A Calmer Christmas With Calmer Bannanas At Buckland Park Lake

Christmas is a wonderful time of year, but the hustle and bustle, packed scedules and lack of time can take a toll on us all and the need to switch off from it all can be much needed.

Its not just the adults that need to take a break. I am definitly guily of trying to put too much on the kids at Christmas. I want these few short weeks a year to be crammed with as much magic as possible, but in reality it can all be a bit too much and they need something that give them a more chiiled day out – and this is were I was hoping the ‘Calmer Christmas Experince from Calmer Bananas would be perfect.

On Sunday morning we headed to Buckland Park Lake, Reigate to take part in this event. We parked up on the edge of the lake which was a stuiing sight to see and so surrene – however the boys were a little worried I was going to get them to join in with the wild swimmers!

We headed towards the gingerbread house where we were greeted by a super friendly elf that told us all about what our morning was going to hold. Buckets and scavenger hunt sheets in hand we headed off on our scavenger hunt to find all the pieces we needed to build our own snowman. In my head I had imagined a much lower key hunt, with us literally finding bits and pieces in the wooldna, so I was thrilled to discover a huge trail filled with activites, questions to answer and lots of little elves scattered aroynd to make it a really thetrical dispaly.

At each stop thier was something to keep the boys brains ticking over and thet loved the challange of having to complete a task to gain a piece towards their snowman.

After walking through the beautiful woodland we troated across a liitle bridge over a stream to play a few games of Pooh Sticks and made our final journey toward a pretty shleter nestled betwwen the trres. The numbers are kept low and we didnt bump into anyone the whole way round which made it even more speical and you didnt have the anxiety of having to rush trough tasks to let ohter people in for thier turn.

As a big fan of outdoor fun I actually think I was more excited at the sight of the shelter than the children. I was beatifuult decorated and homed an open fire where we sat down with a hot choclate after building our snowman.

Hot chocolate in hand and toes nicely warming up there was even more fun to come. We each had a gingerbread man to decorate and the boys made thier own christmas decorations. Whislt all these activites were being completed Mother Claus read the children christams stoires and sang a few songs to really get us in the christmas soirit.

There is also an option to have lunch whilst you are there and i was amamzed at the quality of the snack boxes. The boys has christmas tree shapped sandwithes, a candy cane cheese straw and a super cute reinderr brownie. so much thought had gone into it and they gave a big thumbs up for the taste test!

The adult boxes were just as good, and I enjoyed a festive treat with a turkey and cranberry sandwich, homemade sausage roll and a gooey chococlte brownie.

The whole experince was as relazing as i had hoped for. The boys are extremlly boysterous and can sometimes get more than a little over excited, but being ocupied the whole time gave them a mental workout, alonf with a good walk trough the woods, allowing them to really kick back and enjoy the peace and quiet of the calm actitives in the twnt.

This experience far excided my expectations and I would defintly put it top of our activites this year. It was someting differnt ans we will definlty be retrning next year!

A Weekend At Robin Hill Country Park

One of my resoultions for 2020 was to travel more with the kids – the Covid pandemic hit and all my plans were put on hold. One thing it did do though is to open my eyes to the amazing places we have here. Somewhere I haven’t been since I was a child is the Isle Of Wight, so when I was asked to visit I jumped at the chance.

I didn’t have any recollection of the Isle Of Wight and certianly didn’t remember visiting Robin Hill.

We got off to an early start and after a couple of hours drive we boarded the ferry and before we knew it we arrived in the Isle Of Wight. It was an easy 15 minute drive to Robin Hill where we were greeted with smiles and shown what was going own. With the map firmly in our grip we headed off to explore.

Robin Hill covers a huge 88 acres of beautiful parkland and woodland that has been transformed into a fabulous adventure area that is more than sympathetic to it’s stunning surroundings.

Frankie has reached that akward age where he thinks he is to grown up for most things I suggest these days. He’s too big for the park, he doesn’t want to go for county walks – the list is pretty endless. So when I saw him leap through the treetop canopy walkways to get to the Jungle Heights my heart was already won over…as was his.

