Creating memories at Hoburne Park and beyond

This week you’ll find our full review of Hoburne Park over at Boo, Roo & Tigger Too. Like any great family break we ended up with too many photos which meant so much to us.

So you’ll find those which show off Hoburne Park and its surroundings at their best on Sarah’s site. I wanted to share some of my other favourites as I’m loving seeing my water babies thrive this summer.

At the end of May my three got their first memorable experience of an outdoor pool thanks to Aunty Leigh-Anne’s 40th. It’s taken all my energy to stop them getting hold of my phone to request a further invitation. The chance to spend four consecutive days swimming outdoors definitely ticked their wishlist.Fun at Hoburne Park Fun at Hoburne Park Fun at Hoburne ParkThe bond between my three siblings constantly astounds me. I love the bond between my twins but this summer has definitely shown the strength of the older sister. There’s rarely a moment when the boys are in the role of dominant coupling, instead I get the chance to spend more time with one of the boys.Fun at Hoburne ParkThis was the first outing of the summer for our body boards. The boys don’t seem as fond of the sea this summer- their tastes are obviously getting more refined – they’re no longer lapping up salt water and wolfing down the sand. They are all thriving in the moments they can keep their mouths closed and gaining confidence on their boards.Boardboarding in ChristchurchThe chance to go crabbing at Mudeford also saw the confidence of the children grow. They’ve been going crabbing locally with daddy recently so the chance to show off their handling skills was not to be missed. Crabbing at Mudeford Crabbing at MudefordAnd as for me, I got to practice my photography skills. Well, maybe practice using the camera rather than skills. And Mudeford gave me every opportunity with so many boats! boats Boats at MudefordOur time in Christchurch also kicked started me adding videos to our You Tube channel again, and this video shows our weekend break in a bit more detail:

DoubleTree by Hilton London Islington

Following on from last week’s stay in a Hilton, this week’s stay was at DoubleTree by Hilton. Whilst a Hilton hotel is described as “much more than a full service hotel”, DoubleTree is described as “a comfortable hotel experience”. Arriving at DoubleTree by Hilton London Islington expectations were appropriately set.Doubletree by Hilton London IslingtonThe hotel is conveniently located a short walk from Angel. I’ve stayed in this area a lot as it is close to my base in Barbican. Angel has everything you need in turns of restaurants, bars, cinema and theatre so it’s definitely a good location. I was using it as a half way point as my meeting the following day was near to Kings Cross and the walk is bearable.

On entering the hotel you are met with fantastic contemporary decor. a friendly greeting at Reception and the offer of the trademark warm cookie. Declining the cookie on a calorie count did not faze, I was simply offered fruit in its place.

My room was a standard double (obviously given it was with work). And the room met this expectation.Doubletree by Hilton London IslingtonThe bed was comfy, the room had the facilities needed and the bathroom had a good range of toiletries and the shower was good enough to meet expectations.Doubletree by Hilton London IslingtonThe view wasn’t great, overlooking the goods entrance. I’m guessing it might be have been better than overlooking the street. It did have a desk area, which was appreciated, as was the mirror close to the window for sorting my face in the morning.Doubletree by Hilton London IslingtonMy criticism of the hotel was of the room service. It had been one of those days, nay, one of those weeks, where my plans of a night out were drowned out by my need to hide within four walls. I ordered room service. Remember how I declined the chocolate chip cookie? I ordered the superfood salad with grilled chicken. With a large bottle of water. And I offset it after much deliberation with a slice of a lemon based desert. Five minutes after ordering I had a phone call to let me know the desert was of the menu and to offer alternatives. I took it as a sign of my need to lose some weight and declined. 

A little while later my meal arrived. I needn’t have celebrated the calories I hadn’t gained. I have no idea what it was with the salad, apart from half the ingredients were missing so it basically compromised quinoa, lettuce, pepper and courgette. And to hide the missing ingredients, it was drowned in mayonnaise. Oh I was so unhappy. My laziness of not nipping round the corner to the supermarket was on payback. My night of slobbing out in a hotel room was ruined by the taste of oh-so-much mayonnaise.

