Little Scientists at The Centre for Life

28 Jul

An amazing day at The Centre for Life. My daughters six and four absolutely loved the new Experiment Zone. Having not studied science for almost three decades, the thought of how I was going to be able to help them “extract DNA” left me a little nervous! But the instructions were so clear and easy to follow, that literally a four-year-old could do it.
There are a wide range of experiments to choose from and we’ll definitely be back to try out another. Inspiring stuff.






There is so much to do, that you really could spend a whole day inside. We love the Little Bear film in the planetarium about the constellations. The play area upstairs can keep them entertained for an hour alone, and they never seem to get sick of the activities in the explorer zone.
My children are a little young to appreciate the Game On exhibition, but the range on show is fantastic, a real journey through gaming history. Spotting the Speak and Spell and Donkey Kong did however make me feel on the old side!


There is a cafe and restaurant, but also a picnic area too, which I think is great so you are welcome to bring your own food too.
A top quality place for a family day out time and time again.

Family bouldering at Shaftoe

18 Jul





Northumberland has so many natural playgrounds. We headed to Shaftoe crags for a family bouldering session.
Great for parents to have a play as well as the kids for a change!

Despite being only a short drive from Newcastle, there is something about the crags of Northumberland that makes me feel I have ventured into another world or far into the past. And the children enjoyed hearing how the rocks have their own names such as Devil’s Punchbowl and Piper’s Chair.


From Belsay on the A696, head for Bolam Lake. Go past the lake car park on the right to a crossroads, turn left along an unmetalled road past a row of cottages. Park by the wall on the moor just over the cattle grid.

To the crags:

Follow the wall up the hill until you go through the gate, then turn left and follow the path along the wall that takes you down in amongst the rocks.

The Farne Islands

18 Jul

I definitely had camera envy and these pictures really don’t do justice to the amazing trip we had to the Farne Islands.

Bolam Lake

18 Jul wpid-img_20150718_102532.jpg





A natural playground, this easy walk round Bolam Lake has trees to climb, swans to feed and lots of places for hide & seek.
Free parking & a cafe.

Scowling dwarfs and ancient stones: a walk at Simonside

12 Jul wpid-img_20150712_182942.jpg

Despite being carted up hills and even the odd mountain since they were bairns in backpacks, mention the word “walk” to my kids (six and four) and the response is something like eurghhharrrgh and “why?”

So I have to get a bit more creative to lure them out to where I want to go and think “will be good for them really.”

And this week my creativity involved some stories about the ancient scowling dwarfs said to roam the hills of Simonside dressed in lambskin and a moss hat – and basically bribery of an amazing picnic once you got to the top…

But the odd whine and whinge from my own “scowling dwarfs” was definitely worth it as wow, there is some view and it is not every day you get to eat your lunch next to rock carvings said to be 4,000 years old.

For anyone not familiar with the history of Simonside, near Rothbury, Countryfile sums it up pretty well here:

“The fell sandstones of the Simonside Hills were deposited from a river delta some 330 million years ago. Weathering

and erosion have led to their dominant aspect, which makes them recognisable throughout the county. Their spiritual significance to the Bronze Age people, 5000 years ago, is evident in the burial tombs and rock carvings that adorn the slopes and summits.”

The main car park, just a few minutes drive from Rothbury, has a map of the  area. We followed the red route  (pictured below)  and it was very well signposted and easy to follow. But a shorter route which may be better for younger children is available here along with lots of extra info about the area.

Points of interest:

Little Church Rock This isolated outcrop of fell sandstone is hidden within the forest. Its name may be a reference to the rock’s use as a gathering place. There is a set of cup marks in the stone on the lower right side of the rock which are thought to be man-made and could be over 4,000 years old.

The Simonside Dwarfs also known as Brownmen, Bogles and Duergar are a race of ugly dwarfs. Their leader was said to be known as Roarie. They are said to mostly appear at night, when they prey on lost travellers by showing a light to draw the traveller nearer, and then tricking them into a bog or luring them over the edge of a precipice. Read more about these little critters here:













10 things to do this half term

20 May

10 things to do this #halfterm

1.Visit the Amble Puffin Festival: puffins, kite flying, surfing, circus skills and much more.

2. The latest exhibition at the brilliant Centre for Life has just opened in time for half term. From Sonic to Samus, Mario to Minecraft, Game On 2.0 is the world’s most comprehensive exhibition of computer games from the past 60 years.

3. Get creative and paint your own pottery and fill up on sweet treats at Pots and Pancakes

4.There’s always something special going on at the multi-award winning Beamish

5.Family activities and glass blowing demonstrations at National Glass Centre Sunderland

6.Take your bikes to The Rising Sun Country Park  – I still can’t quite believe this is all just behind the Asda – and get creative at the inspiring House of Objects. Read about out visit here: Rising Sun Country Park

7.Get in touch with your inner trainspotter at Tanfield Railway.

