Family Days Out – Almond Valley Heritage Centre

My three-year old has a long standing obsession with farm animals (particularly cows), unhealthy which made a family day out to Almond Valley Heritage Centre and Farm in Livingston, West Lothian an obvious choice.  So much more than a Heritage Centre, Almond Valley is packed with activities and attractions for all ages – crawlers, toddlers, an inquisitive five year old and big kids alike (yes, I had a good old bounce on the trampolines, but it was one of the designated parent and toddler ones…though my toddler was exploring the wooden train with Daddy at the time!)  Animal wise there are goats, lambs, calves, some famous hogs (reared on an Island, due for slaughter, but donated to Almond Valley when the owner couldn’t quite turn them into his Sunday morning bacon butty.) There are opportunities to feed lambs and cow milking demonstrations, much to the intrigue and amusement of said five year old.

The simulated archaeological dig is quite something else, and being under cover is a bonus if the rain is threatening and you find yourself at that end of the farm with a mad dash across the bridge between you and the inviting haven that is Morag’s Milk Bar and Tearoom.  Morag is a fantastic Highland cow who lives with lots of sheep and few ponies in the field at the furthest end of the farm park. You can see her if you partake in one of the tractor and trailer rides, but be warned, whilst fun, it’s a bumpy ride round the field, and I felt seasick afterwards.  Morag is clearly a very talented cow as her home baked goods on offer in the traditional tearoom are out of this world, mint slice and fruit scones the size of bowling balls both highly recommended.  There are healthy lunchbox options for the kids, and the friendly tearoom team pride themselves for not selling chips!

The museum element could be easily missed as the lure of the outdoor play parks, mini tractors for those budding farmers, soft play, nutty bouncer and go-karts take you straight out of the main door and past it, but it is certainly worth a visit. Complete with a mocked up living room from 1900’s with washtub in front of the fireplace and grocery store manned by a very realistic grocer, as well as a mini mineshaft complete with mining sounds, it feels like two different visits in one day.

There are picnic spots aplenty, choose to sit by the duck pond, but be prepared to part with some of your packed lunch as the ducks took a very keen interest in the contents of our cool bag.  Or you could sit opposite the bouncy cow (not castle) complete with giant pink udders. There’s a soft play for the little ones, with a meadow theme and flowers which make animal noises when you jump on them, much to the horror of my youngest (and cheeky delight of my eldest). There is a working watermill and machinery shed which brings the shale oil history in Central Scotland to life.  We loved having a ‘bubble race’ with the three tubes each filled with oils of different viscosity  and seeing who’s bubbles could reach the top of the tube first.  All of the main paths are buggy friendly, and there’s a microwave and bottle warmer for heating baby food as well as baby changing stations in each of the main toilet facilities. The retro postcards in the gift shop are worth a look.  Expect the family to leave Almond Valley smiling, but exhausted and more than likely with some cow pat on their shoes.

 

This is not a sponsored post. The view expressed are entirely my own.

Family Days Out – East Links Park

Finding myself at a loose end one Monday, ask I packed the kids in the car for the 40 mile trip from where we live to get to East Links Family Park. Despite a glitch with the sat nav and a perpetual chant of ‘Are we nearly there yet?’ from the back seats, viagra it was well worth the 50 minute journey. We met friends in the morning who were well versed with East Links spending many a morning there taking full advantage of the annual membership pass, which heavily discounts the cost per visit, and we took their guidance as to where we might want to spend our time.

The train safari was a great place to start, as the train took us right round the perimeter of the park, allowing us to spot and feed a number of animals along the way, including lamas, deer, rhea, pigs and sheep.  The children found it rather entertaining to see the sheep chasing the train in order to get a mid-morning snack! Needing to release some energy after our leisurely train ride round the park, we had an adventure in the vast wooden fortress which is a fairly new addition to the park, climbing and exploring amidst its cargo nets, rat tunnels and sky rope bridges. The pinnacle being its four lane covered slide which brings its riders speedily down three levels and over the railway track, and which is super fun for kids and adults alike – many of the adults screaming louder than its younger sliders.

The small animal barn was boasting the addition of some new floppy eared bunnies, though I was glad my eldest was still too young to read the sign advertising them for sale as I fear we may have made the long trip back home with an additional passenger as they were very, very cute.  The walk round chicken run was an experience, with the chickens playing hide and seek in the long grass and jumping out to surprise the little ones, much to their dismay but fellow visitors amusement

 

After a fairly basic, but fine lunch of sandwiches and soups in the cafe, the sun came out in the afternoon and we spent a glorious few hours between the toboggan run, which although I’d liken to skeetering down a hill on plastic tray, was great fun, and the roller racers and tractors let my mini drivers put their skills to the test. Despite spending a full day at East Links, there were still spots that we didn’t manage to get to which looked worthy of investigation, including an indoor play area, trampolines and go karts and we’re planning a follow up visit with Dad in tow to tick some of these activities off our list.

Overall, the park offers a great balance between a farm experience and an outdoor activity day out and there is much to see and do, and most certainly something for all ages. The parking and loo facilities are bog standard and no better or worse than anywhere else of a similar ilk, and the gift shop though directly at the exit of the park, is helpful bypassed by a walk-round exit for those who wish to avoid picking up expensive trinkets on the way out.  The icing on the cake of a great family day out as far as I’m concerned!

