Forest Holidays: Our Winter Retreat to Forest of Dean

Back in January we decided to book a last second escape to the Forest of Dean for a winter retreat at Forest Holidays. This was our first time visiting but it came recommended from friends who have stayed at a different location on one of their other sites. Squiggle’s anxiety was high, so we figured some extra time relaxing outdoors might be just what we all needed. It didn’t work miracles in that regard (but then again, I am pretty sure they don’t claim to either though!) but it was still a lovely holiday! Here is our review…

Title written on image of Forest Holidays cabin.

The Cabin

There are three main styles of cabin; golden oak, silver birch and copper beech. The main differences between them are that silver birch has a hot tub, and golden oak has both a log burner and a hot tub. We intentionally wanted to avoid having a log burner for personal reasons, and silver birch was fully booked, so that made it pretty easy to choose!

Despite copper beech being their cheapest (and most basic) option, we were absolutely amazed by the size of the cabin! The whole place had a wonderful air of luxury about it, whilst also feeling very homely. I loved how beautifully in keeping the decor is; very natural. I was very impressed! And everything is eco- friendly wherever possible too, which we were really glad to see.

Eco friendy kitchen kit

I was quite worried that it might be chilly in winter but the underfloor heating took care of that! If anything, it was actually abit too warm when we arrived but the thermastat was easy to use and had separate settings for each room too, so that was soon remedied. I don’t know how hot the cabins might get in a heatwave with all that glass though! But given that they seem very well designed overall, I am assuming there are measures in place to maintain optimum temperatures. We were certainly able to do that during our winter stay anyway, despite having both sunny days and snow in the time we were there! They are really cosy and it is easy to feel right at home there.

Here is my video tour of the cabin…

The Setting

The cabin we had was in the meadow so it was very open, whereas some of them are tucked away amongst the trees. Honestly, in my opinion, regardless of where your cabin is situated, you can’t go wrong.

Our view from the cabin. A meadow with cabins spread out.

The site is in a beautiful location, in the Forest of Dean, with stunning scenic walks all around. Regardless of the time of year we visited, even in Winter, we couldn’t fail to be in awe of the forest setting. Here are just a few of my pictures taken, the first onsite and the others literally a few moments walk off the main site…

Stunning forest setting of the Forest Holidays site.

Beautiful views at the Forest of Dean

Winter scenes at Forest of Dean

Forest of Dean

By the way, the sheer drop on the above photos is less breathtaking and more heartstopping when your autistic child suddenly bolts!!!! Especially if you happen to suffer from vertigo as well, like I do! So I recommend if you explore this area with a young child, or one with SEND, that you not only have nerves of steel, but a very tight grip of their hand!

We don’t have a dog personally, but the site is very dog- friendly and it would be the ideal holiday to take a dog if you are an owner. This is probably also worth noting though if you are nervous around dogs though I guess! Squiggle loved seeing all the dogs about going for walks, she was delighted!

Facilities

Forest Retreat

The Forest Retreat is the main hub where you check in and book activities, and is home to the shop and restaurant. It also has pottery activities for children.

The shop sells a lovely range of gifts, books and activities that are carefully chosen to be perfectly on theme for the nature of the holiday. It also sells a wonderful selection of food and drink; including an extensive range of cider, wine and beer, fresh produce and a range of Cook meals for easy self- catering dining options.

Forest Retreat photo strip showing selection in store.

Food

The menu has plenty to choose from, to either eat in the restaurant or take away. The food was consistently good and service was prompt.

Bike Hire

Bike hire is available onsite from £28 per break per adult or from £25 per child. It is recommended you book these in advance. We didn’t hire bikes on this occasion but Squiggle did ask about it (towards the end of the holiday!) so we would definitely consider it next time.

Cycle Hire building from the outside.

Play Area

The play area was sectioned off during our visit as they were carrying out work on it. It looked more suitable for younger children, but Squiggle would have had a quick go if it were available no doubt!

