Wednesday, 6 September 2017

Camping with a baby and a toddler

Camping can vary from glamping it up in a swanky rustic fairy-lit bell tent to roughing it on a Scottish beach with nothing but a sleeping bag, a fire and a bottle of plonk. Having kids shouldn't prevent you from camping how you want to camp, though it might be wise to adapt a little to begin with if you prefer the wilder end of the scale.

Start local. 
Camp in your garden or a local campsite for one night as a trial to see what works and what doesn't. If it all goes horribly wrong (it won't), you can retreat to your cosy bed no problem. Then branch out a bit. Try two or three nights, or go further afield.

If wild camping is your thing, there's no reason why you still can't do it. Take a car and hike in maybe only half a mile or so rather than 10. Children do get tired easily and walk slower so half a mile may well all you manage. And bear in mind you will need to carry all the extra kit that comes with children, particularly younger ones. And that's fine. Make sure it's still enjoyable for everyone. Alternatively, book one of the wilder campsites where you are much more likely to have a pitch all to yourself.

Scale back your expectations. 
Things will be harder to do, as is everything in life once you have kids! The tent will take longer to put up. You will not be able to sit still for long. One night may be enough. You know your children. Go with what you think they will like and manage.

Do go when they are really little. 
They are not mobile. They stay where they are put! Things get all the more tricky (but still fun) when they start to move around. Between 8 months and 2 years are the hardest as they are mobile yet you cannot reason with them like you can do with an older toddler. If you are worried about co-sleeping there are many things you can do such as bringing a moses basket or sleepyhead carrier with you.

Think about where you are pitching your tent.
An open field is going to be more practical than a wooded area or hill with a younger toddler or a crawling baby. Check too for any poisonous plants, nettles or thistles. Ideally you want a space where you would feel happy leaving your children to ferret around in without worrying every two seconds. For younger children a bumbo or bouncer is a great idea to bring to keep them in one place, particularly when a fire is lit or you need to feed them.

Let them help. 
They will love it. Putting up the tent, taking it down. Going on a bear hunt. Going on a firewood hunt. Fetching water. All part of the adventure for toddlers and gives them something to do. Teach them about fire and fire safety.

Bring layers, a first aid kit and lots of wipes. 
Probably what you would have brought anyway, but even more important with children.The weather can be so unpredictable and kids are going to attract ALL the mud. Prepare for rain even if the weather forecast doesn't say it. Don't get caught out. A wailing wet toddler is no good for anyone. Babies can overheat quickly so better to use layers and remove/put on, than tog up in a too-hot sleeping bag.

Don't forget some toys.
Namely a ball and bug hunt kit. Maybe one of your child's favourite toys from home. Children of all ages love throwing and catching balls. They also are all fascinated by bugs and butterflies. Taking a kit, or just printing out a sheet of paper identifying the main creepy crawlies will provide tons of fun. Plus, you get to wear the smug wholesome parent badge.

And a nightlight. 
Another key items to pack. Maybe some batteries too in case the nightlight decides to die on you. If your children don't mind sleeping in the dark at home, they may find the tent is a bit scarier so want a bit of light to comfort them. Makes breast or bottle feeding at night a little easier too.

Make it cosy.
If you're taking the more luxe route of camping, make it as cosy as possible. Bring duvets and pillows. There is honestly nothing better in this world than snuggling up as a family in a tent under a warm duvet, listening to the gentle breeze and hoot of an owl outside. Bliss.

Don't worry too much about routines. 
Toddlers are just going to be too damn excited to go to sleep at 7pm - sorry. Just embrace it and let them stay up. You never know, they may sleep later too. Just bad luck if you have a younger baby who will still wake up at 5am whatever!

Bring fast food and lots of snacks. 
Good options include quick cook pasta ravioli, beans on toast, boiled eggs, pre cooked stew or ratatouille that just needs heating up. Plus breakfast cereal and croissants for breakfast. If your baby has formula milk and still needs to use sterilised bottles, you can get disposable ones, or just take a few sterilised bottles with you if you are only going for a short period of time. You'll need more snacks than usual as the fresh air does something to children to make them ravenous. Breadsticks, raisins, fruit. All good.

Go explore!
Enjoy your environment. After all, that's why you camp. Make the most of the wide open field, shady woodland or shallow ice-cold stream. Scramble over logs, go pooh sticking, jump in muddy puddles, run through swishy grass. Find a grasshopper, eat a gooey marshmellow, fly a kite, listen to the birds. Do all the things you normally do, just add a sprinkling of kids, a bit more mess, and a lot more fun.

