Beamish Museum - Festival of 50's

Beamish Museum - Festival of 50's

I love Beamish. I hadn't been for years, perhaps since I was at school, until I got an unlimited card this spring. Since then we've easily had our money's worth. I love that it's so picturesque, that I can go and have a good walk, but that there is always something there that my toddler will enjoy too. We visited on the first day of the Festival of the 50s, a four day celebration showcasing the 50s items the museum is accruing in preparation for opening the 50s area some time in the future. The 50s festival was great, it had a really good atmosphere, and I think that will be even more so over the weekend when there are activities planned. 

This review is in two parts, for all of the people who have been to Beamish time and time again, I'll show the pictures of the 50s weekend and encourage you if you have an unlimited card to visit at some point this weekend as it's a brilliant cheap day out as all of the daytime events are included in the annual pass. Then after the photos and write up of the festival, I'll include the best toddler friendly bits of Beamish that we visit time and time again. 

Young Explorers - Centre For Life

Young Explorers - Centre For Life

We love the Centre for Life, it's a great museum in it's own right, and if you visiting without children then you can easily fill a full day looking at the interactive exhibitions that they have on. This year they've given it a long overdue makeover and created an experiment zone, in the ground floor area that was starting to look a bit tired. But apart from all of that, the main reason, that I love it now that I have two small children is the excellent play space on the upstairs floor. That's what I've focussed on in this blog post, because it's where we go most often. 

My husband had an unexpected day off yesterday, and as we were in town anyway we thought we'd pop to the centre for life for a couple of hours, as we have annual passes. More about the costs of them vs single day tickets at the bottom, but I think the annual passes are really good value. If you don't have toddlers and you are going to go to Life every couple of years to see specific exhibitions then I think you can probably justify the cost of a day ticket. But as anyone with toddlers knows some days they are brilliant and spend hours lighting up wherever they are with their happy little faces, and other days they wander round crying because you won't let them hit their little sister or because they really really wanted that fifth tangerine and you are just the worst mother for not letting them have it. For this reason, I'm sometimes a little dubious about spending large amounts of money on single days, but I love having the annual pass so that we can just call in for an hour every so often. We went almost every week in the colder months. Now it's summer we're there less often, but it's always good to know that we can go there whenever we fancy. 

Plessey Woods Country Park

Plessey Woods Country Park

If you go down to the woods today, you're sure of a big surprise...Well, not if you've read this blog because I've taken pictures of all of the lovely surprising bits, but if you go for a walk in Plessey Woods Country park I think that you'll like it. 

Earlier in the year I saw on Facebook that Plessey Woods were having an opening weekend, after they had added some sculptures and activity bits within their country park. I hadn't got around to visiting until this weekend, when the weather was beautiful. The warm sunshine probably helped, but even so it was a lovely place to take the kids for a walk. Our toddler managed to walk lots of it, loved stomping in the puddles and was happy to play along with me when I propped him up on some of the sculptures. I'd like to tell you the distance of the walk we did, and how long it took, but in typical me style the battery on my phone died half way through so I lost the data from the distance app that I was using. If we're doing confessions then I might as well fess up that we took the wrong turning at some point, so we missed at least one sculpture area (Totem Poles) and ended up carrying the double buggy up an exceptionally long and steep flight of stairs. So it's probably best that you look at the pretty pictures, and take no notice of any advice that I might give as I think most people would have done a better job at navigating a buggy friendly walk than we did. 

Wheelbirks Parlour (Stocksfield, Northumberland) - If Pinterest made kids areas...

Wheelbirks Parlour (Stocksfield, Northumberland) - If Pinterest made kids areas...

Last week we had an eventful visit to Wheelbirks, the farm shop and cafe in Stocksfield. I was having one of those days where everything goes wrong, mainly because I was making terrible decisions and mistakes every five minutes. I had parked up on the road leading to the farm to take a call, ended up talking for longer than I had realised and drained the car battery, leaving me stranded. After packing up the kids into the buggy and walking the rest of the way to the cafe, I realised the baby's nappy had exploded and handily my change of clothes for her were still in the car - so if you happened to be in Wheelbirks last Tuesday, I was the flustered sweaty one with the half dressed and suspiciously stained baby. I'd only planned to pop into the cafe for a coffee, but ended up there for hours waiting for the AA to rescue us. 