Bug Hotel

Granted not really one of the facilities per se (at least not for humans!) but I wanted to mention the bug hotel anyway. We have seen these in many places but this one is particularly well made!

Large bug hotel with information sign. Squiggle is stood next to it.

Activities

There are a range of forest ranger led activities available for various ages. Some are shorter at 90 minutes in duration, whilst one survival course is half a day. As well as daytime activities, there is also a night-time ranger adventure so you can spy on the nocturnal forest inhabitants after dark! Dogs are allowed on some of the activities but not all courses, and some have a minimum age for children, so do check details before booking. There are also a selection of activities off- site that can be booked through Forest Holidays as well.

Squiggle on the winter trail.

Squiggle wasn’t up for any of these due to her anxiety, so we opted to do their self- guided seasonal trail instead. This cost £6.95 and she got a prize at the end for completing it. This was a really engaging activity. She started off reluctant to join in but as soon as we got to the first few stops and solved the clues she was hooked! We really enjoyed it and it was definitely one of the highlights of our holiday.

Seasonal trail clue

Local Places To Visit

There are numerous walks nearby surrounded by beauty and tranquility. Aside from that, there are several local places to visit that might be of interest. Forest Holidays have some suggestions of what’s nearby. I would really love to visit Clearwell Caves and also Puzzlewood sometime in future.

We did go to Beechenhurst, mainly to go on the sculpture trail. However, Squiggle was very near tired and nearing meltdown, so we didn’t actually find any sculptures and ended up just having a quick wander instead. I would love to return when it is better timing for her though; it looked like a lovely place to spend a day and I really want to see the sculptures – from the photos they look brilliant!

One thing I will remember from our trip though was that, as we drove up into the carpark, something moving in the forest caught my eye. As I turned to look I thought at first it was dozens of rabbits scurrying into the bushes. But then I realised, whatever they were, they weren’t hopping – they were running. It was a huge group of baby wild boar!

Now I know they are very common to the area and especially at that time of year, but I had never actually seen any before. I was so excited! They were gone in a flash; no time to grab a camera or even point them out to Squiggle, but that was a personal highlight that I will always remember.

We also visited Symonds Yat briefly, on the bank of River Wye. I took a few photos, but I could have taken many more of these stunning scenic views…

River Wye

Stunning scenic view of river Wye

Symonds Yat

In Summary

We really enjoyed our stay at Forest Holidays and loved exploring Forest of Dean. We are very keen to return here sometime in the future, and also would like to try other Forest Holidays locations too. We would definitely recommend it – at any time of year!

Last but not least…

Here is a video clip I put together summarising the highlights of our holiday:

*Disclosure: I was given a discount when booking this holiday in exchange for a review post. However, as always, I have expressed my honest opinion and all thoughts are my own.

Fun Ways to Get Children Active Outdoors

In this day and age, children have grown up with technology. Smartphones, tablets, gaming consoles and instant access to the internet is completely normal to them – meaning it’s a different world from when we grew up. While technology is fantastic, it does mean it can be difficult to get kids outdoors. When they have the world at their fingertips they’re less interested in running around outdoors than previous generations have been. But it’s so important to get them away from their devices and outside, learning about the real world and what matters. Here’s how you can go about it…

 Fun Ways to Get Children Active Outdoors title with image of child throwing leaves

Get Them Involved in the Garden

Gardening is an active hobby, and also teaches children patience. It shows if you work hard now, something fantastic will grow later on. It shows them the importance of daily care and nurturing of the garden, helping to develop empathy for the natural world around them. They will also learn about things like soils, types of crops, fertiliser and much more.

Since the growing season is relatively short in most places, it’s worth investing in a greenhouse to stretch this out as long as possible. If you have an old dilapidated one in your back garden, you could bring it back to life with some new sheeting for your greenhouse and a good clean. Choose some crops that are easy to grow in your climate zone, and then work your way up to more difficult ones. Children are more likely to try foods that they’ve grown too, so could be a good way to encourage healthier eating.