Tuesday, 29 August 2017

toy's hill

Set in 200 acres of peaceful ancient woodland, Toy's Hill is a idyllic place to come for a short walk. The area forms part of the Lower Greensand Ridge and is the highest point of the Kent Downs, meaning glorious, rewarding views can be found across the Weald of Kent.

There are a few different options walk wise ranging from a half a mile pushchair-friendly option to 6 miles of tramping through Chartwell country. The pushchair route is a nice half hour amble. There is a good viewpoint at the site of the old Weardale Manor plus a couple of dens for the kids to explore.

The 145 room Weadale Manor site is fascinating. All that is left now is the line of one wall but you can imagine how stately it would have been in its time. It was built in 1906 by Lord Weardale, a former MP and opposer of war and suffrage. After his death in 1923 his wife rarely visited, preferring to stay up in London. After her death in 1934 it fell into a state of disrepair and was demolished in 1939. Just 33 years of use.

The natural landscape has also been influenced by history. The old economy at Toy's Hill was based upon charcoal burning, churtstone quarrying and livestock, and its mark can still be seen on walks here. Charcoal pits and quarries can be found and many of the ancient trees have been pollarded, which was done for grazing purposes.

Toy's Hill contains plenty of nature for little ones to spot including bats, dormice, grass snakes, woodpeckers, bluebells, stag beetles and marigolds.

Monday, 14 August 2017

The 10 best places for the family to get outdoors in Surrey

Summer holidays are in full swing and holiday camps are a go-go, but are you tired of the same old playgrounds and farm parks? Want to escape with your family to somewhere a little more wild, but just as fun? From shady woodland to sandy beaches, we review some of the top spots in Surrey to get outdoors and go wild with your family.

1) Box Hill, Tadworth, KT20 7LB
Managed by the National Trust, and now famous for being part of the 2012 Olympic road racing event, Box Hill is the summit of the North Downs. If you fancy a day out kite flying or blowing the cobwebs away with a hilly walk and a top-of-the-world view this is the place to come. Orchids and butterflies are easy to spot here too. The site has an excellent natural play area, café and multiple self-guided walks that make exploring the big outdoors easy for all ages. 

2) Staffhurst Woods, Grants Lane, Oxted TN8 6QR 
Ancient Staffhurst Woods is one of the best places in the UK to see bluebells in spring, though it is very pretty all year round. The woods are remains of the old ‘wildwood’ which covered much of old England in Saxon times. The Woodland Trust have created a self-guided woodland walk of around 3 miles long that is wheelchair and pushchair-accessible. Parking is available at two sites. The Grumpy Mole pub is just down the road for a well-earned lunch afterwards. 

3) Alice Holt Woodland Park, Farnham GU10 4LS
A stalwart favourite with families, Alice Holt Woodland Park can be as high octane or relaxed as you like. There are bikes to hire, a play and habitat trail to follow, horses to ride, and walking paths to explore. Alice Holt is managed by the Forestry Commission. 

4) Limpsfield Common, Ridlands Lane, Oxted, RH8 0TW
Rustic and enchanting, the rangers and volunteers of the National Trust have built several ‘Peter Rabbit’ houses and wooden dens for children to find and explore. A short walk takes in the houses and there is a welcome tree swing mid-way for all to enjoy. Take a picnic as there is no café at the site. Parking is available. 

5) Frensham Great Pond, Churt, GU10 2QB
It may be man-made but it’s no less fun. Frensham Great Pond is in the depths of rural Surrey, but its beach happily mirrors that of one right on the coastline. Built in the Middle Ages to provide fish for the Bishop of Winchester, it now hosts calm waters, shallow edges, plus many shady walks to take in the woodlands around the pond. Parking is available as is a café and a small museum. 

6) Chipstead Downs, Holly Lane, Banstead, CR5 3NR
Engage your make-believe and walk through a wardrobe into the land of Narnia. Chipstead Downs and Banstead Woods have recently carved out C.S. Lewis’s magical world into a nature trail. Children can meet many of the characters from the story including Aslan the lion. This new feature marks the launch of the Downs as a Local Nature Reserve, for its preservation of ancient woodland and chalk grassland – both rare and in decline across the UK. 

