There’s not many visitor attractions where you’re greeted in person by the owner and author of the Wizard’s Thatch book series on which its based – but you can here at Magic Alley Bell Court in Stratford-upon-Avon!
Magic Alley has moved lock, stock and barrel from Henley Street to a purpose-built premises upstairs in the gorgeous Bell Court (our favourite hang-out!). Although charming, Henley Street had been hampered by lack of space and pushchair accessibility. Henley Street is planning to return in a different guise.
There’s now 4,500 square feet of magic, fairytales, steampunk and time travel. You can also buy a refreshing Butterbeer – perfect for all Wizard’s Thatch and Harry Potter fans out there!
We were given a quiz to complete on our journey through the inter-connecting rooms (the quiz will change regularly). Each room is rammed to the rafters with storyboards, antiques, animatronics and curiosities. It’s a really great way to make sure the kids linger in the rooms and have great fun following the clues to track down the answers.
Since hearing that The Children’s Play Village had opened in Warwick, Emma and her two pre-schoolers aged 2 and 5 have been dying to go visit – we’re pleased to say that they weren’t disappointed! Here’s their review…
We arrived a few minutes before our afternoon session was due to start and were directed over to the café area to get settled (in the lovely comfy leather sofas!). The children were then invited to go over to the village green, by the wonderfully animated staff, for a little welcome song. They were informed that today was the King’s birthday and that there would be several occasions throughout the day that they would need the children’s help!
The children were then free to explore the village and believe me when I say, this village has it all! There is ‘Lottys Tea Rooms’ where children can either serve behind the counter or sit at a lovely little table and enjoy a cream tea! ‘Orlys’ next door is a hair dresser and beauty parlour (where my daughter spent most of her time) with two ‘customers’ who are in need of a ‘cut’. There is also a theatre (with a super costume department!) where children can take to the stage and entertain the audience!
This Easter, Emma and her daughter (Jessie 2) spent a fantastic morning watching ‘The Easter Bunny’s Eggs-ellent Adventure’ at The Belgrade Theatre in Coventry! Here’s their highlights:
It is a fun little story of Marty MacDonald and his hen, Henrietta, who are entering a singing competition called the Eggs-Factor(!) to win a trip to the Easter Bunny’s secret chocolate factory, but they need some help!
There is lots of audience participation (but only for those who want to!) and so was perfect for my daughter who loved getting up on her feet and joining in with well known songs like ‘Old MacDonald’ and ‘I am the Music Man’ (she expecially loved doing all the actions!!!).
The suggested age range is 2-7 years and performance lasts for around 40 mins-which was perfect for my little bum shuffler!
Kinga and her mini Mumblers (aged 16 months and 8 yrs) headed over to Hatton Adventure World this Easter! They had a fantastic day saying that “it would take a whole book” to write about everything they did – so here’s their family highlights…
Hatton Adventure World is a place that spreads across miles and miles in the country side just a short drive from Stratford upon Avon. It combines farmland with livestock, play areas for kiddos (both indoor and outdoor) as well as little shopping village with garden centre that makes its own bread (that’s my highlight of a day 🤗)
This place is full of attractions all year round, but this season apart from meeting the amazing New Arrivals (the cutes baby animals as young as 30 mins old) it’s obviously the Easter Eggstravaganza! From 30th March til 15th April 2018 there is a special timetable to accommodate everything Springy-Zingy-Speggtacular Easter events.
We are a Family of four with a ‘take it all or nothing’ eight years old and ‘take no nonsense’ 16 months old. So from the start it’s not easy to satisfy everyone’s needs in the same way.
This Easter Sunday, Emma and her mini Mumblers (Billy aged 5 and Jessie aged 2.5) have had a wonderful time at the Warwick Arts Centre where they are currently running an adaptation of the popular children’s book ‘The Monstersarus’…this is how they enjoyed it
We arrived about 45mins before the performance was due to start and were directed upstairs where there were plenty of craft activities to entertain the kids – we decided to create our own ‘monsters’ – lots of gluing, sticking and colouring later and my two little monsters had created a couple of 3D self portraits!!! Once we had unstuck ourselves, we headed down to the Arts Centre café with just enough time to enjoy a drink and ‘monster themed’ cupcake before we were called to take our seats in the Goose Nest Theatre.
