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Days Out, Home, Outdoors, Parks, Shows, Unusual

The Halloween Train – Audley End Miniature Railway

Halloween Train

Halloween Tradition

So Autumn is almost upon us and it’s time to start planning for one of our most favourite holidays… Halloween! It’s become part of our Halloween tradition to visit Audley End Miniature Railway and ride the Halloween Train. This will be our third year and Eden loves it so much she talks about it all year round!

If you haven’t visited Audley End Miniature Railway before, it’s definitely one to add to the list. It’s a wonderful train ride through the forest spotting Teddies with an enchanted fairy walk and fairy & elf festival! It’s such a lovely day out with the kids. You can read our previous post about it here.

The Halloween Train

Come Halloween time… Everywhere is decorated and themed in a spooky Halloween theme, even inside The Signal Box Cafe! It always looks so amazing! All the staff are dressed up too, it’s a wonderful sight. Every year so far the Halloween Train at Audley End has not disappointed.

 

Halloween Train Entrance

Halloween Train inside Signal box cafe

 

You are able to book the time of the train and then you can play and explore the rest of the facilities at your own leisure. At the platform you board the train and are waved off by the creepy conductor on a journey through the spooky forest. On your travels be sure to look out for all the spooky goings on! There are lots of fun Halloween things to spot whilst on your train ride but all aimed at children so nothing too scary. Halfway round you stop to visit the Witches who dance and cook up a witchy spell… if you’re lucky they may even give out a sweet treat too! Or as Eden would say ‘candy’!

 

Halloween Train Platform sign

Halloween Train

Halloween Train Conductor

Halloween Train

Halloween Train Deep Forest Halt

Halloween Train ghosts

Halloween Train Witch

Halloween Activities

After you return back to the station you are free to explore the rest of the Halloween fun. It’s got better every year adding more fun things for the kids to do. This year they are promising: A Train Ride through the woods to visit the witches, craft making, face painting, story telling, a visit to the dance tent and a gift for every child.

 

Halloween Train Sign

Halloween Train Eden the witch

Tickets are now on sale on their website! We can’t wait to get dressed up and go again this year!

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Castles/Houses, Days Out, Home, Outdoors, Unusual

Rayleigh Windmill – A Review

Rayleigh windmill

Rayleigh Windmill

I previously listed Rayleigh Windmill in my top local free/cheap days out in Essex. You can see that list here.

Rayleigh Windmill is situated next to Rayleigh Mount and is a great place to visit with or without kids. There is a car park right outside and it is free to park on Sundays. You can also hire the Windmill for Weddings and other celebrations.

The Mill

Rayleigh Windmill is a 200 year old Grade II listed building where you can learn how the Windmill worked, try the quiz in the museum, and dress up in traditional costumes. An interesting and unusual day out for the kids.

We popped along one Sunday to have a look around. We found the volunteers that run the Windmill were very friendly and knowledgeable. They were happy to answer any questions we had and told us some of the history of the Windmill and The Mount, where Rayleigh Castle once stood.

Rayleigh windmill on the stairs
Rayleigh windmill climbing the windmill

 

Ground Floor and First Floors

On the ground floor was information about the Windmill and some children’s arts and crafts. We climbed up the narrow stairs to the first floor where we found a small museum. It housed lots of interesting historic pieces and there is a quiz that you can take part in. It was simply finding items on a list so even our 5 year old could manage it with a little help. Eden was fascinated to learn about the gas masks for used during the war and in particular one used for babies.

 

Rayleigh windmill pieces of history in the museum

Rayleigh windmill quiz

Rayleigh windmill adult gas mask

 

Second Floor

On the 2nd floor they regularly hold exhibitions and on this occasion there was an artist displaying her paintings for sale. Eden was also able to paint a picture which she was very happy about. She loves to draw and paint. Whilst we let her painting dry we climbed up to the top floor.

 

Rayleigh windmill painting exhibition

Rayleigh windmill Eden painting

 

Top Floor

The stairs do get much narrower and steeper as you climb, so bear this in mind before visiting. Eden managed the steps absolutely fine though. On the top floor was an amazing model of The Mount and how the castle would of once looked. We spent some time hunting for a tiny little brown rabbit. See if you can spot him! There is also some dressing up available and a large board with characters from the castle. Eden happily played with that whilst we had a look at the views from the top of the Windmill. They have some pocket money toys for sale on the top floor.

After climbing to the top of the Windmill, children are awarded with their very own certificate!

 

Rayleigh windmill Castle model

Rayleigh windmill on the top floor, castle display board
Rayleigh windmill Eden outside the windmill

Visit the Windmill

Entry is free for Rayleigh Windmill but a donation of £1 per person is suggested.

Opening times:

Wednesday 10:00am – 1:00pm

Saturday 1:00 – 4:00pm

Sunday 1:00 – 4:00pm

Please check their website before visiting for a full list of closures due to private functions.

There are no toilets at the mill but you can use the facilities in The Mill Arts Centre next door.

Parking is at Mill Hall Car Park which is a paid for car park but free after 1pm on Saturday and free all day Sunday.

For more information please visit their website.

After looking around Rayleigh Windmill we took a short walk around Rayleigh Mount. Climbing to the top of the steps to reach the top where the Castle once stood. We then walked around the outside. It only took about 15-20 mins so not too far for little legs.

