The other Natural History Museum: #take12trips February

Did you know there are two Natural History museums in the UK? There is the famous, South Kensington one, but there is another outpost of this most famous of child-friendly of museums in a small Hertfordshire town. The Natural History Museum at Tring is less famous than its larger sister in London, but we still thoroughly enjoyed a day out there on a rainy Saturday.

Tring butterfly case

Disclaimer from the off: if you’re not keen on taxidermy and natural history specimens, this is probably not for you. I’m really not keen on anything stuffed  just for decoration, but it feels completely different to me if it’s for a scientific purpose.

The collection at Tring came about in the 19th century when a member of the hugely rich Rothschild family, Walter, decided to build a natural history museum as a child – as you do – and was given the land and money to do just that on his 21st birthday. He built up one of the largest private natural history collections in the world, which was then gifted to the nation and is now part of the Natural History Museum. On a side note, he also taught zebras to pull his carriage.

Tring corridors and excited Felicity

Tring rhino

The building where he founded his museum is still open to the public. It is simply the best day out if you’re one and are obsessed with animals, as Felicity has been pretty much since we knew she could be interested in anything. We first discovered her love of stuffed animals in the Castle Museum and Gallery in Norwich last year, so thought Tring might be a hit. I’m not sure we have ever seen her more excited at being able to get nose to nose with a polar bear though. She was literally running around shrieking with happiness at all the different exhibits (apologies to anyone visiting on the same day we did!)

Gastropod case Tring

Tring badger

The museum is free to enter and is reasonably small, spread over four floors. It still feels very Victorian and the specimen drawers look like they are the originals from Walter Rothschild’s day. Unlike the London museum there are no dinosaurs, but being able to stroke a stuffed badger more than made up for that in Felicity’s eyes!

Sundial Tring

There is a cafe within the building but it is tiny and doesn’t have the widest choice so we walked to Tring High Street, which is a couple of minutes away and had lunch there instead. The cake did look good in the museum cafe though! If you wanted to bring a picnic there are lots of places to eat outside, but as you can see from the rain sodden butterfly sundial, it really wasn’t eating outside weather when we visited.

Felicity at Tring

Very helpfully there’s also a free cloakroom where you can leave buggies and cloaks. We caused enough chaos with out toddler running underfoot to go and gesticulate at the latest exciting specimen she’d spotted without blocking people with the buggy as well!

I would thoroughly recommend it as a slightly quirky museum if you’re ever near Tring. We will definitely be visiting again. I am loving doing the #take12trips challenge from Need Another Holiday as it encourages me to discover some local places I’ve never explored.

A family day out to Tate Modern: #take12trips 

So a few years ago I merrily posted about my intention to join in with Clare from Need Another Holiday‘s #take12trips project. This was when travelling and days out were very much part of our lifestyle, and I thought 12 trips in a year would be easy. Well best laid plans and all that. I had thought I’d sail through pregnancy and we’d have an amazing babymoon somewhere exotic before our lives changed forever. I then spent the first five months with such bad sickness that I couldn’t get out of bed on some days, then managed to get pelvis pain when I finally got over that. So travel took a backseat.

Ironically, last year, even with a small baby, we would have easily hit the target of twelve trips or days out, what with a month away for Will’s sabbatical and five weddings meaning weekend stays in various parts of the country. I was not organised enough to actually blog about it though!

So this year is my #take12trips year, though I feel like I’m jinxing everything saying that. 2017 is looking like it is going to be UK focused again, we already have pencilled in trips to North Norfolk, the Isle of Wight and are attending a wedding where we are glamping for the first time, which I’m very excited about. I’m trying to work out how I can squeeze a trip to Scotland in there as well but I fear that may be unrealistic.

The first part of the year has been about day trips at weekends though. We have finally started to be brave enough to take Felicity into London. I know tens of thousands of Londoners travel around the city everyday with their babies but it still feels like a big thing to me to navigate the train and tube with a buggy/toddler who sometimes hates the buggy. The sling helps but I have to say finding a big enough bag to hold that and all Felicity’s stuff for the day and still have my hands free to stop her running away when she wants to walk is something I haven’t worked out yet. I still haven’t been brave enough to do it with or without the buggy on my own.  

When a friend suggested meeting for a catch up I realised that we could quite easily get to Tate Modern from Kings Cross on the overground or tube and avoid steps. I used the very helpful GoBaby app for this which I’d really recommend if you want to find buggy friendly tube routes. I was also keen to take Felicity to her first gallery – I thought Tate Modern was a good place to start as it always seemed more family friendly than most galleries when I visited pre-children.