Hugely popular with local families, Mary Arden’s Farm reopened on 10th March for the 2018 season.
As the childhood home of William Shakespeare’s mother Mary Arden, the site is under the custodianship of the Shakespeare Birthplace Trust. Great efforts have been made to provide fun for all ages, with Tudor character actors bringing history alive.
The staff had been hard at work over the winter adding new equipment to the outdoor play area – featuring a climbing frame tower complete with bridges, ropes to swing from and a new scramble wall – plus craft den, woodland trail and Tudor crop field.
Sadly for us, on the opening day the play area and fields were closed due to being waterlogged. Never mind, it’s just another reason to go back!
This is the second time we’ve used the Clopton Nursery for their school holiday club. They were one of the few places open over the Christmas break.
The holiday club is held next to Thomas Jolyffe School on Clopton Road, so very handy for workers in town like myself. They take kids from age 2 to 12 and you don’t have to be registered or attend the school to use it. Another bonus is that drop off at 8am and pick up is 6pm.
Our Mumbler reviewer Munisha took her delightful toddler along to enjoy the much anticipated sensory production of “Hush A Bye” for under 2’s at the Warwick Arts Centre.
The children’s theatre company Oily Cart have a national reputation and yet again they didn’t disappoint!
When we arrived (after some parking mishaps) we entered into a dimmed room, smelling of essential oils with a wonderfully decorated centre circle. Three giant birds wandered through the room in the most amazing costumes squawking and cooing at each other and the babies. After an initial dose of shyness my 17 month old Anaiya started to interact with the fallen leaves on the floor and the big birds as they passed through. She was now entranced and ready for the show.
The big birds, accompanied by a musician, took us through a sensory journey of weather systems – Sun, wind and rain followed by night time. The children were given feathers, oranges and other objects throughout which they could play and interact with. The big birds were flitting in and out keeping the babies interest.
It was a wonderful production and I am ever so glad I got the opportunity to go and experience it. I will be keeping an eye out for any future productions and wouldn’t hesitate to recommend it to friends and family.
My only advice would be to do a bit more research on parking at the Warwick Arts Centre having only been on an evening before. The closest car park was full and we had to go to the other side of the campus to park up and realise there were no lifts. Fortunately we had our sling in the car but this may have been a bigger issue for others.
WARWICK ARTS CENTRE
There is a regular programme of family friendly productions – for full details visit the website!
Where: University of Warwick, Gibbet Hill Road, Coventry CV4 7AL
Tel: 024 7652 4524
We love a good panto – oh yes we do!!
Like many other families, taking the kids to the panto is a Christmas essential. It’s wonderful to see an audience aged from 0-99 singing along and laughing together.
The opening night is always a treat… with impromptu laughs often provided by props that don’t quite work, fluffed lines and a nervous cast – but credit to everyone that there was only one minor hiccup “can you hear those footprints?” which just gave another laughter opportunity.
Jack and the Beanstalk features Kyle Tovey in the lead role and Clare Reilly as fairy sunflower – both on top form again after appearing to rave reviews in the Stratford ArtsHouse panto last year.
Kyle (playing Jack) is superb, singing with gusto and hats off to Chlöe Amber who is both choreographer and plays Princess Amelia. Dame Trott delivers the cheesy gags by the bucket load (or maybe that should be Daisy the cow’s milk pail). Highlights for us were the hilarious Simple Simon’s lip sync battle with wicked witch Melevola, played by Kate Taylor-Marshall and the following morning we’re still singing the finale Reach for the Stars!!
We’ve been to a few events at the Stratford ArtsHouse and we’re always pleasantly surprised with the reasonably priced drinks and confectionery. They’d also provided a colouring-in area for the kids and their very own beanstalk!