Rayleigh mount

Rayleigh mount

Rayleigh windmill climbing rayleigh mount

Rayleigh windmill view from top of rayleigh mount

Eden is wearing a floral dress from Next, lemon leggings and Gold Converse High tops.

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Castles/Houses, Days Out, Outdoors, Unusual

Exploring Lullingstone Castle & The World Garden

Lullingstone Castle

Lullingstone Castle & The World Garden

Well I can’t actually believe I hadn’t heard about Lullingstone Castle & The World Gardens before. I have always visited old houses and castles since I were just a little girl. My love of them has continued to grow into my adult life. That is why I couldn’t understand why I had missed this little gem. It’s based in Kent so not too far to travel to from Essex. I will warn you now though it is slightly off the beaten track and not the easiest to find. Overlooking that, it is a wonderful place to visit.

Lullingstone Castle is one of the oldest family estates in England and has been home to the same family since the 15th Century. It is open Friday, Saturday, Sunday and Bank Holiday Mondays between 1st April and end of September and Sundays only in October. Please visit their website for exact opening times and dates prior to your visit. Entry is: Adults are £8, children £4 and under 5’s are free. There is also the option of a free guided tour of the house.

Lullingstone Castle Front Castle

Special Events

We visited Lullingstone Castle on a special event day, The Fire Engine Rally. It was a fantastic showcase of fire fighting history with engines and carts dating from the Victorian and Edwardian periods to the present day. We were also lucky enough to see some of them in action. We watched a demonstration of the fire engines responding to a fire incident overlooking the lake. It was really exciting, the children and adults all seemed to really enjoy it. The Castle is host to various events throughout the year. Including the last day of the season where they hold their Halloween Magic special event.

Lullingstone Castle Gatehouse view

Lullingstone Castle house with fire engine

Lullingstone Castle fire engine rally

 

Our Visit

Lullingstone Castle is an enchanting place to visit with plenty to see and explore. Set within 120 acres of Kent countyside. You enter via the Gatehouse to a beautiful view of the house and St Boltolph’s Parish Church to one side. The house is stunning both inside and out and overlooks a picturesque view across the lake. Henry VIII and Queen Anne were once regular visitors at Lullingstone Castle and ‘Queen Anne’s Bathhouse’ and an 18th century ice house can be found within the grounds.

We started our day with refreshments in the Castle Marquee. They serve sandwiches, homemade soup, sausage rolls, cakes, drinks and ice creams. They had a basket of picnic blankets for you to help yourself so you can enjoy your food outside in the impressive grounds of the castle. It was such a nice and relaxing spot to sit down and eat lunch among the lovely flowers, taking in the view. The food and cake were all really yummy and on that particular day they also offered BBQ sausages in a bun so Eden was very happy!

Lullingstone Castle flower bed overlooking castle

Lullingstone Castle Marquee

Lullingstone Castle picnic blankets

The Castle

After looking around the fire engines and watching the demonstrations we ventured inside the house. As the house is still inhabited not all the rooms are open to the public. The rooms that are open are really beautiful, fully dressed with antique furniture, paintings and artifacts. You enter into the impressive Great Hall and upstairs are the state rooms where you even get to see Queen Anne’s bed.

Lullingstone Castle The great hall

The World Gardens

Tom Hart Dyke the current heir to the estate started his plans for the World Gardens in the year 2000 and they have grown since then. The Gardens take you on an adventure around the world with some interesting and unusual plants to see. Eden absolutely loved exploring the Garden. In particular we liked the Hot ‘n’ Spikey house with over 1000 varieties of Cacti, the beautiful Moroccon Blue Room and The Cloud Room. Whilst exploring the gardens look out for some wacky sculptures.

Lullingstone Castle the world garden

Lullingstone Castle eden exploring the gardens

Lullingstone Castle Cactii room

Lullingstone Castle Blue Moroccan room

Orchid Meadow and Woodland Walk

After the gardens we crossed the small wooden bridge into the Orchid Meadow and woodland walk. After a short walk we found a wonderful spot for a game of poo sticks on the river. It was such a picturesque spot too.

Lullingstone Castle woodland walk

Lullingstone Castle river

St Boltolphs Parish Church

Within the grounds of the estate is St Boltolph’s Parish Church which contains some of the oldest stained glass windows in England. I am always so fascinated by churches and although small, it was really interesting with the beautifully carved tomb of Sir John Peché d 1521. The church still holds regular congregations to this day.

Lullingstone Castle inside st boltolphs

We had such a lovely family day at Lullingstone Castle and World Gardens I thoroughly recommend it. I love all things history and culture. My dad used to take myself and my sister from a young age to all these wonderful places. I can remember how exciting and how much fun it was. They always felt so magical and enchanting. Sometimes its not all about the usual zoos, farms or soft play centres but getting your kids to try experiencing something new…. Read about one of our favourite castles to visit here!

Lullingstone Castle us outside the house

Lullingstone Castle eden by the flowerbed

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Days Out, Outdoors, Unusual

Fairy & Elf Festival at Audley End Miniature Railway

Audley End Miniature Railway

Come rain or shine, the Fairy & Elf Festival at Audley End Miniature Railway will brighten your day! This is one of our favourite places to go, it is truly enchanting! We have visited the railway on many occasions previously. We especially love their Halloween and Easter trains. However this was our first visit to see the Elf & Fairy Festival in full swing!

