Knights and princesses at Alnwick Castle



Partly due to my three-year-old daughter’s current obsession with Mike the Knight she was very excited about visiting Alnwick Castle. And we all had a brilliant time. The activities in the Knight’s Quest were great fun and she loved getting dressed up in the costumes and having a go at the sword fighting. There was also some great spots inside the courtyard for our picnic. I thought the children (three and two) might have been too young to appreciate the inside of the castle, but the staff were so geared up for children and showed them how to look out for the little white owls hidden in the rooms, which they enjoyed tracking down. At the moment if you pay for a day, you can visit free for a year. Adults are £14 and children (5-16) are £7. A family ticket is £36. http://www.alnwickcastle.com/

Rosedale Abbey Campsite, North Yorkshire

So apparently the first mistake I made was thinking our camping trip was a “holiday”. As I later discovered in my Art of Camping book, it should not be looked on as leisure, but a sport. I also learned that I was one of those categories of people you should not choose to take with you on a trip, a “fair weather camper.” I was hopeful this was going to be more successful than last year’s one night stay as the forecast at least promised dry weather in contrast to the deluge that washed us out last August. As we drove across a decidedly murky North Yorkshire Moors on route to our destination at Rosedale Abbey and lightning flashed across the gloomy sky it soon became clear this was not going to be the case. Driving into the campsite, barely visible through our window wipers going into overdrive, all I could think of was my nice warm dry house two hours drive away. As we discussed/argued over where to pitch our tent I could see the smirking expressions on our new neighbours’ faces, smugly already under canvas, thinking, “ha ha this should be fun”. Anyway we launched ourselves into the downpour, kids and all, and by some miracle managed to put our new home up without any major disasters. Maybe I had just been emotionally broken down, but as the rain eased off and the sun came out, I hate to admit it but I started to almost enjoy myself and the girls couldn’t have been happier diving in and out of the tent and running around with the other children on the site. My biggest fear before hand had been my two-year-old waking screaming in the night. There were a couple of whelps, but thankfully nothing too bad and whereas at home where the windows are plastered in blackout material they wake at 5.15am, out in the wild they somehow didn’t wake until almost 6.30am. Don’t get me wrong, I slept badly, woke with back ache and the shower under little more than a dribble didn’t seem to do the trick, but somehow those few blissful moments of sipping wine under the stars, the sound of the stream at night next to the tent and the kids diving around on the grass without even whining for TV once seemed to make it all worthwhile. Nevertheless perhaps in the pursuit of balance and fairness, my next holiday review should, as a collegue advised, consist of hotels, indoor pools, posh suppers and in house-childminding. I think maybe that could be good for the soul too. As a campsite Rosedale Abbey must be about as perfect as you can get: stream, tarzies, village, pub, woods, walks, a playground and beautiful. We arrived the Wednesday before August bank holiday and while it was reasonably busy, there was plenty of spots to choose from. We were told however that the bank holiday weekend was fully booked. It is a large site, stretching back along the river. There are several tea rooms, a village shop and a pub yards from the site and a shop at the reception too. It was very family friendly, most people were there with children, but a really good atmosphere and nice and quiet at night. As mentioned on some review sites, the showers were a bit poor – hot but very weak pressure. The whole area was kept quite clean however. There is so much to do nearby -from steam train rides to moorland walks. My favourite childhood spot is the stepping stones at Lealholm, just about 20 minutes away.

To camp or not to camp that is the question

To camp or not to camp that is the question. We did it once before last summer when the girls were aged two and a half and 10 months and I vowed I would never go again. Deciding it would be good for us all to get away from the trappings of modern life – laptops, tv, mounds of noisy plastic toys – and get back to nature, we set off for a campsite in North Yorkshire.  I had images of the children playing in the grass, picking flowers and making campfires.  Things went all too well to start with, they slept in the car while we battled to erect the tent, then the sun shone as we passed the evening cooking dinner and  exploring the forest we were camping in. Then darkness fell and the nightmare began.  Well it wasn’t really that bad, but you realise exactly how loud a baby’s screams are when you are in the middle of a silent field under the stars. After an almost entirely sleepless night shivering in my sleeping bag with the squirming child, I just about dropped off before the children both woke with daylight at 5am. I was not looking forward to coming face to face with our neighbours when they finally peered out of their tents.

Then to add to the fun, it started to rain, or pour, and it showed no signs of stopping.  The novelty also seemed to be wearing off with Charlotte, two, who had already started whining that she wanted to watch Waybuloo.  After attempting  to visit the local village, hardly visible in the mist, I put my foot down and demanded to be taken home.

Anyway, here we are almost one year on to the day and we are just about to do it all over again. They are older now, there is no rain forecast, we are better prepared, it’s going to be fine…

In advance of the trip I found a book in the library called The Art of Camping. In the section on packing the author describes how one Victorian camping party set off for the lakes with two tons of kit packed on horse drawn carts, including an harmonium, a pantry tent and even a cast-iron fireplace that they then buried in the earth with the intention of digging them up the following year. As I look at our bulging car, I don’t think we are much different. It seems to defeat the point about getting back to nature when you are bringing with you quite so much stuff.