Just as we thought all of the snow had melted, this afternoon we visited the Warwick Arts Centre to watch ‘The Snow Mouse’.
Not really knowing what to expect, we walked into a snowy wonderland and sat on soft furry ‘snow’ pillows. It was a magical tale of a girl who befriended a mouse on a snowy day (much like the ones we had last week!). Such a fantastic adaptation of this lovely little story.
Both my children (Billy aged 4 and Jessie aged 2) were totally engaged for the entire performance which – at 40 minutes long – was a Christmas miracle in itself!
There were children there aged from around 6 months up to 4 years old and from where we were sitting it looked like everyone really enjoyed it. There is no actual ‘seating’ format and so crawling children and toddlers were free to explore their surroundings which was great. It was also interactive (but not ‘in your face’) and so it really did keep everyone entertained!
For our first ever family trip to the Royal Shakespeare Theatre, we were all in for a festive treat! The Royal Shakespeare Company’s Christmas show is suitable for ages 7+ so ideal for our two children, aged 7 and 9. We’d had this in our diary for months and months so our expectations were high.
The kids were initially puzzled by Dickens appearing as the Narrator and needed a few whispers of explanation. Dickens emphasised the social conscience of the story which would “echo down the years” – which is every bit as relevant now as then.
Phil Davis was superb as Ebenezer Scrooge (we remembered him from his fantastic turn in TV series Bleak House back in 2005). Along with the poignant moments, there were brilliant song and dance sequences which had the kids spontaneously singing along with the Christmas carols.
There’s never been a better time to visit The Play’s The Thing, a fantastic interactive exhibition in the RSC Swan Theatre. Not only has it just reopened after having a revamp but it’s also won the History & Heritage Award 2017 at the Coventry and Warwickshire Tourism and Culture Awards!
Our visit started with a lively video presentation which immediately grabbed the kids’ attention. Then upwards via a private staircase to the exhibition itself. It’s definitely an exhibition for modern times and the “touch-screen generation”.
Our mums night recommendation of the week has to go to Priscilla Queen of the Desert. There was a party atmosphere from the start with the totally OTT opening number! The laughs came in quick fire, every bit as quick as the costume changes; in fact blink and you’ll miss it in the second half showstopper.
Having never seen the film (I know – I’m probably the only one!) I was the perfect guinea pig to experience it totally fresh. The amateur cast from Three Spires and Guildhall excelled and the audience loved them back for it. The flying singing trio, group dance numbers, comedy timing and familiar soundtrack ensured we couldn’t sit still in our seats for a second.
For me, the retired drag-queen Bernadette totally stole the show in every scene.
Our faces ached and our hands were sore from applauding as we left the theatre with a rosy glow* from the uplifting storyline (*and the wine in the interval no doubt helped too).
It’s on until Sunday so take our advice – grab the girls and go!!!
Brand new for the May half term holidays (and returning for the summer) is the spectacular jousting show “Wars of the Roses” at Warwick Castle. With my Yorkshire roots, it was never going to be difficult to pick sides between House York and Lancaster – we’re Yorkists all the way!
The Birds of Prey display was our first taste of the day to come, with the performance value being top class. The boys’ jaws dropped at the enormous wingspan of the bald eagle flying over their heads and up to the turrets of the castle.
Then off we raced to the brilliant Horrible Histories maze which had caught the eye of our 8 year old. The kids raced round to collect stamps in each history zone, with tales from ancient through to modern history.
Cotswold Farm Park have just recently launched their Family Bushcraft days under the name Cotswold Adventures. So on Saturday, with our rucksacks packed with boots, waterproofs and marshmallows (essential for any campfire!) our mummy and son adventure began.
We were immediately made to feel at ease by Jose and Tim and our fellow adventurers. Between South African bushcraft expert Jose and survival expert Tim who’s ex-military and a former firefighter – their combined knowledge is pretty staggering. We were lucky to have Adam Henson (of Countryfile fame of course) join us for the morning to add his own knowledge of the land and the trees he’d climbed as a child.