Lesson learned- when staying away always explore the surroundings!

And as it always the way, here’s what to expect from a room at the DoubleTree by Hilton London – Islington:

M by Montcalm Shoreditch Tech City

There are the things in your diary you really look forward to as they approach. Britmums Live was one of them for me, admittedly less so for the event itself and more so for some quality time with friends. Sara-Jayne and I decided to share a room, club our funds together and splash out on a room at M by Montcalm Shoreditch Tech City.M by Montcalm Shoreditch Tech CityM by Montcalm Shoreditch Tech CityI say ‘splash out’, but I doubt anyone can question that you get what you pay for at a Montcalm hotel. I was absolutely devastated to find out as I checked in that I had free access to a spa. I know I overlooked this when booking but I used to hate the idea of a spa, however having recently celebrated a special birthday for a best friend in a spa hotel, I am a convert.
I felt my afternoon was a little less full for not being able to take advantage of the facility.

I’ll also admit to feeling dressed in the wrong attire. Anyone who knows me well knows I am an ill-informed goth. On this particular Friday I chose to rock up in my coral sweatshirt with gold font ‘Winging It’ emblazoned across the front. To a hotel where guests and employees all received the memo about black attire- it feels that stylish.M by Montcalm Shoreditch Tech CityAs I inspected my room all qualms about not spending my afternoon in the spa were quashed, for I spotted the pièce de résistance of the room, the place to while away some time without interruption. M by Montcalm Shoreditch Tech CityAnd it was lush. I read. Answered emails. Wrote a blog post. Chatted on the phone. Perfect.

And then Sara-Jayne rocked up. And I had to come clean. Her dream of an evening away from the family relaxing in a bath was over.

We only had a shower. It was a great shower. But yes. That’s me- lover of a great shower, hater of the bath talking. It’s true, our room didn’t have a bath- and that’s a bit rubbish.M by Montcalm Shoreditch Tech CityThe good news is as well as the fandangled technology which is explored a little in the taster video at the end (but not half as much as I found out- the curtains close at the push of a button, you have numerous colours for your mood lighting, the room fragranced to your preference… the list really does go on), most importantly, the bed is fantastically comfy. M by Montcalm Shoreditch Tech CityYou do pay for the luxuries you get. And when I phoned the hubby I joked that all I ever need is a good shower and a comfy bed.

But I admit, every once in a while, we’re worth the luxury, I’m worth spending a little extra on.

The evening away with a friend catching up.
The morning spent taking the time with our appearance.
The day spent just being a person, without immediate responsibility.

Would I do spent this sort of money all over again?


Heacham Manor, Norfolk

I was looking forward to staying at Heacham Manor in Hunstanston. We have accommodation on-site at work so the chances of escape at slim. Many years ago I worked on-site Monday to Wednesday and the days you were told it was fully booked were cause for celebration – the bid for freedom. 

And so I thought the stars were aligned, there was no room at the inn, and Heacham Manor popped up on the booking system. It wasn’t somewhere I had stayed before, and the name implied it would be a good stay.

As it was I didn’t get to really enjoy it. This is the photo I took as I was leaving:Heacham ManorI had need to work until 5pm which meant the drive on South Wales would mean a late arrival. I contacted the hotel in advance to let them know. When I arrived, slightly ahead of time I was warmly greeted. After the long, non-stop drive I was of course at my most conversant:

Hotelier: “Please could I take your car registration number?”
Me: “Oh. I’m sorry. I don’t know it. I’ve taken my husband’s car. It’s silver.”
Hotelier: (Nodding understandingly) “That’s fine.” (Reads notes) “Oh, and you’ve arrived in good time.”
Me: “I know. I didn’t hit anything on the way here.”
Of course I was referring to traffic.

Obviously appreciating who they were dealing with, they kindly offered to show me to my room.

I guess this was the bit where I was caught off guard. Heacham Manor has a wide range of accommodation. I think (from talking to colleagues) all their deluxe rooms are within the main building, standard rooms (mine) are a short walk from the hotel itself, and they also have pet friendly accommodation as well as self-catering. I was really impressed with the diversity.