7) Wey and Arun Canal, Loxwood, RH14 0RH
Billed as ‘London’s lost route to the sea’, the Wey and Arun Canal originally provided a route from London to Portsmouth for goods travelling to and from the dockyards. The Canal links up the waterway from Guildford to Pulborough. Although derelict until 1970, it now is one of prettiest places to go walking or cycling (traffic free) in Surrey, and an abundance of wildlife can be spotted including herons and kingfishers.

8) Wisley Common, Old Lane, Cobham, KT11 1NA
A very special 800 acres of lowland heath and woodland that is home to many rare birds and a wide range of aquatic life, including dragonflies and damselflies. A wonderful place to explore for the bug and bird lovers in the family. There is a useful café with baby changing facilities and parking located off Old Lane. 

9) Chobham Nature Reserve, Staple Hill Road, Chobham GU24 8TU.
Chobham Common is the largest nature reserve in the southeast of England and one of the best places to spot a variety of creatures big and small. In this ancient landscape you are likely to see insects, spiders, birds, deer and foxes, as well as swathes of purple-flowering heather or coconut-perfumed gorse. 

Old railway tracks
10) Downs Link, runs from St Marthas Hill in Surrey down to Steyning in West Sussex. 
This 37 mile old railway route is traffic-free heaven for walkers, cyclists and horseriders. As it’s a mainly level route it’s great for younger cyclists. Exciting nature finds include bats and glow worms. The route links the North Downs Way to the South Downs Way. There are multiple entry points onto the route including St Martha’s Hill and West Grinstead. 

Thursday, 3 September 2015


So long summer! You left so soon, like an affronted guest forced to sit next to boring uncle Albert at the wedding party.

But while you partied, we joined in. Though we nearly forgot. This trip down to the beach, and our first and only, took place a couple of weeks ago, just as we realised your swan song was near.

Littlehampton appears to be one of the nearest sandy beaches to where I live, hence the visit there. Freddie has not been to a sandy beach before. He took a while to warm up, unsure of what on earth seaweed was, and what this strange yellowy squishy stuff was beneath his feet. But then he loved it. He became more adventurous in the water too, going deeper into the waves then rushing back as the water came in - lovely to watch.

Unfortunately Littlehampton doesn't have much else going for it other than it's beautiful beach. An air of provincial despair seems to hang around the town, and even blows down to the seafront at times.

A small motor railway trundles up and down the seafront carrying miserable-looking grandparents and toddlers. I was probably that miserable-looking mother that they talked about when they got home and bitched about their day.

I lie. One other saviour of Littlehampton is the East Beach Cafe, a piece of architectural delight. Freddie and I sat outside with a plate of chips fending off seagulls and watching the sea. East Beach Cafe was designed and built locally. All the food is local. However it feels like a beached whale here - it should be happier somewhere like Cape Cod or Newquay. Sorry Littlehampton.

Summers are for the beach, but next year we'll be partying at some other seaside.

Monday, 10 August 2015

mayfield lavender farm

Hmm Mayfield Lavender Farm wasn't really that suitable for taking an 18 month to, and trying to take pictures of. I had to rescue him every five seconds from trying to pick up bumblebees. Plus he was more interested in picking up stones in the car park than looking at all the pretty fields and imagining he was in rural France and not on the outskirts of Croydon.

And he had a paddy after about 10 minutes as he (I know I will miss this when he's older, and I do secretly like that I am Number One Mummy at the moment, but it would also be nice to be able to DO THINGS WITH TWO HANDS once in a while). But go with two people and it would be a different story. Or go if your mini me is younger or older than mine.

The farm is quite small (25 acres) so it won't take long to wander around and take some arty shots. There's a cafe and small outdoor shop at the entrance. Across the road there is also an entrance to The Oaks Park to let small people stretch their legs a bit more. There's unfortunately no playground, but there are a lot of dogs. And quite a lot of poo. Which reminded me even more of being in Croydon. Sorry Croydon (not sorry).

PS If you don't want to go to Surrey there is also a farm in Kent. July/August is the time of year to go and see the lavender in full bloom.

Tuesday, 4 August 2015


Greenwich is a town that doesn't like to think it's in London. It is a place in its own right. It has a university, the river, a park, the navel college, the observatory, shops, the arena, the maritime museum, a ship, and even a foot tunnel and fan museum. It's the centre of the world! Literally.