As we stepped into the woods from the field we had our first taste of the day ahead by eating a leaf and flower from the hawthorn hedge – and delicious they were too! Jose and Tim were constantly pointing out flora and fauna of interest – what’s edible, what’s poisonous, deer footprints, moss and lichen. What looked just like a grass turned out to be a “sedge” with a stem of triangular shape. So we were taught “Sedges have edges, reeds are round and grasses are flat”. We were shown how to use natural navigation, so by observing nature it’s possible to work out your direction of travel without a compass.
This is the second family show we’ve enjoyed at the Belgrade, but our first time in the large main theatre. Although it’s a modern building the theatre still has the charm of a traditional auditorium with raked seating. Booster seats can be hired for £1 from the cloakroom which we did so there was no chance of an obscured view.
The show opens with the live band dressed as birds and being chased off by the three farmers. The story goes that Boggis, Bunce and Bean, three greedy, smelly horrid farmers hate the cunning Mr Fox. Mr Fox is smart, clever and rather fantastic, but he doesn’t realise how determined the farmers are to get revenge. So, can he hatch a plan to save his family and friends? Can they outrun the diggers and outsmart the farmers? And can Rabbit shut up long enough not to give the same away?…. We were excited to find out!
Compton Verney is 15 mins’ drive out of Stratford-upon-Avon in the direction of Ettington. It promises a great family day out with their children’s woodland adventure play area, willow tunnels and nature trails to all-weather explorer backpacks and arty activities every school holiday.
A brand spanking new Visitor Centre welcomes you at the car park and there have been more improvements to the galleries over the winter too. A brisk walk up the gravel path through the trees planted by Capability Brown and around the lake bring you to the impressive former mansion house. The house is a perfect marriage of history (check out the incredible plasterwork cornicing!) and modern extensions. The quirky Folk Art gallery on the top floor captured the kids’ imagination, especially the handmade Morris dancer dolls.
As a place renowned for the great outdoors, it was an eye opener to find that there are rainy day options too. The Family Room is large and well equipped with games, arts & crafts, chalk boards, DUPLO, puppet show and more. We struggled to drag the kids away!
Our New Year’s Resolution this year was to have regular Date Nights. After years of staying in with little ones we seemed to have lost our spontaneity. We’d come to realise that without advance planning it just wasn’t going to happen. Our strategy of arranging our tickets early and booking the babysitter well in advance seems to be working – our fourth Date Night in 5 months is a new record for us.
As Date Nights go this was right up there, in fact you could say we “hit a high note” at a concert of the Royal Philharmonic Orchestra at the Warwick Arts Centre. The Butterworth Hall was at capacity and the anticipation was palpable. We both loved being in school orchestras and that’s never left us. So, my husband was naturally drawn in admiration to the string section and myself to woodwind. The brass section and percussion were top class too as you’d expect.
With the amazing acoustics of the Butterworth Hall even the tuning up by the orchestra was enjoyable. After a wonderful energetic opening of Prelude to Die Meistersinger we settled in to hear one my huband’s favourite pieces, Bruch’s First Violin Concerto. The violin soloist Tasmin Little was genuinely outstanding and her numerous rounds of applause afterwards were testiment.
Date Nights are always so much more enjoyable when you know this is absolutely something you would NOT be doing with the kids! Thankfully, The Hypocrite is a raucous comedy just for the grown-ups – and it’s set in my native Yorkshire.
This was our first time to the Swan Theatre at the RSC and we were seated on the first floor gallery level with a jaw dropping view of the stage. A folk band started the merriments by singing and playing from amongst the audience, clinching the Hull accent perfectly.
From that moment on the laughs just didn’t stop coming.