Whilst it wasn't ideal, even through my occasional bouts of tears (I was particularly emotional/sweary when I returned to the car and managed to drain the battery for a second time) I was at least aware that as far as places to be stranded in go I'd picked a good one. As well as having all of the sweet treats I needed to get me through the experience with minimal tears, it also has indoor and outdoor play space so my toddler could roam around and burn off some energy. The farm shop and cafe is based on Wheelbirks farm in Stocksfield, Northumberland. It has been decorated beautifully, the ice cream which is made on site is to die for, the play space keeps my toddler entertained for ages, and there are loads of tables in the orchard to sit and catch some sun if it's a nice day. All in all I think its a bit of a hidden gem.

The Laing Art Gallery's Under 5 area and Little Artist Group

The Laing Art Gallery's Under 5 area and Little Artist Group

I've been meaning to try out The Laing Art Gallery's under 5 area and their weekly Tuesday group for a while. A friend of mine had mentioned that the kids room was a nice space, and I'd seen the brief info about the Little Artist class on the gallery's webpage. The class starts at 10:30 which always seems a bit early to get me, the two year old and the baby up, breakfasted, dressed and into Newcastle for. But the today the stars aligned (read the baby decided to wake us all up earlier than normal) so we headed in to check it out. 

Wacky Warehouse at the Wheatsheaf in Woolsington

Wacky Warehouse at the Wheatsheaf in Woolsington

I first visited this play area when one of my friends suggested it. It's not the type of place I would have thought of trying, I usually think of Wacky Warehouses as being within a pub, and as my toddler acts like he's in training for the 2016 Rio hurdles, and darts off as soon as I take my eyes off him, being within a pub   isn't great for us. Too many places to hide. But this play area was local to my friend, so when she suggested it, I was happy to go along. It's actually a self contained play area so not connected to the pub, and when I was there I thought it was actually pretty good for us, small enough so that my two year old could explore all of the play equipment without being too far away, and my very favourite thing about this play area is that it only has one exit. So many of the play areas we go to have multiple exits which means I'm constantly having to check that he hasn't escaped out of one of the other ones. As this one only has one, it means I can feed the baby and and actually manage to half concentrate on a conversation for once, knowing my toddler is still where I left him. 

Getting There and Parking: It's pretty easy to find, and very close to the airport, right next to Callerton Parkway metro station. The car park is accessed by a barrier, but I think this is just there so people doing airport pickups don't use it. The code to the barrier is displayed within the play area, so there is no cost to park. There were loads of parking spaces, and the car park is right next to the entrance. Close enough that I could carry the car seat, and not have to put it down for a breather on my way to the door. That is my new judge of distance, as i'm soooooo unfit after baby number two. Outside of the entrance, are a couple of picnic style tables, and a small park area. I think these belong to the pub, but if the weather was nice I think you could sit outside on your way in or out of the play area and use the park equipment for a while. 

Ridley Park - Blyth

On a freezing cold Saturday in April, we headed out with a few friends to Ridley Park in Blyth. I'd never been to this park before, but my husband had told me it was really impressive. Well he wasn't exaggerating. It was a lovely park, big enough to have a meander through for 15-20 minutes, green space for a kick about, loads of equipment for kids of a pretty wide age range and a cafe to grab a coffee and bit of cake.

Parking: There was a decent sized car park which was almost empty when we visited. I can imagine on a sunny summers day the car park would be heaving pretty early on, but if so there were plenty of spots to leave the care on the road surrounding the park.

The car park - it's opportunities to take glam photos like this that made me want to get into blogging!

The car park - it's opportunities to take glam photos like this that made me want to get into blogging!

Play areas: A short flat walk from the car park led to the main park where there were 3 distinct playing areas. A playground for 10 year olds and under, a junior park for 11 and over and a water feature area.

UPDATE: TWITTER TELLS ME THE WATER FEATURE WILL START ON 28TH MAY 2016 FOR THE SUMMER. The water wasn't on when we visited. The northumberland council website tells me that it's on 'most days' during the summer, from 11-6pm. I can imagine the toddler going nuts for this when it's operational, and as  it was freezing cold it was probably for the best so my toddler was exposed to fewer risk factors for hypothermia. You could see from the placement of water pumps that it would probably be quite dramatic when it was on, but unfortunately without the water sprinkling, my trusty iPhone photographs are a bit bland. The ground was a soft, anti slip material, although I feel like those 6 rocking animals might act like a magnet to excitable kids' heads when they are running around in the water. 

The water area - the silver spots on the ground are presumably where the water comes from in the Summer. 

The water area - the silver spots on the ground are presumably where the water comes from in the Summer. 

The Junior park for under 10s, was really well equipped with a few pieces which were different from the usual swings or roundabouts that you see in most parks. Below are photographs of all of the equipment in this section of the park. Including climbing pieces, slides, and water and sand features. The water feature, which was a tap with a series of tubes, turbines and mills for the water to travel through, wasn't on when we visited. Perhaps this is something else which is only operational during the summer months? Our toddler didn't seem to mind though and still had a play on it. 

