Wednesday, 19 June 2019

Cotswold Wildlife Park

It has become tradition in our family to make a trip to the zoo every Father's Day. Since Ted was little we have been going to Whipsnade Safari Park in Dunstable but this year we decided to head to Cotswold Wildlife Park. I haven't been in years, since before we had the children so it was nice to go and experience it with them. Joe stayed at home as he is still recovering from sinus surgery but my parents, brother and sister came along. 

The weather the past week has been awful so we were a bit apprehensive about going. We were right to worry it did rain on and off all day but we made the most of it and in between downpours the sun came out. The kids also loved taking advantage of all the muddy puddles, Callie especially! 

Cotswold is just over an hour from Northampton but the drive is quite easy, parking is plentiful and if you book online you can get a better rate on tickets than on the day. I paid £23 for myself and Ted, Callie was free which is always a bonus. 

When we arrived the first stop was the walled garden, this area has penguins, meerkats, prairie dogs and a whole host of beautiful birds. The walk through Madagascar is only open 11.30 - 3.30 so we were too early to get in there. We did go into the Tropical House and spotted some Sloths but they were quite high up hiding from us! 

We played with the marmosets who are always so full of character. I set my phone up so that they could see themselves and it was hilarious to see their little faces so puzzled by themselves in their reflection. We also saw a beautiful white Tamandua or Lesser Anteater who was being fed as we arrived. It was adorable, the keeper was trying to train him to eat his dinner off of the perch but he wasn't having any of it. 

Next we went on a ride on the train, it was only £1 per person with Callie being free again. It took us on a loop around the park and we saw some Zebras that were actually not there when we walked past later. Callie loves a train ride and waved at all of the people as we went past. 

Off of the train and the kids were begging for lunch, I showed them the map and we decided we would do the Reptile House first and then head to the cafe to get some chips to go with our packed lunch. They agreed this was a good compromise, 5 points for Mummy, so off we went. Within the park there is a huge manor house, the outer buildings make up the Reptile House, Invertebrate House and Fruit Bat exhibits. These are always my favourite parts of a zoo, I find all the small creatures fascinating. 

We also saw an anaconda which always creeps me out, they are just so enormous and remind me of Rudyard Kipling's Jungle Book from the 90's. Something so unnerving about a snake that large. 

Coming out of the Reptile House we turned the corner to the restaurant, it was really busy directly outside but if you head to the other side of the building there is a kiosk that sells hot drinks, ice lollies and most importantly the chips! We had a packed lunch but with the weather being a bit chilly we thought something warm would be nice. It was £2.50 for a portion of chips which I thought was quite reasonable and the portion was huge, I got two between me and the kid and we had far too many. 

We enjoyed our chips under a big old tree, I had a hot tea in a flask which was greatly appreciated and we finished it all off with a nice cake. Amazingly it hadn't rained at all up until this point, we were really lucky! 

Next it was time to let the kids run off some energy on the park which is amazing. I remember thinking it looked good when I went last but I was too old to appreciate it, now I could share it with the children and they loved it. Ted went off with my Dad, the two of them get up to mischief when they are together so we left them to explore. Callie found a great toddler area with a miniature zip wire. It said for children aged 5+ but actually it was like a glorified baby swing so I felt fine letting her have a go. She had so much fun and was able to wander around the rest of the area safely too. There was a castle with slides at either end and a rope bridge that was enclosed for the little ones. 

Over the other side of the park was a huge wooden play area with multiple slides and climbing frames. Ted ran around like a wild child and braved the drop slide which I never thought he would be up for. It was so good seeing them let off some steam but the fun was cut short when the rain came tumbling down. We took shelter in the Invertebrate House.

We loved the leaf cutter ants, vipers and scorpions the most. The female tailless whip scorpion had her babies on her back, something we have never seen before and I must admit made all the hairs on the back of my neck stand up. 

Venturing back out into the rain we wandered over to the farm area where Callie sploshed in lots of puddles and ended up with soggy socks! The farm is great, there were huge hairy pigs, horses, goats, guinea pigs, rabbits, mice and rats. I particularly liked the little mice, I could sit and watch them all day munching on carrots and scurrying about.

Can you spot the cheeky rat climbing on the window ledge? The whole rat enclosure was set out like a farmhouse that had been taken over. The details at Cotswold are perfect. 

The kids had a run around with some goats, climbing over hills and rocks like mountain goats before more puddle jumping (there is a bit of a theme here). Next we headed over to the Giraffe enclosure where we were lucky enough to see someone feeding them. I was so close I could have touched the giraffes but the keeper was next to me so wasn't sure I was allowed. They are such gorgeous creatures and definitely a family favourite. These two were called Wallace and Century. 

Did you know a group of Giraffes is called a tower? 

