Friday, 25 October 2013

Hanbury Hall, nr Droitwich, Worcs

This blog usually focusses on those place which are free to get in, or where there is a small charge for car parking only. Hanbury Hall is an exception. If you aren't a National Trust member, it's quite expensive to get in. In the winter it costs £10.65 for a family ticket to the park and gardens (more if you want to go in the house as well, and more if you gift aid it).

But once you are in, there is a huge area of gardens and park to enjoy. We've been coming here as a family for years, and highlights for the small members include a great outdoor playground, a tunnel (brilliant for train-mad toddlers) and the walled garden with hens and bantams. Add to that lots of space for running around and picnics, and beautiful gardens, and I suspect it will continue to be a destination.

Coffee and cake is well up to the National Trust's usual standards. They aim to use produce from the garden in their baking, and the eggs are from their own hens. Try the cake of the month (recipe on the website) or just tuck into a great big scone - you know you want to! 

Round up
Café Latte price: £2.35
Favourite cake: Coffee and walnut or Victoria sponge, don't make me decide.  £2.35 each.

Child friendly highlights: The playground, the tunnel, the lawn in front of the orangery for ball games and general letting off steam. 

Buggy friendly: Car park is gravelled and very hard work. Some steps in the garden and cattle grids on the drive.
Car parking: No extra charge


If you are a National Trust member, this is a lovely place for a family afternoon out on a dry day.

Saturday, 28 September 2013

Red Carpet Cinema, Barton Marina

I've mentioned Barton Marina before - it's a good place for a family walk around the lakes or to spot the canal barges moored in the marina. Until now I was a big fan of the Apple Tree Café, but now it has some serious competition.

Newly opened, the Red Carpet Cinema combines an independent two screen cinema with a café bar. The cinema programme includes children's films shown at after school time, as well as more grown up offerings. If your little one is under 12 months, you can take advantage of Baby Wednesdays, a film at 10.30am for you to bring your baby, where the film will be "on the gentler end of the spectrum" with the sound turned down. You can pick up little buckets of sweets or posh popcorn.

Even if you aren't going to the cinema, the café bar is a great food destination. The coffee is seriously good and there is a great range of cake and a brunch menu. My son is keen on the chocolate milk. We haven't had lunch there yet, but the menu promises pizza, sandwiches, jackets and salads. It's also licensed. Children can have half portions of selected items on the menu for half the adult price.

This is a civilised destination, great for food or cinema or both. Bring your kids for film or food after they've tired themselves out round the lakes.  Better still, get a babysitter and book yourself a night out.

Round up
Café Latte price: £2.25
Favourite cake: We've tucked into jammy toast (£1.50), and also chocolate brownie (£1.50)

Child friendly highlights: Child friendly films and Baby Wednesdays. Half portions of adults food items. Disabled toilet has changing facilities plus potties.

Buggy friendly: Yes
Car parking: Free at the Marina

This is a great new venture, with all the details thought of. I can't decide if I'd rather bring my son for a film, my husband for a night out or just come on my own to enjoy the coffee and cake while reading a glossy magazine. Whatever, I'll be back!

Wednesday, 29 May 2013

Wolseley Bridge, nr Rugeley - swans and scones

This review is a combination of two place next door to each other. 

Firstly we visited Wolseley Centre. This is the headquarters of Staffordshire Wildlife Trust, set in a large wildlife reserve and it's a fun place to spend an hour with a small child.  We particularly liked the board walk area, set between the river and the ponds, where we watched ducks and their chicks and a couple of swans.  There is also a play trail - where you can play a tune on a fish or a dragonfly, a wildlife garden (look out for the bug hotel) and a sensory garden.

The centre hosts a range of children's activities - see the website for details of Nature Tots and themed birthday parties.

We didn't go into the centre building itself, but moved to the garden centre next door.  There is a large café here with a wide menu including hot food.  The main attraction for my son was the indoor soft play area within it.  At £1.50 for an hour's play it gave him chance to play happily while I drank (pretty decent) coffee.  It's not the biggest area, but it looked fairly new.  It's aimed at ages 8 and under.

