A mud bath at the Nuts Challenge, Dorking, Surrey

The Nuts Challenge is presumably so called because you need to be nuts to enter. It’s an adventure race over a military assault course, although their Facebook page markets it as “a fun obstacle course”. My other half had been talking about entering an adventure race for a while, so guess what he got for his birthday…..

Nuts Adventure Challenge - the start line
Nuts Adventure Challenge – the start line

The two day event is held twice a year in March and September in Dorking, Surrey. The Saturday is for those running the 7 or 14 km course (1 or 2 laps), with approximately 120 obstacles per loop. This day has a family feel to it, with entertainment and kids activities available. Sunday is for the hardcore athletes, who are completing 21km or 28km (3 or 4 laps), but despite their fitness the majority of contestants entering the 4 lap course don’t complete it.

These courses have become very popular over the last few years. I expected, and saw, plenty of mid life crisis men but was pleasantly surprised there were probably an equal number of women taking part on the Saturday. There were lots of people running for charity, as well as fancy dress galore. The kids had great fun spotting Batman, Where’s Wally (there were lots of them), Superman and the Smurfs.

Spectator review

Skydiver at Nuts Adventure Race
Skydiver at Nuts Adventure Race

The day started with a display from 4 skydivers. The location is very close to Gatwick airport and on a couple of occasions a passenger jet flew over which looked like it would be lower than the skydivers plane. Fortunately they landed safely, I wonder if any went on to complete the assault course?

Onto the main event. In the race area there are a reasonable number of  obstacles where spectators can stand and watch. We wandered around these whilst the other half was competing.

Tackling the slippery logs
Tackling the slippery logs

The course was pretty quiet early on in the day but very busy from around lunchtime, with people queuing up to go over the obstacles.  There was also a lot more mud and general slippiness once a few people had gone through.

Mind the barbed wire!
Mind the barbed wire!

There were tunnels to crawl through, muddy banks to slide down and logs to pull yourself over. In all, it was one big mud bath!

The tyre challenge
The tyre challenge

The tyre challenge involved hauling a tyre up a hill and then running back down with it. Competitors who asked for small tyres seemed to get given the biggest ones!

I think they're having fun
I think they’re having fun

It was a warm day so the lake crossings were probably useful for cooling off in, although it would be my idea of hell.

The event seemed well set up to cater for spectators, although it’s not something you would visit (or know about) unless you were supporting an entrant. There were pony rides and a climbing wall for children, along with an ice cream stand and a tent selling burgers. There was also a band on Saturday afternoon, singing covers of recent hits. It was a relief to listen to the band as the inane chatter of the commentator was starting to grate on me by this time.

You may have gathered from this review that this race wasn’t something I’d have enjoyed – and you’re right. Whilst I quite enjoy running I do my best not to get wet or muddy whilst I’m doing it!  So in the spirit of a balanced view I’ve asked my other half to write his thoughts on the race.

Competitor review

Halfway round the Nuts challenge
Halfway round the Nuts challenge

I must admit, when I got this I thought it was a great present but the closer to the day it got and the more I looked at previous photos the more nervous I became.  On the day itself, the registration process was pretty straightforward, there was a bag and key drop for competitors, all very well organised with no queues.

When it came to the race there was a zumba warm up beforehand (not my kind of thing) and then we were off. From the start there was a range of obstacles from hurdles to deep stream beds.

Any trace of nervousness disappeared and adrenalin kicked in. I threw myself into streams, climbed over netting, swam through seas of mud and water and crawled through pipes. I was absolutely covered in mud. But, did I enjoy it? Absolutely. Would I do it again? Certainly.. Now, when is the next one…

More info

  • The course states it is for all abilities, and that less fit people can walk 1 lap. However, I think to gain any enjoyment from it you would need to have a reasonable level of fitness first. The First Aid tent looked busy all day with broken bones, sprained ankles and cuts. The waiver you sign as part of the entry specifies these are all common.
  • Children aged 14+ can enter, subject to their parent signing a waiver and them being accompanied by an adult. The small number of kids I saw looked like they were having a great time and finding it much easier than some of the adults.
  • Entry form and further details can be found on the Nuts Challenge website.