High up aroungst the trees is Jungle Heights which was definitely the highlight of our trip. It is an collection of netted areas set amongst the woodland that you can run, climb and bounce on to your hearts content. As well as this there is a lovely little cafe area nestled away where the adults can grab a drink, sit back and watch the fun. Relaxing music is played through large speakers which made for a really calming atmosphere and I honestly could have sat there for hours.

Around this area is the Squirrel run where the little ones can start from the bottom and weave their way up to the top of the treetop walkway.

From here we headed over to the toboggans. Frankie took to these alone whilst I went on with Oscar. Frankie speed off into the distance while poor Oscar had to creep around the run with his nervous mother!

This was something the boys had never done before and they absolutley loved it. Next to this there were also some huge slides that the boys spent a lot of time working out how to get down them as fast as possible. The addition of sitting of their coat seemed to be the winning combination.

A liitle further along a jouney we stopped off at the huge ponds which were also home to the suspended bridges. It was so tranquil there and whist I enjoyed the beauty of the surrounding the boys weaved their way across the floating bridges.

Dotted around the park there are lots of little extras to keep you entertained, such as falconary exibitions which we sadly missed and a circus play area which was great place to stop and warm up under the shelter of the tent whilst they honed their circus skills.

To end our day we decided to hop on board the tractor ride so we could spot anything we might have missed. It was turing to dusk by now and it was beautiful to see the park as the sun was coming down. It was also an opportunity to see the lights coming on for the evening event that was just going to start. I was gutted the boys were too tired to stay as it looked like such a fun filled evening – it does however give us the excuse to return next year.

All tired out we made on last stop at Colossus, which is a huge ship ride that the boys went on countless times – I honestly don’t know how they weren’t ill.

Robin Hill was more than I had expected it to be. They offer a place were kids can just be kids alongside stunning scenery that the adults can enjoy too. You really can make a whole day of it and we loved it so much we made a return trip the very next day!

Would you like to visit Robin Hill?

Getting That Festival Vibe At Chessington World Of Adventures – Wilderfest

[PRESS TRIP] As a family we have a huge love of festivals and a huge love of Chessington World Of Adventures, so can you imagine how excited we were to find out these two had been combined to come up with Wilderfest – a festival within Chessington World Of Adventures itself, and during the summer holidays we were lucky enough to go and check it out.

We arrived to singing and dancing whilst we queued, which was great for getting you into that festival vibe and a good distraction for the little ones. After a very short queue we made our way inside and it was that tough choice of what we were going to do first. As I only had the younger two we opted to take advantage of the smaller rides, check out the animals and soak up the atmosphere of Wilderfest.

A lot of people think that its all about thrill seeking rides at Chessington World Of Adventures, when in fact some of the days we have chosen to enjoy the smaller attractions and these have been the best ones.

We headed straight for Sealife which we haven’t done for a long time now and we absolutely loved spotting all the different fish and getting the opportunity to hold a huge African snail – well I did as the kids chickened out!

From here we passed by the penguins that were relaxing in the midday sun and made our way to the monkey enclosure where the boys absolutely love the play area. This gave the adults time to take five minutes whilst they played.

Staying on an animal theme we hopped onboard Zufari which is one of my favourite attractions. The big Jeep takes you past a whole host of animals such a Rhinos and Giraffes and then gives you a pretty big surprise at the end, but I won’t spoil that for you.

Feed and watered we hit the rides, which in hindsight probably wasn’t the best idea as sugar doughnuts and fast rides aren’t exactly the best combination! We flew down the log flume at Tiger Falls, got soaked again on the chair swings and plummeted into the ground on the all new Croc Drop which called for some time to chill out at Wilderfest.

Throughout the day we were treated to music that popped up all across the park and lots of characters milling about and introducing themselves to the children, but there was also a whole area dedicated to Wilderfest where you could join in with funfair sytle game, grab some steet style food or just chill out.

The higlight for Oscar though was definitely meeting the baby panda and hippo – even I had to do a double take as they were so life like.

All in all Chessington World Of Adventures didn’t disappoint again and for me the thing that pulls me back time and time again after being a visitor for over thirty years is the fact one trip is never the same. They are constantly evolving to create a different and magical experience each time you vist.

Now I need to wait and see what they have in store for Halloween!