I wasn’t as impressed with my room- although it was perfectly fine and more than for the budget. It had a smell to it- again, nothing offensive, but I had come to think of it as the ‘Bircham’ smell (the next day colleagues nodded, for the first time the acknowledgement that that was what it was), I thought the ‘Bircham’ smell was solely restricted to our on-site accommodation, and it made me uneasy. I did appreciate, it’s the little things, that along with a good range of teas, that there were biscuits. I sense budget constraints have meant a lot of hotels have stopped, having missed an evening meal for the non-stop journey, I was overjoyed and allowed them to represent my well-balanced diet.Heacham Manor roomI was really impressed with the bathroom. If you know me you know I don’t function without a shower. I was really happy to find, despite any initial misgivings, that the bathroom was wonderfully kitted out. With a shower and a bath, and a really good shower. Well I was happy.Heacham Manor showerAnd whilst I had brought my new camera in the hope of visiting the beach the next morning, which I understand to be a short walk across the golf course, it was absolutely weeing it down. Which was around the point I realised I had left the house without a coat. 

Again, colleagues who have stayed have commented on how good it is to leave the office and enjoy the fresh air and views. I believe them. Criticism comes easier than a compliment. 

Premier Inn – Euston

My children think all hotels are called Premier Inn. They have good reason, Premier Inn’s have been perfect for all of our trips as they are really family friendly when you just want a bed for the night, for three raucous, excited children. I also use Premier Inn for overnight stays with work, and recently when I found my week split between London and York I used the Premier Inn at London Euston as my bed for the night.Premier Inn London EustonI have to be honest, once you’ve stayed in one Premier Inn, you really have stayed in them all. Some of them may be newer builds, and some of them do feel from the facade and reception like upgraded hotels, but once you’re in your room you are in familiar surroundings.

London Euston is a newer Premier Inn, nearer to Euston but within easy walking distance of Kings Cross – St Pancras. It’s an odd location as the entrance is on the side street with the restaurant overlooking the main road. 

For the first time I used the self-registration system, I was feeling the need for complete anonymity- I just wanted a bed for the night. Whilst the system was slow it worked, and I found myself being able to spend my stay without having to utter anything other than niceties- which suited me fine.
And this is one of the good things about Premier Inn, other times I do feel social (scary I know), and the team are always really friendly, when I turn up with two 5 year-olds and a 7 year-old they are always super accommodating and great with the children. Premier Inn just seems to adapt to its very broad customer base.
Premier Inn London EustonAs you’ll see from this quick video, the facilities within a Premier Inn room are really all that you need.

With everything clean and convenient, and the bed really does meet the sleep guarantee. There’s nothing not to like about Premier Inn for a good overnight stop. The only down side of my room is the photo below. Where I got to do my make-up, so far away from natural light with two horribly fluorescent lights wasn’t great. A tv over the desk is the culprit for this, I just wish there were some mirrors nearer the window.Premier Inn London EustonDownside over, there is no doubting Premier Inn’s offer value for money, especially in London where hotels can be expensive. It is always worth being flexible on dates if you are thinking about a stay as you can really search down some great prices.


The Tower Hotel, London

I hope you’ll indulge me, it was a night at Guoman’s The Tower Hotel which inspired me when I had been struggling with content for my blog. I love to bake you see, and my hope of baking ever week has fallen short, but what’s not been falling short is my night’s away with work, and I’m lucky- some weeks a Travelodge will be the only hotel within budget- and every now and again, I’m lucky enough to stay in wonderful hotels.The Tower HotelThe Tower Hotel falls in this category. And whilst I’m not sure to many it looks that great from the outside, it has the most wonderful backdrop, and the interior and the customer service more than makes up for any perception of ‘concrete’.

The Tower Hotel sits conveniently next to Tower Bridge, a short walk from the aforementioned tube station, and a stone’s throw from St Katharine’s Dock which offers some great eateries and bars. In my limited experience of staying sporadically at the Tower Hotel for the past six months, the hotel is most popular with group bookings, usually for black tie dinners.