First family touristy London picture!
Getting the tube to Blackfriars also meant that we had a mini sight seeing tour – walking past St Paul’s Cathedral and then over the Millenium (wobbly, or Harry Potter Death Eater destruction bridge, depending on your cultural taste and memory), to get fantastic views of the Thames.
It was a rather wet and windy January day  though so we retreated quickly into the Tate. As predicted the huge former power station building, and the changing exhibition space of Turbine Hall, proved a big hit, mainly as some genius parent had  bought a ball to roll up and down the large slope. There were herds of children running after it – Felicity was in her element as she is a big fan of kicking footballs at the moment, and all the open space was brilliant for her to let off steam. I can’t say we really took on much of the current installation at all if I’m honest. I’m sure the artist would have valued the addition of a Peppa Pig ball though (!)

The ball in Turbine Hall

I totally failed to get many pictures in the main section of the gallery, mainly because it took us a little while to figure our the best way to take her into the more traditional gallery space. If you’re thinking of visiting with a toddler I would really recommend a sling, or buggy if they’d be content in that. Unless they’ll hold hands really well the possibility that they will run straight under the protection barriers and dangerously near some probably very valuable sculptures is high, and doesn’t feel very fair to other visitors either. Felicity liked being able to peer out of the sling and was very impressed with this Antony Gormley sculpture and a version of Monet’s waterlillies. She hated Mark Rothko’s work and we had to leave that room very quickly! 

Tate Modern restaurant views
After a little bit of wandering we headed up to meet our friends at the sixth floor restaurant. I would so recommend this for any visitor to London or the South Bank – just look at the views – and it is very family friendly as well with table cloths to colour in and crayons provided for every table, and a good children’s menu. 
A thoroughly lovely way to kick off the year of trips! 

October: birthday and back to work 

October is now a special time for us as it’s Felicity’s birthday month. A year has gone very quickly and she is most definitely a toddler, she’s rampaging everywhere now and we have even had a few tantrums – eek!

Look - a butterfly!

Butterfly house exploring

We had such a lovely time celebrating her birthday though. The actual day was one of my working days, so Will and I booked the day off and took her to the zoo with my parents. She was very very impressed with the butterfly house, it was small enough that she could toddle round and admire (chase) the butterflies. Elephants were dull in comparison. We’re currently debating whether we should get a membership so we can go back with no pressure to see everything in a day.

Happy birthday baby

First birthday puffin cake

We also had a little birthday party with lots of baby friends, it was a little manic but very enjoyable. I even managed to make and ice a cake half-neatly. My grand plans to make elaborate decorations didn’t happen, but luckily my sister-in-law had crafted an amazing puffin to go on top – Felicity’s favourite book is about a puffin, quite a lot of the presents ended up being puffin themed too.

October also saw my proper return to work, rather than just the odd day. I am really enjoying this, but I have been putting a lot of  energy into getting back into the work mindset, as well as getting Felicity used to her new routine and making the most of our days together. And that’s without making sure we’re all clothed, fed and living in a vaguely clean house. 

My big hope for November is that I can maybe do something that isn’t work/Mama-ing/housework or watching Gilmore Girls whilst slumped on the sofa exhausted. Gilmore Girls is obviously time well spent, even if we’re only averaging an episode a night, but I’m hoping I can maybe get my hygge on with some candles at the same time, or actually pick up some knitting or crochet. Wild ambitions!

Some postcards from August

August has vanished under a pile of lovely trips out and lots of sunny days, with a bit of going back to work stuff thrown in. The last half of the month disappeared with crafting for my friend’s wedding. It seems I can do one hobby type thing at a time as from the minute I started making lots of poms poms for the reception venue my blog writing disappeared. Here are some pictures from our August adventures.

Lavender

– We are lucky enough to live near to Hitchin Lavender Farm so one sunny afternoon in early August we spent an afternoon picking some lavender from the fields and taking lots of posey photos of Felicity. She absolutely loved the sensory experience of the amazing smells and all the bees buzzing. There was a lot of excited noises and pointing.

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– I’m in love with our tree surrounded garden this Summer.

Sharing books with Daddy

– Felicity has really got the hang of books now, and is a little bit obsessed with particular stories, this book about puffins is a  favourite.  I have so much to update on my Reading with Felicity series as well!

Family walk

– We’ve just invested in a proper hiking backpack for Felicity and we test drove it round Wimpole Estate, taking in the art installation examining the work of Capability Brown (we just used the giant mirrors to take a family selfie though).