We took a walk back past the lions, they may be "king of the jungle" but we missed the male roaring while we were at the giraffes and by the time we got there not much was happening. They can be really boring when they are just laying around! 

Ice creams were on Grandad next and I attempted to wash Callie's socks in the sink before we went into the Little Africa area. I found my favourite animals in here, the Naked Mole Rats! I know they aren't everyone's cup of tea but I love them, they are so wrinkly and the pointy teeth make me smile. 

We saw lots of birds, lemurs and tortoises around the park too, there were so many animals to see but in quite close proximity because they are mostly small creatures not requiring huge open spaces. It meant the children never had too far to walk between displays but we did take Callie's pram for her to retreat to when she needed a break. 

I think it is an ideal place to take smaller children for their first introduction to animals. Educating children about animals of the world is really important to me and although many people don't agree with them being in captivity there are so many species that wouldn't survive without zoo breeding programmes. So many adults don't know much about animals which always amazes me, especially the man we overheard call a Wallaby a "Kangaroo Rat"!!!

Wednesday, 12 June 2019

Free Days Out in Shropshire

Those of you that have followed the blog for a while may know that Joe's family live in Shropshire. It is just under a 2 hour drive from us but we are up there quite frequently so have visited a few places nearby. I wanted to let you know some of our favourite places to go while we are there all of which are free visit! 

Telford Town Park and Walled Garden

We first discovered the town park while Joe and I were on a weekend away without the kids. It is relatively new when you consider Joe hadn't been to Telford since he lived at home 10 years ago. The park is so big with a children's play area complete with sand pit and water play, heritage trail, nature trail, adventure golf and Sky Reach which is similar to Go Ape. My favourite part though is the walled garden, it is beautiful. The Chelsea Gardens were designed for the Chelsea Flower Show and are now open to the public. The Japanese inspired water garden was lovely and they had a memorial tree with leaves for loved ones.

The town park is just outside of the main shopping centre and a perfect spot to enjoy a picnic while the kids run some energy off. The nature reserve is meant to be really good so perhaps we will venture further next time we visit.

Shrewsbury Town Centre

We attended a wedding a few years ago and on the day after we stopped in Shrewsbury for an explore. Joe grew up here so it wasn't new to him but I thought it was a lovely historic town. The Market Hall is a great place to check out local produce and the museum often has free entry for heritage days. 

There are lots of charity shops to mooch around and a lovely not for profit coffee shop in the Baptist Church called Palmer's which does delicious cakes!

Bishops Castle

We went for a weekend away with Joe's family recently. It wasn't far from home for them because Joe's Nana was with us but about an hour from Joe's family home is Bishops Castle. A tiny quaint town in the middle of the Shropshire countryside not far from Ludlow. We had rented out a big house for the weekend and I was amazed at how beautiful the surroundings were. 

Just down the road from our house was the high street with a Town Hall full of historical artifacts and information about the local area, cute artisan bakeries, quirky holistic stores and charity shops. It is a really nice place to get away from it all, a retreat in the middle of England. 

There are plenty of nature walks you can take from the area and there is even glamping pods on a site nearby, ideal for a cheap getaway.

Montgomery Castle

While at Bishops Castle we were looking for places to visit and Montgomery Castle came up on my Google search. About 15 minutes from our 'holiday home' through winding roads and farm land is the beautiful town of Montgomery. It actually falls into Wales as the border is so close and you drive in and out of Wales on the trip there. The little town is really pretty and as you drive through the town square, up a really steep hill (I drove that day!) and round the bend there is a free car park. 

Just a short stroll along the hillside stands the ruins of Montgomery Castle. It has stood there since the 11th Century but lots of the walls are still in tact. There is a dried out moat all the way round and the older kids/grown ups enjoyed rolling down the hills at the side while the Mum's watched on with our hearts in our throats! 

I am sure there are lots of places we are yet to discover in Shropshire, there is always something to do in the area and we haven't even been to RAF Cosford near Wolverhampton yet which has been on our list for years! If you are happy to spend some money on a day out then Joe's family recommended Fordhall Farm as a fun day out too.

Are you local to Shropshire? Where else should we visit?

Monday, 10 June 2019

Chocolate and Raspberry Oat Cookies - Low Syn Slimming World Recipe

These oat cookies are quickly becoming my favourite breakfast. They feel like a treat but are Slimming World friendly and contain oats which are full of fibre and anti-oxidants. The raspberries add some natural sweetness but I particularly like adding the chocolate chips to make them feel like proper cookies. 

I adapted the recipe from this Basement Bakehouse one but there are lots of variations. I have tried them with dried apricots and raisins which are lovely but you can avoid the syns by using fresh fruit and the cooked apricots are totally delicious. 