There is too much to fit everything into one day. If you have children, the park is obviously going to be a hit. Greenwich Park, one of the capital's eight Royal Parks, dates back to Roman times but will be encapsulated in younger people's hearts as that view from the behind of a horse's rump as he jumps through a moon towards the Canary Wharf during the 2012 Olympics.

Even on a non Olympic day the views are outstanding. From the mighty HSBC tower over to St Paul's with the Queen's House and the Thames holding fort, it's one for all to enjoy.

Other than the view, the Park has lots to offer. There's the observatory of course, but also it's home to both red and fallow deer plus there are lots of different "types" of parkland to explore - including a fruit and vegetable section, formal gardens, more wild areas and acres of pure grassland for the kids to run around in. Greenwich Park is 180 acres so there is plenty of space but not so much that you couldn't explore all of it. The borough also kindly puts on family friendly activities like minibeast hunts or a Sunday afternoon jazz concert.

We chose to go to the National Maritime Museum as well. Maybe we went on a bad day twice, but I wouldn't recommend the cafe there. It is so busy and crowded. Be savvy and go somewhere Greenwich central instead, or take a picnic to the park before you visit the museum.

After our miserable lunch we mooched around the museum showing Freddie lots of things he found interesting, though at 10 months old anything is pretty interesting really. I love this age. Not mobile usually, and pretty content to be taken to most places, with not so much effort to put in with naps and milk and what not. Freddie loved the open plan first floor most of all, which has a huge world map pasted onto the floor. Also this fab children's gallery is now open, which looks great fun, and it markets it for 0-7 year olds so babies should have a good time too.

Greenwich is really easy to get to. It's on the tube (Jubilee to North Greenwich then a bus), DLR (Cutty Sark) and overground from London Bridge. We drove from our house and parked in a car park in the centre (easy early am but does get busy later on). Parking is also available in the park.

Though we didn't have time, other family-friendly things to do in Greenwich include under 5s activities on the Cutty Sark (free for littlys too), a planeterium show for children at the observatory, Mudchute city farm (a bit of a walk under the foot tunnel mind) and a trip on the cable car 

Who needs the rest of London when Greenwich has all this. It really is the centre of everything.

Thursday, 16 July 2015


I do apologise for the not so great quality of the pictures I post on here. I vaguely knew I wanted to start a blog about all this, and imagined all the arty, lifestyley shots I would take, but the reality has been a little different.

For a start I often forget my camera so have to rely on my iphone. The amount of stuff you have to cart around with you when you have a small person is jokes. Half an hour down the road I think CAMERA! CRAP! But it's too late by then.

Then when I do remember the camera I never have my hands free. Or the wrong lens is attached. Or I am messing around with the aperture and whatnot then his nibs starts whinging. Or I am half lugging buggerlugs, or change bag, or looking at a map, or holding an umbrella. Or generally just trying to manage being out and about on my own with a small person, which is doable, but is hard work. So I hope to improve in the future, but it's a work in progress for now.

A while back I drove up to Dulwich village. Very easy with a sat nav. Parking is easy too. Dulwich Park. Loads of spaces. Free. On my agenda was the park, the village, the art gallery, and if I only did one of these things I would be happy. Often with a small person, I find you have to scale back your expectations. Pre Fred I was so used to dashing round at a million miles an hour getting this and that done and forgoing a lunch here and there to fit it all in. You can't do that with a baby. You have to work around them. You have to think about timings and naps and food and forward plan it all. Well I do. And that's fine too. It just means that maybe you won't see or do as much as before, but maybe you will see a different side to things, or visit places you wouldn't have done without children. And I love that.

We walked around Dulwich Park and admired the ducks in the pond before stopping at the Pavilion cafe in the park. This cafe is great for babies and toddlers. Loads of buggy-maneuvering room, child-friendly meals, and even a small play area with some toys and books.

I've been to the village before but I didn't really remember it, other than it was quite pretty and villagey. In fact, it still it, but there isn't much there really. A few gift shops and trendy cafes and estate agents. I think I've been spoilt by living in the greatest place in London ever (Crouch End but you knew that right?).

But Dulwich does have an art gallery. Small but perfectly formed. Freddie fell asleep just as I got there, which was good news. He's the type of baby that you have to keep moving with all the time. Does anyone else have this trouble? In supermarkets, it's like some kind of trolley dash. No stopping allowed.

I could have spent this time taking better pictures, but instead I decided to join my son in having a doze. Sorry Dulwich!