We visited Audley End Miniature Railway on a miserable grey and rainy day. Initially I thought this would spoil our day but in actual fact we all had a fantastic day out. Even better was the fact the rain had put many others off attending so we had the place to ourselves. On arrival we collected our tickets, pencil and booklet detailing all the things to lookout for during our visit.

Fairy & Elf Festival EntranceFairy & Elf Festival Entrance

The train

We arrived earlier than our designated train time so had time for lunch in the Signal Box Cafe before hopping on the train. I can personally vouch for the hot chocolate with a huge pile of cream and marshmallows!

Suitably refreshed we boarded the train and went off on our adventure through the woods. Eden loved spotting all the teddy bears as you go through the forest. She also really enjoys going through the tunnels. The train ride is so much fun!

Fairy & Elf Festival Audley End miniature railway
Fairy & Elf Festival Us on the train
Fairy & Elf Festival Forest deep haltFairy & Elf Festival Eden and the train driver

The Fairy Walk

After the train ride we decided to go on the Fairy Walk through the forest. First off we were greeted by cheery and bright Fairies, even though it was grey outside. With their help Eden made her pencil into a glittery sparkly fairy wand! A quick photo beneath the beautiful flower arch before setting off to hunt for Fairies in the wood.

Eden really enjoys looking out for the Fairies along the route and ticking them off in her booklet. We stopped and carefully read about each fairy. Each one has their own story, it’s so enchanting. There are lots of Fairies, elfs and other woodland folk to look out for along the trail.

Fairy & Elf Festival Making her wandFairy & Elf Festival Eden and the Fairies Fairy & Elf Festival Fairy walk entrance Fairy & Elf Festival Reading the signs Fairy & Elf Festival Fairy in the wood Fairy & Elf Festival Fairy in the wood

Fairy & Elf Festival

The Fairy and Elf Festival really makes a lovely difference to your visit. This is a new addition from our previous visit and made it an extra special visit for Eden.
We enjoyed some fairy crafts, Eden made a glittery mermaid and I got to make a colourful rainbow cloud! The whole area looked so magical with fairy bell tents, toadstools and colourful bunting. It really captures the little one’s imaginations! Eden ran around excitedly playing with all the outdoor games. Even in the rain we didn’t mind a bit.

In one of the tents they offered free face painting and hair braiding. Eden was very excited by this and dashed in to get hers done. After getting her face painted Eden settled down for some story telling with a fairy! Eden loves story time, even more so when a fairy is telling the story!

Fairy & Elf Festival Eden at the festivalFairy & Elf Festival Playing hooplaFairy & Elf Festival Playing games Fairy & Elf Festival Fairy craftsFairy & Elf Festival Fairy face painting Fairy & Elf Festival Story time Fairy & Elf FestivalFairy & Elf FestivalFairy & Elf Festival Eden and her mermaid

It was such a beautiful afternoon, rain or shine it didn’t spoil our time. I thought it would be a total washout but Eden got to splash in puddles in her wellies and loved the magic of the festival. We had some truly magical family time together!

When the weather is behaving itself a little better there is also a kids playground area, a bouncy castle and swing chairs. I believe there is a small charge for the bouncy castle. They also have a costume parade in the afternoon.

You may also be interested in reading about our favourite free and fun days out in Essex for kids, you can read more here.

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Days Out, Museums, Outdoors, Parks, Unusual

Fun and free kids days out in Essex!

Okay so we are now welcoming the kid’s summer holidays. Some of us with welcome arms while others are more likely burrowing their heads in their hands! It can be daunting, thinking ahead of 6 weeks of entertaining your offspring! It can also be super expensive so here is my list of my favourite fun and free kids days out in Essex!
So in no particular order:

Free kids days out in Essex

1. Priory Park, Southend

Priory Park is a particularly picturesque park, not only does it have a large children’s play area, it has a lake, a woodland walk, a cafe, beautiful walled formal gardens and it’s the home to Prittlewell Priory Museum. The Priory originally formed part of a Cluniac Monastery dating back to 1180. There are plenty of nice spots for picnicking and letting the kids run off some steam.
The museum is free to enter and if you particularly enjoyed your visit then donations are welcomed.
Free parking onsite (although not a huge car park).
Opening times – Summer opening hours:
Tuesday – Sunday 10:10 – 17:00
Bank holidays 10:00 – 17:00
For more information visit their website.

2. Wind in the Willows Sculptures at Hanningfield Resevoir

Hanningfield Resevoir in Downham, Billericay is a great family day out. Stick on your wellies and take a wander through the woods to spot the well known characters from Wind in the Willows. A special map is available to purchase at the visitor centre. At each sculpture you can use the back of the map to make your very own brass rubbings of Badger, the Weasels, Ratty, Mole and Mr Toad.
You can visit for free but there is a suggested donation amount of £2 per adult, £1 per child or £5 per family.
They are also offering a range of children’s activities during the summer holidays for just a £3 donation.
The visitor centre has a refreshment area, gift shop and toilets with baby changing facilities. There is also a viewing area with views out across the Reservoir where you can relax and enjoy watching the wildlife.
There is free parking available onsite.
Open Daily: 9am – 5pm.
For more information visit their website.