Alpacas

– The alpacas at a farm day out with our NCT friends got a very impressed response, complete with squeals demanding the buggy be moved to follow them along the fence.

Ickworth

– Another National Trust day out, such glorious blue summery skies at Ickworth in Suffolk visiting my Aunt.

Finally joining in with #ThisLittleBigLife 

So it’s only taken me weeks but I finally managed to take photos for the great new link up run by Sarah Rooftops and Squished Blueberries. Which is all about capturing the special little uncelebrated moments at weekends and on days off. Our weekends have been so manic this Summer with lots of very big events like weddings that it didn’t seem in the spirit to join in before now. Last weekend was completely unplanned though and I actually remembered my camera – so here we go. 

We quickly nipped to Wimpole Home Farm on Saturday morning as we didn’t want the whole day to disappear into a blur of chores and it was a lovely day. This was the first visit where Felicity was really interested in everything. Her favourite animals were the rabbits, pigs and the shire horse. 

Very intentWimpole piggiesLook a horse

Afterwards we enjoyed sampling the National Trust cake and tea in the gardens, and relaxing on the deckchairs. 

Just relaxing on my deckchair

The rest of the day disappeared into a haze of errands and the worst kind of shopping – buying expensive things that are very dull, in this case a next size up car seat. It was so manic I failed miserably to capture any of the small moments, until we got to bath time when we tried out Felicity’s new hoop bath toy. 

Bedtime

Sunday was an equal failure in photography terms as I was very dopey from a particularly bad Felicity night. We did have a lovely barbeque with Will’s parents and I finally managed to cut some of the sweet peas that Will has been growing for me though. 

Sweet peas

The lovely Lake District (with a baby)

It was slightly by default, as a lovely place about the right distance between home and Will’s sabbatical location, that the Lake District ended up being our first family holiday destination. I’m very glad it was though as we spent a happy five days there in glorious June weather.

We had to slow our normal holiday pace down significantly with a little person. Not that we never used to relax on holiday, we most definitely did. It’s just when we headed out we did tend to cram a lot in and I think we tried to replicate that initially. We’re up and about early these days so Will was bouncing to get out the front door and start exploring from about 8am. It meant we hadn’t got quite as organised with packing all the stuff Felicity needed for a day out and we ended up setting off at an odd time for her nap, which created a bit of baby boredom and grumpiness later in the day. We took it slower on the following days, soon learning that it was ideal if we headed where we going during her morning nap (or arrived for her morning nap if she could drift off in the sling or the buggy), did activity, made sure we could get her lunch at a sensible time and easily and basically repeated in the afternoon. She loved it though – I was rather dreading going home as she loves anywhere with people to nose at. She is in her element in cafes and tourist attractions and has learnt if she stares at people very intently they then generally smile, and if she then waves and smiles at them they smile more. Peak Felicity making friends on holiday was reached in Scotland by her grinning at a Norwegian man so much that he ended up giving her a bit of her lunch (with my permission!) Here’s a little synopsis of what we got up to during the Lake District bit of our June trip.

The walk to Wray Castle

See & do

Walking Usually on this length of holiday somewhere outdoorsy like the Lakes we would probably spend a couple of days sightseeing, and at least a day or so going on long walks/hikes. We were a bit worried we wouldn’t really be able get out into the National Park at all with a baby but thanks to a combination of the sling and a great scheme called Miles without Stiles, a collection of routes with access for those in wheelchairs and buggies, we did manage to see some countryside. There needs to be more initiatives like this in my opinion so as many people as possible can enjoy beautiful places outside cities and towns.

The sling walks we did were all fairly niche wildlife related so I won’t share them here, Will has over on his blog though if you’re interested. If we visit again I’d be keen to try and get up to the fells as that was the only thing the walks we did were missing this time.

Some of the Miles without Stiles routes are very short for those with limited mobility, but there are a couple of longer ones too. All are fairly flat by Lake District standards. We got the buggy round fine on all of the walks we tried and the shorter routes we did in Grasmere and Staveley helped us discover some quieter off-the-beaten-tourist-track places, especially in busy Grasmere.

The longest walk we did was up to Wray Castle on the western banks of Windermere. I didn’t quite twig that the mileage listed on the walks is the round trip total, so was a bit surprised at how quickly we got to the castle on the journey out!