Costs

  • The cost varies depending on how many laps you enter, and how early you book. At the September 2013 event the price for 2 laps was £45.
  • There is an additional £3 charge for parking. This is in a field, which is reached by driving along dusty tracks. I could imagine this would get rather muddy after rain (or maybe that’s the idea).
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A family walk to Broadway Tower, Worcs

What better thing is there to do on a sunny Bank Holiday Monday than go for a walk? Actually my kids could probably think of lots of things they’d rather do, like playing Minecraft all day, if only I allowed them….

Instead, I’d put some effort into finding a decent walk, with a cafe stop halfway round, a good view and no rain. We hadn’t visited the Cotswolds for quite a while, so a walk to Broadway Tower fitted the bill.

Broadway village
Broadway village

Our walk started from the picture perfect Cotswold village of Broadway, with its honey coloured stone houses and cottage gardens. The village roads are lined with antique and country clothing shops, and whilst it’s undeniably pretty I couldn’t help feeling it was suited to older and more affluent visitors than ourselves.

Walking the Cotswold Way
Walking the Cotswold Way

From the village centre we took a path past a playground, which looked new and was very popular. Most of the play items were for younger children (<8 years) so we didn’t go in.

Walking through woods to Broadway Tower
Walking through woods to Broadway Tower

After crossing a couple of fields we started walking uphill through a wooded lane. This was most welcome as the afternoon was turning out warm, so we appreciated the shade. Although it had been dry in the days prior to our visit the track was still quite muddy in places, so I’d imagine it would be a pretty wet walk in the winter.

From the wood we walked up through a field of sheep, past a house that had superb views over the countryside. At a junction with another track we came across some children selling small purple plums for £1 a bag.  I don’t normally like plums but as they were raising money for charity I bought a bag and they were delicious!

Broadway tower
Broadway tower

Broadway Tower was almost upon us, but we were desperate for a drink so stopped at the nearby Morris & Brown cafe first. The cafe, as expected on a Bank Holiday, was heaving and people were queuing out the door. We eventually got our drinks and sat outside enjoying the views. Suitably refreshed, we queued again for the toilets before finally making our way to the tower itself.

Broadway Tower is a folly and was built in 1799. Follies often have an interesting history and this one is no different. According to Wikipedia (if you believe it) this one was built for Lady Coventry as she had wondered whether she’d be able to see a beacon on this hill from her home 22 miles away. (She could).

Birmingham is over there!
Birmingham is over there!

The tower is the second highest point in the Cotswolds, after Cleeve Hill. From the top you have excellent views across the surrounding counties, and down to the red deer in the enclosure near the tower.

There are plaques around the tower which show you what’s in each direction. You can supposedly see as far as Birmingham and various parts of Wales but I’m not convinced!

From the top of Broadway Tower
From the top of Broadway Tower

The path back from the tower follows the Cotswold Way and is downhill all the way to Broadway. We passed a Cotswold stone wall being repaired, lovely to see that this traditional craft is still being maintained.

Building a Cotswold stone wall
Building a Cotswold stone wall

Youngest son had great fun running down the hill whilst we followed at a more leisurely pace. There were thistles next to the path which were attracting loads of tortoiseshell and peacock butterflies, probably the most I’ve seen all summer.

Heading downhill back to Broadway
Heading downhill back to Broadway

The path takes you back into Broadway village, where there are plenty of tea rooms if you’re in need of a refreshment stop.

More info:

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Donkeys and sand sculptures at Weston-super-Mare

Over the last few years we’ve started a family tradition of an August day trip to the seaside town of Weston-super-Mare. I usually prefer quiet beaches and exploring rock pools, but I make an exception for Weston, and each year we have a fun day out.

We take the train as it’s a convenient and straightforward journey for us (trains run every half hour from Bristol). Walking from the railway station, the first impressions of the town are not particularly positive. It suffers from the blight of empty shops, grimy looking bars and down at heel takeaways that are found in town centres all over the country.

However, it’s only a 15 minute walk to the beach from the railway station. Before long you’re on the beach front, and you can understand why families flock here.