So you could forgive me for always feeling out-of-place. My first stay in the hotel last year saw me approaching the receptionist saying in hushed tones “I think I’m booked in here.” such is the grandeur of the hotel. When I returned the following evening because I couldn’t persuade my room card key to work she remembered me (no mean feat given there are usually at least six people on the front desk at any time and it’s always busy). 

And since that first experience I have returned to the same standard of customer service. When my visits are less sporadic I am greeted with “Welcome back” and less so I am reminded of the locations of all key areas of the hotel.The Tower HotelFor the accommodation itself, I am always a little unintentionally wary. The rooms do feel dated, although this is always pessimistic of me. I judge every hotel by the quality of its shower (even in the early days of babies it is a truth that I cannot function without a shower), and The Tower more than stands up to the test.The Tower HotelThe Tower is also one of the few places I will happily pay for room service. If I am not meeting up with friends or colleagues I am most likely to find a local Pret or supermarket and bring food back. I’m not one for eating alone. The food at any hotel will be more than exceed the cost of bringing food back, but I feel at home enough at the Tower to make hot food an option.

One of the main areas of customer service I love at The Tower is that they ask what room you’d like. I love to eavesdrop on the responses, because whilst on the whole I think I’m accepting with a hotel like this I’m happy to push my luck.

Many will say “as long as I have a bed for the night”, but if like me you look confused they’ll ask “a higher floor or lower”, I’m a sucker for a view (my home is testament to this) so I automatically say “higher”. And on the basis you’re selective, dependent on availability you’ll be asked about your preferred view- the Tower, the Bridge, the River, the Marina? The hotel team are great at making sure you have the room you want. I’ve also heard people asking for the refurbished rooms. I have no idea on this one- I have always been more than happy with the allocated room.The Tower HotelSo here’s a quick spin of the room:

Despite a promise to stay in a different hotel going forward to get some great material for my blog, my new camera has been delivered, so I’ve booked this hotel again – I’m a sucker for London landmarks!

Pandamonium at Chessington

aI couldn’t believe how lucky we were when an invite arrived to explore Chessington’s 2016 offering – on CM’s 7th birthday. How could I make a birthday party better than one offering Pandamonium?Pandamonium at Chessington

2015 introduced the stage show of the Penguins of Madagascar, creating a bridge between Chessington’s animals and theme park.

2016 is very much a part of the zoo, but using technology associated with theme parks. A UK first, sees a family of life-like animatronics panda getting up close to families.

The children were more than impressed. The boys were hook, line and sinker for the parent pandas. Completely grasping the need for tenderness and to gain trust through the Panda bow.Pandamonium at ChessingtonCM was a little suspicious. But. The moment she saw the baby Panda. She burst with excitement and love. And when she was given the opportunity for a nose kiss. Well, what could make a better birthday?Pandamonium at ChessingtonI was really impressed with Pandamonium, because it offers a version of a once in a lifetime experience, because it is was a perfect balance for children of all adventure. And  because I watched my children absolutely believing.Pandamonium at Chessington And of course Chessington has even more on offer in 2016.

A fantastic glamping experience, with exclusive access to some of the offerings of Wild India, would create an absolutely perfect set of family memories.  

And launching the 30th Go Ape Adventure in the UK, Chessington now offers a Tree Top Adventure and a Tree Top  Junior Adventure, allowing a family to Go Ape together.Smokehouse Grill at ChessingtonWe were lucky enough to have the opportunity to visit the newly opened Smokehouse Grill and try a taster menu. We were more than impressed with the smoke taste that filled the meat, CM loved the macaroni cheese, and Mr J was a complete convert to Chocolate Beer. This is definitely a place to challenge perceptions of theme park food, and definitely worth a stop off for refuelling when visiting the park. Smokehouse Grill at ChessingtonWe also visited the updated Trail of the Kings. The children were over the moon to get up close with gorillas, tigers, and lions, and came away absolutely invigorated with all of the animals they wanted to visting the following days.Trail of the Kings at Chessington

The overall feel of the updates to Chessington balances the excitement of the theme park. After a night’s rest in the fantastic Azteca Hotel (Please can I tell you again how wonderful it is to have bunks for three children so we genuinely have a family room!?!), we had a fantastic time across the World of Adventures- and, despite making the most of the day, we didn’t have enough time for everything. Meaning with the additions, a two-day break at Chessington would definitely be time well spent.Pandamonium at Chessington

Disclosure: We were invited to experience #Pandamonium as guests of Chessington World of Adventures. All opinions and views contained are our own.

