Family travel with flair
Currently Browsing: UK fun and days out

Review: Barbury Shooting School for kids

Tweet I come from Texas, so really I’m supposed to know all about guns. But since I won that riflery award at summer camp age 12, my shooting prowess has largely been on the wane. Don’t get me wrong — I love shooting (I did say I’m from Texas, right?), but the opportunities to practice don’t come along that often. When my 16-year-old stepson received a voucher from his grandparents for a clay pigeon shooting day, my husband and I decided to register our 11-year-old daughter too and, while we were at it, have a private lesson for the two of us. Or rather a private lesson for me and a bit of easy shooting for him. The day out was at Barbary Shooting School in Wiltshire, just on the way to granny’s. The school is top-notch and runs loads of activities, from “have a go” days for taster sessions, ladies gun club meetings, multi-activity parties, children’s parties, and individual and group lessons. Here’s what we thought of it:   What: Our 11- and 16-year-old went on one of the Young Clayshots Day. The group of children — there were upwards of 20 that day, which one of the staff described as the biggest they’d ever had — were divided into smaller groups then taken to various stations of Barbury’s grounds. In one area just next to the lodge/club house, they took turns learning how to shoot air rifles at neon-coloured water balloons tacked onto a board. In another they did archery — using seriously engineered bows and with some of the children standing remarkably close to the target. They they got instruction shooting “birds” (clays catapulted into the air) and “rabbits” (clays that roll along the ground). All the children were complete novices or just about. (Barbury also run children’s clayshots days for more intermediate shooters.) Kid appeal: “It was very easy to learn how to shoot and you felt safe. The instructors were very clear,” my daughter said, describing her experience a few weeks later. On the day she was more effusive, talking in detail how she did the best in her group in the air rifle shoot-out, hitting a metal crow to beat out the last boy standing. The 16-year-old beamed after getting a nearly perfect score shooting clays. Thanks to the attentive instructor, who stood next to each shooter in turn and gave shot-by-shot advice — along with an occasional hand in guiding the gun — every child hit at least one and we were...

Review: The Milestones Museum, Basingstoke

TweetAs another British summer arrives, the imploration on every parent’s lips is the same: I need rainy day activity ideas! We’re constantly on the lookout for interesting outings, especially as our teenager and tween are long past enjoying soft-play. We recently visited the Milestones Museum in Basingstoke and discovered a great afternoon’s outing that’s educational to boot. We were invited to visit by Hampshire Top Attractions, which features some of the best days out for families in the region. Why visit the Milestones Museum The Milestones Museum is an indoor street landscape that tells of life in Hampshire in days of yore. It features actual objects, vehicles and replica shops from history to provide a walk-through historical experience. Helpfully, it’s housed in a massive warehouse-like structure in a modern leisure park (nearby is a drive-through McDonalds, cinema, indoor skydiving, ten-pin bowling and more) with plenty of parking. There is loads of room to walk (or run) around, innumerable exhibits to admire and some interactive activities — a perfect antidote to that cooped-up feeling. While the ceiling overhead is corrugated metal, the finish on the buildings is admirable: not cardboard cutouts but genuine brick buildings. What to see at the Milestones Museum They have an old bus you can clamber on, living rooms showing the styles of ’50s and ’60s (check out that television!), shops — some of which you peer into, others which you go into — vintage cars, vintage bicycles, an Edwardian-style pub and much more.   What we loved The pub and the sweet shop are experiential shops — you can order a drink or buy a ration card and old-fashioned penny to “buy” sweets that were only available during wartime rationing. It was also, not coincidentally, one of my daughter’s favourite stops. “The sweet shop was like a real olden-day sweet shop,” she said. “Everything was in jars, and we had these ration cards. We handed the ration card to the lady. The lady ripped the ration card and gave us some sweets. I chose lemon sherbet,” she said. Another big hit was the Penny Arcade. I could have spent an hour here, trying out the old-fashioned games and diversions — everything from fortune-telling machines a la Zoltar to What the Butler Saw-style risque photo flip machines (ooh la la) to games of skill. (Scroll to the bottom to see my video of some of the machines.) There was also an exhibit of huge animals, built from Lego. “The mammoth was made out of something like...