Anyway, nothing ventured, nothing gained, so we’ll give it go and hopefully last for two nights this time. If anyone feels inspired, I have a sneaking suspicion there could be some barely used tent gear on ebay very soon

Nightclub with a toddler?

Deep down I knew it was a bad idea from the start. As my brother put it: “A nightclub at 11am, a crowd of kids under seven and a bar serving booze, what could go wrong?”

Last weekend we took a trip to stay with my brother and his wife in Edinburgh where the festival was in full swing. With six of us in a fourth floor one-bed city centre flat it was going to be cosy and if they were thinking of starting a family anytime soon, I think they have changed their minds.

Anyway, after scouring the programme of children’s shows I eventually decided to buy tickets for Baby Loves Disco. Set in one of the city’s nightclubs and promising DJs spinning tunes, nappy changing stations, a spread of healthy snacks, a chill out room and a bar, it seemed like a winner.

Both my daughters love a bit of a boogie and watching them and their crazy moves is always good for a laugh.  They usually resemble something like a robot having an epileptic fit. Besides this was the nearest I was going to get to a real nightclub anytime soon.

But as we joined the snaking queue outside and my youngest aged almost two was already pulling me in another direction, I started to panic as all these toddlers were funnelled underground into a confined space.

Of course, having bigged them both up as loving to dance, as soon as they set foot inside and saw the flashing lights in the darkness amid the loud music, of course they froze.

At least we weren’t the only ones. There was a handful of enthusiastic parents shimmying about on the dancefloor to YMCA with their all-too-cool toddlers looking on from the sides as if they were thinking “stop embarrassing me dad,” like they were at a family wedding.

The girls chirped up once they sniffed out the biscuits and juice so at least, I thought, they could get their entry fee’s worth of food.

The sugar rush seemed to help get them warmed up and everyone had a brief bit of a dance.

We even ordered a drink at the bar. The whole thing was very well run and I can’t fault the organisers. As well as the healthy(ish) snacks, there was also a lady doing “cheek art” and a musicbugs session, but to be honest it all felt a bit weird.

I guess no child, not even a toddler, wants to be seen in a club with their parents. The time will come soon enough when they will probably be sneaking out of the house to blag their way into a bar, I don’t think they need their mum dragging them at three.

Jedburgh Abbey

Much more scenic route to Edinburgh than the A1, with the perfect picnic stop off and amazing views. Didn’t even take that much longer as there were less tractors!

Shocked at Punch & Judy?

I watched a Punch and Judy show for the first time in about a decade last week and to be honest I was shocked.  Do you ever find that when you revisit your childhood memories they are not at all like you remember? These days I’m used to watching nice politically correct cartoons like the slightly trippy Waybuloo who float around in nah nah land or whatever it is. Then on a nice sunny day in the grand surroundings of the National Trust’s Wallington Hall in Northumberland I found myself in front of a Punch and Judy show watching a grotesque puppet batter a baby with a stick while screaming “that’s the way to do it!” I felt like I was sitting covering the magistrates court.

A full blown domestic then unfolds between Punch and his mrs as they knock seven bells out of one another.

But everyone seemed to love it – well to be honest my daughters (three and two) were a bit bemused. But the older children enjoyed the shouting and heckling and the adults were all laughing. And so far they don’t seem traumatised and have not been hammering each other with sticks.

Punch and Judy is 350 years old this year. Apparently this great British seaside tradition took off in 1662 when diarist Samuel Pepys sang the praises of an Italian puppet play being performed in Covent Garden, starring Punchinello and his wife Joan. It has continued ever since, being exported across the British Empire, despite the efforts of the odd council over the years to get it banned for being “unfit for the innocent eyes of children”.

Attitudes to childhood have changed so much in 350 years. Back in the 17th century when Punch came on the scene they will have been expected to perform a hard day’s work and there weren’t many light-hearted children’s tales about. The most famous book for children at the time is said to be “A Token for Children, being an Exact Account of the Conversion, Holy and Exemplary Lives, and Joyful Deaths, of several young Children”. Cheery.

As the kids get older I find it hard to draw the line between explaining reality and protecting their innocent view of the world. Out walking the other day we came across a squashed bee. “He’s OK”, I said ushering them on. “He’s just sleeping.” No mummy,” says my daughter with a sigh, “he’s dead”.

Who knows why Punch and Judy has endured so long. Maybe it’s adults keeping it alive as we don’t want to let go of our own childhood? Or is there something universal in the naughty, rebellious Punch, the domestic rants and the arm of the law, that people of all ages just understand

Seaton Delaval Hall

Picnic, hay fight and statues





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