Read our review here: Tanfield

8.Splash out on a National Trust pass (with a 25% discount) and you’ll be spoilt for choice. Fantastic locations and top notch family facilities at our favourites Wallington Hall, Gibside and Cragside – see our reviews here: National Trust

9.Dig a massive hole and have lots of free fun at the beach: plenty to choose from but we love Druridge Bay, Alnmouth and Bamburgh.  Beaches

10.Enjoy a cultural day out at the Laing Gallery. Stop off for a mega slice of cake at The Great British Cupcakery or Pet lamb Patisserie

Thomas the Tank Engine and Friends at The Lakeside & Haverthwaite Railway

13 May

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wpid-img_20150321_215849.jpgI am not sure who was more exited the children or their grandparents when I booked tickets to visit the Day Out with Thomas event at The Lakeside & Haverthwaite Railway in the Lake District. Well that’s not true actually, I’m pretty sure it was granddad first, then possibly me, followed by my daughters.

Sometimes when an event is built up over weeks and even months, it cannot always meet the high expectations. But I can honestly say our visit was one of my favourite family days out and as you can probably tell from the pictures, during my snap with Thomas I was living the dream.

I grew up with Thomas The Tank Engine stories and the adventures of cheeky Thomas, mighty Gordon and the vain James. So for my dad and I it was a trip back in time 30 years and meeting the Fat Controller was like meeting, well, a complete legend. My daughters are six and four and love reading the stories with their granddad and my four-year-old in particular was completely immersed in the characters – she still talks about Daisy the Diesel: “there was a train and the train had EYELASHES!!)


Fun, laid-back, well-organised, top-quality and surprisingly non-commercial, we had a thoroughly enjoyable day from start to finish.

Expecting it to be busy, we arrived about 15 minutes before it opened at 10am. There were still spaces in the car park, but it soon built up and people who arrived much later needed to park down the road, or are advised to try the other end of the line at Lakeside instead.

There was just a slight queue and we didn’t have to wait long at all until we found ourselves back in time standing on the traditional platform.

With a train already in the station we decided to hop straight on and headed on the short journey to Lakeside. The children enjoyed the excitement of being on a train and before long we were pulling up at the next platform.

Here there was then a short queue to climb in to a brake-van to go for a quick ride up and down the line. Seeing the queue we took wpid-img_20150321_201858.jpgthe chance for a hot chocolate break in the cafe, which overlooks the lake and then went for a wander around to enjoy the beautiful views. If it hadn’t been such a sunny day and we weren’t in a hurry to get back and see Thomas, I think we would have also visited the Lakes Aquarium, which is right by the station

We then seemed to have timed it nicely and jumped on the brake-van for a quick ride and the children loved being out in the open and watching the steam engine in action.

We then took Bulgy the old-fashioned double decker bus back to Haverthwaite to check out the rest of the activities on offer and of course to see the main man himself.

wpid-img_20150512_215925.jpgA storytelling  session was just beginning as we arrived, with the Fat Controller and the engines acting out a short story. Honestly, the children were captivated and hooked on the Fat Controller’s every word. There was lots of interaction, with the children invited to come and collect coal in their buckets to power the engine.



wpid-img_20150321_215559.jpgOnce it was finished the crowds spread out and we were just able to wander about amongst the engines and clamber on them for the compulsory pictures.





wpid-img_20150321_215849.jpgI thought it might be a bit of a struggle to get a picture with Thomas himself, but while busy, the atmosphere was all so relaxed that everyone just took their turn and there was not much waiting around for anything.




wpid-img_20150321_201648.jpgAs well as getting his picture taken with the Fat Controller, a highlight for my dad was climbing aboard Thomas and tooting his horn. The schoolboy grin on his face was fantastic.




wpid-img_20150512_215657.jpgThe setting of Haverthwaite station itself is lovely and you really do feel like you are stepping back in time. We were lucky to have a beautiful warm, sunny day and we crossed over the railway bridge to have a picnic by the line, watching the bustling station and waving as the trains went past.



wpid-img_20150512_215902.jpgAfter lunch we headed to the events tent where there was a Punch & Judy show, a miniature railway ride, a few arts and craft and birds of prey experience. The girls both loved holding the owls and stroking their super soft feathers.



Another storytelling session was just starting so my children tore off to get front row viewing spots. This time it was even better and brilliantly interactive, getting all the parents and children to try and pull one of the engines. Great fun.

wpid-img_20150321_201224.jpgFinally, after another quick visit to Thomas and a crazy mum pic with a friend who had also travelled over from the North East with her to children (well kids can’t have all the fun can they?) it was time to head home.Sometimes after I’ve spent a long time at a children’s event I admit I can feel a bit worn out by the noise, the battle with queues, the commercialisation, even the lack of places to eat a free picnic. But there was none of that here. Everything, apart from the hot chocolate and if you wanted to buy a memento from the gift shop, was included in the price, and as I mentioned earlier, although it was busy, it didn’t feel crowded.

So a big thanks to Haverthwaite & Lakeside Railway and Day Out with Thomas. This family had a truly lovely day and took home lots of special memories.

While Thomas may only visit a few times a year, there’s lots of fun to be had on the line all year round.  The initial train ride to Lakeside runs throughout the year and in itself would have been an enjoyable day out for the children, as the excitement of steam trains just seems to fascinate them.

The heritage railway has an intriguing history for trains buffs too and fulfils its promise of recreating a “distant memory of bygone years”.

The train journey can also connect to a steamer cruise along Windermere if you want to extend it to a longer day trip.

Combined tickets, including a visit to the aquarium,  are available.

To find out more visit

Thomas will be back at Lakeside & Haverthwaite on November 7th & 8th 2015. To book tickets or find out about other places he will be visiting see:



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