We also shared the largest scone I have ever seen (think National Trust proportions), with cream and jam.  I almost couldn't finish it.

We had a great visit on a sunny day this school holiday and discovered more of the Wolseley Centre, including the rock garden and the meadow area on the right hand side of the drive. It made a great picnic spot. We also tried the coffee from within the Centre, and still recommend the garden centre for refreshments.

Round up
Café Latte price: £2.29 for a small one
Favourite cake: That amazing scone.  And the cream and jam.  All for £2.69

Child friendly highlights: The play trail at the Wolseley Centre, the indoor play at the garden centre.  Lunch box - £4.49 for sandwich, drink and 3 other items.  Same price for hot food.
Buggy friendly: Wolseley Centre boardwalk is very good, some steps in other areas. Garden centre is all easy access.
Car parking: Free at the garden centre, £1 donation at the Wolseley Centre.


Taken together we spent a happy couple of hours at Wolseley Bridge.

Saturday, 25 May 2013

Bluebell Woods, Yoxall Lodge nr Burton upon Trent

If you are reading this after the end of May, I'm sorry but you missed it for this year.  Come back in the autumn or try again next spring!  The Bluebell Woods at Yoxall Lodge are a temporary attraction, run by the family that farms the land here, open for several weeks in spring.  The site is a working farm, with several miles of beautiful woods and pasture, streams and a lake, all awash with stunning bluebells.  Try the walk of about 1/2 mile for little legs or up to 2 1/2 miles round the parkland.

The coffee is instant, in mugs, served on plastic patio furniture set out on the lawn.  But don't get sniffy, the view is great and the cake comes in generous portions and delicious.

There is a charge for this one - £4 for adults, £1 for children and under 5s free.  It's not one for bikes or balls, and not at all buggy friendly.  But on a sunny day it's a perfect place for a family walk in beautiful surroundings.

Round up
Coffee price: £1
Favourite cake: All at £2.75, we enjoyed the coffee cake and the apple cake (Victoria sponge with spiced apple filling)

Child friendly highlights: Lots of outdoor space to run around and explore.  The toilets are portloos and I couldn't spot any baby changing.  Some of the bridges have no handrails and the lake is not fenced.
Buggy friendly: Not really!
Car parking: Free (once you've paid your entrance fee) but all on gravel


We visited on a sunny afternoon and it was beautiful.  We will come back when it becomes the Autumn Woods!

Friday, 19 April 2013

Packington Moor, nr Lichfield

Packington Moor is home to a cafe, farm shop and wedding venue, on a 700 acre farm between Lichfield and Tamworth.

The farm shop is a destination in its own right with an in house butcher, plenty of home made cakes and fresh fruit and vegetables on offer.  The cafe is in the same building, and focusses on fresh food, locally grown and sourced.  I have tested the hot pork sandwich with apple sauce and stuffing (£5.25) and can highly recommend it.

Packington is also one of my favourite spots to meet up for coffee and cake with a mum friend and her (very well behaved) children.  The coffee and hot chocolate are good, and the service is always friendly.

While the shop and cafe are the main attractions, they do work to make it friendly for young children, with a fleet of ride on tractors outside in good weather, and a children's menu for around £4.50.  But this isn't the place to bring your toddler to let off steam - there's no playground or bike riding space.

If you want lunch, I would recommend booking, particularly on Sunday.  This place is popular and rightly so.

Round up
Cafe Latte price: £2.30
Favourite cake: Tea cakes for £1.95  were very good (but I spotted amazing-looking coffee and walnut cake after I had ordered the tea cakes!) Try coffee and cake together for £4.95
Child friendly highlights: Outdoor tractors, colouring crayons for use at cafe tables, babyccino for £1, baby changing
Buggy friendly: Shop and cafe are, but car park isn't
Car parking: Free but all on gravel

A cafe & farm shop destination rather than a family attraction with a cafe, but a good one if your little one is still in a high chair or happy to sit and eat.  Also a nice place to do Sunday lunch with the grandparents.

Wednesday, 27 March 2013

National Memorial Arboretum, Alrewas

Living so close to the National Memorial Arboretum, it's a bit remiss of me to not have reviewed it before now.  It's a place we visited and enjoyed pre-child but I wasn't sure how my appropriate it would be for my pre-schooler.