Inside Tower Bridge

[PRESS TRIP] I have passed over Tower Bridge countless times either on foot or by car and the magnitude of it never fails to amaze me. The iconic blue immediately catches my eye and it has always been one of my favourite London landmarks. I have passed this love down to my children who all get equally as excited as me at the sight.

So can you imagine the excitement levels when I told them we would be taking a trip inside – well this was filled with a little apprehension as both Frankie and I are not good with heights!

A short walk along the river chatting about what we might see and do once we arrived and we were there to be greeted by a lovley lady who gave us lots in infromation on the bridge whilst we waited in the short queue. It was then time to make our way inside. We took the small windy staircase of the North Tower up to the top which was great to add to or anticipation, but for those with buggies or access issues there was a lift that could be used.

On the way up there were lots of interesting facts to read, most of which I had no idea about. Once inside the walkway we were greeeted with a light and airy area with panoramic views across London. We purchased a view guide and the boys loved matching up the landmarks in the book when they came across them, and there were also guides on the windows that were really useful.

But of course what we were most looking forward to was the glass floor and it didn’t disappoint! Being 42 metres above the river gave you the most amazing perspective. Oscar was well away and was speeding across trying to spot people and look for his favourite cars. Frankie was a little more coy to begin with – as was I, but I was actually pleasantly suprised that my usual fear wasn’t that great and I got to really enjoy the moment.

Next up was the descent through the South Tower. As we made our was down we got to learn a little about the people who worked inside Tower Bridge and inside the stunning Bascle Chambers if you look closly enough you will spot some statues of these workers. A little futher down there were tools and uniforms of the staff on display that Oscar was particuarly taken with.

As we came out of the South Tower I thought this was the end of our trip and I was pleasantly surprised that we acually needed to follow the blue line along to the engine rooms. the blue line was made to commemorate the people of Tower Bridge and it was lovely to take this all in as we walked.

I wasnt really to excited about going into the engine rooms as I had a preconceived idea it would just be full of machinery and not too interesting. This was quashed as soon as we arrived. The boys made a bee line for the interactive exhibit that showed you the workings of the engines and then much to my amazement we found the most beautiful looking steam engines. Painted in the most vivid green and red, thet really were a sight to behold.

From here there was more things for the boys to get thier hands on and the loved finding out facts about the people who had made histrry on the bridge with their crazy acts, such as the brave Albert Gunter who jumped the open bridge to save a double decker bus full of people!

The Tower Bridge experience exceeded our expectations and Oscar has even been back at school writng about this as his favoruite experience of the holidays. Now we need to try an book again to see the bridge lifting whilst we are on there!

Happy Hour At Ping Pong

[PRESS VISIT] This summer was all about making up for the lost time of lockdown and trying to fit in as much fun as we could. A lot of our time was spent with us being tourists in our own city and exploring parts of London we haven’t been too – and this included a new resturant for us – Ping Pong.

Ping Ping offers delicious Dim Sum and carefully crafted cocktails at a whole host of different locations across London. We were visiting the Tate Modern so decided on the South Bank branch for our visit and were welcomed with a smile and shown to our table.

There are no menus per se, instead you have a list of all the foods and drinks avaliable and then us it as a tick sheet for the items you want. I had completely over ordered to begin with but the friendly waiter was on hand to help me rejig a few things and we were then good to go.

We were there for Ping Pong’s happy hour which runs from 3-6pm Monday to Friday and offers a huge range of their Dim Sum and cocktails for half the price.

There really was something to please everyone and the boys loved the opportunity to sample things they haven’t tried before…and of course it would have been rude not to have tried a cocktail or two!

The soft and delicate prawn and chive dumplings were to die for, as were the turmeric and Chinese vegetable dumplings. The children worked their way through plate fulls of crispy duck spring rolls and enjoyed popping edamame beans covered in celery salt. We washed all this down with lychee and iced teas for the boys and Ping Pong signature cocktails for me.

We couldn’t have faulted our first trip at all. Helpful staff, beautiful surroundings and fabuolous food and drink in a relaxed atmosphere…what more could you want!

Not A Holiday Without A Trip To Hever Castle

I actually can’t remember when we last had a hoilday without a trip to Hever Castle. Our love for it never falters and I would find it hard to tell you what season there I love the most…well actually that’s a little lie as it has to be Christmas. With that said though whatever time of year you visit you are in for a treat and for us the other day was no different.

