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 http://thegreatbritishcupcakery.co.uk/ 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 http://www.lakesaquarium.co.uk/

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 http://www.lakesiderailway.co.uk/

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:




Not that I’m anti social, but…..

12 May

wpid-img_20150510_200248.jpgCresswell beach

Bluebells and stone skimming in Plessey Woods

26 Apr wpid-img_20150426_153353.jpg


Like the blue sky, breaking up through the earth”

The bluebells are just starting to flower in Plessey Woods so I’m going to make sure I head back again next week, as I’ve heard it’s a wonderful sight.
Spotting signs of spring is a popular past time in our house at the moment. “Mummy, mummy, come and look at THIS!! Look NEW LEEEAVES!!!” And our walk to school takes twice as long as they fill their pockets with fallen blossom.






wpid-img_20150426_175024.jpgI may not get as excited as my four-year-old but I do love spring and those first hints of the summer to come.









wpid-img_20150426_173400.jpgAnother past time I also never seem to grow out of is stone skimming. There were some crackers down by the river today, dare I even say I think I found the perfect one?! Although I still lost out to the other half in the distance competition.
After much coaching and a few near knock outs (of me as stones came whizzing past my head) Charlotte managed to skim her first stone too, even if just two hops.

Her sister meanwhile looked more like she was auditioning for the highland games and was happier hurling small boulders in to the water, I kept my distance.





We then headed home via the play park, which is next to toilets (always handy!) and a small cafe.

There’s a good size car par that is now free too!

Plessey Woods Country Park (Bluebell Woods) is located near Hartford Bridge, off the A192, mid way between Bedlington and Cramlington and about 5 miles south of Morpeth.

The Park offers 100 acres of woodland, meadow and riverside to explore. The woodland is home to many birds such as the great spotted woodpecker, nuthatch and tree creeper, as well as animals including red squirrel, roe deer and fox. The banks of the River Blyth are also an important habitat for wildlife, such as kingfishers, dippers and otters.



Apparently our beloved bluebells are facing a fight for survival… read more here:



Other Bluebell Walks:

  • I grew up in Middlesbrough so naturally Roseberry Topping has to be my number one. The walk through Newton Wood to the top is simply stunning  http://www.northyorkmoors.org.uk/visiting/enjoy-outdoors/walking/our-walks/walking-routes/roseberry-topping-and-cooks-monument
  • The National Trust recommends Allen Banks, Northumberland and
  • Dunes behind Embleton Bay, Northumberland
  • Ratcheugh Observatory & Bluebell Walk, Alnwick http://www.visitnorthumberland.com/outdoor-event/ratcheugh-observatory-bluebell-walk
  •  Longacre Wood Hidden between the A1 at the Angel of the North and the main railway line this is Gateshead’s best bluebell wood with three ages of woodland to explore.
  • Northumberland Wildlife Trust suggests Goose’s Nest Bluebell Bank – This small site lies on a steep bank above the Ray Burn near Knowesgate and possesses a swathe of bluebells forming a magnificent display in late spring.

A few facts about Bluebells:

  • In folklore, bluebells are also known as ‘fairy flowers’. It was believed that fairies used bluebells to trap passersby particularly small children,
  • Other folklore tales would have us believe that by wearing a wreath made of bluebell flowers, the wearer would be compelled to speak only the truth. Or that if you could turn one of the flowers inside out without tearing it, you would eventually win the one you love.
  • Bluebell plants are poisonous.
  • 25-49% of the world’s population of bluebells are found in the UK.
  •  Bluebells can also be white. These rare individuals lack the pigment that gives bluebells their distinctive colour.
  • The bluebell is being studied for its medicinal qualities because it contains things called water-soluble alkaloids that could be useful in developing drugs to fight cancer.
  • “We love native bluebells for their wonderful scent of cooking apple, mango, lychees, ginger and freshly mown grass,” said Dr Trevor Dines, a botanist for Plantlife.
  • Alfred, Lord Tennyson described bluebells as ‘like the blue sky, breaking up through the earth’.

Bamburgh Beach

9 Apr


A winter walk on the beach at Alnmouth

16 Feb

With a car park right on the the beach, this almost felt like cheating. The village and its brightly coloured houses and the boats in the estuary are great for a walk around too.



Plessey Woods

15 Feb

There’s over 100 acres of woodland, meadow and riverside to explore in Plessey Woods. No signs of otters or kingfishers on this trip, but plenty of good sticks and water to poke…


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