3. Peter Rabbit Sculptures at Langdon Visitor Centre

Langdon Visitor Centre is in Lower Dunton Road in Basildon. It is a lovely nature reserve with a trail, meadows, woodlands and lakes. As you take a wander around the trail you will meet wonderful wooden characters from Peter Rabbit. They are also offering lots of children’s activities during the summer holidays from scavenger hunts to making arts and crafts for just a £3 donation. No booking required, check their website or Facebook page for details.
The visitor centre sells refreshments, has a gift shop and toilets with baby changing. To the rear of the visitor centre is a pretty wildlife garden.
There is free parking onsite.
Open Daily: 9am – 5pm.
For more information visit their website.

4. Hollytrees Museum and Colchester Castle Park

Hollytrees Museum is a great museum set in Colchester Castle Park overlooking the picturesque Colchester Castle. There is a cafe, formal gardens and children’s playground with large sand play area to explore.
The museum gives a glance into life in Colchester and how it has evolved over the years. It has some really interesting exhibits and interactive to kids interested and entertained.
Free entry.
Opening times of Hollytrees Museum:
Tuesday to Saturday 10am to 5pm
Sunday 11am to 5pm
Parking is not available on site, you would need to use Colchester Town car parks.
You can visit the Castle Museum but there is a fee to enter.

5. Stick Man Trail at Weald Country Park

Weald Country Park is set within 500 acres of parkland in Brentwood and home to The Stickman Play Trail. A fun trail bringing to life the story by Julia Donaldson encouraging imaginative play. A gorgeous walk through the woodland and parkland with activities to explore at each stop. You can purchase a map at the visitor centre. There is also a deer to visit, cafe, play area, gift shop and toilets.
Free entry and parking is onsite, there is a charge for parking however.
For more information please visit their website.

6. Hylands House & Park

Hylands House is a personal favourite of mine since we got married here in 2010. Based in Chelmsford in Hylands Park, the Grade II listed house is set in gorgeous landscaped parkland, with pretty formal gardens to explore, cafe and adventure castle play area.
Free entry to the park and free onsite parking.
To enter the house is £3.80 for adults and free for under 16s.
Please check their website for opening dates and times of the house and cafe. Please also be aware that it will be closed for visiting during mid August for V Festival.
For more information please visit their website.

7. Canvey Island Transport Museum

The museum in Canvey Island is the home to a selection of vintage buses, coaches and classic cars. In addition to the museum there is a model railway and gift shop selling die-cast models and transport souvenirs.
Entry is free but donations are welcomed.
Open Sundays 2017: 16th July; Every Sunday in August; 3rd & 17th September; 1st & 15th October.
Opening times 10am to 5pm.
For more information visit their website.

8. Chelmsford Museum at Oaklands Park

Chelmsford Museum is actually in Oaklands Park situated Moulsham Street, Chelmsford.
Set within gorgeous grounds with two fantastic playgrounds for the children, one for older children and one for younger.
Chelmsford Museum has some really interesting exhibits and also houses Essex Regiment Museum.
During the summer holidays they are hosting a number of Back in Time themed craft sessions for school aged children. Children are encouraged to get creative, using the museum’s collections and displays for inspiration. £3 per child.
Free entry and free parking is available onsite.
Opening times:
Monday to Saturday 10am to 5pm
Sunday 1pm to 4pm
For more information please visit their website.

9. Join the Animal Agents Challenge at your local library.

Essex libraries are encouraging children to sign up to their Animal Agents challenge this summer. They need to read 6 books to earn their Animal Agents certificate and medal, collecting stickers along the way. Children can read library books of their choice.
Challenge runs Saturday 15 July to Saturday 2 September.
Pop by your local library to find out more.

10. Rayleigh Windmill

Rayleigh Windmill is a 200 year old Grade II listed building where you can learn how the Windmill worked, try the quiz in the museum, dress up in traditional costumes.
Entry is free of charge but a donation of £1 per person is suggested.
Opening times:
Wednesday 10:00am – 1:00pm
Saturday 1:00 – 4:00pm
Sunday 1:00 – 4:00pm
Parking is at Mill Hall Car Park which is a paid for car park but free after 1pm on Saturday and free all day Sunday.
For more information please visit their website.

11. Great Notley Discovery Park

Great Notley Discovery Park is situated in Braintree. A great place to explore with the kids with interactive play equipment and sensory trails.
There is a cafe onsite, toilets and car parking.
Free Entry.
Opening times: The park is open daily from 08.00 till dusk
The visitor centre and cafe is open daily from 10.00 till 16.00. (Except 25 December).

12. Thames Chase Nature Reserve.

Thames Chase Nature Reserve based in Pike Lane, Upminster has a great nature trail with activities as you go round. It also boasts a play area, very nice cafe, gift shop and bicycle hire. It’s a great place to take the kids bikes to cycle round.
There are some great wooden structures as you go around the trail for the kids to play and climb on.
They are organising a range of children’s activities through the summer holidays on Tuesday, Wednesday and Thursday each week from 25th July to 24th August between 10:30am and 12:30pm. £3 donation per child.
Free entry.
Opening times: 10am-5pm weekdays and weekend (10-4pm in the winter).
Includes café and shop with toilets and baby changing.
Parking is onsite for a small fee.
For more information please visit their website.