The Arboretum opened in May 2001 and is the UK's centre for remembrance on a large site by the banks of the River Trent.  It has a vast array of memorial gardens, many but not all of them are military.  You may have seen some of them on the television including the Armed Forces Memorial and the recently unveiled memorial to the Falklands War. I find them fascinating, and if you have even the slightest interest in recent UK history you will find something to capture your imagination. The site is quite exposed and prone to flooding, so do dress appropriately!

My son enjoys the playground.  The sign says it is for ages 6 and above, but even at nearly 4 he can monkey around the balance bars, stepping posts and wobbly bridges.  No slides or swings though, so not really one for the littlest members of the family.  The playground is surrounded by trees which are dedicated to children who have died - some of the plaques make very sad reading.

He also found some of the memorials really interesting, including the big train dedicated to workers from the rail industry and the RNLI memorial.  As he gets bigger I think there will be more opportunities to explore and discuss what they mean.

I had 2 concerns - 1, that he would want to move the host of poppies and crosses that are placed on memorials around the site and 2, that he would have a tantrum that would upset visitors who have come to remember a loved one.  To be fair, he was very good and the whole place is very welcoming for families, but I do keep this in mind when we visit.

The cafe is not fancy, and the coffee is no where near as good as the nearby Apple Tree cafe, but it does a good range of drinks, snacks and lunches including Sunday lunch.  There was a good choice of cake too!  The Arboretum attracts a lot of coach parties so it can get busy, but there is plenty of seating. 

Round up
Cafe Latte price: £1.95 from a push button machine
Favourite cake: Ginger cake with lemon icing £1.90
Child friendly highlights: Small woodland playground, baby change, children's meals and drinks, children's activities.  There is no fence between the path and the river.
Buggy friendly: The site is very flat and easy for buggies, some on paths some on grass.
Car parking: Plenty, small charge depending on time of year. £1.50 in winter, £3 rest of year

Overall this is a good place for a family visit  and a place to go back to year after year as more memorials are added and the trees grow bigger.

Sunday, 24 February 2013

Birmingham Museum and Art Gallery

A museum and art gallery is not an obvious place to take a toddler, but here are a few reasons why you should:

Unlike lots of cultural attractions, the Birmingham Museum and Art Gallery is completely free.  So even if all you do is go in for a drink in an unusual place, you've lost nothing.

The "Birmingham: its people and history" gallery has been designed to appeal to all ages.  My 3 year old was particularly interested in the model of medieval Birmingham where he could press the lights to see the church, the herd of cattle and other exciting features.  Although I suspect he thought it would have been improved with a model railway.  And he really liked the activity where you could build a church and house with big blocks.  Other things that appealed included the model swords in the Staffordshire Hoard gallery and some of the great big light installations. 

The Edwardian tea room is beautiful ornate gallery, and a lovely place for parents to have a drink, with all the breakable things behind glass cases.  It offers children's lunchboxes for £3.65 for a sandwich and 4 other items, or £3.95 for a child size portion of any of the main meals.  For grown ups it has a full range of drinks (although the coffee is not brilliant), cakes, sandwiches, hot meals and afternoon tea.

You may even get a moment to look at something beautiful while you are there.  The art gallery has a great collection of Pre-Raphaelite paintings, bits of the Staffordshire Hoard and a huge Buddha. Take your pick!

Round up

Cafe Latte price: £2.30
Favourite cake: Toasted tea cake or muffins, both £1.80
Child friendly highlights: Lunchboxes and children's meals.  Baby change available (a bit out of date but has everything you need including a high chair in the toilet cubicle - very helpful!)  Various trails, quizzes, activities etc around the galleries as children get a bit bigger.
Buggy friendly: The steps up to the building are a bit off putting but there is disabled/buggy access round the side of the building and lifts throughout.  Tea room is roomy and all on one level.
Car parking: This is the middle of Brum - use the local car parks or get the train and walk up New Street.


