5 Places in Hertfordshire to Visit For That Festive Feeling

Are you trying to find festive things to do with the kids that will get you all into that Christmas spirit? Here are five places to visit in Herts for some family fun that will leave you feeling wonderfully festive…

1. Willows Farm Santa Spectacular

We go to this Santa Spectacular event every year and it’s a fantastic day out. Not cheap but plenty of festive fun to be had! More information on my previous blog post here.

2. Notcutts, St Albans

Notcutts is a nice place to pop into on a tight schedule, because you don’t need much time to enjoy the festive magic yet is still well worth a visit if you are local, mainly for the giant dancing snowman! I have heard santa also visits on occasion, sometimes even for breakfast or tea with guests! (Event must be booked in advance). 

Notcutts, St Albans, Hertfordshire, Christmas, Santas Grotto, snowman

3. Ayletts Nurseries, St Albans

I have already written about this lovely local garden centre, because it was Christmassy enough to warrant its own separate post! Great festive atmosphere.

4. Van Hage Garden Centre, Great Amwell (nr Ware)

Again, Van Hage is so fabulously festive that it has a post of its very own! With an ice rink, grotto and wonderful Christmas displays, it is enough to take the scrooge out of anyone! 

5. Christmas Drive or Walk

Earlier in December, St Albans Christmas market would probably have taken this spot. But a Christmas walk or drive to see beautifully decorated houses is something that we all really enjoy and is a well-loved activity for many families. Our personal favourite is Beech Road in St Albans, who are raising money for Mount Venon Marie Curie Cancer Wing with their amazing display, but I’m reliably informed by Diary of an Unexpectant Mother that there are also brilliantly decorated houses on Brocket Road near Lemsford and lovely lights on Handside Lane in Welwyn Garden City. Amy from The Smallest of Things also suggests Blair Close in Hemel Hempstead too. Wherever you walk or drive, you are bound to spot plenty of festive sights! 

Beech Road, St Albans, Hertfordshire, Christmas, festive house, charity fundraising, go fund me, living life our way

And two more just outside of Hertfordshire…

Centre: MK (Milton Keynes)

There is an excellent Christmas event in Middleton Hall, which is situated within this large shopping centre. There is a carousel, train, snow globe and huge igloo which houses santa and his elves. The activities charge separately and aren’t cheap, but it does mean you can pick and choose, and it is a great treat. Plus, even if you skip any of the parts that cost and just have a general wander, it is still beautifully festive.

Crews Hill Garden Centres (Enfield)

If you aren’t familiar with this area, Crews Hill has a long row of garden centres. It’s a fab place for garden or outdoor enthusiasts at any time of year, but during Christmas it becomes a mini winter wonderland. Don’t miss Springtime nurseries, which is particularly festive! It has real reindeer, plus an indoor train ride to visit the grotto, an ice rink and a snow globe. 

Springtime nurseries, Crews Hill, Christmas, garden centres, Living Life Our Way

Do you have a favourite place to visit for that wonderful festive feeling? Please share yours with me in the comments section! 

Willows Farm Santa Spectacular (St Albans, Herts)

Santa Spectacular Willows Activity Farm is a great day out at any time of year. But Squiggle particularly loves their festive event Santa Spectacular, which runs daily from the last week of November until Christmas eve. There are a variety of seasonal activities on offer, such as ice skating, writing a letter to Santa, Festive Wood Ride, shows, making a cuddly toy, and of course an opportunity to meet the man himself! In addition, there are also some new activities for this year, including elf school, snowball shoot-out and a 3D film sleigh ride. We didn’t do anywhere near everything, but that is what is so nice about having so many options, families can pick and choose what they most want to do! 