13. Wat Tyler Park

Wat Tyler Country Park in Pitsea, Basildon has 125 acres of country walks, wildlife spotting adventure play area for kids and a miniature railway. The park has a fascinating history and was originally an explosives factory. There are informative signs as you walk around the trail.
There is a cafe and gift shop onsite with toilets and baby changing.
Free entry and free parking onsite.
Railway runs in the school holidays, adults £2.50 and children £1.50.
Opening times:
Monday to Sunday 10:00 – 16:45.
For more information please visit their website.

14. Hadleigh Castle

Hadleigh Castle is situated in Castle Lane, Hadleigh. The ruins of the castle are set high upon a hill overlooking the Essex marshes and Thames estuary. A gorgeous spot for settling down for a picnic and letting the kids let off some steam exploring the castle ruins.
Free entry all year round at any reasonable time.
It is situated right next to the Salvation Army Tea Rooms and Rare Breeds Farm with car park. Please note there is a charge for car parking.
Entry to the Farm isn’t free but it is very reasonable and is well worth a visit if in the area. They have a Willow maze, play area and lots of rare breed friendly animals to see.

15. Gruffalo Trail – Thorndon Country Park North

The Gruffalo Trail is in Thorndon Country Park North in Brentwood. It’s a great walk through the forest spotting all your favourite characters from The Gruffalo books by Julia Donaldson.
There is a visitor centre where you can purchase a trail guide for 50p. There is also a gift shop, cafe and toilets with picnic area.
Free entry and parking onsite. There is a charge for parking.
Opens at 09:30am.
For more information please visit their website.

So this is about fun and free kids days out in Essex. The following day out is not free but is very cheap and definitely a worth mention.

Canvey Island

You can get an all day wrist band for £5 to go on the fairground rides! It’s brilliant value for money and lots of rides to keep the little one happy. They also have the beach right next door, soft play centre opposite just incase it rains and Movie Starr cinema where tickets are just £3.50.

Please note all information was incorrect at time of publishing, please check venue websites or Facebook pages before you visit for up to date information or changes.

Thank you for reading ‘Fun and free kids days out in Essex!’. If you can think of any other great free days out in Essex, let me know!

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Eating Out, Farms, Outdoors, Unusual

Fruit Picking In Essex – Lathcoats Farm

fruit picking in esse lathcoats farm

Fruit Picking

Lathcoats Farm is a lovely fruit farm and a great day out with the kids fruit Picking in Essex. Situated in Galleywood just outside Chelmsford, not too far from the A12 so it’s very easy to get to.

They have Pick Your Own fruit, a farm shop, The Bee Shed Coffee House, a small natural play area for the kids and some animals to visit.

Pick Your Own Fruit

Lathcoats Farm have over 40 varieties of apples, strawberries, raspberries, gooseberries, blackcurrants and many other fruit available. Fruit picking runs from around June to August. There is a calendar giving dates of when fruit is ready to pick on their website, along with regular updates on fruit availability. You should also check their Facebook page before going. Sadly it’s coming to the end of the fruit picking season for this year but Lathcoats is still worth a visit, with or without the kids!

Fruit picking in Essex Lathcoats Farm Strawberry tent
The Bee Shed Coffee House

The Bee Shed Coffee House serves food where the ingredients are sourced from their local trusted farm shop suppliers.

Serving breakfast and lunch, there is a really good menu with a great selection of food to choose from. They serve sandwiches, panini’s, ploughmens and jacket potatoes. You can even treat yourself to a slice of homemade cake. I can personally recommend the Cream Tea, the scones served with Rodda’s clotted cream and Tiptree Jam were fresh and delicious.

From the vast menu, we opted for a deluxe toasted sandwich filled with Dan Hull Ham, Hanningfield smoked cheddar & sweet apple chutney. It was incredibly tasty and a definite step up from your bog standard cheese and ham toastie!

They have some good children’s options and serve a children’s platter which comes with a roll, cake, crisps, a piece of fruit and a drink for £3.75 which is great value. Eden ordered the children’s bacon roll and she loved it!

They also serve afternoon teas which is now on my list to try! You can read about some of my favourite afternoon tea venues here. There is plenty of seating available inside and outside is a small terrace. Although there may be a longer queue on busier days, the food was served very quickly.

Fruit picking in Essex Lathcoats Farm The Bee Shed Coffee House
Outside Area

Behind the coffee house is a small natural play area, a track with ride on cars for the little ones and some farm animals to visit.

We met the goats, donkeys and pigs on our visit. The goats were super friendly and Eden enjoyed feeding them some grass, she thought it was hilarious in fact. She also enjoyed spending lots of time hopping across the tiled stepping stones in the natural play area. Kids love the simple things, it is so nice to get them outdoors.

Fruit picking in Essex Lathcoats Farm Natural Play area

Fruit picking in Essex Lathcoats Farm Eden in the play area

Fruit picking in Essex Lathcoats Farm Outside

Fruit picking in Essex Lathcoats Farm Donkeys

Fruit picking in Essex Lathcoats Farm Pigs

Fruit picking in Essex Lathcoats Farm Eden feeding the goats

Fruit picking in Essex Lathcoats Farm Eden and the goat

Fruit picking in Essex Lathcoats Farm Eden and the goat
The Farm Shop

The farm shop is well stocked with lots of lovely treats from local suppliers, fresh eggs, artisan breads, fruit and vegetables, speciality meringues, handmade chocolates, Tiptree Jams and savoury goods, there’s plenty to tempt you.