Grand Pier at Weston-super-Mare
Grand Pier at Weston-super-Mare

Grand Pier

The pier is the first place the kids want to visit when we arrive.  It was destroyed by fire in 2008, but rebuilt and opened again in 2010. I’d imagine some adults visiting without children would find this  place hell on earth but for most kids it’s the very opposite. It’s primarily a busy entertainment arcade with loud music, a variety of rides, food outlets and game machines.

Inside the arcade we enjoyed the crystal maze (a room full of mirrors to negotiate) and another maze where they had to climb through laser lights.  The 300m go-kart track looked great fun, but with a minimum age of 12 years the kids were too young to go on it. Instead we spent a happy half hour feeding 2p pieces into the pushing machines, and then a few unsuccessful attempts on the various grab and go machines.

Looking back down the Grand Pier, Weston-super-Mare
Looking back down the Grand Pier, Weston-super-Mare

For younger pre-school children, there aren’t that many rides that would be suitable but there is a soft play area, and also a small train that runs up and down the pier for 50p a ride.

Once the pier cravings were satisfied I managed to tempt them away with the promise of a donkey ride.

Donkey rides

Donkey rides on Weston beach are a popular and enduring tradition. The family running Weston donkeys have been operating on the beach since 1886. The donkeys are well looked after, and only work for around 7 months each year, with their holiday spent at local farms.

I was slightly worried my eldest would be too grown up for the donkeys, but she hopped on one of the taller donkeys without a second thought. Luckily they can take children up to the age of 14 years, so we could still get in a few more rides in future years.

weston9
Maisie – a Weston donkey

The ride isn’t long at all, perhaps a couple of hundred metres, but the kids both enjoyed it and made a fuss of the donkeys afterwards.

2013 sand sculpture festival

For details of the 2014 sand sculptures please see my post here.

This year, for a change, we decided to visit the sand sculpture festival, which features Hollywood stars. The sculptures are made from just sand and water, and then sprayed with a solution to help repel rain.

Pirates of the Caribbean at Weston sand sculpture festival
Pirates of the Caribbean at Weston sand sculpture festival

There was a good mix of films and actors portrayed. Children’s characters included ones from Pirates of the Caribbean, Despicable Me and Madagascar.

Super heroes at Weston sand sculpture festival
Super heroes at Weston sand sculpture festival

My generation had Jaws, Titanic and James Bond sculptures whilst some of the older stars were Charlie Chaplin, Alfred Hitchcock and Marilyn Monroe.

Minions at Weston sand sculpture festival
Minions at Weston sand sculpture festival

The sculptures were very impressive. After we looked round there is an area where you can create your own sand sculpture. There are step by step instructions to follow but its not as easy as it looks!

Building sandcastles at Weston
Building sand sculptures at Weston

Finally, no visit to the seaside is complete without an ice cream. We opted for Tutto Gelataria on the sea front, this sells locally made ice cream with some interesting flavours (candy floss ice cream anyone?).

Before heading home we also picked up some sticks of sugary rock as souvenirs.  I don’t know why I do this as I always find them sweet and sickly, but I guess a seaside trip demands certain traditions!

Everything else

In the past we’ve played crazy-golf, but there wasn’t time this year. There’s also a water adventure play park, the museum, the Weston wheel (not quite the London Eye), a land train along the promenade and the aquarium. So, plenty to do on a day trip!

More info

  • The Grand Pier is open daily from 10am (except Christmas Day).  The closing time varies, but is usually early evening.
  • This years sand sculpture festival runs until 30th September 2013. It’s an annual event, so will run again with a different theme in future years.
  • Both the Grand Pier and Sand Sculpture festival are wheelchair and buggy accessible. However, inside the pier arcade area it was incredibly busy, and there’s not much space to manoeuvre around.