Climbing equipment.

Climbing equipment.

The water feature

The water feature

Slide

Slide

The junior park was particularly well equipped with swings. There were 6 of the older kid style, 2 for little children, and then a big basket type swing which would fit a couple of kids in at the same time. 

The junior park was particularly well equipped with swings. There were 6 of the older kid style, 2 for little children, and then a big basket type swing which would fit a couple of kids in at the same time. 

The sandpit was designed like a ship. 

The sandpit was designed like a ship. 

One of the things which set Ridley Park apart from the other parks that I've been to before was the area for over 11s. The equipment in this section was frighteningly big. The type of park which is great when you are 11, then as soon as you have kids and lose your sense of humour and ability to see any fun in taking risks, it is quite terrifying. Mainly the climbing apparatus. I don't think my photos show just how high some of it went. 

This is the one. The one that I'll be hoping my kids don't spot when they are big enough to climb it. It was really high. 

This is the one. The one that I'll be hoping my kids don't spot when they are big enough to climb it. It was really high. 

As well as the play areas there were lots of grassy patches which you could spend a while walking around, have a picnic or play games on. 

Cafe: There was a really sweet cafe in the centre of the park, with places to sit both inside and out. I spotted at least two high chairs for the little people, and dogs were welcome inside too. The cafe supplied some games equipment (which in the interests of full disclosure I must point out some of it was tired, like when Eddie Izzard completed 50 marathons tired, a couple of the balls looked like they had been salvaged from a dog's mouth, but there was enough equipment in good enough state to have a kick about with) like balls, hula hoops, and a mini kids slide. I thought this was a really nice touch, and we had a good time chasing around one of the balls each time our toddler kicked it in the opposite direction to us. For the size of the cafe it had a very big menu, not just offering coffee and cakes, but full meals. We saw a few people tucking into baked potatoes and paninis and they looked really good. We treated ourselves to a millionaires shortbread and hot chocolate whilst I fed the baby, and they were lovely. Slightly disappointingly they'd added synthetic tasting chocolate sauce when decorating our plate which distracted a little bit from the rich, slightly bitter taste of the chocolate on the shortbread. Millionaires shortbread is one of my favourites, and this was definitely a really good one, and tasted home made. I'm sure it was, as we saw them bring out big trays of freshly cooked scones from the oven. The only downside to this cafe was that if you needed the loo, you needed to go outside and brave the elements, as the only ones available were the parks toilets. 

Spot the toddler hand. On this occasion I managed to intercept before he came into contact with the sweet goods. I think that leaves the total at Toddler 7 - me 1. 

Spot the toddler hand. On this occasion I managed to intercept before he came into contact with the sweet goods. I think that leaves the total at Toddler 7 - me 1. 

Baby Rosa enjoying the cafe. 

Baby Rosa enjoying the cafe. 

Toilets: Now for the weird bit of the review. With a baby and toddler needing their nappy changing, what feels like every 15 minutes, the toilets are pretty important to me. Important enough to take photos of, it seems. These pics were taken on my iPhone, but I think even a top of the range SLR couldn't save these pics from how grim they are. Probably my only negative part of the review of this park, but there were only one sets of toilets open. So two female toilets, and absolutely nowhere within them to change a baby. The green porta-cabin building were toilets too, but these were all locked up. Perhaps there were baby change within the disabled toilet? But I had asked within the cafe if there were any baby change in the park and they didn't know, so I'm not sure whether there are any baby change places in the park. Thankfully on our trip there were no tell-tale smells indicating an immediate nappy change required, so both the toddler and baby just had to wait until we got home. 

Would I recommend it? Absolutely, it was a perfect park for the colder weather, lots to entertain the little ones, bits of games equipment for us to use, and a lovely cafe for a cake. We'll definitely go back in the summer so that we can see the water area in action. We live about a half an hour drive away, but I think that if we were heading out for a day it would be worth making the trip to Ridley park for the great play spaces. 

 

Have you been to Ridley Park? What did you think? Did you find any baby change facilities? Have I missed anything out of this review? Leave me a comment below. 

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Geronimo Festival 2016 - Harewood House, Leeds

Letters spelling out GERONIMO met us at the entrance of the festival. 

Letters spelling out GERONIMO met us at the entrance of the festival. 