We didn’t pick our own strawberries on this occasion but bought some from the farm shop and they were some of the biggest strawberries I’ve ever seen! They were perfect topped with lots of cream.

Fruit picking in Essex Lathcoats Farm Farm shop entrance

Fruit picking in Essex Lathcoats Farm Inside the farm shop

Fruit picking in Essex Lathcoats Farm Meringues

Fruit picking in Essex Lathcoats Farm Apples in shop

Fruit picking in Essex Lathcoats Farm Apples
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Fruit picking in Essex at lathcoats Farm

Days Out, Farms, Indoor Play, Outdoors, Parks

Farm in Essex – White Elm Petting Farm

Farm in essex white elm petting farm

White Elm Petting Farm

I am always looking for new days out. As Eden is such an animal lover, we particularly love finding a new farm in Essex to visit. One of our favourite all rounders is White Elm Petting Farm in Bicknacre, Essex. The farm is still relatively new and they are continually improving and working on it.

Farms in Essex - White Elm Petting Farm entrance
The farm is based within the grounds of White Elm Garden Centre. It’s not just a garden centre offering the usual plants and shrubs on sale. It’s more than that, there is also a selection of log cabin shops with a whole host of individual businesses selling Baby clothes to Soaps. There is also a Deli, Florist and antique furniture shop.

The Farm

White Elm Petting Farm is a family run farm with over a 100 animals including Pygmy Goats, Alpacas, Sheep, Rheas, Pigs, Goats, Rabbits, Guinea Pigs, Ducks, Minature Pony, Chickens, Geese & Wallabies. Our favourites are a Breed of sheep that are so sweet and their faces look just like teddy bears!

Farms in Essex - White Elm Petting Farm teddy bear sheep
Entrance fees are reasonable £4.95 adults, £3.95 kids and under 2’s free. This also includes access to the Play Barn, Outdoor Playground, Digger Pit and Tractor Track..

You have the option of buying a bucket of feed when you enter. Eden absolutely loves getting hands on and feeding the animals. You can feed pretty much all the animals there, apart from a couple that have signs up to say otherwise. It’s a lovely relaxed farm and they encourage you to interact with the animals and pet them if you wish. There are plenty of hand washing stations as you walk round to clean up afterwards.

Farms in Essex - White Elm Petting Farm animals

Farms in Essex - White Elm Petting Farm feeding goats

Farms in Essex - White Elm Petting Farm

Farms in Essex - White Elm Petting Farm feeding animals Farms in Essex - White Elm Petting Farm
Food

White Elm Garden centre has a lovely tearoom. There is always a huge selection of delicious handmade cakes on offer to tempt you. There is also an extensive menu, from panini’s to fully cooked meals. They also offer a great roast dinner on a Sunday! Be warned don’t get there too late as they have been known to sell out!

Farms in Essex - White Elm Petting Farm tea room

There is also a snack bar in the Play Barn.

Play Barn

There is a great indoor Play Barn which is included in the cost of entry to the farm. A large spacious area with seating and a snack bar. It’s a great play area for the kids with a small separate area for younger ones.

Farms in Essex - White Elm Petting Farm play Barn

Outdoors

Outside they have a children’s playground, tractor track and digger pit to keep the kids entertained. This area is gated off.

Farms in Essex - White Elm Petting Farm playgroundFarms in Essex - White Elm Petting Farm outdoor play area
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Days Out, Eating Out, Farms, Food, Outdoors, Parks, Unusual

Strawberry Picking in Essex

Strawberry Picking In Essex

What a glorious sunny day spent strawberry picking in Essex. We visited Cammas Hall Farm. Set in the Essex countryside, just outside Bishops Stortford.

Strawberry picking in Essex Cammas Hall Farm
I haven’t been strawberry picking since I were a young girl. I can remember spending sunny days picking strawberries with my family. Crouched  in a field filling my basket with just as many strawberries as I ate! I’ve been meaning to take Eden for some time now and thought Cammas Hall Farm looked like fun.

The venue

There was plenty of parking, a well stocked farm shop, fruit picking, tea barn, play area and a nature trail onsite. It was free entry too which was brilliant and makes this a cheap day out!

We visited on a Saturday lunch time and although it was busy, it was big enough that it wasn’t a problem.

We enjoyed a ploughmans in the tea barn before setting off to pick our strawberries.

There were plenty of ripe strawberries for picking. A huge field full of rows and rows of raised planters full of strawberry plants. No back breaking bending over here, the plants are brought to you! They also have gooseberries, raspberries, blackberries, etc throughout the year.  Just check their website first.

Strawberry picking in Essex rows strawberry plants

Strawberry picking in Essex strawberries

Strawberry picking in Essex Eden picking

Strawberry picking in Essex Eden picking
Eden loved searching through all the strawberries to find the bright red shiny ripe ones. We filled a punnet quite quickly and were very surprised it only cost around £3.50! We thought this was a bargain. The strawberries were delicious and so sweet.

Play Area

We popped to the play area afterwards so Eden could blow off some steam. There were plenty of picnic benches outside over looking the play area. They also had a separate gated play area for the little ones under 3.

Strawberry picking in Essex Cammas Hall Farm play area
Nature Trail

After Eden had made herself dizzy spinning on the tyre swing, we took a walk along the nature trail. It was a short walk that went through a small forest and along the edge of their crop fields. A nice walk that wasn’t too long. It was even fairly buggy friendly.