Costs

  • Entrance to the pier is £1 per person. Ride prices inside the arcade vary from £1 to £6, or you can buy a £15.00 wristband which allows access to all rides. Check height and age restrictions first as quite a few are only suitable for 8+ years. There are also loads of games for the kids to waste your money on. Whilst the prices are very reasonable (2p slot machines, 20p grab the toy machines) there are a lot of them so your money soon goes. Prices updated summer 2015.
  • Donkey rides cost £2 and last around 5 minutes (price updated summer 2015).
  • The sand sculpture festival costs £3.50 for adults, £2 for children or £10 for families. You can get a guide for £1 but all the information in it is also available on boards in the sculpture area anyway.
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Campsite review – Sands Caravan and Camping, Gairloch

Sands Caravan and Camping site is a bigger and busier site than we usually choose, but it was its outstanding location in the north west highlands of Scotland that pulled us in.

The site

Sands is 3 miles out from Gairloch village, out along a coastal road.  It offers camping, touring and static caravan pitches and wooden wigwams. The camping and caravan sections are set apart from each other, with campers able to pitch their tents in amongst the dunes. The pitches all looked pretty flat and spacious.

The campsite is in a fabulous location, as you’ll see from this picture.

View from wigwam at Sands Campsite
View from wigwam at Sands campsite

In front of our spot, over the dunes, is the sandy beach.  The small uninhabited island of Longa is visible directly in front, with Skye a little further out. On the other sides are mountain vistas. Could the location be any more spectacular?

Our wigwam

I’d booked us into a wooden wigwam, partly because it saved us carrying all our camping gear and partly as protection against rain and midges.

Rona - our Sands Campsite wigwam
Rona – our Sands campsite wigwam

The wigwams are basic enclosed wooden shelters with platforms and mattresses to sleep on. You need to bring your own sleeping bag and pillow.  There is a small storage area, a kettle and a heater, which we definitely didn’t need.  Each wigwam also has a picnic bench and fire pit outside.

Inside the wigwam at Sands Campsite
Inside the wigwam at Sands Campsite

We needn’t have worried about the rain as it was unexpectedly warm and sunny throughout our stay. However the midges drove us crazy!  We were near enough confined to our wigwams once they came out each evening.  Due to the heat the wigwams resembled saunas as we kept the windows and doors shut in an attempt to keep the midges out.

Campsite facilities

There were plenty of toilets and showers, and they were kept pretty clean given the number of people using them. Annoyingly, the shower buttons had to be pressed every few seconds to stop the water turning off.  Very tricky when you’re trying to wash your hair!

You’re not allowed to cook in the wigwams, and as we’d managed to forget our camping stove we were thankful for the hob in the undercover cooking area (£1 for 20 mins of electricity). There’s also a dining area, which some people were using to escape the midges.

If you don’t fancy cooking, there is a small onsite cafe with home baking, lunches and breakfast rolls.  It’s open from 9am-5pm, then reopens again 6-8pm for evening meals. We popped in for drinks and cake, but didn’t eat there in the evenings.

Sands Campsite cafe
Sands campsite cafe

The camp shop is well stocked and sold just about anything you could possibly need on holiday. It opened at 8.30am, and we were always there ready to pick up freshly baked chocolate croissants each morning. Very tasty and highly recommended.

The shop has tourist information and details of walks in the local area. Directly across from the campsite entrance they’ve created a 1km looped trail, which was popular with the dog walkers. If you fancy a little more action you can also hire bikes (£12 a day) and kayaks (£25 a day) from the shop.

The beach

Beach at Sands Campsite, Gairloch
Beach at Sands campsite, Gairloch

The sites biggest attraction for families is the sandy beach which the campsite fronts onto. I’m guessing that for most of the year its pretty wild and windswept, but during our stay it was the scene of sandcastles, paddling and beach BBQs.

One last tip – if it is sunny during your stay, head up to the dunes to watch sunset (which can be pretty late in summer).   The pinks, gold and orange reflect onto the sea, creating an amazing spectacle. Certainly an impressive end to the day!

Sunset at Sands Campsite beach
Sunset at Sands campsite beach

More info

  • To book, or find out more,  see the Sands Caravan and Camping website.

Costs

  • Our family of four paid £48 per night for the wigwam. This was peak summer pricing. You can get smaller wigwams, these cost £32 for two sharing.
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