We booked our tickets to Geronimo Festival back in January, when this blog was just a twinkle in my eye. It looked fun, different to anything we'd been to before and handily it fell on the same weekend as my toddler's second birthday. Last year we'd had a small party which ended up being a surprising amount of work, so being a fuss-free celebration it ticked all of the boxes. The review i'd found of the previous year was pretty positive, so we went ahead and booked up. It wasn't cheap, but as we were visiting just before the toddler turned 2 we only had to pay for two adult tickets, which including car parking cost us about £45. My sister and her family joined us too, costing them almost £90 for the day. 

Getting there: We set off, raincoats in hand on a wet bank holiday Sunday. I optimistically checked the forecast every 20 minutes, but it was due to rain all day. It wasn't just the weather dampening our spirits either as a search of the twitter hashtag #geronimofest detailed 90 minute waits to get into the car park, and more alarmingly queues in the rain of up to an hour to get through the gates. Thankfully this was one of the few times that being perpetually late has played to our favour, as when we arrived at about 11:30 all of the queues had passed and we got straight into the carpark and waited about 10 mins to swap our tickets for wristbands. Getting in had been fairly straight-forward, although by the time we arrived the stewards directing traffic looked fairly shell shocked and didn't attempt to hide it when greeting us. They responded to any of our questions by telling us to ask at the gate, and I half expected them to curl into the fetal position if I asked again where we should park.  

The queues at 11:30am were moving quickly

The queues at 11:30am were moving quickly

Our gang waiting to get into the festival, fair to say we are in various states of excitement

Our gang waiting to get into the festival, fair to say we are in various states of excitement

My 10 year old nephew Rohan enjoying sitting on his larger than life initial

My 10 year old nephew Rohan enjoying sitting on his larger than life initial

Once through the gates the festival started as it would continue. Chaotic, busy, weird and on occasion wonderful. Large grass covered letters spelled out Geronimo, and we joined the rest of the crowd who could spot an instragramable moment when they saw one, in climbing over them for a photo op. Looking around the grounds we could see lots of marquees, outdoor events and people, lots and lots of people.

Mud, people and intriguing tents. Who needs a map

Mud, people and intriguing tents. Who needs a map

There weren't any signs detailing the different areas, and we hadn't been given a map or program when we entered the festival, so we started an exploratory walk around the grounds. This resulted in 8 people walking off in different directions, sticking their heads in various marquees and joining queues without really knowing what they were for. Due to the differing ages of our respective kids we decided to split up from my sisters family so we could get a bit of a grasp about what we wanted to do. 

I'm not sure we ever really succeeded with this aim, but that isn't to say that we didn't have fun. We really did. However I was left with the sensation that due to the poor organisation of the event we missed out on some of the attractions we would have enjoyed. 

Attractions: Between our two families we had 5 children ranging from 10 years old to 4 months, with the exception of the baby who slept through a lot of it, they all found something that they loved. The toddler was enthralled by the baby disco, bouncy castle, and musical performers who were dotted around the festival. 

My 4 year old niece had a talent of picking the biggest queues to have fun in. She spotted the helter skelter when we first went into the festival and her parents naively joined the queue. An hour after we'd left them to explore my sister texted me to say they were still in the queue for the slide! Later, after another parent had kindly pointed us in the direction of the face painters, we joined the huge queue and waited about an hour. Thankfully Maggie made such a cute little dog that we thought it had been worth it, but this was an example where the poor organisation really had an impact on the day. The Sunday event was sold out, which prior to the festival left me feeling both smug that we'd got our tickets in good time, and slightly anxious that there were going to be too many people for it to run well. Sadly I think that this was the case. We were frequently left asking why the organisers hadn't managed to cater for the huge number of people visiting. Apparently 15000 tickets were sold. Yet we spotted only 2 face painters. 

Where the festival seemed to excel was with the older children's activities. This was probably because the fewer number meant there were almost no queues for some of the things they were interested in. They went on a large zip line at least 6 times each, and although they were slightly too small for the giant jump where they would have landed in a huge inflatable pillow, if they'd been big enough for this, we saw there were no queues for this all day. They also took part in a graffiti workshop creating images with spray paint and templates which they both loved.

The large jump for older children and adults

The large jump for older children and adults

Shows: Due to the ages of the kids with us, the only show we were really interested in was Mr Tumble. Therefore we didn't spend much time around the stages where there were various performers from CBBC throughout the day. I saw on twitter that there were lots of complaints about kids being unable to see the shows due to the height of the stages, and we did find that when Mr Tumble came on the stage it was difficult to catch sight of him. But having been to festivals before this was something that I was expecting. It was a shame that the large screen was located so far from the stage, but apparently this was due to the poor weather. I spoke with another mum who had seen lots of the shows, she said that she made sure she arrived at the stage early and that her kids had got a good view. We didn't bother to wait in the queue for the circus, but we heard that this was worth the 45 minute wait and a really good show. There were lots of performances which took place within the crowd, and were very good. We happened to catch a few minutes of a sheep sheering show, which was much funnier and more entertaining than it sounds, and we saw giant puppets, a princess on a beautiful white horse and too many other performers to mention throughout the day. 

