England Sightseeing National
Dearne Valley Old Moor RSPB (England)
Old Moor Lane is a very recently discovered gem in Yorkshire. It came to my attention when my sons brought home a copy of the primary times activities guide from school. It carries details of events that are happening and places to go in the area, giving a bit of an idea of where to take the kids during free time like school holidays. ... The latest issue contained many adverts for this site, and it struck me as somewhere I had not heard of before.
Because this site is celebrating the 10th anniversary of opening, they were heavily promoting it through running activities for children over the half term week, and giving free entry to everyone. As well as this we got another free voucher for entry for the whole family from the magazine, which the volunteer staff did not take from us on our visit, so we get to go again for free another day. Even without a free entry voucher, this is somewhere I would be quite keen to go to as it was a fun day out, and the site is like a little oasis of tranquility within the building site of Wath Upon Dearne which is an area undergoing huge rennovation.
Firstly, this site was a little tricky to find for us, as it is in an unfamiliar location for us, and not terribly well signposted like other major tourist attractions seem to be. The postal address for the site is Old Moor Lane, Wombwell, Barnsley, S73 0YF. We used Sat nav to get there, but would have needed some sort of map if we didn't use sat nav as it took us through the rural roads near our house in Rotherham.
Arriving at the site, I wasn't sure how busy it would be. There were a few other people there on the day of our visit - a weekend day in half term, but I wouldn't have described it as busy. There was a small car park that was ample big enough, with some people taking bikes with them to go cycling, and others clearly prepared for twitching with various binoculars and spotter books.
You enter the site through the shop. There were two members of staff who were extremely friendly in particular with our children. They were offered the use of special childrens kits for doing a nature spotting trail, going bird watching, or trying out pond dipping. These were free on the day of our visit thanks to their anniversary celebrations, but I am not sure what the charge would be on any other day. There was a sign saying pond dipping kits were £2.50 per hour - each kit we borrowed had enough in it to occupy our two children.
Initially I thought the site looked quite small - you walk through the back of the shop and there is a bird hide there immediately, and a small type of cottage garden. There are various herbs planted, and a spectacular bug house. We then stumbled across a small ornamental type pond where the kids could pond dip to their hearts content, and they were happy to do so as there were a variety of worms, snails, fish, tadpoles, types of flies and larvae within this small area.
I then realised that if you followed the path round past this area, there was then several large areas of water surrounded by wild grassed areas that had been left to turn more into a meadow, and then there was another larger pond for children to dip in. We started to walk around the gravelled path, stopping in various hides as we went along. Some were more family oriented than others, with play tables for the kids, but we felt quite comfortable going into all of the hides as the people we came across were all very friendly, helping each other to spot the rarer birds visiting the water, and not put off at all by the fact that the kids were not perfectly quiet. My children were happy because the equipment they were loaned included a pair of basic binoculars, so they could look at some of the birds - some they could recognise like mallards and canada geese, and the more garden type birds like blackbirds and robins, but thanks to their grandparents being with us with a spotters book they did spot some other birds they had not seen before.
You can walk for several kilometers around the lakes if you wish to do so - we were only there for a few hours, so probably only covered a quarter of the paths if that, but we did enjoy seeing the colours of the flowers, the insects that were also in plentiful supply, and learning something new like wild gorse smells like coconut.
As well as the practical tasks to do with nature, there was also a fantastic playground for children. It all looked very new equipment and in great condition, designed to look fairly natural like the environment it is located in. This park is located in a seperate field away from the bird watching so the kids could be a bit noisier here and not offend anyone by it.
If we had not had a free voucher, we could have paid to go in as non-RSPB members (member entry is free) at a cost of £8 for our family of 4, or £4 per adult, £2 per child. I don't think this is unreasonable cost if you are into nature and walking as there is enough to occupy you here for a good bit of the day. We were there about 2 hours and it didn't feel long enough to do it all and the kids didn't want to leave. The site opens at 9:30, and during summer the reserve itself is open till 8pm, though the visitors centre is open till 5:30.