Strawberry picking in Essex Cammas Hall Farm

Strawberry picking in Essex nature trail

Strawberry picking in Essex field crops
The Tea Barn & Shop

After the nature trail, we treated ourselves to strawberries and cream in the Tea Barn. Eden had an ice cream! Perfect! The tea barn is quite small inside but has plenty of extra seating outside and in a covered marquee.

Strawberry picking in Essex Cammas Hall Farm shop

Strawberry picking in Essex strawberry latte

Strawberry picking in Essex strawberries and cream
Eden had one last play in the park and we bought some goodies in the farm shop before returning home. They had a really good selection of pickles and sauces, unusual flavour crisps, jams and other treats. The most important purchase was the ‘Extra Thick Jersey Double Cream’ for our strawberries.

We were there for about 4 hours and Eden had a fabulous time. From picking the strawberries to playing in the park and exploring the nature trail. Lots of fun was had.

Strawberry picking in Essex strawberry fields forever
I would definitely recommend a visit there. It’s best to check their website or Facebook page first before going to find out whether they have strawberries ready for picking.’

We will be trying other ‘pick your own’ venues for Strawberry Picking in Essex and will reporting our findings soon!

Strawberry picking in Essex Eden picking strawberries

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Strawberry picking in Essex

Real Mum Reviews
Days Out, Home, Outdoors, Theme Parks

Making the most of our Annual Merlin Passes!

Merlin Passes - Eden on a ride

The Merlin Passes

So this year I’ve saved up all of my Tesco clubcard points to get Annual Merlin Passes. We also paid the £50 extra to upgrade them to premium passes! You can also purchase them direct from their website and occasionally have discounts throughout the year. This means we can visit 32 attractions in the UK free for a year!

These include:

Alton Towers Resort

Chessington World of Adventures Resort

LEGOLAND® Windsor Resort

THORPE PARK Resort

The London Eye

Dream world Tours – Shrek Adventure London to name but a few!

Perks

You also get 20% off food and purchases at the parks and 50% off friends and family tickets! Which is a brilliant saving in itself. With the premium pass we can also use them across all dates in the six weeks holidays and we get free parking at some of the attractions!

I feel like I am now on a mission to make the most from the passes and pack in as much as we can.

Legoland

Our first trip using our Merlin Passes was to Legoland! I’ve always wanted to take Eden. Every time it’s advertised on the telly Eden has asked to go, so this was our priority.

We went on a weekend so did expect it to be busy. It was also a Star Wars themed day so I imagine busier than usual. This didn’t seem to be much of a problem though. Many of the queues had Lego to play with while you waited, so even though there were queues, Eden was entertained. If she wasn’t playing with Lego she was meeting new friends to play with.

Merlin Passes - Eden with lego family characters
By far our favourite rides were The Dragon, a super fun (but not too scary) roller coaster and Fairy Tale Brook. A lovely little river ride with Lego characters bringing the fairytales to life. Eden loved spotting all the characters she recognised.

Merlin Passes eden on boat ride with seven dwarves

Merlin Passes eden on boat ride with seven dwarves

Merlin Passes Eden on a ride
We also really enjoyed walking around seeing the Lego model village, exploring all of the different countries. It was a nice relaxing downtime, rather than going on ride after ride.

Merlin Passes view Lego model villageMerlin Passes  Lego model villageMerlin Passes Model of London in Lego
We found plenty of options to eat and snack around the park. Most importantly a good Costa coffee to keep our energy supplies up! In all we had a great day at Legoland and are actually going back again this weekend.

Merlin Passes  Lego book What Secrets awaitMerlin Passes  Eden and Lego friends
Chessington World of Adventures

Next we popped along to Chessington World of Adventures at the end of the kids half term. I was so excited to introduce Eden to the Vampire Ride. I prayed that she would be tall enough to go on it! She is quite a dare devil and doesn’t seem to be the least bit afraid of any rides.

Unfortunately due to an accident en route we arrived a bit later than expected around 11.45am. We were hoping that as the majority of schools had returned to school that day that it would be quiet. Sadly not! Queue times for the more popular rides were 65-75mins.

It’s a real shame they don’t offer time based tickets like they do at somewhere like Disneyland Paris. You go take a ticket and return when it’s your time slot and enter via fastrack queue. In the end we decided to bite the bullet and purchase fastrack passes. It cost an additional £36 for 3 of us to go on just two rides. If you had already paid park entry, it can work out quite expensive.

Fast Track Passes

We bought a fast track pass for the new Gruffalo ride which worked really well and we passed the 60 minute queue and were on the ride within about 10-15 mins, absolutely worth it. Unfortunately even with the fastrack pass we still queued for 30mins for the Vampire ride. Totally worth the wait though. Eden absolutely loved it. It was actually so much faster than I remembered it being, although it was maybe 15 years ago!

Merlin Passes Gruffalo river ride

Merlin Passes Gruffalo river ride

Merlin Passes Vampire ride at ChessingtonMerlin Passes Chessington world of adventures vampire ride
We did find that some of the queue times estimated were a little way off and were longer than anticipated. So we didn’t get to go on as many rides as we would have liked. Those we did go on, we enjoyed tremendously.

Food

We ate a great restaurant in the park, a BBQ Smokehouse. The food was BBQ meats and they even had Sweet Potato fries as a side. So eating Low carb wasn’t a problem here. I normally struggle to find LCHF friendly foods on days out. The meal was amazing, served in a basket but tasted delicious! We all really enjoyed it!