Cotswolds: Delicious food at the Upton Smokery

Tweet  One of the delights of the English countryside is farm shops. Countless times we’ve followed modest signs pointing to discover gustatorial Aladdin’s caves, full of luscious cheeses, tempting meats, fruits so beguiling they’re a little bit obscene. Often I’ll also pick up some bowls or interesting kitchen knickknack as a gift. When we visited the Uptom Smokery (@Uptonsmokery), I wanted to take everything home.   My in-laws got us hooked on the idea of visiting when they pulled out a package of smoked salmon they’d acquired there. “Look at that,” my husband said, eyes glittering as he looked at the slightly coral-coloured wedge of fish. “You can just tell that’s going to be good.” And it was. Delicious, full of flavour. You could discern from its shape before cutting that it had actually been part of a fish — so far from the uniform packaged slabs at the supermarket. We had it in scrambled eggs, then on brown bread, then the next day in rice salad. “I want to visit that smokery,” my husband said several times over the next 12 hours, each time as if the idea had just occurred. So what did we do? We put on our shoes on and drove to the smokery.     Upton Smokery is just outside Burford, a few short steps off the A40. The actual smokery is closed on the weekend so we couldn’t see it in action. So we visited the farm shop. The spring day was bright. As we walked in, it took our eyes a moment to adjust. Somebody appeared at our elbow and offered us fresh coffee, served in a ceramic cup. Then we ooh’ed at a panoply of goods that could tempt you to spend this month’s mortgage. Let me loose in a place like this and I can’t control myself. I run from section to section, caressing the packages, reading the “story” of how they make whatever it is out of virgin’s tears and fresh-dug fairy root, how it is massaged into deliciousness, by hand, using traditional methods. “Look, look!” I cry to my husband. Olive wood cutting boards! Tubs of sour cherries! Smoked duck confit! Biscuits made by small producers! Cherry tomatoes with the stems on! We were lucky to get off as lightly as we did.       We left with a package of 5 smoked chicken breasts (really, you must eat them, you must eat them now, and they were a relatively modest £12.95 for 5); 2 packets of...

Hampshire: Exploring Hillier Gardens with kids

Tweet   There are few things more glorious than an English garden in fine weather. Before I moved to the UK I had no real understanding of how passionate the English are about gardening. They feel about gardening the way so many other people feel about food or sex or myriad other things-not-gardening. I would recommend any visitor to England makes an effort to visit one of the fabulous gardens, and now on my  recommendation list is Sir Harold Hillier Gardens, near Winchester.       You walk in through a dramatic entrance that opens onto a three-sided square featuring the cafe, a gift shop, lavatories and outside seating overlooking the grounds. I practically fell in love with visitors’ centre sleek midcentury modern style — it could have been lifted straight out of California, with clean horizontal lines and light-filled spaces. Lots to see and explore From there we went on the seasonal Easter trail, finding clues amid the different gardens, visited the Bog Garden, walked Magnolia Avenue, trekked up to Ampfield Wood to see the pigs and then crossed the park to the serene and beautiful Winter Garden before trying out the children’s Tree House. where kids can clamber, climb and slide, while parents relax on nearby picnic tables, and the Flying Carpet swing.     We liked that there was plenty to explore. In addition to the different gardens and plantings, there were lovely lawns where families picnicked or sat on the strategically placed benches. Plants you’ve never seen before We saw a stunning variety of plants — brilliantly coloured flowers, yes but others as well: a Camillia Japonica as pale and delicate it looks as if it could be carved from pink marble, black bamboo whose stems were the glossy ebony of a gun barrel. We particularly liked that so many of the plants are labelled.           I found myself scribbling down the names of plants I’d like to have in my own garden: Black Mondo Grass, Heuchera Ginger Ale, Golden Fusion. Could it be that I’m turning into a gardener too? The details Sir Harold Hillier Gardens (Jermyns Lane, Romsey, Hampshire SO51 0QA +44 (0)1794 369317/318) is a few minutes’ drive outside of Winchester, with ample parking. Entry for adults is £9.30, under 16s are free. To make the most of the charge, bring a picnic and plan to spend several hours. There are all-ability paths and motorised scooters for hire, making it a great outing for several generations. If you...