Willows Activity Farm, Santa Spectacular, festive event, Christmas, santas grotto, Father Christmas, days out, places to visit

We visited on a weekday in November so it was fairly quiet. At the entrance we were greeted by an elf, which I’m sure many children would be delighted by! For a minority of children it might be slightly daunting to be approached on arrival, but the other elf and the lovely lady at the ticket kiosk were aware of this and discreetly addressed it by calling her over to give us some space. I must say I was really grateful for their help and support in starting our day off on the right foot! For most though, I’m sure it is a great welcome that adds to the festive atmosphere and magic of Christmas. 

Once in the farm, we headed to the magical ice rink first because this is one of Squiggle’s favourite activities to do there. When we arrived, it had just opened and was still empty so we had it to ourselves! Squiggle can no longer fit into over-the-shoe style skates so she wore proper ice skates for the first time, which she was very excited about. The rink is synthetic, which makes it less slippery than real ice, but the polar bear and penguin supports are handy for less experienced skaters of any age! 

Willows Activity Farm, Santa Spectacular, festive event, Christmas, santas grotto, Father Christmas, days out, places to visit

Squiggle was keen to meet Santa so we made sure to fit that into our day next. We got very lucky and found it completely empty! This meant we were able to browse the cute Christmas scenes and displays on the way through to the grotto at our leisure then go straight in to see Father Christmas as soon as we were ready, with no queuing. 

Willows Activity Farm, Santa Spectacular, festive event, Christmas, santas grotto, Father Christmas, days out, places to visit

Willows Activity Farm, Santa Spectacular, festive event, Christmas, santas grotto, Father Christmas, days out, places to visit

Willows Activity Farm, Santa Spectacular, festive event, Christmas, santas grotto, Father Christmas, days out, places to visit

Willows Activity Farm, Santa Spectacular, festive event, Christmas, santas grotto, Father Christmas, days out, places to visit

We had a quick chat with Santa in his wonderful homely grotto, then he presented Squiggle with a key to his magic toy shop (where they can choose any toy they want!) and the photographer took some photos. Squiggle then hurried excitedly to the toy shop, which is filled with a good selection of toys to suit a variety of interests and ages, where she promptly found a cuddly toy seal – that she had just told Santa was on her wish list! (What luck!!!) We also purchased a couple of the professional photos taken because own cameras are not allowed in the grotto. They certainly weren’t cheap but they are lovely photos!

Back outside, there was a meet and greet with a gorgeous real husky dog. This seemed like a good cue to go and make our own cuddly toy version, which included in the entrance price. This is also where you can write and post a letter to Father Christmas, but Squiggle opted to do this at home instead when she was less distracted!

Willows Activity Farm, Santa Spectacular, festive event, Christmas, santas grotto, Father Christmas, days out, places to visit

Dotted around Willows, both inside and out, are lots of festive displays that really add to the atmosphere. For example, this one is next to the ice rink by the entrance to the grotto.

Willows Activity Farm, Santa Spectacular, festive event, Christmas, santas grotto, Father Christmas, days out, places to visit

Aside from the festive fun, there are plenty of regular Willows Farm facilities available too. Squiggle let off some steam in the indoor soft play and outdoors too, including the fab new Peter Rabbit Adventure Playground that opened earlier this year. We also popped into the animal barn quickly to see the animals, including the reindeer.

Willows Activity Farm, Santa Spectacular, festive event, Christmas, santas grotto, Father Christmas, days out, places to visit

It was a fantastic day out that we all really enjoyed. For more information, and to save money by booking tickets online, check out the Willows Activity Farm website. We are feeling very festive after our visit, Merry Christmas everyone! 

Willows Activity Farm, Santa Spectacular, festive event, Christmas, santas grotto, Father Christmas, days out, places to visit

Peter Rabbit Adventure Playground, Willows Farm (St Albans, Hertfordshire)

Peter Rabbit Adventure Playground at Willows Farm in St Albans, Hertfordshire is a million pound plus development based on the famous Beatrix Potter characters and CBeebies animated series. It opened its doors in April 2016, the year that marks the 150th anniversary of author Beatrix Potter, who has captured our hearts and imaginations for over 100 years with her well-loved children’s tales. It is also the only one of its kind in the world, how exciting!

