Van Hage is a large garden centre in Hertfordshire. It has a massive free car park and the garden centre itself covers a very generous sized area, both indoors and outside. In addition to the huge selection of brands and items for sale, there is also a restaurant, miniature railway (small additional charge), free animal gardens and various events.
During the festive season, they also have a very popular ice rink. Sessions can be booked online in advance, which is essential during busier periods. There are dedicated parent and toddler slots and a very limited number of SEND sessions too. Prices vary, but most sessions cost £10 per adult or £8 per adults, with certain concessions available, plus there is an additional charge for supports from £5 each. Further details are on the website.
Van Hage has a great Christmas selection, with cute displays and a Santa’s Grotto. I don’t know what the actual grotto experience is like as we haven’t visited, but the rest of the garden centre certainly helps us to get into the Christmas spirit!
More photos from a previous visit can be found here.
Last month we went to Weymouth for a mid week short break to Littlesea Haven Holiday Park. This was our second trip to Littlesea and, given it was one of our favourite Haven sites, we were very keen to return! It certainly did not disappoint.
Littlesea is a lovely site, with scenic views and nice little ‘Tiger Trail’ nature walks. Squiggle really enjoyed following the Rory footprints on our map, so good for developing her map reading skills too!
There are also several playgrounds on-site, with a variety of equipment suitable for a range of ages. It is great that there are different play areas dotted around the park, as it encouraged us to explore further to find them all!
The holiday park is set next to Fleet Lagoon nature reserve, with pretty nature walks and coastal paths. We did find that some of the paths were abit too overgrown (and that is baring in mind we often explore wild overgrown areas!) and it was not always clear where to walk next, so better signage might be useful. However, I am not sure how much of this belonged to Haven, as it wasn’t clear at what point we left the site. Regardless, we had fun exploring and enjoyed a wonderful walk to Chesil beach.
The caravan itself was clean and spacious, with everything we would need for our stay. We were also very kindly upgraded, which meant the quiet but central location of the caravan suited our needs perfectly. (A quiet area of the park is absolutely essential for Squiggle).
There is a good range of on-site amenities and facilities including; a Spar shop, gift shop, coffee shop, take aways, restaurant, bar, arcades, soft play, pool, golf, sports courts, entertainment venue and multiple play areas, as mentioned.
The swimming pool was newly refurbished last year and is lovely, with fun water features that Squiggle loves. Both indoors and outdoors there are shallow paddling pools, as well as the deeper family swimming pools. The changing rooms are quite small but adequate. There is also a separate pool for water sports and activities, for an additional charge, which we didn’t personally take part in but they do seem to be well recommended by others who have, and having a separate area dedicated to this is a great idea.
The showbar has been refurbished even more recently, just this year. It is a spacious venue with a good size stage and dance floor. The entertainment held in the showbar is a fun mix of discos, shows and competitions. Squiggle adores the Seaside Squad shows and she loves to meet them for cuddles; this is one of her highlights of Haven Holidays. Because of the nature of her needs, it is important that she feels unhurried during these meetings (otherwise it triggers her severe anxiety and OCD), which can be difficult during busier times or with certain members of staff present (and is difficult for me because I can’t mention it around her, as that also makes it much worse!) However, the majority of the team seem very understanding of SEND in many ways, and do a wonderful job generally. And Squiggle had a fantastic time meeting several of the characters!
The characters also give some great positive messages through their songs, shows and activities, for example about exercise, healthy eating and taking care of our environment. Squiggle often sings lines from Greedy’s songs such as ‘pick up all the rubbish and put it in the bin’ and dances around to keep fit like Rory. These are great role- models for children!
This emphasis on healthy lifestyle and environment etc… runs throughout many of the daytime activities on offer too; with plenty of sports and games, and outdoor activities such as den building, exploring nature and wildlife spotting. I also really liked the information displayed in the corridor between Reception and the entertainment complex too.
Overall, this was an absolutely wonderful holiday and we would highly recommend it. Thank you Haven for another brilliant time!
(Photos of our previous trip to Weymouth are here).
Hertfordshire has a wealth of parks, nature reserves, conservation areas and other beautiful outdoor spaces, important historical sites, major attractions, and other lovely places to go and things to do. It is just outside of London, with easy routes into the capital city, so that is also an added draw to the area.
I could easily pick far more than five things to mention but rules are rules, so here goes…
St Albans is home to the ancient site of Verulamium, a large Roman town, features of which are still present today. There is a hypocaust with beautiful mosaics, Roman theatre (considered one of the best examples in the country), an award-winning museum, and even remains of the Roman wall within Verulamium park itself. There are also Roman baths in Welwyn. Great for history enthusiasts!
Much of this world famous movie series was filmed at Leavesden, which is now home to the hugely popular WB studio tour. A must do for any Harry Potter fan. Film fans might be interested to know that Elstree studios and Pinewood studios are also nearby.
This stunning cathedral is voted top by Tripadvisor for things to do in Hertfordshire. It has the longest Nave in England, bell tower, extensive medieval wall paintings and gorgeous glass painting, The Rose Window, unveiled by the late Princess Diana in 1989. People have been visiting the shrine of St Albans for over 1700 years and it is a national pilgrim site.
Recently we visited Hatchlands Park, which is a beautiful National Trust site in Guildford, Surrey. Being a huge fan of Sylvanian families, Squiggle was keen to do the Sylvanian Families nature trail, open until the end of this year.