Take Them Camping

Camping is a cheap and cheerful vacation that all the family can enjoy, and is a great way to get kids outdoors. From putting up tents to building dens, and generally running around and having fun, it’s a great way to get kids outdoors and away from their screens without it feeling like a chore. You could stay in a tent, an RV or more of a glamping experience in a ‘pod’- check out local campsites and see what kind of things are available. If you go away with friends and their children it could be a fun bonding experience too.

Two children outdoors studying something on the ground next to a pond.

Go on Hikes

Hiking is a great way to keep your family fit; even if you have younger children you could simply pick an easier hiking trail. You get to observe nature, you could print out fun worksheets from Pinterest and do a fun nature trail, take photos or look at birds and wildlife through binoculars. You could collect items such as feathers, pine cones and interesting pebbles, then use them to craft with later on. Or see if your local area does rock hunting even!

Make these walks fun, keep the conversation light and upbeat, and encourage them to really get into it. Even during the colder months, simply wrap up warm and wear wellies to keep your feet dry. If you have a dog you could take them along too, or alternatively you could all take your bikes out and follow biking trails instead.

Find An Outdoor Sport Or Hobby

There are lots of outdoor sports and hobbies that encourage children to have fun outdoors. From water sports and team games, to geogaching or traditional orienteering, there are many examples of lovely activities that will inspire children to spend time outside.

Another example is fishing; this isn’t just a fun hobby, there’s plenty that it can teach children. One of the main being patience, this isn’t a skill many children (or adults for that matter) are blessed with, and it’s something that could come in useful to them throughout their lives. Learning that good things come to those who wait and practicing calm and patience during uncertainty is a fantastic lesson.

*This is a collaborative post.

Littlesea Haven Holiday Park, Weymouth, Dorset

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.

Caravan park, Weymouth, Dorset, England, holidays, places to go, review, Living Life Our Way
Pretty scenic views at Littlesea Haven Holiday Park

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!

Caravan park, Weymouth, Dorset, England, holidays, places to go, review, Living Life Our Way
Tiger Trail on-site nature walks

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!

Caravan park, Weymouth, Dorset, England, holidays, places to go, review, Living Life Our Way
Playground outside main entertainment complex
Caravan park, Weymouth, Dorset, England, holidays, places to go, review, Living Life Our Way
The playground in the campsite section of Littlesea
Caravan park, Weymouth, Dorset, England, holidays, places to go, review, Living Life Our Way
A lovely little natural playground

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.

Caravan park, Weymouth, Dorset, England, holidays, places to go, review, Living Life Our Way
Beautiful nature walks overlooking Fleet Lagoon
Caravan park, Weymouth, Dorset, England, holidays, places to go, review, Living Life Our Way
Exploring Fleet Lagoon

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).

Caravan park, Weymouth, Dorset, England, holidays, places to go, review, Living Life Our Way
Caravan at Littlesea Haven site

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.

Caravan park, Weymouth, Dorset, England, holidays, places to go, review, Living Life Our Way, environment
View of golf
Caravan park, Weymouth, Dorset, England, holidays, places to go, review, Living Life Our Way
Arcade

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!

Caravan park, Weymouth, Dorset, England, holidays, places to go, review, Living Life Our Way
Meeting some of the Seaside Squad

 

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!

Caravan park, Weymouth, Dorset, England, holidays, places to go, review, Living Life Our Way, healthy eating, health, environment
Seaside Squad showtimes

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.

Caravan park, Weymouth, Dorset, England, holidays, places to go, review, Living Life Our Way, nature, wildife, outdoors, environment
Display in main complex
Caravan park, Weymouth, Dorset, England, holidays, places to go, review, Living Life Our Way, wildlife, nature, environment
Bug Hotel

Overall, this was an absolutely wonderful holiday and we would highly recommend it. Thank you Haven for another brilliant time!

Caravan park, Weymouth, Dorset, England, holidays, places to go, review, Living Life Our Way
Littlesea Haven Holiday Park

(Photos of our previous trip to Weymouth are here).

