My British bucket list: 100 things to do in the UK

There are so many places I’d love to visit around the world but I don’t have the time or money to travel extensively. Fortunately there’s lots to see and do in the UK so I’ve created a bucket list which will keep me busy for the next few years.

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Review: Hi-Tec walking boots autumn & winter 2016 collection

I rarely accept product reviews on this blog but when Hi-Tec contacted me to see if we’d like to test some of their new autumn & winter 2016 range walking boots I jumped at the chance. I’d just booked a short walking break to Llangollen and the timing was perfect.

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Review: Aladdin panto at the Oxford Playhouse

A couple of months ago I saw the flyer for this year’s Oxford Playhouse panto, Aladdin. As I glanced over the familiar Korky Paul illustrations I noticed something was amiss. Where was Peter Duncan’s name? He, of Blue Peter fame, who has written and directed every Oxford Playhouse panto I’ve seen. He, who is personally responsible (not that he knows it), for my panto entertainment. A quick ferret through the internet and I discover he’s touring in Hairspray, the musical. How was this allowed? And what does this mean for the Playhouse panto?

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Family walks in the Shropshire Hills

The Shropshire Hills are found in the south of the county and are a designated Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty (AONB). It’s a great place to visit if you enjoy hill walking rather than rocky mountains. Our family walks covered three of the main areas, The Long Mynd, Wenlock Edge and Stiperstones.

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Our 2015 family day out plans

Last week I reviewed our favourite (and least favourite places) of 2014. This week it’s time to look forward and plan some family days out and weekends away for 2015. I’ve chosen places within a 3 hour journey of our home and as the kids are older I’ve added in some mini adventures such as a two day cycle ride and a mountain walk. Anything to get them away from sitting in front of the Xbox.

1. Cardiff

I’m ashamed to say I’ve never visited the Welsh capital. From Cardiff Castle and Bute Park to Techniquest and the Doctor Who exhibition, I think the hardest decision will be what not to see. Definitely worth a couple of days of our time.

2. South West coastal path walk, Devon or Dorset

I’ve started planning a two day walk along the south west coastal path, either from Brixham or Charmouth. The final route will depend on the train and bus timetables and availability of accommodation but both options look good. It’s quite a leisurely walk so there will also be time to fossil hunt in Charmouth or enjoy the seaside. Fingers crossed for good weather.

3. Imperial War Museum and Churchill War Rooms, London

This is somewhere we’ve been waiting for the kids to be old enough to visit. Our eldest has studied World War II at school (and went on an evacuee experience) and we’ve previously visited Anne Frank House so they have some background knowledge. I’m sure it will be a sobering, but important, visit.

4. Climb Pen-y-Fan, Brecon Beacons

The kids have been up a few hills but despite visiting the Brecon Beacons in 2014 we never went up Pen-y-Fan. It’s a lovely mountain to climb, and the closest to us (albeit >100 miles away) so I definitely want to make the effort this year.

5. Historic Dockyard Chatham, Kent

Whenever we head out for the day we inevitably head south, north or west. For some reason we hardly ever go east so this year I’ve purposely picked a couple of places in Kent. First on the list is the historic dockyard at Chatham. It’s a maritime museum that contains three warships, a lifeboat collection and a Cold War submarine set in 80 acres of dockyard.

6. Wild camp on Dartmoor, Devon

Some of you may have read my earlier post about family microadventures. I think it’s time for us to up the game this year and head out on a slightly more adventurous night out. Wild camping is allowed in many parts of Dartmoor so I’m tempted by a bivvy on the moors. I think my eldest will require some persuasion though as she has visions of us being trampled by Dartmoor ponies in the middle of the night. I haven’t told her about the Hound of the Baskervilles yet.

7. Whitstable, Kent

Whitstable sounds like the kind of seaside town we’d enjoy.  After a wander around the town and fishing harbour we’d walk along Tankerton Slopes before heading back for coffee and cake in one of the tea shops.

8. Red Squirrel Cycle Trail, Isle of Wight

We had a particularly memorable VW campervan holiday on the Isle of Wight a few years back. The weather and campsites were perfect so I’m always a little hesitant about going back just in case we spoil our memories. However, whilst looking for a family cycling route I came across the Red Squirrel cycle trail on the island. It’s mostly traffic free and easy cycling with an overnight stop in Shanklin. There’s even the chance of spotting red squirrels along the way.

9. Overnight camp at Northmoor Lock, Oxfordshire

This small campsite beside the River Thames is one of the closest to us and is perfect for a quick overnight getaway. It’s back to basics camping with compost toilets, fire pits and no cars on site. Sounds great!

10. A theme park

Whilst I’m more than happy with the wild outdoors the kids enjoy theme parks, as did I at their age. Not sure where to go yet but Alton Towers, Thorpe Park or Chessington are likely contenders. So readers, how about you? What plans do you have for 2015? Do drop me a comment and let me know. In the meantime I guess I’d better get saving!

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.