The amenities on the site seem reasonable. There were well stocked toilets located within the visitors centre. There is also a cafe which serves hot meals and snacks as well as the usual tea and coffee. We didn't go in the cafe, but a sign said we could have had Sunday lunch for £5.99. It would also have been possible to picnic at the site - there were plenty of benches along the paths, and picnic tables in certain areas like the park.
We haven't personally visited any other RSPB sites, but my parent-in-laws are members and have visited others near their home in London. They complemented this one on the amount of space and the greenery being really suitable for attracting a wide variety of species to the site.
I wouldn't say that I am a bird watcher, but I do enjoy sitting somewhere peaceful for a bit watching nature get on around me for a while, and I also enjoy walking around somewhere where it is safe for my children to look around without having to stand right next to me to keep them safe. Here the children enjoyed the freedom, and getting chance to try some new activities like pond dipping. They felt rather grown up having their own equipment to carry, and being able to do the activities.
I highly recommend the site to anyone wanting to get closer to nature in a safe environment.
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Trentham Gardens (Stoke-on-Trent)
This is a review of Trentham Gardens, which is a bit of a misleading title really, because as well as gardens to look round, there is also so much more to do here. It tends to be known nowadays as the Trentham Estate, which is a more fitting name. Location: The Trentham Estate is located on the A34 in Trentham ... (sorry if I'm stating the obvious!) in Stoke-on-Trent, Staffordshire. It is very easy to get to from the motorway, around a 5 minute drive from junction 15 of the M6. The Monkey Forest is also a part of the Trentham Estate but it has a separate entrance a very short drive away from the main entrance. I will mention here that all car parking is free.
There are a number of shops housed in what I would describe as log cabins. There are a few well known names to be found here such as Hallmark and L'occitane, but there are also many independent shops, which I think is a breath of fresh air compared to visiting most high streets nowadays. Whilst not having a huge number of shops, I find that there is a nice variety of things to browse, ranging from pottery to shoes, whisky to candles, and artwork to pet accessories, there is something for everyone! I do have to mention that, along with the price of most things at the Estate, I have found that prices in the shopping village tend to be rather high, but there are also a few bargains to be had. There is a lovely food store here called Brown and Green, and they have won a number of awards, including Taste of Staffordshire Retailer of the Year. Their prices are rather steep but they have a focus on selling local produce from small companies, and it's a lovely shop to have a nose around. They also offer a number of events throughout the year, such as food tasting and hands on activities for children, so it's worth keeping an eye out for these.
There is a huge garden centre at the Estate, which sells a large range of products. I would say really that it is more than a garden centre. There is a very good range of plants and gardening equipment for sale, and also garden furniture. In addition, there is a good range of books (I have found there are often good bargains to be had), cards and giftwrap, jewellery, clothing, bath products, and lovely area dedicated to home accessories. As with the other areas, prices in the garden centre aren't often cheap, although I would argue that you can also find some reasonably priced items.
Food and drink:
There are a number of places to eat and drink at the Estate. There are several coffee shops and eateries in the shopping village, selling hot and cold snacks and drinks. Cadwalader's have an ice cream section that proves very popular during the summer months when the British weather wants to play ball! There is also David's Bistro, which stays open until late in the evenings and serves very good quality, if rather pricey, food and drink, that I can certainly recommend after having a number of good meals here. David's Bistro sometimes have live music in the evenings, which is a nice touch. Inside the garden centre, there is a small cafe offering lunch items and snacks, a bigger restaurant selling various items of food and drink, and an Italian restaurant. Again, prices in all of these eateries aren't what I would describe as cheap. The Italian restaurant remains open until late in the evening, and they have a side door to allow customers to come and go after the garden centre itself has shut. There is also a Frankie and Benny's located by the entrance to the Trentham Estate, which offers yet another option for visitors after some food. If you enter the gardens themselves, which you have to pay to get access to, there is a tearoom and lakeside cafe available. As you can see, you certainly won't go hungry!