Introducing the Wild Place Project in Bristol

A few weeks ago we were invited to the Wild Place Project in Bristol as guests of Trunki.
I’ll be telling you more about why tomorrow, but for today I thought I’d introduce you to the Wild Place Project, which will mean tomorrow’s post will make perfect sense.

The Wild Place project works in partnership with Bristol Zoo, with the aim of bringing conservation to life.

Arriving at the Wild Place, the ‘project’ about it is more than evident, in every aspect you can sense something else is on the horizon, with a relaxed, homely feel there is an air of ‘but how much better could this be?’
The project focuses on protecting threatened habitats and in doing so a fun learning environment is created as children can travel from the Edge of Africa to Madagascar.

So much was my children’s enthusiasm for everything they took in at the project, the focus of the following day was exploring the globe to understand where exactly the animals came from.
And fortunately for me, after deciding to take the children out of school for the day to visit the project, the number of animals they could recite, and recall their upfront experiences that my guilt eased as I was actually convinced that this was more than educational day out- this had the added benefit of us enjoying the day as a family.
Goat at the Wild Place BristolWhilst walking around I loved the number of parents with babies and toddlers around the project, finding out that an annual pass for an adult is £27, and for a child £18, you can definitely see why*. Nothing is more fun for little ones than running round in wellies and even when the weather is a bit rubbish, being able to run around with lemurs and goats around you must be so much fun.
Reindeer at the Wild Place Project BristolFor my children it was the reindeer and cheetah that made their jaws drop. Admittedly they were a bit despondent that there wasn’t a red nose in the pack of reindeer, and that they couldn’t smooth the cheetah- but the experience of being so close was definitely one not to be forgotten.
Cheetah at Wild Place Project BristolFor me, it was the ring tailed lemurs, I loved the family feel to the session we were able to join. And maybe, my heart melted a little bit when a lemur with twins was identified to us. Broodiness knows no bounds!Ring tailed Lemur with baby twins at Wild Place BristolAll over the project there are animals to be spotted, from wolves and meerkats, to zebras and river hog.
Zebra at the wild place project BristolWith outdoor play areas and an undercover fun fort, there’s lots more to do with a cup of coffee in hand, and with a courtyard café, there’s somewhere to enjoy some lunch too.

One of the purposes of our visit, and as a result one of the animals which is missing from the project, was to learn more about the Giraffe House Appeal.
At present the project has a large expanse of land perfect to house giraffes, the only barrier is ensuring the accommodation
Giraffe House AppealWith giraffes in very serious trouble in the wild (giraffe numbers have fallen from 140,000 to 80,000 in just 15 years), the Wild Place Project’s aim us to protect and safeguard a population in human care alongside a sustainable in the wild.
The project needs to raise £750,000 to build a house for Gerry, and save his cousins in Africa.

And so, the project is seeking support, and hoping for donations to support Gerry and his family.

Tomorrow, you can find out more about how Trunki are supporting the project.

For today, please consider visiting the project. It’s definitely a fun day out for the family.
With a poorly child in hand, I was disappointed that we didn’t make it around the whole project in the four hours we were there. As well as the animals, there’s also woodland walks to keep each visit fun for little ones, and a butterfly maze, and gardens.
Which leaves me wondering if a return visit will need to result in another!
Lemurs at the wild place project BristolDisclosure: We were invited to the Wild Place Project as guests of Trunki.

*Dual attraction membership with Bristol Zoo is also available at £68 for adults and £36 for children.