Soft play at Wray Castle

Wray Castle – This definitely wins the competition for weirdest National Trust property I’ve ever been in. It is a nineteenth century replica of a castle, set just up from the shores of Lake Windermere. It is not a stately home as such so it has been given over to various children’s activities, including a soft play/build your own castle room that Felicity very much enjoyed. I don’t think I’d necessarily bother paying to go in with a baby if we weren’t members anyway as most of it is  designed for slightly older children – with things like ping pong, colouring and a hands on Peter Rabbit play garden. It would be good for a rainy day though, and on any day the cafe is lovely and there are stunning views to take in.
Beatrix Potter's Hilltop Farm
Beatrix Potter's Peter Rabbit garden at Hill Top

Beatrix Potter’s Hill Top Another National Trust property that I was keen to visit as I missed it on a previous trip to the Lakes. This was Beatrix Potter’s home and an inspiration for her children’s illustrations and stories. We didn’t spend long here as it was very crowded (even just after opening at 10am). It was fascinating to see the inspiration for her illustrations though and some bits were so obviously the model for her books it was almost surreal. It’s quite a small site for the number of visitors and there was no lawn or anything in the garden where we could put Felicity down for a crawl and to let off some steam so we retreated to the hotel next door for a coffee instead.

Boat trip on Windermere

Boat trip on Windermere – It was so hot one day the idea of sitting on a boat with a breeze blowing was heaven so we hopped on the 45 minute island cruise from Bowness. We weren’t sure if these would be suitable with a baby but we were assured they were. The only thing we were requested was to fold up the pram before boarding, for obvious reasons. We were a bit worried that with the design of our buggy (the seat unit has to come off to fold), we were going to lose the seat over the side of the deck where buggies had to be left, as the railings weren’t that close together. It survived though – phew. I would definitely consider getting an umbrella style buggy for future trips. Felicity took the boat trip in her stride and I don’t think realised there was anything different going on!

Lakeland shop – I’m a bit obsessed with Lakeland generally, any kind of innovative homeware is the sort of thing I love looking at, and Lakeland is the ultimate home and kitchen shop. As the name suggests, the shop originates in the Lake District and their flagship shop is right next the train station in Windermere. I managed to convince Will to pay a visit one rainy afternoon with the lure of their excellent cafe, and we were so glad we did as not only were the coffee and cake amazing there was also a free and pretty much deserted small soft play area for Felicity. She had never been to soft play before this trip as everyone I know usually mentions it in the same breath as the scream emoticon. She loved it though and it was certainly a very civilised introduction to the seemingly inevitable soft play visits for us. We ended up going back a few times whenever we were in need of cake or Felicity was in need of a bit of crawl.

Stay

We rented cottages for the whole our trip as it’s just so much more relaxed being able to watch TV or read after bedtime rather than sitting in a hotel room in the dark when Felicity has gone to bed. We did initially look at AirBnB but there doesn’t seem to be much availability in rural places as yet so going through traditional holiday cottage companies worked out cheaper. We booked with Lakes Cottage Holidays for this part of the trip, who I would thoroughly recommend as they allow flexible bookings and shorter breaks, not just Saturday-Saturday whole week stays.

We were based in the lovely village of Staveley, just a few miles from Windermere – which is why most of the things we did above were based in the South Lakes area. There was plenty to do around where we were staying rather than dragging Felicity further afield. Staveley was a great place to be based, not as crowded and touristy as Windermere or Bowness, but with a lovely pub and some other amazing food and drink options (see below), and a little playground for Felicity as well.
Eagle and Child beer garden

Food and Drink

Eagle and Child Inn, Staveley – Lovely pub food, but the main thing we liked about this pub were the most fantastically beautiful beer garden views I think I’ve ever had the pleasure of seeing. They were also lovely with Felicity, a high chair appeared before I’d even got her out of her buggy as soon as Will went in to order drinks and mentioned we had a baby.
Hawkshead beer and Felicity
Hawkshead Brewery Beer Hall * – We couldn’t resist stopping in here on an afternoon walk, me to buy a present for my real ale obsessed Dad, and Will to sample some local ales. It was a lovely atmosphere on a sunny afternoon and I’m told the beer was good and the honey roasted with chilli nuts were definitely very good.

The Sourdough Pizza Co. – we had decided to get a takeaway on the last night as a treat, but didn’t realise where we intended to order from didn’t deliver. Due to sampling at the brewery earlier in the day Will couldn’t drive and I had to feed Felicity before bed. So even though we’d already had a pizza night earlier in the week we decided to try this company. I am so glad we did, sourdough pizza is officially amazing, I’m still fantasising about this pizza. In fact I might have to go back to the Lakes just to have more.

More? Artisan Bakery – Located right next to the Brewery, we didn’t realise this was here until the last day, so only sampled some of the cakes we bought to share with some friends we stopped in with on the way up to Scotland. They were delicious though so I’d really recommend this place, looked like they did a lovely breakfast menu too.