Jumping on the giant inflatable Stonehenge

TweetI thought the coolest thing that Jeremy Deller has done was his documentary about Depeche Mode fanatics, “Our Hobby Is Depeche Mode“. That was until we visited Sacrilege, his inflatable Stonehenge. This is surely the only giant bouncy prehistoric World Heritage site in the world. It’s travelling around England and, looking for something more inspiring than another day at the local park, I sent my daughter off with her babysitter to Hampstead Heath a couple of weeks ago to jump on it. It was mobbed, they had to queue and even so, my daughter loved it so much that the next day we went to Clapham Common where it was set up the next day. We got there first thing, and there were a few delays – one related to council mandarins which is just too boring to detail here. They also had to deflate and patch a hole in Stonehenge, the benefit of that being that we got to see it slowly, dramatically inflate. They let groups of 100 on for 15-minute slots of jumping, which is enough to run ’round with high knees in a kind of moon walk, do flips and somersaults, lie down and let someone try to bounce you by jumping around you and squeeze between the “stones”. We ended up sweaty and laughing and ready for a drink. This interactive public artwork may make you consider how you think about historical sites. It definitely prompted some questions about Stonehenge from my children. Best of all, we didn’t have to site in traffic on the A344 to get there. There are still a few places Sacrilege is visiting over the summer. Find the dates and locations here. Visiting and jumping on it is free.  ...

Day out: Crazy golf on the roof of Selfridges

TweetIt turns out you can have your cake and golf it too. The clever chaps behind Bompas & Parr have teamed up with Selfridges to create an installation on the roof of the department store – a cake-based crazy golf course. These were the guys who last year flooded the roof to make an emerald green boating lake. Now they’ve created this 9-hole course with hazards made of cake. For years Bompas & Parr have been doing cool events and creating jellies and other edibles that combine science, food and theatre. They’ve done jelly in the shape of St Paul’s and glow-in-the-dark versions. I love these guys. I went to their Alcoholic Architecture walk-in gin and tonic several years ago in the Newburgh Quarter – you dressed in a whole body zip-up jumpsuit with hood (think the sperm outfits from Woody Allen’s film) then mingled in a room with aerosolized G&T. They’ve written a book on the history of jelly, called, er, Jelly and another one called Cocktails. Their studio with candy-striped walls features shelves stacked with intricate jelly molds, and Sam Bompas and Harry Parr come across as geeky food lovers, or perhaps foodie scientists (they call themselves foodsmiths). I met them several years ago when I visited their office and we chatted over very tasty ham sandwiches. What they’re doing is so exciting and fresh. Often they’re more geared to adults (see the G&T cloud); now finally there’s a Bompas & Parr experience I can take my daughter to. If you can nab tickets, it’s a don’t-miss this summer. Crazy golf continues through September. Tickets cost £6. You can book online, or they keep some tickets available for walk-ups. Under 16s must be accompanied by an adult. More info on Bompas & Parr Here’s a nice interview with the two, in the Independent Bompas & Parr on Facebook    ...

Brixton Village Market for families

Tweet   Our quest for the best burger took us today to Brixton Village Market, to try Honest Burgers. It’s drawn raves from The Observer’s Jay Raynor, Metro and TimeOut, among many others. In the olden days, before children, this is the kind of place I would have strategised to visit with my friend R. before the first magazine or newspaper write-up. These days, we’re lucky to get someplace while it still has the aroma of coolness wafting through. Scroll down for my Brixton Village Market gallery It’s been years since I’ve been to Brixton and this is my first time to Brixton Village Market. As we walked ’round I kept thinking, Where have you been all my life? The entire Market is a combination of old-school fruit and veg stalls and fishmongers – selling some things I’ve never seen before in my life – and cool eateries. It’s been called London’s most vibrant restaurant scene. At Honest Burgers, the short menu includes a few burger variations, all made with Ginger Pig dry aged beef, a chicken burger, plus some specials. They have gluten-free buns and gluten-free lager (!), which made us think of CafeBebe. It was jam-packed with families and packs of young friends wearing stylish jackets and good hairdos. We joined the queue, and a server came out and took drink orders while we waited – the homemade lemonade is fresh and a little fizzy, served with an eco-friendly cardboard straw. We ultimately didn’t eat here because a hungry child and queues don’t see eye to eye. We decided to come back earlier another day and wandered off to choose from the glut of other options. A few I can’t wait to try: * Franco Manca – mouthwatering-looking pizzas * French and Grace – the Mediterranean salad and wrap place opened by the Salad Club hostesses * Mama Lan‘s Beijing street food – the people eating seaweed fascinated our 8-year-old; all the dishes looked amazing * Brixton Cornercopia – it takes reservations! * Okan – Japanese street food We went round the corner to the Thai cafe KaoSarn. I had pad thai – not the best I’ve ever eaten but tasty; my husband had spicy green chicken curry that he declared in his top 2 ever, and the 8-year-old happily tried everything we ordered, save the spicy curry. Other dishes that have won raves are the massaman lamb curry and larb gai. I want to try the fried chicken served with sticky rice. Everywhere in the market...