You have to pay to access the gardens, currently £8.50 per adult and £7.25 per child. As you can see it isn't cheap! However, there are also family and annual tickets available and you can use Tesco clubcard reward tokens towards the price, but of course certain terms and conditions apply. You could very easily spend a whole day inside the gardens, as there is so much to do and to see. I last visited the gardens just under a year ago and they were very well kept and lovely to walk around. With your garden ticket you also have access to the lakeside walk, which is a really pleasant path to walk right next to the huge lake. You are able to take a boat ride across the lake or have a trip on the mini train during certain times of the year, both of which children seem to really enjoy. There is plenty to entertain children, as there is also a maze, an adventure playground and a barefoot walk!
I visited the monkey forest a few years ago and enjoyed it, but I did find it to be rather expensive. My partner went just a few weeks ago with his Dad, Sister and Nephew and they also enjoyed it but felt slightly underwhelmed, particularly with how much it costs. The current admission price is £7.50 per adult and £5.50 per child over 3 years old. You can get a joint monkey forest and gardens ticket if you so wish, details can be found on the Trentham Estate website. The monkey forest is as it sounds, an area of woodland with monkeys wandering freely. There are information boards as you walk along giving you an insight into the monkeys behaviour etc and there are hourly feeding talks. The thing that I most enjoyed about the monkey forest was seeing the baby monkeys walking around, as they are very sweet and you can see them very clearly without having to peer into an enclosure. There is a playground, cafe and shop located here. An Aerial Extreme high ropes course is also located on this site, which I'm afraid I can't comment on, as it looks way too scary for me! This costs £25 per adult and £20 per child, and I'm sure it's thrilling if you're not afraid of heights!
There are various events that take place at the Trentham Estate, including transport festivals and the Race for Life. One event that I'm able to comment on is the concert nights that are held here every summer. These concerts take place in the grounds of the gardens, with different tribute acts performing on a stage. Most people tend to take picnics, and it's a nice experience to sit outside (when it doesn't rain!) with a picnic surrounded by lots of other people taking in the atmosphere and enjoying live music. I enjoyed the 'motown' night that I went to last year, although it was a shame about the rubbish weather we had! If you do go to one of these concert evenings, I would strongly advise that you take a large sheet or something you will be able to put over your heads and also your food if it is likely to rain. The only negative we found with the concert that we went to was that the music didn't seem to be quite loud enough, probably because we were in the open air and it drifted in all directions, but a lot of people went close the stage to have a dance, and here of course the music was much louder. Tickets can be bought in advance for these concert evenings, which brings the price down to around the £13 mark. You can also access the gardens for free on the day of the concert by showing your ticket, which my partner and I took full advantage of and really enjoyed.
Where to stay:
If you wish to stay somewhere overnight near to the Trentham Estate, there is a Premier Inn located in the grounds just past Frankie and Bennys.
In summary, visiting the Trentham Estate can be a fairly costly experience. However, there are so many things to see and do that it really is a great day out for all the family. As long as you aware of the prices beforehand, I would recommend it as a really good place to visit. I was contemplating knocking off a star due to the high prices, but I felt that I couldn't due to the amount that is on offer here. It is also a great place to go to just to look round the shops and garden centre with free car parking, and that is a very rare thing!
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National Space Centre (Leicester)
At the start of the year, there was a request for a teacher to help organise a school trip for the year 8s. I decided to volunteer, and ended up being put in charge of organising and running the trip (gulp). That was in October. 7 months later, I have not only planned the trip, but have managed to get there and back again with little ... trouble. So I thought I would tell you of the Year 8 Science Trip to the Space Centre in Leicester.
What is the Space Centre?
Before completing my teacher training, I had never heard of the Space Centre. After narrowly missing out on a trip there, and deciding against the Science Museum, I ended up looking at the Space Centre. As the name suggests, the Space Centre focuses around all things to do with space and space discovery. It is affiliated with Leicester University, which appears to have a lot to do with astronauts and space research. There are a range of exhibitions housed in six galleries, ranging from exhibitions about the planets in our solar system, to a mock-up of a section of the space station (I found the shower in there particularly fascinating). There is a large tower at the front of the Space Centre, which houses two sections of rockets (one of which was used to take mice up to space). These were rather incredible to see, and help you begin to imagine the size of rockets used to take humans up into space. Finally is the Sir Patrick Moore Planetarium, 'the UKs largest domed planetarium', a 360 degree space theatre.