November: Part One

These are some of the things we have been doing so far this month…

character drawings 01.11.14
Drawing various characters she has created in a variety of outfits 01.11.14
fishing 01-11-14
Fishing for coins in the bath- a game she designed herself 01.11.14
water scales 01-11-14
Squiggle started off using her balance scales to compare volumes of water. This then led to a discussion about measurements of solids and liquids, and the units they are measured in. She then decided to experiment with comparing the ducks and water combined. She observed that when the water was the same volume each side and therefore balanced, that the two ducks did not weigh the same. This was not what she predicted because they look the same and are the same size, but she the concluded one of them must have water inside adding to the weight. She then tried to push the duck down into the water and was amused that it popped back up again so we discussed why this happens. She also noticed the water level rises as she did so, which also led to a discussion on water displacement. 01.11.14
white water rafting 01.11.14
We went to watch white water rafting at Lee Valley. 01.11.14
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Caldecotte lake 02.11.14
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Watching watersports on the lake 02.11.14
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Photos at the lake 02.11.14
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One of my favourite photographs of Caldecotte lake 02.11.14
cuddly toy cat game 3-11-14
Cuddly toy cat game 03.11.14
paradise park play area 4-11-14
Paradise park 04.11.14 physical exercise and a spot of map reading too
paradise park animals 4-11-14
A few of the animals at Paradise park 04.11.14
paradise park monkey 4-11-14
We were lucky enough to spot a two day old newborn baby gibbon clinging to mum 04.11.14
sylvanian school game 5-11-14
Squiggle used her Sylvanian families to act out a day at school. This led to some very interesting questions, such as why do the children need to wear a school uniform, who decides what it should be etc… We then had a very balanced discussion about the differences between school and home education. She was able to articulate very well why she personally feels home ed is much better suited to her needs. 05.11.14
southend 6-11-14
Southend beach 06.11.14
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We found this great resource at the beach playground, it is simple explanation of the weather cycle. Squiggle enjoyed learning how clouds form and how it rains. This led to further discussion about weather, the sun and also how stars form too 06.11.14
southend boats 6-11-14
Boats at Southend 06.11.14
southend more photography 6-11-14
Some of my favourite photos from our trip to Southend 06.11.14
southend photography 6-11-14
Scenic photos of Southend 06.11.14
fireworks fleetville 7.11.14
Local fireworks display 07.11.14
fireworks crabtree 8.11.14
Watching fireworks with a friend 08.11.14
fashion garden 9.11.14
Playing in the garden 09.11.14
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Picnic in the garden 09.11.14
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Fun at Bopping Babes disco 09.11.14
sylvanian imagination 10.11.14
Small world imaginary play 10.11.14
sylvanian ayletts christmas display 11.11.14
Acting out Ayletts Christmas display from last year 11.11.14
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We then visited Ayletts garden centre to see this year’s display 11.11.14
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Notcutts garden centre 11.11.14
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Squiggle made her own Christmas sticker book 12.11.14
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Sylvanian family decorating for Christmas (wearing clothes she made for them for winter) 12.11.14
duplo treehouse 13.11.14
Duplo construction (tree house playground) 13.11.14
clarence park 13.11.14
Clarence park 13.11.14
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Squiggle designed a multi pack of cat treats 14.11.14
cats 14.11.14
Squiggle then asked the next day to go to the pet shop to buy the cats a treat 15.11.14
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Chilling together
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Van Hage garden centre 16.11.14
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We popped to Stanborough lake briefly on the way home 16.11.14

 

In addition to these activities, we also practised estimating (time mainly) and discussed the difference between a guess and an estimate. We have also played a game several times that she invented whereby we try to recall what we were doing x number of days ago. This proved to be a fun memory game and we enjoyed talking about past events, as well as doing the maths to work out how many weeks, months and sometimes years ago the day was. I also discovered she didn’t know what a typewriter was when she found a miniature toy one (then again, why would she know!) So we discussed technology and how it has progressed, which she found very interesting.