As I’m sure you have noticed the weather this summer hasn’t exactly been the best, but there is always something to see and do at Hever. We headed straight for the playground as this is always one of the boys favourite areas. Frankie is reaching the age where is sometimes gets a little bored of playgrounds now, but we spent a huge amount of time in here with the boys playing chase and making new friends in a huge game of hide and seek.

Next up we plotted up by the water to feed the ducks and have something delicious from the BBQ. Hever is perfect for picnicing and we normally do a mixtutre of both. Taking snacks and drinks to keep us going and then treating ourselves to something nice – which always includes an ice-cream!

We didn’t go inside the castle on this visit as the children were keen to stay outside, but it is definetly a must if you are planning a visit. Instead we ignored the weather and went straight to the water maze. For me this is such a pretty feature to the already stunning grounds, and something I have never seen anywhere else quite like it.

There are still covid restrictions on this attraction, but the queue was short and we still had a heap of fun.

We sadly missed the times for the falconary exebitions that run twice a day, but we spent the rest of the day enjoying all the little hidden walks around the grounds whilst the boys tried to spot as many naked statues as they could – something else they never seem to get bored off and mananged to meet one of the birds of prey on our way round.

We had yet another fantastic day and can’t wait until our next trip.

Mama Shelter:The Kidzcation

Stepping out of the cab with the blistering sun burning down on us, we could have easily been on an LA strip and not in the centre on Hackney when we arrived at Mama Shelter.

The grand, black building and striking canopies gave the hotel that immediate ‘wow’ factor, which also fills me with dread when it comes to travelling with kids! Little did I know though my worries were soon to be quashed.

We made our way past young couples sipping cocktails in the sun and entered the entrance hall where we were greeted with a ecletic mix of clashing, colourful prints and luxurious fabrics that were a feast for the eyes; but I think the game changer for us all was the arcade game sitting right by the reception; which imedietly put my mind at ease about the children being there and gave them something to do whilst I checked in, in peace.

I couldn’t have asked for a warmer welcome. I was told everything I needed to know and the children were asked what they were looking forward to during thier stay.

Our stay was going to see us experience Mama Shelter’s ‘Kidzcation’ which means that when you book one room you get one half price which is interconecting if avaliable so the family are all still together.

Our rooms consisted of a double bed and two singles which worked perfectly for us. There was plenty of room to move around and all the little essentials you need such as an area to make drinks and gorgous own brand bathroom goodies.

Screen addict Frankie homed straight in on the TV and was over the moon with the huge array of free movies on offer…I think he would have been happy to stay there all weekend. Another lovely little extra were the sweets on the kids beds and the super cute Looney Tunes masks that the boys kept on for the majority of their stay .

All settled in we made our way down to dinner. The restaurant was buzzing and had a fantastic atmosphere. There was a heated debate over who was sitting on the sofa which resulted in a full on meltdown from Oscar. Normally this would make for a fraught evening, but thanks to our wonderful waiter the crisis was divered and his kinds words telling me what a fab job I was doing with the kids meant so much!

We feasted on the best burgers I have ever tasted and finshed off with a variety of puddings from cookies and milk to brulee’d pain perdu.

The children’s menu mirrored that of the adults which is always somthing I like, instead of the usual beige offerings. Mine all wolfed down their meals and I had the chance to sit and enjoy a G&T in peace while the boys played on the super cool football table.

A check out time of 12pm meant that we could have a really lazy morning which is always welcome when you have numerous little ones to get ready. A few coffees, a bit of TV watching and a long relaxing shower later we went to fill our bellies once more. Children under 12 eat free for breakfast and they get to choose from the main menu which has a great variety. We are definitely a pancake loving family and couldn’t turn down the fluffy panckes dripping with syrup and covered in crispy bacon.

Full to the brim the boys made full use of the arcade machines before we headed to the karaoke room. Tucked away at the bottom of the hotel are two karaoke rooms where Oscar was in his element. The disco lighting and iPads to select your favourite tunes were a fantastic addition to an already wonderful stay.

If you are looking for a stay that caters perfectly for the kids whilst still giving the parents something special then Mama Shleter is the place to be!

