Thursday 28 September 2017

Stay, Play and Explore Leicestershire

'Stay, Play and Explore' is such a good tagline for a weekend away, isn't it? Visit Leicestershire have really nailed it with these short family breaks away - so much so that we've taken these trips most years now since the kiddos were really little! 

How it works is that for a set price (currently £149) you get a hotel stay for a family of four, including breakfast, as well as family entry into three out of a list of local attractions. Family entry to some of these attractions can come in at over £50 anyway, so this definitely works out as excellent value! On this trip we visited Stonehurst Family Farm for the first time and Twycross Zoo (not for the first time). We've kept the third ticket safe to use later, as we wanted full days at our chosen attractions and we have 'til the end of the year to get all our visiting done.

(You don't have to pre-book either, jut turn up with your ticket - which means you can tailor your choice to the weather!) 

The Hilton Leicester had come highly recommended to me for our hotel choice but it was all booked up for our chosen weekend so we opted for Sketchley Grange Hotel instead.

I wish I'd been a bit more prepared for my stay - I'd completely forgotten that there was a pool and spa until I was reminded when checking in, and not packed swimming stuff for any of us which was a real shame. Still, without really taking advantage of all that the hotel has to offer, it was a great stay for our needs. Nice big cosy beds (kids were sharing, not a problem for them but maybe something to bare in mind?), clean bathroom with bath and separate shower, stocked with cute mini-toiletries, and of course the all important drink-making facilities (always even better when biscuits are included!) 

We didn't eat our evening meal at the hotel, opting instead for a cosy looking family-friendly pub we passed on our way there - so we were really looking forward to tucking into a hearty hotel breakfast. My son was the only one of us that dived into the hot food, but he loved his Full English. There was more than enough tea, juice and pastries to keep me happy!

We are looking forward to getting back down to our third attraction visit soon, but for next year I'm eyeing up the Shakespeare-themed Warwickshire breaks as a nice change! 

Monday 25 September 2017

Twycross Zoo, Leicestershire

When we booked our weekend trip to Leicestershire, we had a number of local attraction to choose from but there was one obvious 'yes' from the family - Twycross Zoo.

Now in a zoo filled with exotic and rarely seen creatures, it did tickle me a little that the kids first port of call was the farm section. The little lady has long said that goats are one of her favourite animals though, so this was bound to be a be a popular area for her - especially the goat walkthrough where she could get up close with some of her favourites! 

This little section also contained the ever-amusing alpacas, a very sweet bundle of guinea pigs and bunnies, and a pair of very amorous donkeys that encouraged us to move swiftly on before too many questions were asked....

The gorillas were one of the key attractions here for us. The kids had put on their start of the year list that they'd like to see these wonderful animals, and knowing we could find them at Twycross Zoo definitely added to out enthusiasm to visit.

Obviously the star of the day was the absolutely adorable baby gorilla. So cute and playful, we could have watched this little guy for hours (and probably did!)

In between the animals, the youngsters found plenty of places to play. The kids got to replicate some of the primate behaviour they'd been observing, by swinging and climbing to their hearts content, while I got to enjoy and appreciate a nice sit-down-with-a-cup-of-tea session!

One of the highlights was feeding the birds in the Lorikeet Landing enclosure! This wasn't here on our last visit to the zoo a few years ago, so was a nice bonus. You could buy a small pot of nectar from the enclosure entrance and, if the birds are hungry, they may just come along to feed out of your pot! It was a really nice way to get close to these charming birds! 

We always love seeing the giraffes - they're such unusual but beautiful animals, and so calming to watch! 

And the penguins are a favourite with the kids in particular - the contrast between their grace in the water and how awkward they look on land will never fail to make me smile! 

We had a really full day out, setting off early to get down to Leicestershire for around opening time and not leaving until they were practically kicking us out - we definitely got our money's worth out of the visit! 


Friday 8 September 2017

Stonehurst Family Farm, Leicestershire

We visited Stonehurst Family Farm a couple of months ago as part of a 'Stay, Play, Explore Leicestershire' deal (where you get entry into your choice of three of list of attractions, and a hotel stay, for a set price), and I'll admit that I'd previously been leaning ever so slightly on the kids to pick one of the more expensive attractions to make the most of the deal (I'm all about the value for money!)

But they were determined this was the place, and it didn't take long for me to be won over once we'd arrived. The whole entrance to the place was utterly charming.

The lovely old gentleman in the shop what took the tickets and introduced us to the farm was a real gem too.

I've never come across such a warm welcome to a family attraction - the kind that will put you in a good mood all day, and the good vibes continued around the farm.

A couple of bags of animal feed were included in the entrance, and the kids loved the excuse to let the animals slobber and snuffle all over them.

(ok, so did I)

In addition to the general feeding, there were timed opportunities for further animal encounters, like bottle-feeding the baby lambs and calves, and handling the little ducklings.

Though they didn't seem to be any discernibly systematic approach to how these were handled, everyone who wanted a go seemed to get a go!

The only thing that wasn't included in the entrance fee were the short pony rides, but at 50p (if I remember rightly) they weren't too much of an indulgence and little miss loved her first experience on a horse - even if she looked a little nervous at first!

One very popular area with my two was the 'cuddle corner', where you got so snuggle up with the cute fluffy little guinea pigs and bunny rabbits. I think we ended up back in there about 7 or 8 times, or until the kiddos had the chance to hold every individual little furry thing.

(This was all carefully supervised by farm staff who did most of the animal handling, and knew when the critters needed a rest etc, so not the grabby chaos you might be envisioning!)

As well as all the lovely animals to see there was a free tractor ride, and a small play area including hay bales to climb on, in, and under - but you'll just have to take my work for it as by that point in the day that batteries in both cameras we had with us had died - poor planning on our part!

I'm glad I managed to get a (admittedly pretty poor) picture of the teeny piglets before the camera gave up totally though. These little sweeties were only a couple of days old when we visited and were so precious and funny!

Now, the kids love animals, and play areas and all over farm-y things but I make no secret of the real reason I love to visit places like this - it is, inevitably, the cute farmhouse tearoom. We'd tried to pop into 'The Farmer's Den' around lunch time and found it a bit too busy, but putting it off 'til later in the afternoon actually worked out really well as we got to call in when it was much quieter and escape an unexpected rain shower at the same time!

The cakes are all home made and (guessing by how quickly they disappeared) delicious, and my tea/scone combo didn't disappoint!

We all had a lovely day at Stonehurst Farm, so looks like my kids can be trusted to make a decision afterall! (Though, should point out that to balance out all the good points, I was bitten by a donkey. Go have fun at the farm but do pay attention to where you are putting your arms! I don't imagine that's a common issue though, I'm just unlucky and useless - please feel free to laugh at my misfortune!)
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