Peter Rabbit Adventure Playground, Willows Farm, Hertfordshire, places to visit, days out, Beatrix Potter
There are different sections within Peter Rabbit Adventure Playground.

There are different sections within the Peter Rabbit Adventure Playground, such as Mr McGregor’s Garden, Mrs Tiggy-Winkle’s kitchen and laundry area, Mr Bouncer’s Great Invention, Jeremy Fisher’s Musical Pond, Lily Bobtail’s Nature area, Benjamin Bunny’s Tree Top Adventures and of course Peter Rabbit’s Secret Treehouse too!

Peter Rabbit Adventure Playground, Willows Farm, Hertfordshire, places to visit, days out, Beatrix PotterPeter Rabbit’s secret treehouse is set around a 100 year old ash tree.

I particularly love Jeremy Fisher’s Musical Pond with its lovely little range of interesting instruments. These are good for various age children I imagine, and they are a great sensory activity.

Peter Rabbit Adventure Playground, Willows Farm, Hertfordshire, places to visit, days out, Jeremy Fisher musical pond, musical instruments, SEN, sensory activity, Beatrix Potter
Jeremy Fisher Musical pond

We haven’t ventured into Mrs Tiggy- Winkle’s area yet because Squiggle is usually too busy playing in the other areas but I have had a quick peek and it looks lovely, particularly for younger children. I wonder if the confined space of the indoor bit might get abit much for some SEND children during busier times but it did look like there were some great sensory activities in there too. We also haven’t explored Mr McGregor’s garden yet. This area includes opportunities for ‘heavy’ lifting of giant radish, which is another great sensory activity. It all looks like alot of fun!

Peter Rabbit Adventure Playground, Willows Farm, Hertfordshire, places to visit, days out, Mr Bouncer Great Invention, interactive technology, Beatrix Potter
Mr Bouncer’s Great Invention

Mr Bouncer’s Great Invention is an interactive latest technology feature where children can play games about colours or calculations, and dance to music. It reminded me somewhat of a fancier version of the dance-off style arcade games or dance mats you can buy for use with consoles at home! It is a nice activity but it can be difficult during busier times if multiple children try to play on it at once. Also, the sound effects coming from here combined with the various other sound effects nearby is potentially overstimulating and I think could easily cause sensory overload for some (SEND) children. The activity itself is certainly a great game though if you have the chance to properly play it! 

One thing I feel could be improved is that it would be far better if the various interactive ‘noisy’ features were more spread out or if there were less of them. Ideally it would be useful if there was more control over them too! Obviously during busier periods this perhaps wouldn’t make much difference, as most likely everything would be in use for the majority of the time regardless, but during quieter times it would be really beneficial if the interactive features could be interacted with rather than automatically activated. For example, Benjamin bunny seems to ‘talk’ at you everytime you get close, as do various other things. I’m sure many SEND children would be much more comfortable if they could choose for this to happen and feel able to move about freely without inadvertently setting off noises around them. However, this does not stop Squiggle enjoying this fantastic playground! (Although I suspect it may do for some).

Peter Rabbit Adventure Playground, Willows Farm, Hertfordshire, places to visit, days out, Lily Bobtail's Nature Area, bug hunting, nature, Beatrix Potter
Lily Bobtail’s Nature Area – Bug Hunting

Another part I especially love is Lily Bobtail’s Nature Area. I am not sure why this section, or the rest of the playground, isn’t actually made from more natural materials, rather than just made to ‘look’ that way. I assume this is due to durability and maintenence I would guess but I don’t know. Either way it does have a lovely natural vibe to it that I really like. Counting the rings on the old tree stump to discover the age of the tree is interesting!

Peter Rabbit Adventure Playground, Willows Farm, Hertfordshire, places to visit, days out, Lily Bobtail's Nature Area, old tree stump, nature, Beatrix Potter
Lily Bobtail’s Nature Area – old tree stump

We haven’t caught any of the shows yet, although they are on at regular times daily, but we did meet both Peter Rabbit and Lily Bobtail (during two separate visits) which was a massive highlight for Squiggle; she loves character meet and greets! 