There is a small charge to enter the park, including the Sylvanian Families Trail, of £6 per adult and £3 per child, or £15 for a family ticket (these prices are for park only, cost to enter whole site including house is extra. Prices are on the website here). National Trust members get in free.
The trail has a series of signs as you walk through the wood, each with nature questions and clues from members of woodland Sylvanian families. There is a more difficult question at each stop, making it fun and informative for all ages.
We did get abit confused when we reached the end because there was no obvious finishing point. We probably should have realised from the number of clues but even so, a clear indication, such as a finish sign or message from one of the Sylvanian families, would have been a nice additional touch.
Regardless, we really enjoyed the trail and the wooden sculptures were lovely. Squiggle got so excited each time she spotted one and loved cuddling them!
Whilst we were there, we also went to Hatchlands Park playground. It has lovely natural play features, including a wonderful treehouse. Squiggle really enjoyed playing here and it fitted in beautifully with the surrounding natural environment.
Southend On Sea in Essex is a popular seaside choice for many. It boasts stretches of both pebble and sand beaches, play water fountains, play areas on the sand, plus a brand new lagoon for paddling and swimming.
For those looking for a little more action, there is a Sealife Centre on the seafront, an award winning funfair, indoor play centre, pier, traditional style amusement arcades and a large selection of shops, restaurants and cafes.
For us, it is a relatively short drive away from Hertfordshire that offers us a fun and relaxed day out by the sea, so is definitely a winner!
For more information about Southend, including special events, things to do and places to stay, see Visit Southend
Three Shells Lagoon at Southend-on-Sea in Essex is a newly built man made lagoon that opened this summer. The lagoon is the size of a football pitch and is 1.1 metres at its deepest points.
Despite visiting in the last week of September, it was still warm enough to wriggle into our swimsuits and go for a swim. It was cold, but we soon got used to it! Squiggle enjoyed practising her swimming skills in the sea water, as well as paddling and splashing around in general. I think it’s wonderful to be able to enjoy swimming in a natural environment, whilst not being entirely in the open water with an inexperienced young swimmer. I imagine it would also be great for learning water sports.
One thing I did wonder about was how the lagoon water is kept fresh and hygenic. So I did some research and found the design quite interesting. “Sheets of welded metal inside the rock walls retain the seawater when the tide comes in, whilst rubberised material at the base of the wall will prevent silt and mud from entering and exiting the lagoon. Valves have been installed into the wall so that the lagoon can be emptied and refilled, ensuring a high quality of regularly-replenished bathing water.” (Southend government website) For further information about the lagoon www.southend.gov.uk
As the summer clutches on for one more burst of sunshine before autumn descends, I thought I would share some information and photos about Morris Playing Fields in London Colney, Hertfordshire. This is a popular summer destination amongst locals, mainly because it has a small outdoor paddling pool that is great for warmer days (or not so warm days too, if you are anything like us!)
The paddling pool has a walk-in shallow end and steps for the deeper end, which is approx 1 metre (disclaimer: this is my own estimate so no idea on actually accuracy of this statement!)
The only downside is, because it is a very small local outdoor paddling pool in a confined space, that it can get extremely busy and this can be abit too overwhelming or overstimulating for some children, especially those with SEND.
However, if the visit is timed right, during a quieter period, it is a lovely place to play!
The paddling pool is in a fenced off area behind the separately enclosed playground.
There is a small carpark adjacent to the playground that serves this and the paddling pool, as well as sports facilities at the playing field itself.
The playground has a variety of equipment, suited to a range of ages in the younger age bracket. I believe there is another facility for older children/ teens at a different nearby site but I have not yet visited this.
It has a slightly retro feel about it, it reminds me of the playgrounds I visited as a child. Very old style, but well loved all the same!
The helter skelter slide is a particular favourite…
For more information about Morris Playing Fields see pdf flyer
There is plenty to do at Paradise Wildlife Park. In addition to the wide variety of animals, there are also various other areas such as soft play, paddling pool, sand pit, construction area, go carts, train, woodland walk, bouncy castles and several play areas, as well as shows, talks and feeds. There are also various ride-ons and games for additional cost. The price is reasonable in my opinion, in comparison to similar days out, especially given the amount of facilities included in the price and the high running costs of the zoo. However, there are often discounts available through groupon and similar sites, which makes it somewhat more affordable. More information about Paradise Wildlife Park can be found on their website https://www.pwpark.com
Ruislip Lido is a great place to visit during the summer, with lots of (FREE!) outdoor fun to be had; including a splash park, sandy beach, large play area on the sand, woodlands and a train ride (charge applies for this).
If you are visiting with young children, or those with SEND, please keep in mind that the play area is next to open water and not enclosed. Also, no paddling or swimming is allowed in the lido itself.
We think Ruislip Lido is a lovely place anytime of year (although please note it is practically entirely outside, but we don’t mind- that’s what waterproofs and layers are for!) For further information, visit their website here.
Ok, I admit that Sylvanian Families might sound like a very loose connection to the 30 Days Wild theme! But this lovely day out is held in a picturesque village, set up by a little river with ducks and other wildlife, with a pretty flowery backdrop for the character meet and greet. It was very scenic! It was really nice to visit somewhere different, as well as the excitement for Squiggle of a Sylvanian themed day out of course- as has been mentioned on this blog many times before, she is a big Sylvanian fan!