Things we missed out on: Annoyingly we did miss out on some of the things that we would have been interested in, and I think that the poor information and planning on behalf of the festival was to blame. We stumbled upon the under three area after we'd been at the festival for a few hours. Here were a group of tents offering tumble tots sessions, soft play, and music and dance classes. We were informed that all of the tumble tots sessions were fully booked, which was frustrating as we hadn't been told on entry what sessions needed to be booked in advance. In all fairness the tumble tots staff member told us that we could wait at the door and when people started leaving that they'd let people in on a one in one out basis, but we decided just to explore the rest of the festival instead of waiting. As we left the festival we spotted the woodland area which we hadn't seen at all whilst we were inside. I think that my nephews would have really enjoyed playing in this area where there were nets in the trees to climb on, but there had been no signposting to this inside so we didn't see it until it was too late. 

Toilets and Baby Change: I saw some negative comments on twitter about the baby change facilities, but again I think this must have been due to poor signage. There was what I thought were very good provision for baby change within the under three areas, but we didn't see one sign throughout the whole festival letting people know where they were. Baby change was within a marquee, with at least 8 changing tables, with hand gel, baby wipes and nappies available if you found yourself separated from your change bag or running out of nappies. There was a breastfeeding tent there for people who wanted to have somewhere private to feed their baby, but again we just stumbled upon this as opposed to seeing any signs. There were toilets scattered around the event, and some did have long queues. However other areas didn't have any queues at any point throughout the day so we always used these. They did run out of toilet paper half way through the day which was annoying.

We didn't have to wait to use the toilets. 

We didn't have to wait to use the toilets. 

Food: This was another area where the queues were a nightmare. Until about 3pm it looked like each food queue would be at least an hour. That was whether you wanted a full meal, or just a cup of tea. It was frustrating and again left us feeling like the festival hadn't managed to adequately prepare for the number of tickets sold. There were places to eat foods if you'd brought picnics such as a small undercover picnic table areas, and we saw lots of people eating their picnics in the tents. However usually the ground wasn't covered so it didn't look particularly comfortable.

Queues for most of the day for the food vans

Queues for most of the day for the food vans

Some undercover picnic benches

Some undercover picnic benches

Overall: Perhaps this review has been overly negative, as overall we did have a brilliant day. There was so much to see and do, and it was really quite different to anything that we'd been to before. I almost wished that we'd arranged to stay in Leeds and had tickets for the second day, as I think having gleaned the knowledge we had from day one we could have had an even better time on a return visit. I think we easily could have spent another 5 hours at the event and still had things to do. I think this is where the organisers need to listen to the feedback on twitter, facebook and the various blogs which have been written about the event. The variety and type of attractions and events put on throughout the festival was brilliant, but there needed to be more of them so that people's lasting memory of the day was about the excitement of what they did do, instead of just waiting in queues all day long. They also need to provide people with more information, through adequate signage, information packs and actual staff who are working for geronimo as opposed to being part of a specific attraction. 

Tips for anyone going to Tatton Park at the end of the month or going to Geronimo 2017:

  • Expect traffic and queues to get into the carpark. Think about heading a good hour before the start time, or to arrive an hour or so after to miss the worst of it. 
  • Bring your own food, flask and waterproof picnic blanket. Don't waste any of your day in the huge queues for food.
  • If the information provided hasn't been improved, then try and spend the first half an hour walking around and covering all of the ground, putting your heads in as many tents as you can to work out just what is inside, whether you'd be interested in it, and if so if it needs to be booked in advance. 

Would I recommend it? This is a tough one, as I thought that it was a brilliant event, but that there are so many areas for improvement. I think that I would personally return next year, hoping that the organisers have learned from this year, and using the knowledge that I have from this year. But I would be wary of recommending it to anyone else until I'd seen that improvements had been made. I hope that the organisers can dust themselves off and think about the improvements which can be made for next year, as I think Geronimo has the potential to be something really special. The quality and variety of shows, attractions and events were excellent, they had thought of something for everyone. However there just weren't enough for the amount of people who had bought a ticket. 

 

Did you go to Geronimo Festival 2016? What were your thoughts? Do you agree? Think that the smoke filled bubbles at the event went to my head? Please leave us a comment with letting us know what you thought of the event.