It started out as somewhere to shelter on a very cold February day, but I'm glad we tried this, even if our first trip was quite short.  It made a great alternative to all the chain coffee shops in the middle of Birmingham and I'm sure we'll be back as our toddler gets older.

Saturday, 26 January 2013

Apple Tree Cafe, Barton Marina, nr Burton uponTrent

Barton Marina is within the National Forest, on the Trent and Mersey canal and combines shops, places to eat and a lakeside walk with a busy canal basin.

Among the smart clothes and gift shops there is a toy shop and museum and The Butcher, The Baker and the Ice-Cream maker, which sells meat, bread and ice-cream (genius!) as well as fruit and veg.

On a fine day, you can take a walk around the lakes and spot the ducks or admire hundreds of canal barges moored within the marina area.  We visited as the snow was melting and the lakeside path was a mudbath, so bring wellies!  There is no playground area, and I wouldn't bring a bike, but there is enough space to wear out a busy toddler.

There is a choice of places to eat, but if it's coffee and cake you need, Apple Tree Cafe is the best choice.  It describes itself as an ethical coffee shop, delicatessen and fine foods company.  It has a beautiful interior and calming music.  The coffee is good, and the hot spiced apple drink (£2.40) is also worth a try.  There are plenty of varieties of cake to choose from, and it's a lovely spot for lunch with good soup, sandwiches and salads.  We like the Bargeman's Platter (£9.95) and the Croque Monsieur and soup combination for £6.95.  We've been bringing our toddler here since he was 5 days old, and it is friendly towards children of all ages, but they need to be on good behaviour!

One final point, this is a popular spot and food is cooked to order.  On busy days you may find yourself queueing for a table, then queuing to place your order and then waiting for the food to arrive.  You may want a book/crayons/toys in your handbag to prevent toddler meltdown.

Round up

Cafe Latte price: £2.50 for a large one
Favourite cake: Lots of great choice.  Coffee cake is good, as is the Millionaire's shortbread.
Child friendly highlights:  £4.95 for a child's lunch box (sandwich, drink, dried fruit and cookie).  High chairs, babyccino for 75p.  But no baby change (the Waterfront Pub has baby change if you are stuck) and none of the water areas are fenced off.
Buggy friendly: Cafe and marina is, lakeside walk generally ok but can get muddy
Car parking: Plenty of free parking


This is a good place for a walk with a great coffee shop, and some of the best coffee in the area.  The Apple Tree is welcoming to families but not overly geared up for lively toddlers.  Bring grandparents or a book to keep the peace.  Or just keep it as one for indulgent child-free moments!

Sunday, 6 January 2013

Cannock Chase: Marquis Drive Visitors Centre

Cannock Chase Country Park attracts mountain bikers, ramblers, dog walkers, horse riders and yet more mountain bikers from miles around.  It is an Area of Outstanding Natural Beauty and includes forest, heathland and park areas.

If you have smaller children, the best place to start is the Visitors' Centre on Marquis Drive, where you can get to a host of paths suitable for buggies, scooters, trikes and bikes.  We like the paths marked on this map which provide enough distance and gradient for a small boy on a bike with stabilisers.  There are also family cycling trails of 3.5 to 9 miles, which we haven't tried yet.

The Visitors' Centre also has a good outdoor playground with swings, climbing frames and a good collection of wobbly bridges and balancing beams.  But it turns into a mud fest with the slightest amount of rain, so come with splash suits, old clothes and welly boots!  There is also a big area for picnics (including barbeques), frisbees and ball games.

The cafe is basic, but it does a range of hot and cold drinks, snacks, sandwiches, jacket potatoes (about £3) and bacon butties (£2.50).  And all those mud caked mountain bikers mean your kids will never make too much mess.

Round up

Cafe Latte price: £1.65
Favourite cake: Chocolate covered flapjack £1.50 - it was so chunky we shared 1 piece between 3
Child friendly highlights: highchairs, children's portions including beans on toast for £1.50
Buggy friendly: Most of the paths are ok, the playground is a bit harder going
Car parking: £1 for up to 3 hours or £2 over 3 hours, but plenty of roadside parking too


Very much an outdoor destination, with the cafe not much more than a convenient pit stop, but a great place for bikes and good value food and drink.