Booths' Wuthering Bites bag
Booths – I always take an opportunity to visit these lovely supermarkets whenever I’m near one. I really want them to come down South rather than just being a Northern England thing. We got all our food here for meals at the cottage. Also they were doing these amazing pun based resuable bags for three pounds which I couldn’t resist. Other options included ‘The Cake District’, no comment on how well that summed up our holiday…

*No babies were fed beer in the making of this blog post.

Visiting the Harry Potter studio tour London with a baby 

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We recently thoroughly enjoyed a trip to the Warner Bros. Studio Tour just outside London. We were celebrating the lovely Jennifer from Pastry & Purls‘ birthday. I had actually visited a good few years ago (I really love Harry Potter), and it was well worth going again. This time was a little different though as we had a small person in tow. I found information beforehand a little bit vague in terms of bringing a baby and facilities for babies, so I wanted to write this post in case anyone else is wondering the same things we were before our visit.

This is going to be an almost exclusively baby focused post – so a little bit obsessed with high chairs and nappy changing facilities, ie the nitty gritty if you’re planning a trip and an overthinker like me! It is such a fun day out though, totally unmissable if you’re a Harry Potter fan. It’s very much the story of how the films were made with the opportunity to see and step inside the sets, see the props and all the other behind the scenes stuff that happens when creating such a complex magical world on screen.

I would also say that if you’re a parent and want to visit then taking them when they’re very little is probably better than waiting til they’re a bit older. Obviously it depends on your child but some of the exhibits could be a little scary for a child who is more aware, also if you haven’t read all the books/ seen all the films spoilers are obviously a major risk so I would want to wait til Felicity has (hopefully) read and enjoyed all the books and watched all the films when she’s quite a bit older before visiting again.

It was definitely a different experience visiting the Harry Potter Studios again with Felicity, but it was still such an enjoyable trip. Babies can be so all consuming it’s good to know it’s still possible to enjoy a day out like this.

We also obviously wanted to show Felicity where she’ll be going to school when her owl arrives in about 11 years time! I also got a little bit emotional again at the end of the tour with this closing message – despite the fact we were about to have a nappy explosion.

Hogwarts will welcome you home

Seems a bit of an anticlimax to go from that to nappy changing facilities – but here we go anyway!

Getting around the tour with a baby

– The website says that you may not be able to bring buggies or prams on the tour, we came armed with slings because of this. From talking to the staff there doesn’t generally seem to be any requirement to leave your stroller in the cloakroom, so don’t let this put you off if you’re planning a visit.

Getting into the tour 

A lot of the information about the tour before you visit is deliberately vague, to save the surprise, so I’m going to try and not give anything important away too!

– The tours have timed entry and because of this there is some queuing to get into the tour as you wait for your slot.
– Most of the ‘tour’ isn’t actually being shown around, rather there is about forty minutes at the start where you are guided round. It starts with an introduction to the Studios, to a short film in a cinema and then into one of the fabulous sets used in the films. Once you’re past this section you can go at your own pace.
– During this forty minutes or so it would be hard to duck out at any point, so be prepared with food/nappy changes first etc.
– If it’s nap time the film in the cinema is quite loud!

Food and drink

– There is a large cafe after you get into the building but before starting your tour, lots of highchairs available and we brought our own food for Felicity.
– The next opportunity to sit down and eat is about two thirds of the way round the studio tour at the Backlot where there is another large cafe and lots of outside seating with an entertaining view. Jennifer had brought us a fantastic picnic  to eat here and again there were lots of high chairs available.
– Due to the way the Studios are laid out it would be quite difficult, though not impossible, to head for this cafe and then double back to previous exhibits, so do bear this in mind when planning your day.
– After this the next opportunity to sit down to eat or drink would be after exiting the tour in the original entrance hall. So stop at the Backlot if in any doubt.

Baby facilities

– There is baby changing in the main entrance hall, at the end of the section on interior sets, and in second part of the tour just by the Backlot cafe. It never feels too far from changing facilities wherever you are, aside from the initial introduction.
– The exception to this is in the last part of the tour, once you’ve left the Backlot if you need to, duck back rather than going on as you have to exit to get to the next nappy changing station.
– There are also incredibly nice changing/feeding rooms off the Backlot cafe. Not often I can feed looking at Harry Potter artwork! (And yes I am that sad that I took a picture)

Baby feeding and changing room Harry Potter Studios London

Happy Harry Pottering! I’d love to know if you find this information helpful or if there is anything I’ve missed out.