Peter Rabbit Adventure Playground, Willows Farm, Hertfordshire, places to visit, days out, character meet and greet, Beatrix Potter
Meeting Peter Rabbit
Peter Rabbit Adventure Playground, Willows Farm, Hertfordshire, places to visit, days out, Lily Bobtail, character meet and greet, Beatrix Potter
Lily Bobtail hugs

In addition to the actual adventure playground itself, the Peter Rabbit theme continues in other parts of the farm too; including indoor imaginative play at Cotton-Tail Village and the outdoor assault course Peter Rabbit Woodland Trail.

Peter Rabbit Adventure Playground, Willows Farm, Hertfordshire, places to visit, days out
Peter Rabbit Woodland Trail

All in all, Peter Rabbit Adventure Playground certainly adds a brilliant new dimension to the overall Willows Farm experience! Entry into Peter Rabbit Adventure playground is included in the general ticket price for Willows Activity Farm, and the cost of this varies throughout the year. See website for further details, and book online to save! 

#Blogtober 2016 – Day 20: 5 Things About Hertfordshire (Visitor Attractions, Days Out, Things To Do)

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…

1. Roman Verulamium

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!

Other historical places in Hertfordshire include Berkhamsted Castle, Hatfield House, Celtic Harmony Camp  and Knebworth House.

Days out, places to go, things to do, family fun, home education, history, blogtober

2. Harry Potter Warner Bros Studio Tour 

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.

3. St Albans Abbey

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.

St Albans Clock Tower is also nearby.

4. Parks and Nature Reserves

There are plenty of beautiful outdoor spaces to visit in Hertfordshire. Some of the most notable places include Cassiobury parkVerulamium parkAldenham Country ParkAshridge estate and Fairlands Valley Park to name just a few.

Days out, places to go, things to do, family fun, autumn, nature, blogtober, living life our way
Cassiobury Park, Watford

5. Family Days Out

Paradise Wildlife ParkWillows Activity FarmNatural History Museum at Tring and Hatfield Aviation Museum are all popular days out within Hertfordshire, with many more nearby in neighbouring counties and London boroughs.

Days out, things to do, family fun, blogtober, living life our way
Willows Activity Farm, St Albans

#Blogtober16

Precious Moments From Our Week (Living Arrows)

As I look back through my photos from last week, I am reminded we have been on alot of adventures and had so many special moments. Choosing just a select few to share is hard! But here are my particular favourites, in celebration of childhood…

Monday: We went to a local park to play ball games. 

Squiggle was so excited when she scored!

Tuesday: Squiggle made Haven Seaside Squad finger puppets. In the afternoon, she loved doing some of her favourite songs at music class. 

Wednesday: We made ourselves a pretend lagoon in the garden (with our paddling pool and lots of imagination!) Later, we went for a picnic and enjoyed watching the local wildlife together.

Squiggle stood in this tree watching a squirrel.

Thursday: We went exploring at a local nature reserve. Squiggle took a seeds and berries ID activity from Nature Detectives website.

Friday: We had a lovely day at Whipsnade ZSL Zoo. It was a very wet day but we were still lucky enough to see many of the animals close up.

Squiggle observed the sealions swimming around underwater and showed them her cuddly toy sealion!

Saturday: We had a lovely day out at Willows Farm. She has been hoping to return here to revisit Peter Rabbit’s Adventure Playground since June so she was very happy!

Squiggle was thrilled to meet Lily Bobtail for the first time.
I love this action shot!

Sunday: We visited Aldenham Country Park SEN playground.

Living Arrows

30 Days Wild- Day 5: Rabbits and Research

Today we went to Willows Farm to check out the new Peter Rabbit adventure playground. Squiggle had a ‘wild’ time exploring the playground and meeting Peter Rabbit himself!