The story goes that Sir John Hotham, Governor of Hull, has been given the onerous task by Parliament of securing the arsenal at Hull and denying entry to King Charles I. All manner of craziness follows. We loved the acerbic jibes between the lead characters Lady Sarah Hotham and Sir John Hotham played by Caroline Quentin and Mark Addy. Martin Barrass, who I’ve seen numerous times over the years as a stalwart of the York Theatre pantomime, was on top energetic form playing the Mayor. There’s lots of audience interaction too to keep everyone on their toes.
I can’t recommend this highly enough – book the babysitter and go! It’s on until 28th April.
We were thrilled to join the first families through the gate for the season opening of Mary Arden’s Farm at Wilmcote on the outskirts of Stratford-upon-Avon.
This historic farm belonged to Mary Arden who was William Shakespeare’s mother and is under the care of the Shakespeare Birthplace Trust. Top marks again to the SBT for making history fun for kids, especially for our youngest who is studying the Tudors at school.
After purchasing our animal food (only 50p a bag) we entered the main quadrangle which have lawn games laid out. There are characters dressed as Tudors dotted around the site. We wandered from the candlemaker to the barn for the falconry demonstration. Sadly due to the avian flu rules, all the birds are being kept inside – but this just made the barn owl encounter that much more intimate. Our eldest was absolutely over the moon to be picked out as the volunteer assistant!
There’s a really good flow through the site leading you through the different barns, beautifully maintained gardens and houses belonging to Mary Arden and her neighbour Adam Palmer. The dinner bell rang and everyone headed to the Palmer’s Farmhouse to watch a Tudor lunchtime reenactment. Outside there is a menagerie of different birds and animals. The rare breed goats, chickens and ducks eagerly hoovered up the animal food from the kids.
New Place was Shakespeare’s final family home and although the house has since been lost, the gardens and exhibition centre are a hidden gem in their own right. New Place is really hitting its stride as a family attraction, with various kid’s activities to enjoy and is part of the after-hours events programme being launched by the SBT this Saturday (11th March). We are eagerly anticipating tickets going on sale for The Lion King outdoor cinema part of the Shakespeare Film Festival in September!
We went for our visit during the February half-term school holidays. The Shakespeare Birthplace Trust have a programme of school holiday events across all the Shakespeare Houses and will be doing it all again for Shakespeare Week.
The Stratford Butterfly Farm is the UK’s largest tropical butterfly paradise – we’re so lucky to have it on our doorstep! This February half-term there is mini-beast handling every day between 11am and noon and 2pm and 3pm.
The welcome area has been much improved with a light and bright extension. There’s a new cloakroom to deposit coats and information boards with tables and chairs. Once inside the greenhouse we were greeted by the calming sound of trickling water and a butterfly super-highway attracted by the feeding stations. Squawking in the trees were brightly coloured parrots, along with an iguana so well camouflaged we could have easily walked straight past.
The show is based on the book by Eric Idle of Monty Python fame, which gave a clue that it was going to be something we’d never experienced before. It is a celebration of nonsense which takes the audience on a fantastical journey through animated digital projections. The cast play multiple roles, perform live music, sing and dance.
The National Trust offer a choice of kids activities in the school holidays and we were keen to try out Charlecote’s Welly Walk. Different coloured wellies have been set out amongst the parkland in a trail for the kids to find on their treasure map. Our friends who also live locally went along with us to give a guided tour, but quickly the gaggle of kids were going off-piste. Not that we minded, getting the kids out in the fresh air with the freedom to roam is priceless.
On Saturday we were invited to Oily Cart’s show “In a Pickle!” part of the Family Friendly programme at the Warwick Art Centre. Earlier in the week our MUMbler competition winner had taken her baby daughter and had raved about it, saying, “The show was amazing and my daughter LOVED IT!! I wasn’t sure how much she’d get out of it at only 8months old, but she had so much fun!” So we had pretty high hopes for an enjoyable time…
Oily Cart’s shows are multi sensory and designed to be thoroughly absorbing for preschoolers. Throughout, one of the performers plucks at an Indian sitar making the whole experience sound magical. We’re dressed in sheep ears and then led through for a “sheep party”. The children are seated at benches and long tables with covers which are changed as the story progresses – including strokable grass, perfumed spring flowers, fluttering petals and a splashy river.
