westgate car park

We enjoyed our insight into the excavations and I’m looking forward to the next open day. This is on Saturday 12th September 2015 when you’ll be able to visit another part of the site (Freyfriars Abbey) as part of the Heritage Open Days festival. Further information here.

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A family walk up Pen-y-Fan, Powys

I’ve climbed Pen-y-Fan, the highest hill in southern Britain, a couple of times without the kids. As it’s on our family list of things to do in 2015 I thought it would be the perfect opportunity to stretch our legs on the way back from our holiday in Pembrokeshire.

Having only visited outside of the summer season previously I had no idea how popular the walk was. Our first hint was the long line of cars parked along the edge of the main road. There are a couple of off road car parks but as these were both full we parked on the grass verge like everyone else.

Start of the route up Pen-y-Fan
Start of the route up Pen-y-Fan

There are several routes up Pen-y-Fan. If we’d had the time and energy it would have been good to tackle one of the circular routes which takes in several of the peaks. However with a 2 hour journey behind us and another 2 hour drive home we settled on the standard route up from Pont ar Daf car park, also known as ‘The motorway’.

The main track is broad and well made, obviously used to thousands of walking boots. The route was straightforward and relatively easy; it was just a pity that some people had decided to leave dog poo bags alongside the track.

Pen-y-Fan walk
Pen-y-Fan walk

As we walked my son recounted part of the Bear Grylls book he’d just read. Bear’s SAS selection process took place in these hills and although we had an easier time than Bear this mountain shouldn’t be under-estimated. The ease of access means that people can and do get into difficulty, particularly in poor weather.

The first summit (with the flat top shown in the picture above) is actually Corn Du. We skirted around the edge, saving it for our return journey, and walked on to Pen-y-Fan. The views open up at this point and it’s a pretty spectacular view down the Neuadd valley.

A rather busy Pen-y-Fan summit!
A rather busy Pen-y-Fan summit!

A short final climb took us up onto the summit of Pen-y-Fan. I would guess there were a couple of hundred people up there enjoying the views, many more than I’ve seen on any other hill. Families with children of all ages, runners, walking groups and plenty of dogs.

Summit photo, Pen-y-Fan
Summit photo, Pen-y-Fan

We queued for a few minutes to take the obligatory summit photo. Just behind us is the view you see in the feature photo at the top of this post, incredible!

We’d been organised enough to bring a picnic and managed to find a relatively empty spot to eat it in. On bad weather days the wind would be howling across the summit but we were lucky and enjoyed our sandwiches in glorious sunshine.

Picnic on the Pen-y-Fan summit
Picnic on the Pen-y-Fan summit

Heading off of Pen-y-Fan we tackled the summit of Corn Du, the second highest peak in South Wales. It’s similar to the summit of Pen-y-Fan; in fact I had to let one family know that they weren’t quite on Pen-y-Fan, much to their kids disappointment.

Route down from Pen-y-Fan
Route down from Pen-y-Fan

It’s pretty steep coming down from Corn Du and I was pleased we’d chosen to walk up the route from Pont ar Daf rather than Storey Arms. The path drops down to a stream before climbing back up a little. We saw a couple of runners filling their water bottles in the stream but rather them than me. I’ve seen too many dead sheep in streams higher up the mountains to even consider this!

We were soon back at the car, ready to hit the M4 again. I’m glad to report that we all enjoyed Pen-y-Fan more than the usual motorway stopover.

More info:

  • This route starts from the Pont ar Daf car park on the A470 between Brecon and Merthyr Tydfil. We followed the 4 mile walk outlined on the National Trust website.
  • There are a couple of burger vans and some pretty foul toilets at the start of the walk.
  • We visited on a sunny clear day and there were loads of families walking the hill. However remember that the weather and visibility on top may be very different from your starting point. Always take appropriate equipment and clothing, check the weather forecast and walk within your abilities.