What can you do?
There are a variety of shows running at the Planetarium, and I have seen two of them; Astronaut, which is about what it takes to become an astronaut, and We Are Aliens, which is about the possibility of alien life in the universe. I found We Are Aliens more thought provoking, but I feel that Astronaut is more suitable for younger viewers who are less interested in microorganisms and where they can survive. Looking at the website, it seems that you get one show free on your first visit, and then you need to pay for additional shows (not quite sure how that works). Both shows I saw were free, but there was an option to pay for other shows at the cost of 50p per child (not a lot, but when you are taking 110 pupils, it does get expensive!). But it was absolutely amazing viewing the films in the Planetarium, and kept my year 8s quiet for 20 minutes (give or take the odd 'wow'). During a pre-visit we even captivated the attention of a 3 year old, although the finer points of We Are Aliens were lost on him slightly.
Around the Space Centre are six galleries as I mentioned. Although they aren't massively separated, they do have archways over the entrance with a title to give you an idea of where you are going. The rockets are at the front of the Space Centre and are accessed by stairs (or a lift) and a walkway. The six sections are as follows:
- Orbiting the Earth, which talks about the satellites in space that help us with our everyday lives;
- Into Space, which is where the Columbus module mock-up of the Space Station is housed, alongside astronauts and their life in space;
- Exploring the Universe, which looks at wormholes, the Big Bang and the science behind searching for extra-terrestrial intelligence;
- The Planets, which is split up into eight sections (no Pluto I'm afraid). You can even drive a Mars rover over the 'surface' of a planet, and see Venus in 3D (no snazzy glasses necessary). Here there is also an under 5s play area available;
- Space Now, which is in area which shows you what is going on in space right now
- Tranquillity Base, which is an activity area requiring the tickets given to you on entry. Here are several activities, including controlling a rock digger, and interactive games. There is also a simulator, which costs an extra £1 per person.
There are a lot of interactive activities, such as sending a person into space (this is a two man job), memory, the mars rover, building a model rocket as quickly as you can, a reaction test and much more. The thing I like most about all these activities was that they all worked. I tried out quite a few, and I guarantee my pupils tried out the rest - they all worked well and most didn't require anything to work, although some needed the ticket. One or two required money (such as the simulator and arcade games), but overall that's not bad. The Tranquillity Base activities and the launching a person into space had the most wait time (or the biggest crowds around them), but the longest we had to wait was about 5 minutes. This must depend on how busy each area is, but there is plenty to keep you busy whilst you wait. The final activity is the Weather Pod; this is where you can be filmed on a green screen giving futuristic weather. If you like your film enough, you can scan your ticket again to upload it onto YouTube. Be warned - this does get shown on screens around the weather pod once you have filmed it!
Aside from the activities, there are a lot of informative displays around the centre. The information presented depends on the section you are in, but the level of detail does vary to allow some younger visits to access the information, whilst allowing older visitors to also enjoy their visit. I learnt a lot of things I hadn't come across before, especially about the astronauts that have been into Space. There was also a timeline in the rocket tower, with events such as the release of Sindy dolls, and Sound of Music, as well as key space travel dates. I loved this and found the events on the display quite interesting (if not a little random). It's a shame I didn't have more time to look at them.
Pre-Visit and Booking
I found booking the trip very simple. There was an option to email or call the Bookings team - I opted for email as I hate the phone. I had to send my school details, the number of pupils going, the date and some details about myself. I got quite a prompt reply, with a booking letter and invoice attached. To confirm the day of the visit, the letter needs to be filled in and returned within two weeks (which I just about managed!). You then receive a welcome pack with some FAQs which I found very helpful, as they answered my questions. The Centre also recommends a pre-visit, which two members of staff can go on free of charge, as long as they have ID. I called to book the pre-visit, which was very simple. All I needed to do was give my name, school address and the day I was visiting. When we got there, we had our badges but not much attention was given to them. We were granted access and were able to look around just as visitors would. It was very helpful to go on, as it allowed me to learn where things like toilets were, and which areas we would like pupils to focus on. I was half-expecting a little guidance, but this wasn't really necessary.