Why is it that Date Nights are like buses? You wait ages for one and then there’s two in a week! Hot on the heels of our Burns Night supper, hubby and I were excited to be at the Warwick Arts Centre for the opening night of STOMP direct from the West End. You know the one.… with the dustbin lids.
The energy levels were set to maximum from the start. Opening STOMP with banging and twirling sweeping brushes resulted in two breakages. Clearly it’s a regular occurrence with new brooms flying in from the wings!
Burns Night with my Scottish hubby is normally a home affair entailing hours of peeling veggies so I was very happy to turn it into a Date Night instead! Seeing as the 25th landed on a school night we wanted to stay within Stratford, so the special Burns Night menu at The One Elm was just the ticket. The One Elm is a bustling local gastro-pub which is beautifully fitted out complete with open fire in the front snug. We headed straight through to the dining room at the rear overlooking the courtyard, which was busy even on a freezing January evening.
The Burns Night menu had a choice of two options for each course. We both went for the smoked fish starter over the veggie haggis scotch egg. The fish flaked beautifully with a light cream sauce. Being the nominated driver for the evening I was over the moon to find a few mocktails on offer, whilst the complimentary whisky went down a treat with my better half.
Croome has a great reputation for being kid friendly with a playground, wildlife watching and wide open spaces ideal for a kick about, kite flying and picnics.
Although we had gone with the intention of seeing the views from the top of the Panorama Tower (which is only open certain days in the year) the 45-min walk was more than we could manage. Instead we opted for the circular walk taking in the ice-house, bird hide and rotunda; then heading down to the house and lake. There are plentiful picnic tables at every turn, perfect for a leisurely visit.
When I canvassed opinion on the Stratford-upon-Avon MUMbler Chat Group as to whether it was worth getting a National Trust membership there was an overwhelming “yes” vote. Comments included “membership is well worth it” “so many great places locally” “school holiday activities are really good”! So with a £15 NT gift card on offer we signed up for a family membership.
With loads of places to visit in the Midlands we really are spoiled for choice, so which one to visit first? The weather was going to be a deciding factor! In the pouring rain, Upton House and Gardens came highly recommended as one of the few houses open in the middle of winter. We grabbed our wellies and jumped in the car to drive the 25 minutes out on the Banbury Road via Ettington. (more…)
The welcoming staff promptly seated us by French doors overlooking the balcony with river views. Shame it was pouring with rain, the views must be stunning in better weather. We turned down the chance of a starter and headed straight to the carvery.
The carvery station is manned by the chef who gave generous slices of the beef, pork and turkey plus a Yorkshire pudding and stuffing ball. Alongside was an excellent self-serve selection of roasties and vegetables (cheesy cauliflower my favourite) plus gravy, sauces and numerous other accompaniments including the BEST pork crackling I’ve ever had!!! The kids loaded up their plates and so did we.
Kate knows many of the stories off by heart and the children seated on the patchwork blanket were totally enthralled. On the side tables there are heaps of small toys and colouring in for the children to use their own creativity. After some time spent at free play the kids were asked to make up their own story as a group. How often do you hear of a boat and a reindeer in the same story but gamely Kate managed to weave them together!
Firstly we were invited into an anteroom to watch a short film giving the background history to the building and what went on here from its life as the town hall and school-house. The guides are both enthusiastic and knowledgeable, plus there are several touch screens for the kids to get hands-on.
We were lucky to get a sneaky peek of the brand new after-dark outside experience at Shakespeare’s New Place, the landscaped garden which opened this summer on the corner of Chapel Street and Chapel Lane.
This is similar in style to an immersive theatre production, with the children being at the heart of the story. Live actors are stationed at different inspiration areas dotted around the garden and the children are invited to go exploring for “muses”. Our 8 year old was totally entranced by the experience and immediately wanted to go round again!