 

The views expressed in this review are my own and no sponsorship or payment was made for this review.

Family Days Out – Edinburgh Zoo

We often say mealtimes in our house resemble feeding time at the zoo, check so where better to take the nippers for a recent day out but Edinburgh Zoo, Scotland’s largest wildlife attraction.

Upon arrival, both my son and daughter had very specific requests to see their favourite animals, flamingos – because they are pink- for our five year old and monkeys for our youngest, as I sense he fully embodies how close in nature us humans are to them!

As luck would have it, our trusty map showed us the flamingos were just round the corner from where we had arrived.  Imagine our giggles when our son squealed with delight “I see them” at the picture of the flamingo on the side of the ice-cream kiosk just beside the real birds themselves.

 

We were in the monkey house only briefly (well, they might have wanted to keep my youngest) but the antics and indeed cheekiness of the different monkeys had us in stitches. The Budongo trail, a modern and state of the art home to some celebrity chimpanzees (the stars of a BBC2 Natural World programme) is a must. It’s both a great experience in itself with lots of interactive learning activities for the kids to participate in, and being indoors it’s also a good place stop when the rain comes on.

The safari reserve is at the top of a very steep hill, perfect for those who are happy to stride it out and work up a sweat, but we took full advantage of the zebra striped safari truck (complete with commentary and humorous stories about the animals from the driver) and took the walk back down. The wooden walkway half way down is a good resting spot for little legs and gives not only a great view of zebras and gazelles but also stunning views over Edinburgh and the Pentland Hills.

The penguin parade, which takes place daily, is good fun though disappointingly on the day we went there were only three penguins in the mood to participate.

A visit to the sun bear enclosure was new for us, and the interactive area with height chart provided a hilarious view of how long a humans tongue would be based on their height if the same rules applied to us as the sun bears. I could probably lick an ice-cream in the freezer without having to even get off the sofa!

There are plenty of spots to unpack a picnic, and two restaurants / cafes if you’d rather go for a hot option.  We found the various play parks dotted around the site great if the kids fancied a stop off, and the tree trekking attraction looked great fun for the older children.

We’ve not yet been to see the giant pandas since their arrival  last December but we’re sure they’ll be as delighted with their new home as we were with our day to the zoo. We didn’t manage to fit everything in and are planning another visit soon. In fact, ‘we’re all going to the zoo tomorrow, zoo tomorrow, zoo tomorrow…’

The views expressed in this review are my own and no sponsorship or payment was made for this review.

Family Days Out – National Museum of Scotland

The redevelopment of the National Museum of Scotland has been quite a big deal. With an investment just shy of £50 million, generic cialis the site in the heart of Edinburgh has been transformed and upon its re-launch, I couldn’t wait to have a family day out to see what was on offer.  The last time I was in the Museum of Scotland, I was knee high to a grasshopper and remember finding it a vast and intimidating place, but packed full to the brim with new discoveries to be made.  Imagine my delight to find that feeling was still the same nearly 20 years on. Walking into the main hall was like stepping back in time but having the memory coloured in with brighter and more vivid colouring pens.  The impressiveness of the hall was not lost on our two children either, who both exclaimed an audible ‘Wow’ almost simultaneously as they took in the quite spectacular space.

I was struck by the amazing smell of an old museum, which took me by surprise as the new modern glass facade on the outside tricked me into thinking I was entering some sleek minamilist boutique hotel.  I actually wondered whether it was being piped through the building like they do with fresh bread in a supermarket. Then of course we discovered the amazing collections within. Exhibits dating back 130 million years just make the mind boggle and the 12 metre long T-Rex skeleton is simply staggering.

Armed with our map we attempted a planful approach to seeing each exhibit that we really wanted to see, but the sheer excitement and hunger to soak it all up found us wandering around mouths wide open and pointing here, there and eveywhere at something else that had caught our eye. The levels are carefully planned and well segregated, from Natural World displays, World Cultures, Art and Design, Science and Technology and of course, Scotland, there was no way we were going to cover all ground in an afternoon.

The interactive exhibits geared specifically towards families were fantastic and introduced learning concepts in a fun way (how does the wind blow and how do we lift things being just two that caught our attention for some time.) The Imagine gallery was a bit hit with our under fives, giving them opportunity to dress up in outfits from different cultures, make a Chinese dragon dance, play the bongo drums and an assortment of other musical instruments and create their own stories with imaginatively designed word jigsaw puzzles.

Access and facilities for families was great, with toilets and baby changing on every level, glass lifts for easy buggy transits to the next level of exploration. Eating and drinking options cover everything from grabbing a quick coffee between discoveries to languishing over a leisurely lunch in the impressive and much coveted Tower Restaurant.

A truly fantastic place to take a  family day out – and create new memories from some very old things!

Yes, National Museum of Scotland, I like what you’ve done with the place.

Do you rate a day at your local museum as a family day out? Whats been your most memorable moment visiting a museum? Share your comments and your stories below, we’d love to hear.

 

The views expressed in this review are my own and no sponsorship or payment was made for this review.

Image Credit Photograph: Christopher Thomond for the Guardian

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