It’s the end of the year, so time for everyone everywhere to come up with their ‘best moments of 2013’ lists. I mean, what would Christmas/New Year telly be without the countdown of 50 shocking celebrity moments? (yes I actually did watch this). So here is my list – my top 10 days out in 2013, it may not have twerking or fights with paparazzi; but it’s got kangaroos, trains and Morris dancing.
10. Nene Valley Railway
I have to admit that I’m a bit of a train-nut, and so is Little Miss. So a day out at Nene Valley Railway is quite exciting for both of us. We start at Wansford, so we can have a good look around the station, I particularly like the model railways (yes, I know that is a bit geeky) and Little Miss enjoys climbing into the engines and playing ‘train driver’. The last time we went we just paid for tickets from Wansford to Yarwell and back, which was a lot cheaper than paying to go to Peterborough and back. It is only about 5 minutes each way, but for younger children, you might get away with this!
9. Uffington scarecrow festival
There’s not a lot more to say about the Uffington Scarecrow festival than: tractors + farm animals + bouncy castle = toddler bliss! The scarecrow festival takes place in Uffington (about 5 minutes out of Stamford) over the early May bank holiday. To coin a cliché: ‘there’s plenty for everyone’. Classic cars, tractors (which you could actually climb in), traditional games like welly tossing, car boot, bouncy castle, farm animals and BBQ, teas and cake. What a day out!
8. Hunstanton Sea Life
It was a shock to read about floods in early December that flooded Hunstanton Sea Life and caused the evacuation of all the animals. But it sounds like they have all been re-homed successfully. I hope Sea Life will re-open again soon, as it really is a great day out for kids. It’s small enough to get around in a couple of hours, but in that time there’s so much to see and the staff are so friendly. If you’ve got kids who are into fish and sea life, it is worth taking the trip to Hunstanton.
7. Cotswold Wildlife Park
Generally speaking, anything with animals is a hit with Little Miss. Throw in a train as well, and you’ve pretty much got the perfect day out in her eyes! We visited the Cotswold Wildlife Park when we were staying with family in Cheltenham. It’s got all the ‘big guns’ – giraffes, zebras, lions and rhinos, as well as anteaters, camels and wolves. There’s also a farmyard where the kids can touch the animals. And we finished the day with a ride on the train that goes right around the park. Animals aside, the gardens around the house are amazing as well.
6. Straw bear festival
I know Morris dancing is not everyone’s cup of tea, but if you have little ones, and have never been to the Straw Bear festival in Whittlesey, I would recommend giving it a go. Little Miss was fascinated by the dancing and the costumes – it’s so different to anything she has ever seen. I thought she might have been a bit scared by some of the costumes, but she was laughing and jiggling away. A couple of words of warning – car parking can be tricky, and it can be very cold! This year’s festival is on 10 – 12 January.
I love a day out at Skegness, and so does Little Miss. I think it’s because it’s so different from the beaches in New Zealand where I grew up, where you’d be lucky if a Mr Whippy van came along! At Skeggy we all enjoy sitting on the beach and building sandcastles. Then if it’s warm enough, we can have a paddle. When we went this year the tide was out, so the mud flats were exposed and Little Miss had fun making mud cakes for us all. Once we’re fed up with all that, we hit the amusement arcades. And a day out at the seaside wouldn’t be complete without a feed of fish and chips.
4. Key Theatre
I took Little Miss to two productions at the Key Theatre this year – Big Red Bath in October and Tin Soldier in December. To say she loved it would be an understatement. She was completely absorbed in the story both times and although both productions were what I would call ‘abstract’ (not much talking, but lots of dance and movement) she seemed to ‘get’ the story. Both times we went with other friends, and made a day of it with lunch afterwards. The Key Theatre has a lot on for kids in early 2014, including the smaller ones – I’m going to book tickets for Mr and Mrs Moon (4 – 8 February).
3. Hanmer Springs Thermal Pools
This year we spent three weeks in Australia and New Zealand visiting family, so my ‘top days out’ list would not be complete if I didn’t include a couple of days out from that trip. Hanmer Springs is a small town about two hours north of Christchurch in New Zealand. As children, we would go here for a day out with Mum and Dad. So I was feeling a bit nostalgic when we took Little Miss for the day. The thermal pools have changed so much from when I was small – when we use to go there was just three thermal pools and a fresh water pool. Now there are the three original thermal pools, plus a series of thermal rock pools, all inter-connected by little streams, a fresh water pool with a lazy river, a water slide, a family pool with little slides, a waterfall and toys. Wow. It was amazing. We had to bribe Little Miss with ice cream to get her out after we’d been there all day!
2. Currumbin Wildlife Sanctuary
Before we went to Australia, we had a book on Australian animals to read to Little Miss, which of course included koalas and kangaroos. So she was pretty excited the day we headed out to Currumbin (Gold Coast, about one hour south of Brisbane). Currumbin Wildlife Sanctuary is in a beautiful bush setting and features a who’s who of Australian animals – koalas, kangaroos, wombats, crocodiles, wallabies, dingo, Tasmanian devil, snakes and so many more. Little Miss enjoyed feeding and touching the kangaroos, I enjoyed holding a koala.
1. Burghley House Gardens of Surprise
This has got to be our favourite day out, or actually ‘days’ out, as we went about 10 times this year. It’s a brilliant place for children (and adults too), with lots of nooks and crannies with water jets, pop fountains, a moss house, mirrored maze and more. Looking at the Gardens of Surprise you wouldn’t think it would work for children – all concrete and stone, lovely sharp edges, gravel paths and not a piece of bright plastic anywhere. But they absolutely love it! Little Miss can happily play in the water fountains for a couple of hours and I can sit on the park benches with friends and work on my tan. It’s a win-win for all!