Merlin Passes BBQ food

Merlin Passes chessington snake
The park has really changed over the years and it is really well themed throughout. We did find the map really confusing and quite difficult to read but we loved the app that gave you directions and up to the minute queue times!

We also enjoyed visiting all the animals, especially at the petting farm and seeing them on Zafari!

Merlin Passes rhino on zafari
The next adventure

Next up on our Merlin Pass adventure will be Shrek Adventure in London, a blog post will follow. We also have a hotel booked for the Summer holidays so we can visit Alton Towers. Very exciting and so far the Merlin Passes have been a great investment!

Eden is wearing at Legoland a Zigzag coat by Mimpi, yellow top and cardigan from Mothercare, jean dress from Primark and Teal sparkle Converse trainers.

Eden is wearing at Chessington Mini ZZZ rainbow anorak from TK Maxx, top and leggings from Next and Teal Sparkle Trainers from Converse.

Thank you for reading ‘Making the most of our Annual Merlin Passes!’.

Em x

Castles/Houses, Days Out, Outdoors

Leeds Castle – The Loveliest Castle in the World

Leeds Castle Eden looking at Castle

Leeds Castle

Considered ‘The Loveliest Castle in the World’, Leeds Castle is simply stunning. One of my most favourite places to go.  I would never get tired of this stunning landscape.

Leeds Castle view across moat
There are so many reasons to love Leeds Castle in Kent. The Castle is set within 500 acres of the most beautiful and picturesque grounds. At the centre a picture perfect castle surrounded by a moat. It’s the perfect place to take children, there is so much there to inspire them and ignite their imaginations.

A nice added bonus is that you only pay to enter once, you can then return as many times as you like within the year. Basically an annual pass for the price of 1 days entry. There aren’t many places that offer that so it’s great value.

The Woodland Walk

Your journey starts with a woodland walk along paths that run alongside babbling brooks and waterfalls. There is an abundance of wildlife to spot along the route. Plenty of wildfowl, woodland birds and insects. We saw so many cute baby swans on our visit! Leeds Castle is famous for its black Swans.

Leeds Castle WaterfallLeeds Castle Eden sitting on a bridge
Leeds Castle Eden looking at Geese and their young
The Castle

I think one of the most interesting facts about the Castle is that it was once the palace used by Henry VIII and his first wife Catherine of Aragon. I love the story of Henry VIII and his wives.

The Castle is steeped in history and as you walk around the grand rooms you can see how it has changed over the years with rooms from different eras. There are gorgeous antiques to view and paintings adorning the walls. The Castle is as pretty inside as it is outside!

Leeds Castle front of castleLeeds Castle side viewLeeds Castle inside dining tableLeeds Castle library
There is plenty of information within the Castle with the option of an audio guide. They also have activity sheets for the kids, so Eden was kept busy looking for things as we walked round.

Leeds Castle eden with activity sheets
Facilities

The facilities are really good, plenty of places to stop for food and drinks, snacks and ice cream. Toilets are clean and tidy. If you bring your own food there are plenty of gorgeous spots for a picnic.

The Maze & Grotto

There is a large maze to solve and if you are lucky enough to find the centre, it leads to an enchanting grotto underground. The air is cool down there, with mythical creatures made from shells and a water feature. It is very atmospheric, a fascinating place. It is quite dark and noisy down there so could be a little frightening for younger members!

Leeds Castle maze
Boat & Train Rides

Should you wish you can take in the view by boat, there is punting available on the moat, or a ferry ride across the lake for a small extra charge.

You can also ride Elsie their train to and from the car park if you wanted for a small extra fee. We often choose to walk through the gardens into the Castle but return on the train. Eden loves it.

Leeds Castle view of the moatLeeds Castle Black swan Ferry
Play Areas

There are two wooden play areas at Leeds Castle to keep the little people happy. Squire’s Court for younger kids up to the age of 6 and Knight’s Realm for slighter older kids 7-14 years. Both of them are well put together with exciting tunnels, turrets, slides and zip lines. Plenty to keep the kids busy. There is seating available in and around the play areas for the adults.

Leeds Castle Play area towerLeeds Castle play area
Falconary

There are free flying bird of prey presentations  running daily, with Hawks, Vulture, Falcons and Owls. You can also see them in their aviaries.

Dark skies exhibition

There is a temporary exhibition running until 31st October 2017, the Battle of the Skies. A surround sound display depicting The Battle of Britain that took part in the skies above Kent. There are two planes there as part of the exhibition.

Leeds Castle planeLeeds Castle plane
The Grounds

There is so much to explore at Leeds Castle, the gardens are beautiful. Culpeper garden has the most pretty flowers and box hedges, a typical quaint English country garden.

Leeds Castle Culpeper GardenLeeds Castle GardensLeeds Castle Eden with Lavender
Every time we visit Leeds Castle we find something new. I would absolutely recommend it and would have to say it’s in my top 5! Eden loves it as much as I do!

Leeds Castle Eden looking at the castle
Thank you for reading ‘Leeds Castle – The Loveliest Castle in the World’.

Eden is wearing Top – Tu Clothing at Sainsburys, Jean shorts from F&F Tesco and Converse trainers.

Em.

Leeds Castle Kids Day out
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