Groups are given big wheelie buckets to store their bags in during the visit (the Centre asked for all bags and coats to be left there). These were then stored in the main eating area, and didn't seem to be locked away, which I found slightly unsafe. All bags and coats were returned though, so the system does work. There is an eating time and area available for your group, which is just off the public area. If you are just visiting, there is a café and small eating area nearby, and a larger eating area under the rockets (I'm not sure how I feel about eating under very large rockets!). The café was quite reasonably priced, with 3 teas, 4 donuts and a juice coming to just under £7 (cheaper than other places I have been to). A shop is also at the Centre, with a variety of items such as model shuttles, play mobile (space themed, of course), space ice cream (which my pupils assured me was very yummy) and Dr Who items. There was much more in the store, including your usual pens and rulers, but far too much to list. It felt slightly pricey, but I think that is usual with gift stores.
There are toilets next to the shop, and behind the weather dome in the centre itself. I do think they could have been signed clearly; even though they had a large male/female sign above them, the ones in the centre were hidden behind a lot of displays and were hard to see. There are a large amount of toilets and sinks in there, which is good for busy periods.
You can go to the café and back into the main centre as much as you need - just make sure you have your tickets, as these allow access into the main centre!
Cost & Times
The cost for our trip was £6.95 + VAT per pupil, and each adult per 10 pupils could enter the Space Centre for free. The cost for a usual visit is £13.00 per adult, and £11.00 for a child between 5 and 16, as well as concessions. Under 5s go free.
There are other activities, such as workshops or school visits, but these were for groups of about 30 pupils and some cost hundreds of pounds, which unfortunately was out of our price range. On the positive side, there was enough for pupils to do and learn without the need for workshops.
Parking is available at the Space Centre, and this costs £2 for the entire day, so make sure you have some change on you (it is a Pay and Display car park).
Tuesday-Friday the centre is open 10am-4pm, whilst Saturday-Sunday and school holidays (stated on their website) the opening times are 10am-5pm.
The Space Centre recommends about 4 hours (including lunch and a Planetarium show) to look around, and I agree. I found that by half 1, the pupils were very restless and had explored the centre and activities, as well as completing a work booklet I printed out. The Space Centre provide the booklets online for you to download, or can print it out at about 9p per page, so it is worth you making copies yourself!
I found the Space Centre overall a really good visit. It was very informative, and I especially liked the fact that every activity available worked (give or take a queue). I think that it perhaps wasn't suitable for such a large group (110 12-13 year olds), and the staff did end up following us around a lot, and limiting where the pupils could go, even though they were behaving very well (give or take 2 or 3 individuals). However, in the two visits I have been there, there were several groups of different ages, including a birthday party, a Brownie group and a toddler group. I'd make sure that the group have the activity booklets provided on the website, as this did focus the group and ensure they paid attention to key parts of the centre. It may be worth printing one off if you go as a family, depending on how fast your child takes in the displays. It is a very informative and enjoyable centre, and I'm very glad I went - as are my year 8s, who all seemed to enjoy their visit!
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England Sightseeing National
Sightseeing National / Longleat Enterprises Ltd. Longleat Estate, Warminster, Wiltshire, BA12 7NW, UK Tel :- +44 (0)1985 844400
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Sightseeing National / Hurst Street, Birmingham b5 4tb.
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Sightseeing National / A reservoir on the edge of the Peak District National Park.
Sightseeing National / The remains of a 12th century abbey now in the care of English Heritage.
Sightseeing National / One of the oldest churches in England built around 670AD.
Sightseeing National / The remains of an 11th Century Norman Castle in East Yorkshire now in the care of English Heritage .
Sightseeing National / Blagrave Street, Reading, RG1 1QH.Tel no: 0118 939 9800
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