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It’s World Environment Day and Wildlife Trusts asked the question on Twitter ‘why does our environment matter to you?’ For me, it’s because the health and well-being of all living things, including our own, depends on it- so how could it not matter?! And there is so much beauty in this world, I want to preserve that for our future generations. Our environment matters- it’s that simple!

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Aside from reflecting on this, I have spent this evening watching an inspirational interview with a brilliant conservation advocate. I also saw how Ocean Conservancy search for and protect sea turtle nests (via their snapchat story), which was interesting. Last but not least, I have been doing yet more research on plastic pollution and action planning- but more to come on that soon!

Easter Activities

Here are the Easter events and activities we did this year…

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Easter hunt at home
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Easter hunt at Highfield park
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Arts and crafts activities at home- Squiggle has improved alot on reading and following instructions!
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Mead Open Farm
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Willows activity farm

March Round-up

Here are our March highlights. I chose the song ‘Wonderful World’ because we went on several lovely nature walks and this song really echoes our appreciation of the world around us!

As well as the nature walks, a few of our other activities (as seen in the video) include a marine conservation workshop by Whale Fest, a playdate at the park, other parks and playgrounds, growing our own potatoes, reading, Aldenham SEN playground, a trip to Willows farm and a visit to Stockwood Discovery Centre.

Willows Farm at Christmas

Squiggle had a lovely day enjoying the festivities at Willows Farm in St Albans. The main downside was that even during school hours it was alot busier than we would have hoped as it seems a popular destination for school trips at this time of year. That aside, we really enjoyed the range of Christmas activities on offer as well as the usual Willows fun.

It was not possible to take full advantage of the developments they have made recently to the sand area, that now includes additional features for water play, but it looked brilliant. Also looking forward to the future developments planned for the adventure playground, on the theme of Peter Rabbit.

From an SEN point of view, we appreciated the fact that disabled tickets did not have the same restrictions as other ticket types on the internet advanced booking system. Such a simple thing made a big difference and says alot about their attitude I feel. So big thumbs up for that! The staff generally seem understanding towards SEN families and have a positive attitude, based upon our experiences there anyway.

Father Christmas was very accepting of Squiggle’s additional needs too, and he interacted with her beautifully. The only issue was the difficulty with waiting in the queue, especially when other customers unfortunately lack the same understanding, but thankfully it wasn’t as long to wait as it can be at times so we were fairly lucky with that. The larger toy shop was a big improvement, a far less claustrophobic experience than previous years!

Overall, really pleased with our visit, fantastic day out. Feeling very festive now!

Here are the photos…

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For more info see their website www.willowsactivityfarm.com

Halloween Fun and Light Party

Our Halloween fun started when Squiggle decided to decorate our house of her own accord. This included a huge display of Halloween drawings.

halloween drawings 25.10.13
Halloween drawings

Heartwood forest held a special lantern woodland walk so we decided to pop along for an evening adventure. It was incredibly packed and they clearly had not expected anywhere near that many people so the organisation of it was not what we had hoped. However this still managed to be a HUGE hit with Squiggle, who seemed to simply love the novelty of it all! www.woodlandtrust.org.uk/visiting-woods/wood/5622/heartwood-forest/

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She made a paper lantern
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Night-time woodland walk.
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Lanterns on the trail

The next day we went to a local church who were holding a Light Party (with funfair theme!) This was a gentle and positive alternative celebration.

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There were several funfair style games and activities
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Aiming into a hoop
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Giant snakes and ladders

At home we did carving the pumpkin which was a wonderful sensory activity as she scooped the pulp and seeds out by hand. We also made a Halloween pepper (which she ate very quickly) and some Halloween ice shapes that she enjoyed playing with and tasting.

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Scooping out the insides by hand
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Pumpkins
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Halloween pepper
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Ice shapes

Squiggle was also delighted to see that Willows Farm still had signs up of Halloween today!

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Halloween hay bales
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Squiggle loved the giant spider as it felt really furry