Battersea Park – my Instagram/PhotoToaster gallery

TweetOne of my favourite things to do on a Sunday morning is walk through Battersea Park. I used to do the same thing in Prospect Park when I lived in Brooklyn, in Windsor Terrace. (About which: don’t be fooled by the celebrity status of Central Park. Prospect Park, also designed by Frederick Law Olmstead and Calvert Vaux, is in my opinion a far superior park, with fewer crowds, less trampled grounds and just a general more park-like vibe.) As for Battersea Park, I confess that sometimes I enjoy it best on my own, pausing when I want to take pictures on my iPhone and letting impulse guide my path. Yet it’s also a great park to go with children. There’s the zoo, playgrounds, the paths lined with trees or laying alongside the Thames like piping, the lake, the cycle paths and so on. The Affordable Art Fair is a don’t miss. Here’s a look at the park via Instagram:...

Where to shop this weekend to help London children

TweetWhen you go out shopping for affordable, thoughtful and delightful gifts for family and friends this weekend, you can also help give to Kids Company, the charity that helps disadvantaged children. The usual sidewalk scrum at Oxford and Regent Streets will be replaced with a completely pedestrianized experience, with the streets closed to traffic. It’s called the American Express Shop West End VIP (very important pedestrian) Weekend, and every time shoppers use their Amex card at retailers in the area over the weekend, American Express will donate £1 to Kids Company. At the centre of the weekend is a 30-hour West End Christmas Carol-A-Thon  (featuring singers named Carol), also raising money for Kids Company. I met Camilla Batmanghelidjh, the inspirational founder of Kids Company, recently and she spoke movingly of the work Kids Company does. Many of the 4 to 18-year-olds they help look after has suffered severe emotional or physical neglect. It provides meals, counseling, activities and support for children that they don’t get at home. While Kids Company works with children throughout the year, over the holidays its work is especially vital. These children often are left out of holiday celebrations, some looking after themselves or siblings on their own. It organises a Christmas Day meal and activities all through that day – including transportation for the children to come, games, gifts and friendship. It’s impossible to read about the work the charity does and the children it helps without being moved. You can sponsor elements of the Kids Company Christmas party (turkey, baubles, stockings), then give additionally while doing your shopping in the festive and fun atmosphere of West End VIP Weekend. Kids Company American Express West End VIP Weekend    ...

Review: The ice rink at Westfields London

TweetJust as blockbuster screenwriters all get the same idea at the same time (annihilating animal virus almost wipes out humanity, obscure comic-book hero gets reimagined as self-consciously cocky metrosexual), several years back a lot of the premier tourist attractions in London all had the same brainstorm: let’s open an ice skating rink! In truth, you wonder why they waited so long. As winter fun goes, ice skating hits the holiday top-notes – sparkly lights, cheerful music, a pleasant hustle-hustle, entertaining for children and adults – without amplifying the anxiety about what to buy Granny Annie. In the past years we’ve skated at Somerset House (the grand dame of holiday rinks), the Old Royal Naval College in Greenwich, Canada Square Park in Canary Wharf (which also offers lessons), Hampton Court Palace, Kew Gardens. Kew and Greenwich have packed up their blades. But this year Westfields London and Westfields Stratford City have launched rinks, indoor and outdoor, respectively. My 7-year-old and I visited Westfields London to try out the new rink, opened late November. Set in the middle of the atrium, it’s undeniably a performative experience – you can expect to be watched by shoppers standing at the railings, by diners at the tapas bar on the mezzanine above, by people riding down the escalator – while you whizz round the 450-square-metre oval. Overhead Christmas lights are wound round the branch-like ceiling struts (“Those aren’t real trees,” my daughter told me solemnly. “They’re attached to the building.”) and shoppers rush to and fro. Disco lights swirl across the ice; on Wednesday and Thursday evenings live DJs from either KISS FM or provided by rink sponsor HP spin tracks. The ice is of reasonably good quality, getting a brush down between each session. The staff were friendly and efficient on our visit – very important when you have to change everyone’s skates at least once to get the right size. There are a few drawbacks. Unlike the rink at, say, Canary Wharf, where there are lockers just beside the skate counter, cloakrooms at Westfields London are in another part of the mall. You’ll want to ditch your bags before going to the rink if you don’t want to leave them in the seating area for changing. The walker-type Penguins to help the little ones learn cost £5 to rent – almost as much as a child’s skating session itself. The big question for the Westfields rinks is whether you find the prospect of ice skating amid the shops appealing. For some, it’s...

« Previous Entries

Powered by WordPress | Designed by Elegant Themes