2020 In Pictures – You’ve Not Been All Bad

2020 will most certainly go down as a year to remember. Sadly this will be for all the heartache and loss it has brought to us all. But as with every bad situation you need to look for the good and for us there had certainly been some wonderful, simple moments that I will cherish forever, and as always I’m going to show you these in pictures as they convey the fun much more than my words ever could…

Filling Those Walls With Poster Store

[GIFTED] When we moved into our home a few years ago now, one of the things that I fell in love with was the high ceilings. They make each and every room light and airy and create an illusion of lots more space. That being said this also brings with it vast expanses of walls that need filling to make it less clinical and really put our own stamp on it.

Art work as your know can be pricey so I always look for companies that offer good quality, different art at affordable prices; and this is where Poster Store really fits the bill.

Poster Store is an online company that supplies a huge range of Scandinavian inspired posters and frames to compliment your chosen work.

Their prints cover a whole range of interests from photography to modern art, fashion to maps and much more. The variety means that you can find anything to suit any taste or home design.

I was actually really surprised that their collections drew my eye towards black and white prints which is not something I would ordinarily go for…well I did sneak a bit of colour in too!

The coloured print was actually my favourite and it complimented the drinks tray perfectly as there has been a few evenings where I have felt like this after indulging!

My husband always says I don’t consider him when it comes to styling the home and I have to admit it is made up of pretty much all my tastes. So I the dining room I have selected some of his favourite things and made a gorgeous collection of black and white photos.

Lastly was the landing which is still definitely a work in progress. I wanted to keep it more calming as downstairs has a lot going on and anything to help the kids become more restful at bedtime is a bonus.

I absolutely love the simple lines and flowing designs of these pieces and now all I need to add is a few plants for a little bit of colour!

The black frames really make the designs stand out and the quality of them is outstanding.

I always opt for a black frame, but they offer a great range in black, white, silver and gold and also if you like a natural look with a wood finish there are also oak and walnut available. They all come in a range of different sizes to fit the prints perfectly.

The amount of different choices can be a little overwhelming if you don’t have a definite idea in your head, so Poster Store has given lots of hints and tips and inspiration pages that can help you towards picking pieces that are right for you.

So head over and take a look and let me know what you think. If something catches your eye you can save 30% on all posters (excluding Selection posters and frames) until 13th September using code thejoyoffive30

Our First Trip To Godstone Farm After Lockdown

[PRESS TICKETS] Godstone Farm is one of our favourite places to visit and I can safely say I must have racked up a fair few visits with my crew over the years – so after months of being stuck inside with very limited time outside of our own four walls we couldn’t wait to have our first real trip out at Godstone Farm.

Ordinary Godstone Farm is really good at putting hygiene first and I was at ease knowing they would do their upmost to get the farm ready for visitors after lockdown.

I wasn’t disappointed as when we arrived there were very clear instructions as to what is expected of you on your visit and wash stations and hand sanitizer at every turn.

You need to pre-book online before your visit, time slots have been made to stagger people on entry and numbers have been limited to make sure it is easy to stick to government guidelines.

Due to the amount of open space at the farm keeping your distance can be done with ease and in the few areas that it may become tricky, one way systems have been put in place and reminders dotted around the floor telling you to keep ‘2 pigs’ apart.

One of the first things that really struck me was the fact all the animals looked as happy to see the children as they were to see them. They we happy coming over the the children to say hi and the boys couldn’t have been happier.

We spent ages walking around and seeing if there had been any new arrivals since our last visit and I was happier than the boys I think to see the gorgeous little piglets that were only a few days old.

My children are always thinking about their bellies and although we took a picnic with us there were plenty of places to grab something to eat, and we enjoyed a coffee and an ice cream on our way to the play area; and I can say I was definitely tempted with the delicious looking pizzas.

My main worry of getting back out again was letting the boys on play equipment, but I shouldn’t have worried as the farm had carried out a deep clean and with it being so vast it was easy (even for my boys) to keep a good distance from others and still have a great time.

We finished our day with a walk around the Dino Trail and can safely say that even though a few areas of the farm have been closed we still had a day as full of fun and adventure as always and will be back again more than a few times over the summer I’m sure!