2014 review: our best and worst days out

I love to look back on the year, particularly in the depths of winter when it’s great to remember that sometimes it is sunny and warm.  I’ve chosen our top 10 days (and evenings) of 2014, and because things aren’t always perfect I’ve chosen a few that didn’t work out quite so well too.

The top 10

Narrowing this list down to 10 items was incredibly hard, as I could easily have chosen lots more. In no particular order, here are our family favourites:

1. Watching the balloon ascent at Bristol Balloon Festival

Take off at Bristol balloon festival
Take off at Bristol balloon festival

I’ve wanted to visit the balloon fiesta for several years but we’ve either been busy or the weather hasn’t played ball. This year we finally got to see the balloons go up. It was an amazingly colourful spectacle and I took rather a lot of photos as you can see in my blog post.

2. Bill Spectre Ghost tour, Oxford

For my daughter’s 12th birthday we braved the Bill Spectre ghost tour in Oxford. I won’t give anything away but it has a justifiably high Trip Advisor rating. My favourite memory is of the kids and Bill Spectre (in costume) pretending to be ghost horses and clip-clopping down a deserted road. An American student cycled past them and towards us, muttering ‘that’s the wierdest thing I’ve ever seen’. Although I think my kids preferred having their arms chopped off.

3. Moth trapping, Neptune Wood, Oxfordshire

Easily our best wildlife experience was the morning spent checking moth traps at a local nature reserve. I just didn’t realise there were so many varieties of moth or that they came in colours other than brown!

From top left (clockwise): swallowtail moth, large emerald, clouded border, common emerald
From top left (clockwise): swallowtail moth, large emerald, clouded border, common emerald

We saw in excess of 150 species of moth, found in traps that had been set the previous evening. You can read more here.

4. Velorail du Velay, Dunières

I’d never heard of Velorail before our holiday to France. As you can see from the photo you pedal along an old railway track, before turning the cart round and freewheeling the whole way back to the station. It’s the best fun you can have on an old railway track.

Vélorail du Velay, Dunières
Vélorail du Velay, Dunières

There are several Velorail attractions in France, you can read about the one we visited at Dunières. I wish someone would start one up in the UK as I’m sure it would do very well.

5. School productions

My daughter left primary school this year. There’s always an end of school show as part of the leaving festivities and this time it was the Lion King. We loved watching the children perform, although it was tinged with sadness as many of them were moving onto different schools.

Year 6 Lion King performance
Year 6 Lion King performance

Our son is still in primary school and for his Christmas play this year they chose the Sound of Music. My son was one of the children; it was lovely to see him up on stage confidently singing and acting as he’s never normally keen to sing in public.

6. Lydford Gorge, Devon

My favourite walk of the year. We visited verdant Lydford Gorge after rain when the ferns and mosses were dripping wet, it was incredibly atmospheric.

A stone path runs alongside the River Lyd to the gushing Devil’s Cauldron, a swirling mass of water. In parts there are handrails, as the path is cut into the side of the rocks and the river runs right next to it. This makes for an exciting short walk although probably not suited to young children.

7. Rock pooling at Kennack Sands, Cornwall

Whilst on holiday we spent a morning on a National Trust rock pool hunt at Coverack beach. I love mooching around in rock pools but it was a bonus to have someone on hand to identify finds. I’m proud to say that we can now all recognise velvet swimming crabs! The Lizard is an excellent area for a family holiday, my post has lots of suggestions about things to do on the Lizard.

8. Puy-en-Velay, France

Puy-en-Velay is a gem of a French town. Situated in a caldera, the main tourist sights all sit atop volcanic plugs. So you’ll have great views but lots and lots of steps to walk up. Funnily enough it was my (sport mad) son that complained the most about all the steps. You can read more about our day trip here.

View from Rocher Saint-Michel d’Aiguilhe
View from Rocher Saint-Michel d’Aiguilhe

My daughter enjoyed the Saturday market the most, primarily for the large chocolate covered pastry she got to eat!

9. Pooh Stick world championships, Oxfordshire

Receiving my Pooh sticks runners up certificate
Receiving my Pooh sticks runners up certificate

I never thought I’d take part in a world Championship, but I’m now an elite Pooh sticks athlete. We spent a fun few hours throwing sticks into the River Thames, rushing to the other side of the bridge to see which one travelled the fastest. Amazingly my sticks just kept on winning, eventually taking me all the way to the final. I didn’t win but I was still rather pleased to be a runner up. If you fancy taking part in 2015 read more about it here.

10. Beauty & the beast panto, Oxford

Our family agreed that this year’s panto was one of the best we’ve ever seen. Lots of toe tapping songs, slapstick humour and an excellent dame; read our review here.

And at the bottom…

Of course some of our days out don’t always go to plan. Here are the ones that didn’t work out so well.

1. Flooded yurt in East Devon

Our yurt - before the rain!
Our yurt – before the rain!

We were the first visitors of the season. The yurt was lovingly decorated with typical glamping accessories; fluffy rugs, cushions and bunting. Arriving home from a wet day out we discovered the rain had come in between the base and the yurt and soaked everything we’d left on the floor, including the white fluffy rug. Aargh!

2. Chateau de Lavoûte-Polignac, Lavoûte-sur-Loire

This might have appealed more if I was a lover of family portraiture (particularly when described in great detail in French), without children and at least semi-interested in the history of the Polignac family.

No chance of escape!
No chance of escape!

3. White Castle, near Abergavenny

White Castle looked great from the front entrance. But that’s as far as we got as the gate was firmly shut. Perhaps I should have paid more attention to the opening days on the website as it’s closed on Mondays and Tuesdays!

4. Missing the royal pageant at the Tall Ships Festival, Greenwich

We had a great time watching the tall ships sail down the River Thames. Yet I’m still intrigued as to how we managed to miss the royal barge, Gloriana, leading a flotilla of rowing boats along the river. I thought we were in the right place at the right time but obviously not.

5. Matisse exhibition, Tate museum

I loved this but the kids didn’t. It’s boring (they said). Are we finished yet? Our visit inspired my post about whether children should visit art galleries.

18 thoughts on “2014 review: our best and worst days out”

    1. It was exhilarating on the return ride as it was down a slight incline, but I was a tad scared in the long dark tunnel.

  1. Looks like you had some fun days out. The hot air balloons look great fun. Would love to see that and would love to have a shot on one too.
    Little did I know there were world pooh stick championships. I feel I have now been missing out on so much!


    1. Thank you. We only went to Pooh Sticks for the kids so it was rather ironic that my sticks were the winners.

  2. what a great summary of the year, you’ve had some fab days out and trips i love cornwall not been since i was young my grandparents live there! The hot air balloons look fantastic as well #sundaystars

  3. Wow … so much fun to be had! I look forward to experiencing a velorail and I can’t even imagine the loveliness you must have felt watching your son perform in his school’s play (I look forward to this).

    Thanks for sharing your reviews. #SundayStars

    1. Ah the plays were fantastic. They spent a lot of time practising and learning song words but it was worth every minute.

    1. Thanks Karen. We were hoping to to go to Pooh Sticks again this year but saw a couple of days ago that they aren’t able to use the usual location any more 🙁

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