 

Kensington Gardens

We love Kensington Gardens for a wander around the park and a play at Princess Diana Memorial Playground. This is a favourite of ours as it is a lovely natural playground with lots of sensory input opportunities.  And it has wooden boats to play on, as well as a huge pirate ship! Squiggle is very interested in boats at the moment so she was particularly excited on this visit…

 

Princess Diana Memorial Playground
Princess Diana Memorial Playground
Autumn leaves!
Fun with the autumn leaves!

 

Here are our pictures from our visit last month too…

Princess Diana Memorial Playground (27 September 2014)
Princess Diana Memorial Playground (27 September 2014)
Exploring chestnuts
Exploring chestnuts

 

More photos, from both visits combined….

Some of the local wildlife
Some of the local wildlife
Under the willow tree
Under the willow tree
Scenic snaps
Scenic snaps

 

I also blogged about it previously here.

Why Do Nettles Exist?

Whilst we were sat outside on a bench at KIDS playground yesterday, Squiggle asked ‘why do nettles exist?’ She said she was curious because she knows they sting people but do they have a purpose as well, are they useful in any way? And do they sting other animals or just people? What about insects? When we got home, we did some research together to answer her questions. She was interested to discover that nettles can be used as a medicine, as well as food and drink. Insects don’t get stung as they move between the spines without activating the sting. Animals do get stung in theory but only if it touches their skin, so often their fur protects them. This was a useful website for our research www.nettles.org.uk. Squiggle then suggested that maybe stinging nettles are also a way of teaching people to be careful of plants and be more aware of where they are walking.

 

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This is just one example of how natural curiosity leads to discussion and learning. And what better way to foster a child’s natural curiosity and interest in the world around us than simply to be out in it, surrounded by things to wonder about? To me, this is what education is all about!

 

Our Week in Pictures

Here is a small snippet of some of last week’s activities…

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Splashing in puddles
Drawing, spelling, reading and writing in a wipe clean book
Drawing, spelling, reading and writing in a wipe clean book
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Woodland walk
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Various activities (see below for more detail)

Activities at home this week included water play (sensory activity), studying a particularly friendly ladybug, discussion about the weather (with myself as well as our cat obviously!), drawing lots of different pictures including a cat character and Igglepiggle (as well as many others), making a decorated model house for her seal, sorting beads and inventing her own target games using a set of foil containers she found in the cupboard. In additon, our egg experiment can be found here. We also met up with friends at a local soft play centre.

Haven: Wild Duck Holiday Park, Norfolk

Last week we went on a short break to Wild Duck Haven Holiday Park near Great Yarmouth, Norfolk. We have been to a couple of other Haven sites before but this particular one was new to us. I was very pleasantly surprised by it, I found the entire park rather more ‘toned down’ than some of the others I have previously been to and the natural woodland surroundings were beautiful. It was a peaceful environment to be in, whilst still having various facilities on the doorstep (along with the ducks, rabbits and squirrels all around us!) We very much enjoyed our stay and I would happily return to this site. See the website for further details http://www.haven.com/parks/norfolk/wild-duck/

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Our caravan surrounded by woodland
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Inside the caravan (the central heating throughout was particularly handy for a cold wet October!)
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The ‘centre’ of the site with an entertainment complex, restaurant, fish and chip shop, Spar shop and swimming pool.
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Duck statues (there were real ones to of course!)
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Watching the waterfall.
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Playground in the middle of the woodland.
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Climbing on the web.
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Another playground.
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Practising climbing skills
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Sandpit play area.
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This huge wooden tree house was hidden away in the middle of a pretty woodland walk.
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Chilling.
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Tree climbing
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Sitting in a tree.
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We found some chestnuts on the woodland walk.
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She also enjoyed having a ‘tea time party’ with Rory the Tiger, including party games such as pass the parcel, musical statues and musical bumps.
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Last but not not least she loved joining in the disco and meeting the Haven ‘Seaside Squad’ characters.