These cookies use your Healthy Extra B choice with the oats and can also be tweaked to suit SP days by using Quark in place of the natural yogurt. Raspberries are speed but should technically be syned if being cooked. I didn't syn mine as they are such a small amount that I would have eaten anyway but it is recommended to protect your weight loss if eating them regularly. 

You will want to preheat your oven to 180 degrees and line a tray with baking paper to prevent sticking, the cookies will be quite soft when they come out. 

To make the cookies I weigh out 40g of oats, mine are just the cheap Aldi ones. Pop them in a bowl with 1 egg, a tablespoon of natural yogurt (I used the Muller Greek Style Natural Yogurt) a teaspoon of sweetener, a few drops of vanilla essence and 10g of milk chocolate chips (3 syns). Mix these ingredients together completely before adding in 6-8 raspberries which have been chopped in half to make them go further. Gently combine so as not to break the raspberries. 

Spoon the mixture onto the baking paper in four disks, the mixture will be quite wet and won't really change shape in the oven so make them the size you want. Pop in the oven and cook for 20 minutes or until nicely golden brown. 

Allow them to cool slightly before removing from the tray and they will firm up a little. Enjoy with a hot cuppa! 

Wednesday, 5 June 2019

A Short Stop in Saint Tropez

During our first day on board the Riviera we were in Saint Tropez. I didn't quite know what to expect as nobody I know has really been but we didn't want to spend the whole day on the ship so got the tender boat over to the mainland  and went for an explore. 

That morning we had requested room service for breakfast. There were cereals and pastries but we were a little disappointed with them. Mostly because it was pre-made pastries and packet cereal. We discovered the next morning that breakfast in the restaurant was so much better and didn't order breakfast to our room again. Anyway with very little in our stomachs we made our way to the tender which was essentially the ships lifeboats that ferried people between the ship and harbour which was a few minutes ride away. 

These tender boats were light and got thrown around quite a bit in the water. We got on quite early and had to wait 15 minutes for the boat to fill before we could leave. During that time however we were sat with no air circulating, nearly 100 people bobbing around on the ocean. I went green. All I could think was do not be sick in front of all of these people! There was nowhere to be sick either and it wasn't until our final day I discovered there were sick bags on the back of the chairs! 

Anyway eventually the boat got moving and over to Saint Tropez. It took me a good 30 minutes to stop feeling sick but we wandered into town to explore. Next came the hardest bit. Now I speak basic GCSE French, Joe speaks about 5 phrases and for some reason every word of French left my brain the second we got off the ship...

Some areas of France can be quite helpful, they have English alongside French on maps and road signs. Not in Saint Tropez. Every written word was French and that was where we came unstuck. We wandered towards the market in search of some food. Chips...we found chips! The man in the food truck didn't speak a word of English but we managed to order Deux Petite Frites, Diet Cola et Fanta Citron. Ahh Lemon Fanta how I missed you! 

We took a walk through some lanes with boutiques on either side, they were beautiful and a buzz with tourists. Heading back to the harbour we ate our chips and decided to find a public toilet. We found one and it was 50c per person, the woman at the desk was really blunt with us when we didn't have the correct change but took our 10 Euros and changed it up. Toilets done we headed of to explore some more and felt a bit lost, not being able to read the map or properly ask for directions was difficult. We took a walk around the harbour and saw some amazing yachts. It was our first glimpse at how the other half live. It was fun spotting the British ones and seeing the variety of different styles. There was a jet black one which was beautiful and some older ones with wooden detailing that had been looked after so well. Always a bit awkward staring at someone else's home from home when they are sat enjoying a drink on the deck but I am sure they are used to it. 

Next we headed back to the market, I love a good foreign market and wanted to see what local produce was on offer. Both of us were a bit too nervous to approach the stall holders, not being able to speak the language in a place where they seem a bit reluctant to help us was biting us in the butt again. We walked around for a bit longer admiring the stalls from afar, particularly the florists with stunning peonies and the sweet stall with huge fruit shaped marshmallows, then headed back to the port to spend the afternoon back on the ship. 

We made the sensible decision to wait off the tender boat on the way back until it was just about to leave, something a few ladies did on the way out and it saved that time bobbing around waiting to be sick. The boat wasn't full on the way back and I sat near the door facing the horizon. The combination of a cool breeze and being able to see what was going on outside helped a lot and we were back on the ship in no time with the full colour in my cheeks.

Back on board we went to the Terrace restaurant which was buffet style. The food choice was enormous and we couldn't resist a slice of pizza along with some fresh salad options. There was such a wide range to choose from and all so delicious, we sat and ate while we watched yachts going past. 

That evening we met up with Joe's colleague I mentioned in the previous post and his wife. We went for dinner which was lovely then had a few drinks in the bar before heading to bed. A nice slow start to the break but much needed after the travelling the day before. Next stop was back to Monaco for a day on board networking and our Gala Night at Salles des Etoiles.